Archive for January, 2013

The Reconciliation

Posted: January 29, 2013 in Uncategorized

  There was a young Samurai of Kyoto who had been reduced to poverty by the ruin of his lord, and found himself obliged to leave his home, and… Read story


The depressing trend of thefts from California Gold Rush museums continues, doubtless driven by the high price of gold ($1,693 an ounce as of yesterday). The latest victim is the Oakland Museum of California. Early Monday morning, January 7th, a thief broke into the closed museum through a locked door on an outdoor garden. He then made his way to the second floor exhibit through an emergency exit door and stole one artifact: a Gold Rush-era jewel box made out of California gold and gold-veined quartz. (A second artifact, a scale used to weigh gold, valued at around $2,000, was taken but did not leave the premises. Curators found it elsewhere in the museum.)

The jewelry box was in a plexiglass display case rigged with an alarm. A security guard heard the alarm and saw the theft on the surveillance video, but he was in another part of the museum and the burglar got away before the police arrived.

The beautiful piece is one of the greatest treasures of the museum’s extensive 1.8 million-object permanent collection and is worth at least $800,000. The museum hasn’t released the exact monetary value because the artifact hasn’t been appraised in years and its historical value far eclipses its market price.

The historic jewelry box, was made between 1869 and 1878 by A. Andrews, a San Francisco goldsmith, and is signed. It is made of California gold, and features a rectangular moulded top and base that rests on four feet formed of four miniature female figures depicting allegorical California. The artifact is seven inches in height; nine inches on length; and seven inches in depth. The top pilasters and mouldings are of veined gold quartz in tones of grey and cream with veining of gold. The interior of the top is recessed and engraved in full relief with scene of the early days of the Union and Central Pacific Railroads, mounted Native Americans, herds of buffalo, and a train of cars. The gold quartz is cut and set in mosaic fashion in the top of the lid, exterior and the sides are gold veined quartz.

It was reportedly commissioned by a California pioneer as an anniversary present to his wife. It’s a one of a kind object, the epitome of a California artifact in design, material, workmanship and ownership history. The Oakland Museum of California is dedicated to the art, history and natural history of California, and this piece qualifies on every score.

The museum’s insurer is offering a $12,000 reward for the safe recovery of the jewelry box. (People involved in the theft in any capacity, before, during or after, cannot claim the reward.) The thief is going to have a hard time selling it because it is so recognizable. Museum officers fear that the thief plans to melt the box down for its sheer gold value.

The last time the jewelry box was stolen (it has a bit of a record, I’m sad to say) was in 1978. The thief sold it intact, thankfully, and it eventually made its way back to the museum in 1985 when an art appraiser found it and returned it after he realized it had been stolen.

The museum has been a more recent target of theft as well. This is the second burglary at the museum in two months. The last break-in also happened on a Monday, on November 12th, 2012. Gold nuggets and other artifacts were the target that time. Again the alarms went off and the police arrived within three minutes of the guards’ call to 911, but again the thief was faster than they were. Based on surveillance video, authorities believe both burglaries were done by the same man.

The museum is asking that anyone with information contact the Oakland Police Department’s Major Crimes Section at (510) 238-3951 or the tip line at 855-TIPS-247. You can also text TIP OAKLANDPD to 888777.

Meanwhile the museum is beefing up its security, already markedly beefed up after the November break-in, and has hired a security consulting firm to see what else they can do to take the bullseye off their back.

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bruegel: cripple creek

Posted: January 23, 2013 in Uncategorized

At the popular level, Bruegel’s fantastic drolleries are taken at face value. A curious and delightful painter. At his true level, when these obvious charms are recognized as nothing but a pictorial skin, Bruegel is discoverable  as an extraordinarily complex painter-philosopher…

…With Pieter Bruegel the Elder there is always an admixture of humor with the grotesquery, and of compassion with the morbidity. Sin for Bruegel was more than a matter of private degradation: his most hellish conceptions are comments on the texture of society as well as moral abstractions. When he shows us maimed beggars dragging themselves along with rough sticks as crutches, their brutalized spirits showing dark and blank behind their eye sockets, he shows them to us not only as Bosch showed his monsters, as symbols of the spirit defiled by sin, but also as the victims of human cruelty.

---It is because of Bruegel's vision that the present-day observer finds it interesting. The artist sees the people not in God's image but as imperfect beings, the dust of the ground from which they were created characterizing them more than the divine breath which was breathed into it. Bruegel is demonstrating even more clearly than usual that the difference between man and animal is by no means as great as one might think. In taking the cripples' legs, he has stripped them of their means of walking upright. This has nothing to do with resignation; indeed, it seems more of a matter-of-fact observation. Nor is there any sense of sympathy; evidently this was relatively uncommon in the 16th century, there being simply too many beggars in the streets and in front of the churches. And anyway, Bruegel's concern was not so much with the beggars as such, of course, as with beggars as representatives, whether of social groups or of a specific conception of man.---click image for source...

—It is because of Bruegel’s vision that the present-day observer finds it interesting. The artist sees the people not in God’s image but as imperfect beings, the dust of the ground from which they were created characterizing them more than the divine breath which was breathed into it. Bruegel is demonstrating even more clearly than usual that the difference between man and animal is by no means as great as one might think. In taking the cripples’ legs, he has stripped them of their means of walking upright.
This has nothing to do with resignation; indeed, it seems more of a matter-of-fact observation. Nor is there any sense of sympathy; evidently this was relatively uncommon in the 16th century, there being simply too many beggars in the streets and in front of the churches. And anyway, Bruegel’s concern was not so much with the beggars as such, of course, as with beggars as representatives, whether of social groups or of a specific conception of man.—click image for source…

At a time when the maimed, the insane, the feeble-minded, and the deformed were laughed at, or at best thought of as animals differing from stray dogs only in being more diverting, Bruegel made them a rebuke to society. Without idealizing them or pretending that they were anything more than bestial, he said they had been born men and that their reduction to a bestial state was accomplished by a cruel society that thus degraded itself.

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When it comes to admiring old houses, I tend to favor rustic, 200-year old post & beam structures.  Yet some of my favorite historic houses are much more modern:  Craftsman-style bungalows.  This article will highlight the history & characteristics of this beautiful architectural style.

The Craftsman style was popular from about 1905 until the Great Depression (about 1930).  To narrow it down more, based on my own personal experience, I think it’s safe to say that if you spot a Craftsman bungalow there is very good chance it was built during the 12-year period between 1915 and 1927.  However, when guessing the age of a house, a lot depends on where you’re at — west coast or Midwest; city or country, and so on.  But age can be important.  Since Craftsman homes were built during the 20th century, some folks might not consider these houses as “historic” as other historic homes.  But consider that during the next decade, many of these Craftsman homes will hit their century-mark in age — and quite a few are already 100 years old.  So, comparatively, they are already what Civil War era houses were to people in the year 1972.

Craftsman bungalows are now very popular with preservationists and young homeowners wanting to restore a beautiful historic house back to its original splendor.  And there is additional fascination among many old house lovers because a fair amount of these bungalows are Sears houses (or other “mail-order”/”kit” homes like Aladdin and Bennett).  If you don’t know about Sears houses, it worked like this: you would pick out a house from a catalog, order it, and the parts to assemble it would arrive on train cars in your home town (or nearby).  Ready-to-assemble.  Consider below a 1923 advertisement for Sears’ “Avalon” kit house, a modern and stylish bungalow that would cost you over $2,500!

So what was the “Craftsman” style all about?

In part, Craftsman architecture was a reaction to the excessive, over-the-top ornamentation of the Victorian era (I mean, seriously….look at the picture on the right….can you imagine painting all the trim on that thing?).  The architectural pendulum was swinging back, so to speak, and the Craftsman style simplified house forms and ornamentation considerably.  A contemporary of the movement stressed a return to “soul satisfying craftsmanship, over [the] soul-less, machine made goods” of the Victorian era.  Gustave Stickley, perhaps the biggest promoter of the larger “Arts and Crafts” movement (especially through his magazine The Craftsman) once characterized a Craftsman-style home as “a house reduced to it’s simplest form… its low, broad proportions and absolute lack of ornamentation gives it a character so natural and unaffected that it seems to… blend with any landscape.”   Many also pointed out that the shift from Victorian to Craftsman could be interpreted as a shift from elaborate, delicate, “feminine” Victorian designs to more “masculine,” square, bold, & simple forms.  Indeed, the Craftsman bungalow was intended to appear solid, heavy, and sturdy in almost every way.  Compare this simple, bold Craftsman bungalow (below) to the “frilly” Victorian above.

The Arts and Crafts Movement (and the related Craftsman architecture) was also part of the “Progressive Movement” in America — which critiqued the abuses of big business and industrialization (including the abuse of workers), while at the same time promoting a “you-can-do-it-yourself” mentality (this probably helped fuel the demand for build-it-yourself “kit” houses from Sears).  Indeed, Gustave Stickley and many other proponents of the movement saw the Craftsman style not only as a new design trend, but rather part of a whole new ethic for how to live one’s life more simply, more purely.  This coincided with a movement to improve the “modernity” of houses.  Sears houses were marketed as Sears “Modern Homes,” and they helped spread modern conveniences such as electricity, central heating, and indoor plumbing to many Americans.  There was also an emphasis on improving the comfort, functionality, and flow of houses (for example, the “breakfast nook” in the kitchen first popped-up during this era).

So Who Invented & Designed Craftsman Houses?

As I mentioned above, Craftsman architecture was born out of the larger Arts & Crafts movement (with English roots), so pinpointing its origins is complex.  Yet, when talking specifically about the actual design of Craftsman-style houses in the United States, the most common architectural details were inspired primarily by the work of two California architects — brothers Charles and Henry Greene.  During the decade of 1900-1910, their architectural firm — creatively dubbed Greene and Greene — churned out dozens of (now) landmark Craftsman homes.

According to architectural style experts Virginia & Lee McAlester (their A Field Guide to American Houses is a must-own book, by the way), the Greenes were influenced by “the English Arts and Crafts movement, an interest in oriental wooden architecture, and their early training in the manual arts” — again, the idea of do-it-yourself, quality craftsmanship.  The Craftsman designs of the Greenes quickly spread all over the United States (and beyond) in magazines and plan books, and over the next 20 years, the Craftsman style exploded across the American landscape.  These new Craftsman houses were predominately middle-class homes, but they ranged from huge, high-style masterpieces down to small, simple bungalows for working class folks.   But the houses the Greenes designed were large-scale, upper-class examples Craftsman bungalows, a few of which are actually called the “ultimate bungalows” (I’m not making that up).  Pictured below is one of those “ultimate bungalows,” the Gamble House (1908) in Pasadena, California.

That looks like a pretty big house.  Are you sure that’s a bungalow?

As you can see in the above picture, bungalows were not necessarily small.  The word “bungalow” often has a connotation of being a very small house, like a cottage — perhaps like the house pictured at left.  But this is often not the case.  In fact, when I was selling real estate, the first bungalow I ever sold offered over 2,000 sqft of living space inside!  And a couple of years ago, when I lived in Stryker, Ohio, I lived around the corner from another very large bungalow that also demonstrates this point (pic below).  But, despite the broad range of sizes of Craftsman bungalows, I think it’s safe to say that most bungalows were average-sized homes by modern standards.  That said, they were generally much smaller than the huge Queen Anne Victorians that were falling out of style after the turn-of-the-century.  But most bungalows were also far more affordable than Queen Anne Victorians, and this shift marked a gradual transition from architects catering mostly to an upper class clientele to a new focus on the rapidly-growing (and spending) middle class.

Was the Craftsman Bungalow the only popular house style at this time?

Definitely not.  There were several related house styles during this time period that kind of “overlapped.”  For example, at about the same time, the Prairie style was made popular by Frank Lloyd Wright and the Chicago school of architects.  The Prairie style had many similarities with Craftsman-style bungalows — including a low, horizontal form and roof lines with wide, overhanging eaves.  For example, see the pic below of the Allen-Lambe House – designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1915.

Even though the Prairie style was mostly an upper-class (or upper-middle-class) movement, there was a middle- and working-class spin off — the American Foursquare style (which I highlighted in another article).  The American Foursquare was a boxy, two-story house style, but it still featured some decorative elements from the Prairie aesthetic.  And in my experience, Foursquares often feature some Craftsman elements, as well.  For example, see the American Foursquare below, which has a similar roof, overhanging eaves, and pillars as the Prairie house pictured above.  But it also resembles many of the Craftsman bungalows illustrating this article — look especially at the wide, deep porch and the exposed rafters sticking out from the eaves under the roof line.

What to look for when identifying a Craftsman bungalow:

* Exterior: a low, horizontal emphasis (rather than the tall vertical look of Queen Anne Victorians, etc.) including a very low-pitched roof.  You might say that Craftsman houses look like they are ‘squatting’ compared to other houses that are standing tall & upright.

* wide eaves overhanging the roof.  Under these eaves, there are usually exposed rafters peaking out from under the roof.  Also, it is common to see large, false “braces” under the roof line, and sometimes, stick work in the gables that is meant to look like additional bracing.

* wide (and often deep) front porches – usually with large square or tapering pillars, and a wide staircase leading up to the porch.

* Natural looking materials & earthy colors (though color obviously changes on painted portions).  It’s common to see a lot of stonework used in porches & columns (again, that “earthy” emphasis), as well as rough-hewn wood & stucco surfaces on the exterior.

* thin vertical lines and skinny rectangles on slatted woodwork in windows (often 2-over1, 4-over-1 or even 6-over-1), on front doors, on porch rails, and sometimes on exterior stickwork.  Even the furniture sometimes found in Craftsman homes often had this look, since Craftsman style is closely tied to the “Mission” style.

* Interior: I’ve been inside a lot of Craftsman homes (usually legally, while selling real estate — not by breaking & entering), and the interiors of Craftsman houses generally featured a lot of unpainted, varnished wood to emphasize & appreciate the natural grains.  Lots of nice woodwork, usually with darker finishes.  At the time they were built, these homes were also often decorated with hand-crafted items (Arts & Crafts Movement) if the owner could afford them.  Mission-style furniture was and is still a popular compliment to Craftsman architecture.  Compare the vertically slatted windows above to the vertical lines on the piano & center table in the Craftsman interior below:

* it is very common for there to be a low, pillared bookshelf that partially divides the living room from dining room in Craftsman homes.  I’ve also seen these in American Foursquares from the same era.  Here are a couple of picture of what I’m talking about:

Another wood divider (with ionic columns) between the living room and dining room.

20 Pictures of Craftsman-style Bungalows.

The best way to learn a style is to see it visually, so check out all the pictures below (some are my photos, others I borrowed from elsewhere_.  The first house is one of my favorite bungalows.  I photographed this house in Mansfield, CT, years ago because it was one of the coolest Craftsman houses I had ever seen (and it was just across the street from another Craftsman bungalow I had listed for sale).  I recently found out from another blog that this beauty was just offered for sale:


Here are many more examples of Craftsman-style Bungalows — including some old Sears ads for Craftsman houses:



















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2013 is starting off with a couple of things to look forward to!


David Loades has another book on a wife of Henry VIII, this time wife no. 3 Jane Seymour. It’s out at the end of January in the UK and is listed as February 2013 for the US:


This looks really interesting:

Hidden: Unseen Paintings Beneath Tudor Portraits will run from January 3, 2013 to June 2, 2013 at the National Portrait Gallery in London.

A description of the exhibit from the website:

Recent technical analysis undertaken as part of the Making Art in Tudor Britain project has revealed that some of the Gallery’s sixteenth-century portraits were painted over pre-existing paintings. This could have occurred for a variety of reasons and provides fascinating insight into artistic production during the period.

This display highlights two rare examples in which paintings with religious iconography have been discovered beneath portraits. Images generated by analytical techniques such as x-radiography and infrared reflectography are used to reveal the hidden paintings, and the portraits are also paired with loans from other collections to give an impression of the underlying compositions. The display also includes an interesting portrait with a fragment from a decorative scheme on the reverse, which suggests that it was originally intended to be viewed from both sides.

Picture of the Week #208

Posted: January 16, 2013 in Uncategorized

Arches and aisle, Canterbury Cathedral. Photo May 2003.

Articles, settlements and tombs which date back to 2000 B.C. have been found in Oman during construction of a new border check post.   According to the Ministry of Heritage and Culture official, the remains from ancient settlements, which include a brass necklace, body, daggers, needles, arrow heads, knives, local and imported beads, belonged to Read story