Friday, January 23, 2015


Snow starts falling as early as October and as late as April in Madison. There's a incredible beauty in the soft slow decent of huge snowflakes, their slow-motion drift. The beauty in those big flakes, the kind of flakes little kids try to catch on their tongues. After the beauty of the fall color has faded there's a gap filled with decay and browness. It's the snow that takes away the decay, covering it up like icing on a cake. So before we get to April and the snow has outlasted its beauty or comfort I want to wrap this post in a white envelope and like a tiny time capsule send it to myself as reminder of how beautiful white can be.





Pulled from Pinterest and my own files

Thursday, January 15, 2015


Unlike cities in the south and northeast Madison never identified itself as a manufacturing mecca. Other than the huge Oscar Mayer complex Madison never possessed the industrial architectural districts you find in the mill towns of the northeast or warehouses of the south. It's impossible to create a Third Ward or a Soho in Madison.
Madison's architectural heritage is centered more around government and educational structures and the beautiful residential areas that grew out of those white-collar industries. The scarcity of a large industrial and retail heritage makes what remains all the more significant. What industrial architecture we have in Madison is minimal and therefore all the more important to preserve.
One of the few remaining pieces of that architectural history is the crumbling but salvageable Garver Feed Mill.
Built in 1905 as the United States Sugar Beet Company and then renovated in 1929 by James Garver as the Garver Feed Mill, the mill remains in immediate need of some tender loving care.
I have my own history surrounding the mill. I grew up blocks away. Walking the railroad tracks that run directly in front of the mill was the path I took almost every evening during the winter, my ice skates draped over my shoulder. The city still freezes over the park and maintains a warming shelter for skaters. It used to have a well-worn wooden ramp that took you from the wood stove inside the warming house out onto the ice.
In the early part of the twentieth century Michael Balthzar Olbrich, a Madison lawyer, headed two fund raising initiatives along with the Madison Park and Pleasure Drive Association to develop an extension of the Madison parks system running along the east shore of Lake Monona. The park was meant to service the laborers who worked in the factories that lined the route from Williamson to Atwood. A municipal flower garden was to be its crowning jewel. Olbrich Botanical Gardens was what resulted from the plan. The city has developed the garden into one of the most prominent public gardens in the nation. Currently a quarter of a million visitors a year visit the gardens.
These gardens are adjacent to the Garver Mill. The only part of the mill to have been brought into the Botanical Gardens family of structures is the former Garver Cottage. It was restored in 2001 and now houses the Gardens horticultural staff.
The mill affords Madison an opportunity to broaden the Garden's reputation as well as the city's.
In December four proposals for redevelopment of the mill were presented giving four very different ideas for reuse of the building. Here is a list of criteria I've come up with for choosing a direction for a proposed use and renovation for the building.
1.   Does the proposed rehabilitation preserve the building's historic heritage
2.   Is the proposal architecturally significant
3.   Does it generate monies for the city through tax revenue
4. Does it generate monies for the community through jobs and expenditures from entities outside the immediate community
5. Does it benefit the general population of the city
There have been many successful transformations of large scale manufacturing buildings into income generating enterprises that benefit their respective cities enhancing their appeal on a national basis. One organization to look to and at the forefront of historic renovation and management is the Atlanta firm of Jamestown Properties. Through the buildings they have either restored or manage they have successfully changed formerly depressed areas into vibrant coveted urban hubs.
Their transformations and or management include Ghirardelli Square in San Francisco, Chelsea Market in New York City and Warehouse Row in Chattanooga a city equivalent in size to Madison and a city on the rise to becoming a major American city.
All of these conversions have met all five points set out above and all of them have been very successful. First, they have all paid attention to the buildings heritage. Ghiradelli Square still makes chocolate and Chelsea Market continues to focus as a food market in the former National Biscuit building. Although it is not essential that building recreate its former use it helps to recognize the connection.
The transformations of these buildings haven't tried to contrast the structures with additions inappropriate to its original use but instead updated what needed to be repaired.
Mechanisms intrinsic to the building were saved and incorporated into the new designs.
Added décor usually reflects the historic era of the buildings inception. If you're rebuilding history it's helpful to keep that history in mind. This doesn't require a literal incorporation but a reference to materials and construction adds to its success
Each of these endeavors has used some form of retail to promote it. They are all thematic mini-malls using local boutique manufacturers and vendors.
Chelsea market not only sells locally produced goods but manufactures them on the premises as well. Open windows allow the public to watch as breads are baked and cupcakes are iced.
Warehouse Row in Chattanooga has positioned itself as a retail design center with high-end clothiers and home décor stores that draw clientele from surrounding metropolises like Birmingham, Nashville, Memphis and Atlanta. Their mission statement includes respect for history, sustainability, a green philosophy, and a return for its investors.
All of these industrial architecture conversions have added restaurants to their mix of tenants. It seems almost necessary for their success. Tupelo Honey in Warehouse Row is one of the finest biscuit restaurants around bringing fresh, made-from-scratch southern comfort food to their appreciative diners.
Each of these saved industrial architectural pieces has helped their respective communities and in some cases has helped to save those communities from dissolving into complete obscurity.
Madison is a city with its own unique clientele and shopping patterns. It is a difficult task to get westsiders to come east and eastsiders to go west. Design and home décor vendors have a rough go of it. Restaurants proliferate almost as fast as rabbits. If food is not an integral part of the mill project I don't see it succeeding.
I hope Madison will look at these success stories when evaluating what will happen with one of its few remaining pieces of its industrial history. Madison can't produce a Third Ward or a Soho. We've either destroyed or never had that heritage. It'd be a shame to loose what little we do have.

As a little boy every Fourth of July I'd get in the backseat of the family car along with a couple of quilts and a picnic basket filled with dinner. We'd drive from the eastside over to Vilas to watch the fireworks. The route of anticipation went across Gorham and University Avenue, a left onto Park Street. Traffic would start to grow heavy as we approached the zoo. There was a brick building with this great neon you had to pass on the way to the fireworks. The red neon unabashedly screamed, "The Ideal Body Shop". It was such a comfort to me. At five or six I was secretly contemplating my first plastic surgery should I decide I needed it. It was a great building, a building with potential for uses that might have gone beyond a clever doctor's office.
The building was torn down in 2013 and now - well its replacement is not quite so comforting

Mechanic at Steam Pump in Electric Power House, 1920
Lewis Hine, photographer
Represented by Howard Greenberg Gallery, NYC

Thursday, January 8, 2015


Perched on a pinnacle believed to be the sacred nest of the mythical giant hawk, "Tia-Numa", by the Cherokee nation is the new nesting home to the Hunter Museum of American Art. Chattanooga has for decades been predominately known as the home of the Choo-Choo, but it has slowly been transforming itself into an ideal city filled with culture and innovation on a national scale. The Hunter Museum is a large pearl in the necklace Chattanooga has been stringing bead by bead.
The museum opened in 1952 when the former Hunter mansion was bequeathed to the Chattanooga Art Association from the Benwood Foundation, a charitable trust created by George Thomas Hunter. The mansion, built in 1904 in the Edwardian style, was designed by the Cincinnati architectural firm of Mead and Garfield.
In 1975 the Hunter Museum of American Art became simply the Hunter Museum with a facelift to the mansion, a new addition to the museum designed by Chattanooga architects Derthick, Henley and Wilderson, and a donation of forty American paintings from the continued support of the Benwood Foundation.
The trend of designing museums as pieces of art began way back with Frank Lloyd Wright's Guggenheim in New York City.
The tradition continued with masterfully imagined creations by Frank Gehry in Bilbao,
the Louvre's Pyramid by I.M. Pei,
and the Milwaukee Art Museum designed by Santiago Calatrava with its spreading wings stretching out over Lake Michigan.
Chattanooga entered the company of these elite museums with its newest addition designed by Los Angeles architects Randall Stout and Associates.
The metal clad structure pounds its weight into the hilltop with monolithic forms broken up with sweeping silver wings, an angelic Stonehenge.
Debbie Butterworth's wooden steed stands as sentinel at the museum's gate appearing as if in the ready against a Celtic siege.
Glass-bottomed bridges connect the museum to the rest of Chattanooga
while glass railings both inside and out protect museum goers from plunging to their deaths yet let the beauty of the museums forms appear unobstructed.
The museum's collection is allowed to spread its wings on walls painted colors not traditionally seen in art museums or galleries. The effect is languorous allowing you to spend time with each piece.
By not crowding the art you can find distance in viewing each piece. You can stand back and absorb the art without having another piece intrude on your vision. The enjoyment of being able to take time with a piece of art is a benefit of a smaller collection.
The haunting eyes of Tony Scheman's Il Mostro,
the wonderful lyric painting of Thomas Hart Benton,
and the sweet innocence of Charles Hawthorne's The Fish, the Bottle and the Boy can be taken in and savored, rolled around in your mind and implanted to your memory in a way larger museums with pieces crammed in can't.
The contemplative sculptural beauty of Young Woman Reading a Book by Malvina Cornell Hoffman is mesmerizing as your eyes caress her polished cheeks and drift down to the cut lines of her shawl.
The influence of Ingres has been contemporized in Lalla Essaydi's Les Femmes Du Maroc: La Grande Odalisque, leaving the photographic structure of her work embedded in her oversized print, her subject covered in writing.
Glass plays a major part in the Hunter's collection; lit to perfection its fragile quality exposed.
The Venus de Milo appeal of Karen LaMonte's Reclining Dress Impression with Drapery was as sensual and provocative as anything at the Louvre.
Also on display was a traveling show sponsored by Aperture consisting of 130 works by forty-three artists highlighting the process and end results of photographic inspired articles in the New York Times Magazine.
The exhibit is divided into thirteen segments each following a particular article or series of articles based on photojournalism, fashion or portraiture.
You get to see the entire process from conception through the initial notes and correspondences to snap shots and contact sheets and then into final productions in the magazine along with framed images of the artists final picks.
It's a fascinating look into the process of editorial and photographic collaboration and creativity.
Whether your climbing the stairs in the original mansion
or are descending the spiraling glass and metal stairs of the museums newest addition
the Hunter is a museum worth spending time walking through and pausing at its amazing collection and architecture.

Lena Dunham as Neoclassical Bust, 2014
Victoria Diehl, photographer
Represented by Cero Gallery, Madrid, Spain