Nearby: Coggeshall Farm Museum

Saturday, August 9, 2014

It seems surprising now, but I went to Coggeshall Farm Museum in Bristol nearly three months ago. I suppose that is how one can measure the swiftness of summer, upon realization that the glorious month of May is already three months past. Our New England bounty of oak and maple had already opened their leaf buds, and though our minds could easily refer to the brutal hardships of winter, the land was once more renewed. That renewal was in plain view for us at Coggeshall, a small yet quaint farm museum in coastal Rhode Island. The place doesn't boast too many structures, but there are plenty of animals, and what's more than that, plenty of workshops to enjoy both. I went to their annual sheep-shearing festival, which made for a great visit, but they also have workshops that focus on hearth cooking, backyard poultry, as well as seed collecting. Each Saturday they host a "breakfast in the barnyard" and in late September they'll have an annual harvest fair. As always, it was wonderful to get out of the city and onto a farm and Coggeshall easily afforded me that opportunity. 

A Lady Escapes: The Exterior of Fallingwater

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Continuing on the Pennsylvanian theme, I had the pleasure of visiting Frank Lloyd Wright's magical Fallingwater during my recent stay back home. Located in Mill Run, very  close to Ohiopyle, it's about a 1.5 hour drive from Pittsburgh through the gentle, rolling hills of southwestern PA. The place is very dear to Pittsburghers, for it was designed in 1935 for the Kaufmann family, whose iconic department stores filled the city landscape from 1871 to 2006. I grew up going to Kaufmann's, as did everyone else from the burgh. The flagship store (or 'big store'as it was always known), was located downtown on the corner of Smithfield Street and Fifth Avenue. Frank Lloyd Wright had a hand in designing certain offices in the store, and then was commissioned to design a summer home for the Kaufmanns', and Fallingwater was the result. Pittsburgh was still a sooty, dark sort of place and though the family had their residence in cozy, comfortable Fox Chapel, they wanted a true escape from the steel city. They found it at Fallingwater, the house that made the cover of Time magazine in 1938 and that has been enchanting visitors since it opened as a museum in 1964. Literally built on top of a waterfall, the house is unlike any I have ever seen. It feels like an extension of nature, as if it was born from the very water it touches. That, of course, was Wright's desire: he wanted the home to be a true representation of organic architecture. The materials all come from the region- he used only steel, sandstone, reinforced concrete and glass in his construction. Long before baby boomers and millenials became obsessed with leading an "organic" lifestyle, Wright was using the term to develop an architectural philosophy that sought both inspiration from and unity with the natural world. I've heard the criticism from people I know that Fallingwater already seems dated, but I can't wholly agree with that statement, which I think may stem from its over-popularity. Perhaps because I live in a world of New England saltboxes (which I DO love), Fallingwater still feels relevant and is still a sight to behold. 
The Kaufmanns' imagined a home built with a view of the waterfall, but Wright was a visionary and did the unthinkable (with a staggering price). I took the standard tour on a week day in mid-July and the place was packed with tourists. The tour was certainly extensive and led by a very informed docent, but it was crowded, and impossible to linger in the rooms or on the many decks. There are other tours available and I'll be interested in taking another when I'm back in the area, because I'll be able to appreciate it in a nuanced way during a different season.  For me, the place was too extensive for a summer home. However, most of the space is taken up by balconies- everything inside is meant to lead you back from whence you came-to return you to the source of the home: the falling water below. 

A Lady Escapes: Phipps Conservatory

Sunday, July 27, 2014

A week ago, I was travelling back from Pittsburgh, my sweet home of homes and bringing with me four days of freshly made memories. One of them was a return to Phipps Conservatory, a well-known landmark in the East End of Pittsburgh where I grew up. Built in 1893 as a gift to the city, it still stands as glorious as ever, lending pleasure to the city's residents, as was its original intent. I went fairly frequently as a child, but haven't returned since-only in an occasional dream. The place is magical, at once reminding the visitor of America's gilded age from which it sprang while at the same time sharing all the wonder of the world's flora and fauna. Pittsburgh's industrialists always strove to remind its workers of beauty and education, whether through Carnegie's libraries or through the creation of this conservatory by Henry Phipps. There are close to twenty distinct gardens, ranging from a space filled with orchids to a desert room covered with succulents and cacti, to a "parterre de broderie" and the grand Victorian palm court. I have been to many botanical gardens, and though I am truly biased in this case, I can honestly say that Phipps is a masterpiece. Botanists and avid gardeners will undeniably fall in love with it, but artists will thoroughly enjoy capturing its beauty and children will race through it with excitement.  So many years had passed since I visited. I won't make the same mistake again. 

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