Writing New Jersey Life

People and places of New Jersey…with some travels.

Category: Lifestyle Page 1 of 4

“‘A Song for You’: The Grammy Museum Experience at the Prudential Center”

Cherry blossoms at nearby Branch Brook Park
Photo taken before an NJ Devils’ game at the Prudential Center. The Grammy Museum entrance is alongside the building.

The Grammy Museum Experience at the Prudential Center, the first satellite of the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles, is a Newark destination where you will receive a warm welcome from staff members who are proud of The Recording Academy’s East Coast home that opened in October 2017.  A visit after the annual Newark Saint Patrick’s Day Parade this year added to the celebratory feeling of the awards showcase.

The museum opens with a dramatic entranceway filled with Grammy Awards through the decades.  Visitors then enjoy a photo profile timeline of the Grammy Awards highlights since the start in 1958 with performing artists like Lady Gaga, Tony Bennett, Bruno Mars, Frank Sinatra, Miles Davis, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr., Elvis Presley, and milestones like the founding of the Latin Recording Academy in 1997.

Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga. Lady Gaga, Stefani Angelina Germanotta, developed her material and onstage persona in Parsippany, NewJersey over the course of a year by commuting on buses to work with music producer Ron Fusari

There are also video interviews with singers like Halsey, from Edison, New Jersey and Ed Sheeran. Fun, interactive exhibits “Ray Charles and Raelettes” and two with Newark roots, “Drum with Max Weinberg” and “Wyclef Jean’s Rap Interactive,” are hits with children.

Halsey, Ashley Nicolette Frangipane

Bruno Mars, Peter Gene Hernandez, sang in the Super Bowl XLVIII in the New Jersey Meadowlands, has a new hit with Cardi B.
Max Weinberg interactive exhibit. Mr. Weinberg’s Jukebox Tour will make a stop in Woodbridge, New Jersey June 1st to celebrate the city’s 350th birthday

During this week’s Cherry Blossom Festival in Branch Brook Park, or after a concert, an NJ Devils match, the annual Mikey Strong Charity Game, or a Seton Hall Pirates basketball game at the Prudential Center is an ideal time to visit the modest-sized museum. Admission is $10 with discounts for youth (3-17, 2 and under, free), college students with ID, like those from Rutgers University Newark, the New Jersey Institute of Technology, Essex County College, and Seton Hall Law School, $9, military with ID, $7, and group rates.

The art at the Prudential Center, known as “The Rock” from the Prudential Insurance Rock of Gibraltar logo, features sculptures as one enters the building: “The Salute,” honoring Martin Brodeur and “The Iron Man,” the latter on Championship Plaza, both by sculptor Jon Krawczyk, a New Jersey native and a Devils’ fan. Indoors is “The Mural,” the largest sports mural in the world by ambidextrous sports artist Tom Mosser from neighboring Pennsylvania, paying homage to New Jersey Devils Martin Brodeur, Ken Daneyko, and Scott Stevens. Commissioned by the NJ Devils, The Mural generously includes other Garden State greats in different sports like Althea Gibson, Richie Regan, Terry Dehere, Tony Meola, and iconic New Jersey landmarks: Newark’s Prudential Building, Barnegat Lighthouse, Atlantic City’s Steel Pier, and the dome of the state capitol. Mr. Mosser’s “Vintage Stadium Series” on Suite Level One, includes all four NJ Devils arenas in which the team has played.  Additional works are by Samantha Wendell, Laurie Campbell, Michael Nighswonger, Dane Tilghman, Larry Ketchum, and Andy Bernstein. 

“The Salute,” Martin Brodeur by Jon Krawczyk
Partial view of Tom Mosser’s “The Mural” with Althea Gibson, Martin Brodeur, and Richie Regan
Ken Daneyko, who played in the recent Mike Nichols Charity Hockey Game, by Tom Mosser. The Devils support many local, area, and national charities.
“The Iron Man,” modeled after an NJ Devil, by Jon Krawczyk is on Championship Plaza by the Prudential Center.
Children enjoy playing with their pal before games. The dazzling Iron Man is popular with Newark residents and visitors for photos and selfies.

New Jersey Legends

From the fourth smallest contiguous US state comes a remarkable amount of musical talent, reflected in the exhibition “New Jersey Legends”.  The names are likely familiar: Jon Bon Jovi, Bruce Springsteen, the Jonas Brothers, Gloria Gaynor, Count Basie, Frank Sinatra, and Les Paul. Either they or their families have generously donated personal items from their careers for visitors to enjoy. There are also traveling photographic exhibits of Bruce Springsteen and Frank Sinatra via the Grammy Museum LA. The exhibit notes the Asbury Park dynamic with many New Jersey musicians.

Tal Farlow, jazz guitarist, left case, and South Johnny and the Asbury Jukes

Grammy winner Taylor Swift, from Reading, Pennsylvania, spent childhood summers in Stone Harbor at the Jersey Shore.  Though Ms. Swift is not part of the New Jersey exhibit, a proud note for the state is that she spent childhood summers in Stone Harbor at the Jersey Shore. The museum featured her in an exhibit last year at this time.

Taylor Swift
“The Jersey Boys” Broadway sensation based on The Four Seasons (Frankie Valli, Bob Gaudio, Tommy DeVito, and Mark Nassi)
Kool and the Gang (Robert Bell, Ronald Bell, George Brown, Dennis Thomas, Charles Smith, Ricky West, Robert Mickens, original members) who tour with new members
Jon Bon Jovi, who has started a business with his son, is recording a new album in Nashville.
One of Count Basie’s Captain captain hats and his 1960 Grammy Award for the “Dance with Basie” album
Les Paul’s medal from the National Inventors Hall of Fame, bestowed without the sneaker reflection. Mr. Paul was one of the inventors of the electric guitar, among other things, for which he also received a Grammy Award for technical achievement.

Dress shoes of Frank Sinatra
Suit and sneakers from the red carpet donated by Nick Jonas, recently married to actress Priyanka Chopra. Nicki is also a member of the Jonas Brothers with Kevin and Joe, who just debuted a new single at Penn State University.


After writing these modest travel pieces for a few years, an impression is that for a legacy to continue, it is invaluable for the artist’s memory to have a home.  Having a physical place for children to learn about the artist, inventor, or leader helps them connect through a shared experience like playing with a new interactive baseball exhibit at the nearby Yogi Berra Museum at Montclair State University, or reading about how Mr. Berra overcame bullying, which serves as an insight into his empathy for others. At their best, such visits not only inform but inspire.

With “Whitney!” at The Grammy Museum Experience, Whitney Elizabeth Houston’s legacy has found a home – at least through June of this year and hopefully longer. “The most awarded female artist of all time,” Ms. Houston remains “the only artist to have 7 consecutive U.S. #1 singles.”  Known as “The Voice,” Whitney won six Grammy Awards, two Emmy Awards, 30 Billboard Music Awards, and 22 American Music Awards.  Her second album “Whitney” debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, the first female artist to do so. To this day, “The Bodyguard,” 1992, in which she co-starred with Kevin Costner, is the best-selling film soundtrack and “Waiting to Exhale,” 1995, is No. 8, reflecting the staying power of Ms. Houston’s talent.  Whitney’s single “I Will Always Love You,” written by Dolly Parton, also a Grammy winner and Lifetime Achievement Award recipient, remains the No. 9 bestselling recording in the world.  Even more significantly, Ms. Houston’s success in “The Bodyguard” opened the door for African-American women as leads in blockbuster films. The soundtrack of “The Preacher’s Wife,” wonderful to revisit in writing this, went platinum three times and was and still is a best-selling gospel album.

Whitney with her mother Emily “Cissy” Houston in front of New Hope Baptist Church, Newark

Whitney, now a member of the Grammy Hall of Fame, reached an achievement even beyond multi-gold and platinum records. According to Forbes, the Recording Industry Association of America recognizes 22 artists with “Diamond certification,” that is, two albums “that have shifted at least 10 million equivalent copies between pure sales and streaming”. Whitney is one of those artists whose debut “Whitney Houston” album and “The Bodyguard” each sold more than 10 million copies, 12 million and 11.8 million, respectively. During her career, Whitney sold over 170 million “albums, singles, and videos”.  What is immeasurable is Ms. Houston’s artistic influence on singers like Jennifer Hudson, whose tribute is included in the exhibit, Beyonce, Lady Gaga, Alicia Keys, Christina Aguilera, Adele and those still to come.

On exhibit are performance and interview videos, album covers, costumes, and designer gowns from award shows and film premieres. Charming, eclectic things like the magazine covers from Whitney’s modeling days to the fairy godmother tiara that she wore in Disney’s televised “Cinderella,” all create a warm connection with the star for visitors. 

An NAACP Image Award in the foreground and American Music Award (glass pinnacle), both for “Waiting to Exhale,” and the “Cinderella” tiara is on the upper shelf

Before Whitney’s red carpet experiences, her mother Emily “Cissy” Drinkard Houston, who led the New Hope Baptist Church Youth Inspirational Choir in Newark for decades, was a Grammy winner.  Cissy was part of the Gospel singing group the Drinkard Four, later the Drinkard Singers.  As a founder and member of Sweet Inspirations, Cissy was a session singer, a backup singer, or both for Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, Jimi Hendrix, Van Morrison, Bette Midler, and Elvis Presley in addition to recording her own albums. Her nieces are Dionne and DeeDee Warwick and opera singer Leontyne Price is a distant cousin.

Cissy Houston’s Grammy Awards for her gospel albums “He Leadeth Me” and “Face to Face”

The Whitney Houston exhibit opened in October 2018 attended by her family, including her cousin Ms. Dionne Warwick.  Ms. Warwick grew up in East Orange as did Whitney where both had the honor of having their former grammar schools named after them, the Whitney E. Houston Academy for Creative and Performing Arts and the Dionne Warwick Institute of Economics & Entrepreneurship, respectively.

The videos of Ms. Houston’s performances and interviews with producers who worked with her underscore her virtuosity.  So gifted, Whitney sang her acclaimed 1991 rendition of the “Star-Spangled Banner” perfectly on the first take for Super Bowl XXV with a talent that surprised even the most experienced producers. Whitney, her arranger John L. Clayton, and anthem producer Rickey Minor slowed down the anthem from 3/4 time to 4/4, which increased the technical difficulty, but also made it more dramatic.  This arrangement added to the anthem’s resonance in a time of heightened national security after the Gulf War.  A few criticized Whitney for not singing the anthem live which she had done at a Nets-Lakers game, but the thought was that the cheering might not allow her to hear the first notes.  Whitney did sing live, actually, though the microphone was off.  An estimated 79.6 million people viewed her performance. Ms. Houston donated the proceeds of “the highest charting rendition of the national anthem on the Billboard 100 chart” to Gulf War veterans and their families. 

Whitney supported many charitable organizations including her foundation. With her rendition of “A Song for You” at her “Welcome Home Heroes Concert” for those troops returning from the Gulf War, Whitney accomplished what every great singer does – each person in that audience believed that she was singing directly to him or her.  We choose such songs for important life events, their words resonating with us. The songwriter Leon Russell, himself a Grammy winner, pitched it and Whitney hit it home as she did in her “One Moment in Time” video for the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea.

Designer outfits and awards
The Sports Emmy Award for her performance of “ One Moment in Time,” written by Albert Hammond and John Bettis

The Whitney Houston Foundation has generously shared personal items of the artist reflecting her start as a soloist at age 11 in the choir of the New Hope Baptist Church in Newark, the city of her birth.  In the collection is her high school diploma. With such talent and natural teenage inclinations, Whitney reportedly was eager to start her career as soon as possible and took lessons throughout those years.  In high school, I saw Whitney only in passing and make no claims of having known her except to write that before I heard about her singing, I was delighted to discover another tall girl at school. Whitney carried that height gracefully, and I remember a lovely, willowy girl who later blossomed into a beautiful woman.  As it turned out, we both had spent our first years in Newark.

An absolute thrill was when the “How Will I Know?” video came out.  My former classmates and I called each other (on landlines) in excitement. Years later, we read that Whitney was not as happy with it, perhaps not having had the creative control that she did once her career soared.  Both the song and video deliver the charisma, however, of a breakout star. Being world famous, Whitney’s career in music and film were everywhere when I was living overseas.

A wise and long-time friend has shared the quote that people remain the same age for us as when we first met them.  From Whitney’s amazing songbook, it would be difficult for any of us to choose a favorite, but “How Will I Know?” takes me back to the sweetness of the beginning.

You can experience the celebration of Ms. Houston, her fellow New Jersey artists, and other Grammy winners at the Prudential Center, Tuesday through Sunday, 11-6 and also find more information about Newark sights at the Greater Newark Convention & Visitors Bureau where you will receive another warm welcome.

(Sources: Grammy.com, billboard.com, whitneyhouston.com, businessinsider.com, independent.co.uk, forbes.com, nytimes.com, espn.com, nhl.com, newarkhistory.com, 101.5, cnn.com, top10hq.com, flickr.com, itunescharts.net, Wiki)

“A Song for You: The Grammy Museum Experience at the Prudential Center” All Rights Reserved © 2019 Kathleen Helen Levey

One of the signed posters in the collection of performers at The Rock
The Military Park Building with the Newark Visitors Bureau at Military Park
Military Park Carousel
A walk in nearby Branch Brook Park, envisioned by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, designers of Central Park. Frederick’s son and stepson, the Olmsted Brothers, realized their vision.
The Belleville part of the park also has a similar Central Park elegance.
The center of Cherry Blossomland where (reserved) tours are available
The Erie Railroad Bridge, 1932. In addition to bridges and fountains, the park also features a popular roller rink.
Park patron Caroline Bamberger Fuld brought 2,050 cherry tree saplings from Japan in 1927 and nurtured them on the grounds of her estate in Orange until they were ready for planting in the park. Today there are 5,300 trees, the most in the United States.
There are 14 varieties of cherry blossom trees in Branch Brook Park.
The French Gothic Revival Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart next to the park. There is a beautiful view of the basilica across the lake.
A path under flowering branches
Every shade of pink. There are three types of blossoming trees: single blossom, double blossom, and weeping cherries.
Beautiful white blossoms with more at Branch Brook Park Alliance

“Central Park: A Heart Song Runs Through It”

Valentine’s Day

Blue sky reflected on shimmering ice at the Conservatory Water

Coming Attractions

The age-old wisdom when choosing a partner is to see how he treats his mother and servers.  One might add, travel with him.  If you both are excited by things you experience, fantastic.  If the trains never run on time, which make you both laugh, even better – that person’s a keeper. Maya Angelou included one more prong on the test: spend time with that special someone when it rains.  Does he light up your day?

To these, one might add another test learned in youth, crucial if you are a movie lover.  Share a favorite film with your partner and see what happens.  When Robert Redford’s “A River Runs Through It” from Norman Maclean’s novella came out on the now nostalgic videotape, I brought home the movie to watch again with two roommates as one does with things too good not to share. “You’ve got to see this.  It’s a beautiful film.”

While watching, one woman, feeling hoodwinked, stomped out halfway through and complained, “Nothing happens.”  The other fell asleep. To the list, add the “A River Runs Through It” test.  Perhaps this was a lesson in not imposing one’s taste on others, and such a reaction has happened rarely, in fact, but it’s good to be excited about great work.

Honoring musical artist John Lennon at Strawberry Fields

The Main Feature: Central Park

With love, like the view from Belvedere Castle, all things seem possible.  Paraphrasing for St. Valentine’s Day, but the love of devotion is evident in the park as much as romance.  A cheerful volunteer smiling and offering passers-by park maps from a windowless booth on a day of frozen park waters reminds us that the beauty of Central Park is not just cinematic.  Those who remember “A River Runs Through It” would also recall the park at that time, and how the Conservancy and staff have transformed it.

The Angel of the Waters by Emma Stebbins

As Bow Bridge takes us across the Lake, Central Park’s beauty carries us serenely back into our day. The love in the details of Central Park’s design by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux delivers the romance of nature every day. Artists who paint the park, musicians who set it to music, and photographers and filmmakers who capture it, share their inspiration.  Both New Yorkers who enjoy the park daily and visitors remind us of how special a place it is.  As park-goers know, hearing first-time explorers’ exclamations of delight is lovely.

Bethesda Terrace


One place that draws people now is the Pond where visitors have come for months to see the Mandarin duck. The bird-watching at the Pond is Central Park at its best. On a recent weekend visit, a crowd had gathered at the water’s edge.  Around the Pond, there is the shared excitement of spotting Mandy, then following his movements, speculating where he will go next.  Then there is the romance of experiencing something beautiful and unique with others. Two men charmed women with talk of the duck, which was both delightful and impressive. Couples came and went, some reaching for each other’s hands upon sighting Mandy.  This sweetness may go back to our childhoods.  Earlier at Harlem Meer, a young father had taken his elated son to see his friends, the ducks.  For many, ducks were a memorable first contact with wildlife.

Winter at Harlem Meer with a view of the Charles A. Dana Recovery Center

A photographer proudly and warmly shared that he had first captured “Mandy” (a description which hopefully is not too revealing), and a lovely woman mentioned that she had come from a distance to take the duck’s photos as well. Others climbed up on the rocks or dashed to Gapstow Bridge for a better view animatedly talking about the duck in several languages, all understood. Some in the group composed entirely of adults remarked on his stunning appearance with color block feathers of blue, russet, brown, purple, black, orange, white, and grey.

What is the draw of a bird?  There is the intrigue of the Mandarin duck.  Why has he come?  Why has he stayed?  Was he ever an ugly duckling? Like a gift twice over for photographers, his savvy in selecting one of the most picturesque spots in the park to hold court enhances a stylish panache that rivals Fashion Week.  The gentleman charms wearing the Savile Row suit of plumage in the duck world. 

The duck is extraordinary even in late afternoon iPhone photos
The Mandarin duck stands out in a stand-out crowd and gets on well with them

Photographers compared notes about the best lenses to capture Mandy’s detail. People politely took turns to take pictures, civility much like that at fellow park New York Botanical Garden events. The inexplicable appearance of the duck is one of the special park experiences like Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s “The Gates,” which thrilled when I lived in the city. Coincidentally, wonderful photos of this were tweeted today @CentralParkNYC, a reminder to anyone who writes that tweets make the new deadlines.

Looking back while leaving, were it not too revealing with faces, the photo that I would have taken for “It’s the People” for the warm #CentralParkLove hashtag this Valentine’s Day week would be the small, warm circle gathered around the tiny bank of the Pond that Mandy was favoring that day.  If you live in New York City or plan a trip to the park and want to feel good, have a visit with the Mandarin duck.

Thank you to Manhattan Bird Alert @BirdCentralPark on Twitter for keeping us posted on the whereabouts of this celebrated resident.

Hans Christian Anderson and the title character of “The Ugly Duckling”
A friendly mallard at the Lake


In Central Park, there is the romance of childhood revisited with one’s children.  Those who grew up going to the park can return to take their children to play in the same playgrounds, go ice skating, ride the Carousel, climb the big rocks, visit the zoo, and see a play at the Swedish Cottage Marionette Theater with “Yeti, Set, Snow!” presently on the marquee.

In terms of a plot at Central Park, there is not much to tell – people go there for walks, recreation, nature — and sometimes to see a duck.  Aside from being a cinematographer’s dream, regarding feeling in the park, there is everything.  Nothing, but everything, happens.

Thank you to Central Park for creative inspiration.  Enjoy the park’s Instagram @centralparknyc and Central Park on Facebook with beautiful photos of the Mandarin duck and the park.

“Central Park: A Heart Song Runs Through It” All Rights Reserved © 2019 Kathleen Helen Levey

The Loeb Boathouse at the half-frozen Lake
The music of the park, Duke Ellington by Robert Graham, Duke Ellington Circle, northeast corner of the park, Harlem
Vanderbilt Gate entrance to the Conservatory Garden
Bow Bridge and ice on the Lake
Tito Puente Way, northeast corner of the park, Harlem

“Hyde Park: The Year from the Top”


December and the holidays bring joy and sometimes reflection, but it is January, the heart of winter, that can become the month of rumination.  The start of the year, however, is also when the days grow longer, and we appreciate the sun in a bright blue sky glistening on the snow – usually.  If accustomed to snow, the absence of it offsets in that inexplicable way that setting the clocks forward and back sometimes does.  January can become like this one a month played in minor key depending upon where our paths take us. With travel, like life, we may say that the timing is not right and never go, but think of 2019 as the year of heading out. 

One such trip would be to the Roosevelt-Vanderbilt National Parks in Hyde Park, which offer not only history but the beauty of the Hudson Valley.   For those interested in history, Ken Burns’ “The Roosevelts: An Intimate History,” brings home the relatable parts of the family story as well as world events: Teddy, a young man who lost both his wife and mother within a day, Franklin, a favorite son of a doting mother and the privileged man struck by illness, Eleanor, a girl who felt that she never fit in with her peers, and Eleanor & Franklin and the dynamics of a marriage.

Franklin, Eleanor, Anna, and Franklin’s mother Sara (Springwood)

Springwood, FDR Library and Museum, and Top Cottage

Springwood estate in Hyde Park, New York is the birthplace and home of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, which the family referred to as “Hyde Park” and the “Big House”. The house is impressive, but the sweeping view of the Hudson River rivals it.  One could see why FDR returned to Springwood often during his three terms as president. On the grounds are also the FDR Presidential Library and Museum and the burial site of the president and first lady.  The estate is beautiful with trees that FDR, a conservationist like his cousin Theodore, had planted.  Top Cottage, the president’s retreat, is about two miles away and accessible via the park shuttle.

Eleanor and Franklin welcome park visitors

Our first visit was on an impromptu stop while traveling to the Berkshires where my friend spent summers as a boy and enjoys returning as we both do.  Hyde Park in Dutchess County, part of the Mid-Hudson Valley, however, is a destination in itself with FDR’s home, the Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Park and the nearby Sixteen Mile Historic District in Columbia County, all part of The Hudson River National Landmark Historic District, the largest historic district in the continental US.

Side view of Springwood with floral trellises and ivy

On this initial Springwood trip in June, we had a chance to tour FDR’s home.  Among the fascinating accounts that the park ranger shared on the tour, a few stood out.  Sara, Franklin’s devoted mother who owned the house and Franklin’s New York City home, interestingly, revamped Springwood to look more “presidential” years before Franklin was president with an idea like dressing for the job to which one aspires.  Franklin assisted with the designs that transformed the exterior of Springwood from a pleasant “clapboard farmhouse” to Colonial Revival Style. Visitors, many political allies, could easily envision FDR in the White House. 

Springwood before the remodeling
Hudson River view from Springwood, now somewhat obscured by the trees FDR had planted, but still beautiful

The president, the “Great Communicator,” delivered two of his famous fireside chats from Springwood with his Scottish Terrier Fala, a favorite of children across the country, including our mother, by his side.  Grown-ups, too, seemed to enjoy Fala. The FDR Library blog shares that sailors got the idea of cutting off locks of Fala’s fur for good luck on one of FDR’s WWII battleship visits.  Fala had a habit of dashing off to the decks below to get treats, and he slipped by his “walking officer” on the USS Baltimore.  The sociable Fala did not bark while being clipped, but FDR had to put a stop to this as the terrier looked quite shorn.

Fala with FDR (Wiki photo)
Fala depicted with FDR at the wonderful Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial in Washington, DC, sculpted by George Segal (Wiki photo)

Before Fala’s antics, along the tree-lined driveway to his boyhood home, the 39-year-old Franklin pushed himself to walk farther and farther each day after being stricken with polio. Researchers speculate that the president may have had Guillain-Barré syndrome, which is a nerve disorder and not a viral disease, but that did not change what FDR dealt with in 1921. Franklin never made it to the end of the driveway, but he continued to try.

For our mother and many of her peers, FDR was president throughout their childhoods.  Our mother recalls that Mrs. Branigan, a Vailsburg, Newark neighbor and an Irish immigrant, got off the bus from work one day and walked along the street sobbing.  When Mrs. Branigan passed our mother’s house, she saw the little girl sitting on the porch glider, and between tears, said, “Our president is dead.”  Hearing this, our mother, too, burst into tears feeling a family attachment to the man whose voice had come into their homes to reassure them during the Great Depression and World War II.

A familial warmth is part of the delight of visiting historic sites in Hyde Park and the area.  Many residents knew the families who were also part of their community, and they shared life stories.  After each winning election, neighbors carried torches up to the front of the house at Springwood to wish FDR well.  The wonderful feeling of community in Hyde Park remains to this day.

A radiant young Eleanor proud of her accomplishment (Springwood)
An impressive collection of Roosevelt family equestrian prizes
The stable
Daffodils at the stable
Horses had names like “New Deal,” “Lady Luck,” “Pal O Mine,” and “Patches”

The elegance of the Rose Garden, here blooming with peonies, befits its stately purpose as the resting place of Eleanor and Franklin. The beloved Fala is also buried nearby and daughter Anna’s German shepherd.

The burial site of Eleanor and FDR
FDR bust and FDR Presidential Library, the view from Freedom Court. FDR bust by Walter Russell.
FDR Library entrance

On another visit, we enjoyed exploring the FDR Presidential Library and Museum, the first US presidential library, which we enjoyed exploring ohas the compelling pull of history. Seeing the president’s memorabilia from his White House years has a resonance beyond his delightful boyhood collections and the family photographs in his home. Historic photos come to life in the library. FDR was the first president to donate his letters to the public, leaving them to the National Archives.  The innovative design of the entrance celebrates this historic boon.  At FDR’s request, the library also includes the letters of the First Lady.  The library also has virtual tours. Given park budgets, Top Cottage has limited tours, and after our wonderful library visit, we looked forward to seeing FDR’s retreat another time. 

FDR Library entrance, partial view
FDR campaign hat
FDR’s desk from the Oval Office
FDR’s 1936 Ford Phaeton
The library notes that Fred Relyea, a Poughkeepsie mechanic, adapted the car for FDR’s use

Top Cottage was the second home that FDR designed with architect Henry Toombs with the thought that the president would retire there after his second term.  The fieldstone Dutch Colonial Revival home, in keeping with the historic houses in the area, is one of only two buildings designed by a US president and one of the first in the United States with wheelchair accessibility.  Primarily, it was a peaceful getaway.  Springwood was often hectic during FDR’s presidency, and well-wishers entered the grounds hoping to see the president, unimaginable with 21st-century security. 

Like Springwood, Top Cottage had many famous visitors: Winston Churchill, Canadian Prime Minister William Lyon MacKenzie, Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands and Princesses Juliana and Beatrix, Norway’s Crown Prince Olaf and Crown Princess Martha, and interestingly, Madame Chiang Kai-Shek. On the first visit to the US by British monarchs, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth were guests at the celebrated Top Cottage “hot dog summit,” where the president introduced the royal couple to American dishes at a picnic and took the king and queen on one of his hurtling car rides.  The picnic had a serious and successful purpose in making the British monarchs seem relatable and more democratic as they ate and drank beer with Hyde Park staff.  Months later, FDR was able to send supplies to help England after their declaration of war on Germany.  All of FDR’s guests appreciated this woodland retreat from the public eye as he did and the warmth of being entertained in a home.

Winston Churchill by Oscar Nemon in Freedom Court
The Four Freedoms: A sculpture based on FDR’s “Four Freedoms” speech that inspired Berkshire neighbor Norman Rockwell. Mr. Rockwell’s famous paintings, now on tour, but based at the Norman Rockwell Museum, raised money for war bonds on exhibit around the country. Speech admires May also enjoy the FDR Four Freedoms Park in NYC.

If we drove like FDR, we may have made it on time to tour Top Cottage, but missing the shuttle bus went from our running joke about timing, somewhat akin to having missed the rocket launch for life, to a lesson in saying good-bye to perfectionism, a good resolution.  Travel writing should make people want to go to a place and enjoy it – informative fun does not have to be a dutiful treatise. And yet, we still tried.  Top Cottage closes in the winter, another discovery on a different visit, which meant a great excuse to enjoy the beautiful tulip poplar trees outside the library and have lunch in the café before driving home. Other trips to the FDR historic site have brought more walks and gift shop stops for ornaments at the holidays. So a missed shuttle bus here and there has led to making the FDR historic site a regular stop like walking the grounds at the Vanderbilt Mansion.

Posting, too, went the way of the elusive Top Cottage. Even with the buffer of history, a post in the fall of 2016 was not the best time. Over the holidays, rethought this with the idea for Top Cottage as a metaphor for new beginnings, still the timing was not right, but better now with thoughts of spring visits.

Val-Kill, the Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site

Stone Cottage, Eleanor’s residence at Val-Kill

Val-Kill, Eleanor Roosevelt’s historic site, is two miles from Springwood and a little over four miles from Top Cottage.  Perhaps that is part of how Eleanor and Franklin’s marriage lasted or that the demands of public life required personal space.  A warm June sun, chirping birds, and beautiful flowers, show the simple residence as what it was, a haven for the first lady.  With the exhibits planned by the park rangers, visitors feel Eleanor’s uplifting spirit.  Practically, Val-Kill gave the first lady opportunity to work on her own projects including the development of off-season jobs for local residents, which became Val-Kill Industries.  The name “Valley Stream” is from the Dutch for both the valley location and the wonderful stream that offered the Roosevelt family swimming in the summer.  The grounds are beautiful with a charming footbridge and a wonderful garden with peonies in season.  Val-Kill later went to Eleanor’s son Elliott, who had attended the Hun School in Princeton, New Jersey, a Garden State connection.

Eleanor’s photo at The Poughkeepsie Post Office
Eleanor’s work space
The beautiful stream at Val-Kill

Vanderbilt Mansion

The Vanderbilt Mansion at the holidays

If you enjoy history, the tours are where you get the great tidbits.  Our park ranger, part of the esprit de corps of rangers like those at Springwood, brought the beautiful mansion to life.

Frederick Vanderbilt, grandson of Cornelius, along with his wife Louise commissioned Charles McKim, a name partner in the country’s top architectural firm McKim, Mead & White, to build their Neoclassical-Beaux Arts home.  As the Historic Resource Study for the site notes, the elegant architectural combination was unusual for a country home and is the only one of its kind in the Hudson Valley.  With a newly restored exterior, visitors can now enjoy river views from the balcony in warm weather.  Completion of the 54-room mansion brought the top craftsmen for woodwork and stone design, many from Italy, Germany, and Switzerland.  The interior is incredible as you can see from the photos. Much of the furniture and art was brought from Europe, a trend at the time, and Stanford White was Frederick’s antique dealer. James Greenleaf designed the Italianate garden, which we look forward to seeing on another trip.

The Neoclassical-Beaux Arts mansion designed by Charles McKim
The mansion restoration
Hudson River view

During the two years it took to build the mansion, 1896-1899, Louise and Frederick periodically stayed in the Pavilion, now the Visitor Center, to oversee building.  The Gilded Age families were the generation that spent the fortunes that their grandparents had made.  In the case of Frederick and Louise, they were generous as opposed to frivolous.  Frederick had architect McKim build the Howard Mansion at Hosack Farm across the road for his niece Rose Anthony Post Howard and her husband Thomas Howard, a descendant of the founder of Rutgers University and Revolutionary War general, John Neilson.  Rose and Thomas were the maternal grandparents of Thomas Howard Kean, the Governor of New Jersey.  Well-liked in Hudson Valley, Frederick and Louise Vanderbilt did not have children and enjoyed giving gifts to those of their staff in addition to showing their appreciation for their work.  Though they had their bedrooms designed as if they were European royalty, the fashion of the day, the Vanderbilts were warm and accessible. Louise herself oversaw gift-giving for the staff.  They left a great deal of their fortune to charity, loyal staff, and a niece. The ultimate donation of the mansion to the public, like that of Springwood, was FDR’s idea.

The Pavilion, now the Visitor Center
The Pavilion was once a guest house for gentleman visitors
Play garden gift from Louise and Frederick. Many gifts generously make their way back to the mansion museum for the public’s enjoyment.

The estate provided local jobs year-round with the mansion, the grounds, garden, greenhouses, dairy, vegetable garden, orchard, and a dock where guests could arrive on their yachts.  The ice box is representative of how eco-friendly the property was.  Long after the invention of refrigerators, Frederick kept these efficient ices boxes in use.  Not only did the ice boxes operate without electrical power, but the staff who maintained the ice remained employed. 

Ice boxes
Household kitchen

The beautiful holiday welcome, done at the initiative of the park rangers, is breathtaking. Like other Gilded Age families, the Vanderbilts had several homes where they usually spent different seasons.  The mansion was their country home where they celebrated Easter and visited in the fall, though they did give Christmas gifts to staff.  New York City was their primary residence and Newport, Rhode Island, Bar Harbor, Maine, and the Adirondacks, their summer retreats.  (Springwood also has Christmas decorations.)  In warmer weather, visitors may go out on the balcony, opened after the restoration.

Grandeur of the entrance hall
Dining room
The beautiful decorations by the park rangers
Magnificent tapestry

Hyde Park

The Hyde Park Drive-in, opened in 1950, is across the street from Hyde Park. An in-season classic, it is another reason to stay over in the area to enjoy the sites and charm.  If you enjoy these drive-in photos, you may want to follow the wonderful Cinema Treasures on Instagram, which documents movie venues all over the country.

The appropriately patriotic diner across the street from Springwood


At the Vanderbilt Mansion, a number of loyal Poughkeepsians talked up their town, which called for a return trip first to enjoy the Walkway Over the Hudson State Historic Park.  The views matched “The Queen City of the Hudson,” as Poughkeepsie on the east bank is also known, which is across the river from the charming Kingston. Even on a minus-degree wind chill December day, the Hudson River was spectacular.  An active park group takes year-round advantage of the trails and you can connect with them on their social media. During the holidays, the nearby Franklin D. Roosevelt Mid-Husdon Bridge is lit in red and green lights at night.

Hudson River view of FDR Mid-Hudson Bridge from Kingston side of Walkway
Breathtaking views

The all too brief visit to the City of Poughkeepsie led to stops to admire the fine architecture and an informal tour of Vassar College.  Look forward to visiting the charming Mid_Hudson Children’s Museum and more on the next visit to the city, which also has a drive-in, the Overlook.

The charming yellow building is the Children’s Museum

A delight of the December return trip was the holiday cheer and navigational expertise of the area toll takers.  GPS is not the same as directions shared with smiles and the admiration of a cheerful holiday pin or Santa Claus gel nails.  Our family knows the area from growing up, a story for another day, but these quick chats were not only helpful, but reminders of nice visits and family stories.

The First Day Hikes tradition
Johnson-Iorio Memorial Park and the FDR Mid-Hudson Bridge
Riverside park sponsored by Scenic Hudson, this one dedicated to the conservationist
Teddy Roosevelt display at the Poughkeepsie Post Office. Looking forward to seeing his historic homes.
Walkway holiday decorations

Vassar College

As a Seven Sisters graduate, it was delightful to visit Vassar College campus in Poughkeepsie.  Now coed, the beautiful campus has a wonderful atmosphere and delightful shops and restaurants nearby.

Main Gate
Main Building
Vogelstein Center for Drama and Film
New England Building


Named after English poet John Milton, the hamlet in Ulster County delights with historic homes, churches, and welcoming shops in a scenic setting.  With such a brief visit, look forward to another. A fun tidbit is that Marlon Brando’s “A Fugitive Kind” was filmed here in 1959.  Enjoyed spectacular river views from the Milton Landing Dog Park with a truly merry Christmas tree out on the dock.

Milton Post Office
First Presbyterian Church of Milton
Methodist Episcopal Church
A delightful surprise on the dock at the Milton Landing Dog Park


Rhinebeck charms in every season.  The former “Violet Capital of the World,” later renowned for its anemones, Rhinebeck is known for its hospitality, and to this day, a warm welcome awaits visitors. FDR gave campaign speeches from the porch of the historic Beekman Arms, 1766, which hosted everyone from Founding Fathers George Washington and Robert Livingston to New Jerseyans Frank Sinatra and Jack Nicholson.  A further New Jersey connection goes back to Robert Livingston’s brother William, who signed the Constitution and was the first governor of New Jersey during the Revolutionary War. William resided at Liberty Hall, Union. Liberty Hall, now part of Kean University, was sold to Kean relatives, family of New Jersey Governor Thomas Kean on his father’s side.  Alexander Hamilton was a guest at both Liberty Hall and the Beekman Arms.

Beekman Arms and Delamater Inn

German settlers from the Bavarian Palatinate named the beautiful area “Ryn Beck” in 1714, because it reminded them of their Rhine Valley home.  Rhinebeck dates back to the Sepasco and Eposus, Lenape Native Americans who were later joined by Dutch settlers in 1686. The Dutch brought the Sinterklaass tradition now celebrated in an annual December nondemoninational festival. Well-known residents like John Jacob Astor IV followed the Dutch and Germans to what became “Rhinebeck”.  The village, a National Historic District, is remarkable in that so much of its original architecture remains.

The photos here are from a December trip to the Village of Rhinebeck within the larger town both within the “Sixteen Mile Historic District”. 

Rhinebeck Savings Bank
Beekman Arms and Delamater Inn
Village Pizza of Rhinebeck
Rhinebeck Department Store

Samuel’s Sweet Shop

A well-known resident, Hilarie Burton, who stars in one of my favorite holiday movies, “Christmas on the Bayou,” is an active sponsor of a local charity Astor Services for Children and Families and has invested in a town business, Samuel’s Sweet Shop, both co-starring her husband Jeffrey Dean Morgan and friends Julie Yeager & Paul Rudd.  Rhinebeck is also the hometown of Rufus Wainwright, whose performance at the Asbury Park Convention Hall on his tour for “All Days Are Nights: Songs for Lulu” was so incredible that it was like being transported out of time and place.  In real time, however, my friend stepped out for a snack on the boardwalk and returned for the encore. Mr. Wainwright was in competition with the PGA Tour, which is not to slight a true artist who had sold out the venue, but it helps with perspective when putting work out there.

World War I heroes remembered
Rhinebeck firehouse

Wilderstein and the Hudson Valley

A brief moonlit stop with just a hint of the “Central Park serenity” of the Calvert Vaux design

The Hudson Valley has so much to see and do that we may never make it to Top Cottage.  We look forward to discovering other sights that range from the High Falls Conservation Area to the Culinary Institute of America, which our mother has enjoyed with friends. Wilderstein, where FDR’s cousin, confidante, Fala gift-giver, and one of the first archivists of the FDR Library, Margaret “Daisy” Suckley lived, was and is on the visit list. Though arriving after dark on the most recent Mid-Hudson Valley visit, still took a loyal fan photo at the Victorian mansion with its grounds designed by Calvert Vaux, because all roads lead to Central Park and New Jersey at one time or another.

Home Travels with You

Once in a surprising turn of events, while traveling with a summer study group, we rode in a boat taxi along the Grand Canal at sunset in Venice. The sun splashed a million shades of gold along the colorful palazzi in “La Serenissimo,” the “Most Serene Republic of Venice”.  Inexplicably, most of the students were arguing over the rooms, but the wonderful sound of rushing water and the steady hum of the engine could still be heard between sharp words.  Looking across the boat, another classmate, like me, marveled at the panoramic beauty before us.  She smiled serenely.  We did not know each other well.  From our remarks in class, we had different opinions on things, but we both had an appreciation for our good fortune.  Our classmates missed the sunset, not having noticed, or not having minded.  Later, when we all returned to school, work, and occasional turmoil, my fellow traveler and I would sometimes look at each other and smile.  We had shared a love of beauty.

People will surprise us.  Before going on the trip, our Uncle Ray, a comedy writer for Steve Allen, Bob Hope, and Phyllis Diller, and at times, presidents of both parties, whose favorite movie preferences were lighthearted ones featuring Laurel & Hardy and Hope and Crosby’s “Road pictures,” suggested, “Watch David Lean’s ‘Summertime’ before you go.  Venice looks like a dream.'”  The film, if you have not seen it, is a visual love letter to the city as much as it is about lost opportunity and timing.  For our uncle who was so talented that he did not easily fit in, which ultimately led to full-time work in a factory, the film may have had a particular meaning.  Generous, his career advice was his life advice, “Cheap shots are easy, it’s the clever jokes that are hard.”

In a pessimist’s theory of reductionism, Serenissimo is overcrowded, Fala was the invention of wartime propaganda, and Teddy’s bad side is on Mount Rushmore.  On a certain level, these assertions may seem true, but it would be like describing Venice without the light. Happy New Year.

Eleanor Roosevelt stamp First Day of Issue, a gift along with a collection from Uncle Ray

Note: Intended for posting in January 2019.

(Sources: nps.gov, fdr.blogs.archives.gov, c-span.org/video/?429257-1/franklin-d-roosevelts-top-cottage “American History TV,” history.com, health.heraldtribune.com, hvmg.com, forbes.com, smithsonianmagazine.com, whitehousehistory.org, ushistory.org, poughkeepsiejournal.com, hrvh.com, rhinebeckchamber.com, rhinebeckmuseum.com, beekmandelamaterinn.com, wilderstein.org, usatoday.com, c-span.org, tripadvisor.com, winstonchurchill.org, providencejournal.com, aboutfranklinroosevelt.com, Wiki)

“Hyde Park: The Year from the Top” All Rights Reserved © 2019 Kathleen Helen Levey

“Greenwood Gardens: Fairy-Tale Enchantment”

“…daily life…is practically composed of two lives – the life in time and the life by values…” E.M. Forster

Looking up to the Georgian Revival mansion from the Italiante garden

A garden is ever-changing, but perennial at the same time, planned around time to stand outside it.  We go then to a garden to enjoy nature’s beauty in time savored. Stepping into Greenwood Gardens takes us into a world of enchantment by adding fairy-tale charm to nature’s beauty. Greenwood Gardens features classical “Italianate gardens” with an “Arts and Crafts Design,” traditional handcrafted décor, resulting in the delight of Alice in Wonderland chess piece sculptures, a magical wrought-iron grille with birds of paradise and golden rabbits, fountains with Rookwood ceramic tiles, a stone teahouse, grottoes, and cascades.

“Greenwood Gardens” began as “Pleasant Days” an estate owned by the Days, Pauline and Joseph, who also lived in Gramercy Park. In 1906, the couple purchased the property from one of the well-known Newark brewers Christian Feigenspan, whose “P.O.N.,” the “Pride of Newark” beer won a silver medal in the Paris Exposition of 1877.  Mr. Feigenspan, a Cornell graduate, was a Newarker in an area filled with the country estates of wealthy New Yorkers among the “short hills,” high enough for views, low enough for access for those seeking a direct route to the countryside.

As a new Short Hills resident, self-made millionaire Joseph Day admired the garden of his neighbor, architect William Whetten Renwick and commissioned him to create an Italianate mansion and formal gardens for what would become “Pleasant Days”.  Before settling on a plan, Joseph and William toured gardens of Europe for inspiration. William, originally from Lenox, Massachusetts in the Berkshires, contributed to the design of both St. Patrick’s Cathedral and the Church of All Saints in New York City whose principal architect was his uncle James Renwick, Jr..  The Day gardens that he created had a modernized flair from new US inventions like lighting from Thomas Edison whose laboratory was in nearby West Orange and uniqueness with a working farm to fulfill the wishes of Pauline.  The beautiful Day home with its view of the Watchung Mountains was a social hub in the 1920’s and 1930’s.  During the Great Depression, however, Joseph, a real estate broker, had difficulty in maintaining the 79 acre estate, which went on sale in parcels after Mr. Day’s death in 1944.

Carriage house

Dr. Adelaide Childs Frick Blanchard bought the house and gardens, replacing the worn mansion with the present Georgian Revival house in 1950.  Adelaide and her husband Peter Blanchard, Jr. preserved the gardens on the still vast parcel of about 28 acres. Adelaide, a pediatrician, was the daughter of Childs Frick, a paleontologist and trustee of the Museum of Natural History and granddaughter of Henry Clay Frick who founded the Frick Collection. The Blanchards added the incredible limestone chess pieces, several ponds, and the striking London plane and Norway spruce allee along the entrance driveway. The estate, bordering on South Mountain Reservation with its mountain trails, allowed for one of the Blanchard family favorite pastimes, horseback riding.  Mr. Blanchard later sold 40 acres of repurchased land to the Township of Millburn where there is a playing field and extensive woodland paths for the public to enjoy as Old Short Hills Park.

The gardens have reflected both the taste of their owners and their respective eras, the Gilded Age and the Colonial Revival. The Day garden favored popular perennials, the Blanchard garden, the “modern” evergreens of 1950’s.  After Dr. Blanchard’s death, her husband, who lived many years thereafter, devoted the remaining years of his life to maintaining and restoring their home as a part of ensuring its future for public enjoyment.  Carrying on Peter, Jr.’s wishes, Peter Blanchard III and his wife Sofia created a nonprofit to preserve the garden under the national Garden Conservancy trust.  Son Peter, a writer, conservationist, and Greenwood trustee often speaks at the garden about which he has written Greenwood: A Garden Path to Nature and the Past, available at the gift shop or by calling (973) 258-4026.  Working from archival photos, the Garden Conservancy has restored the original terrace pergolas among several projects.  Today, the garden is a combination of perennials and plants with attractive foliage that offers color beyond the season of blooms.

Special flowers, particularly their scent, bring back memories – the rose corsage or boutonnière from a first formal dance, gardenias from a wedding bouquet, and pressed wildflowers from a picnic on one of those idyllic days that seem to have lasted forever. For many in our family, the scent of lilacs brings back the memory of our sweet grandmother Helen who returns to us each year with the first spring breeze.

Even more so than the beautiful flowers, perhaps it is the trees that are most significant at Greenwood Gardens.  The visual poetry of the allée of London plane and Norway spruce trees that Peter planted for his wife Adalaide let visitors know that they are about to experience a place so beloved that the Blanchards felt compelled to share it.

Partial view of beautiful London plane and Norway spruce allee
One of the Monarch butterflies in the allee
Flowering horse chestnut tree
Terrace pergola with mountain view
Terrace eagle
Flowers viewed from the terrace

After descending the steps in each marvelous level of the garden, visitors can travel through Greenwood’s mazes, an encounter with the wondrous. What is around the next corner?  Should one go right or left? The boxwood, fragrant at every turn, suggests that no one can choose wrongly. Surprises, some delightful and expected like birds singing and the rustling sound of squirrels darting through the hedges, may reassure us, and some fanciful, like the Rookwood fountain spouts of the enigmatic Dionysus, either smiling or frowning, offer mystery.

Cheerful allium

Friends who garden share the same qualities of patience, kindness, and good-naturedness. Perhaps that comes from taking the long view, knowing to prepare for spring months in advance and having the vision to imagine a flourishing garden when there is frozen ground.  Some friends in this bouquet are “house proud” as the British say.  They enhance the loving quality of their homes with fresh flowers and vegetables for their families and instill a love of nature in their children.  Others are artists, expressing themselves in the splendor of design.  Some are both. Almost all view themselves as grateful caretakers of God’s gift of beauty.  Each has a pride from accomplishment over time and the serenity of a joyful gift given to others.

A home of garden lovers, now shared with the public to experience not only nature’s beauty, but a sense of time more deeply valued, Greenwood welcomes volunteers.  For more information on their gardens which reopen in the spring, visit Greenwood Gardens, where you can also take an inviting online tour or see what’s in bloom. 

(Sources: greenwoodgardens.org, gardenconservancy.org, nybg.org, artprice.com, Arts & Crafts Home and the Revival: artsandcraftshome.com, nytimes.com, amnh.org, pawprinceton.edu, traditionalbuilding.com, hgtv.com, Wiki)

“Greenwood Gardens: Fairy-Tale Enchantment” All Rights Reserved © 2019 Kathleen Helen Levey

Front view of the mansion
Path to the stone summerhouse
Fields of daisies

“National Cookie Day: Norwegian Sugar Cookies”

As this year’s Happy Holiday thank you, enjoy a favorite gift for friends, Norwegian Sugar Cookies. Almond extract works well as a substitute for alcohol, though Grand Mariner adds a light and sweet flavor. A variety of holiday cookie cutters make for fun, but you will have your own spin on this recipe. The caraway seeds are part of the traditional recipe, though I make them without those. This is a festive gift that everyone enjoys.

Good Housekeeping’s Norwegian Sugar Cookies


2 cups sifted all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons double-acting baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup shortening

1 cup granulated

1 egg, well beaten

3 tablespoons brandy (or Grand Marnier or almond extract)

1 1/2 teaspoon caraways seeds (optional)

Powdered sugar

Sift together flour, baking powder, salt.  Work shortening with a spoon until fluffy and creamy.  Then gradually add sugar, while continuing to work until light.  Beat in egg. Stir flour mixture and brandy into shortening mixture.  Stir in caraway seeds.  Refrigerate until batter can be handled easily.

To bake:

Start heating oven to 350 F. Then roll out cookie dough on floured board to 1/8″ or thinner. Cut into small stars, circles, etc. Place 1/2″ apart on greased cookies sheets; sprinkle with powdered sugar. Bake 6-8 minutes or until a light brown. Makes about 12 dozen 1 1/2″ cookies.

(Source: Good Housekeeping / Photos: Kathleen Levey)

“Central Park: The North Woods”

Harlem Meer, sunset view from the Charles A. Dana Discovery Center

“Every moment of light and dark is a miracle.”                                                                                 Walt Whitman

Walt Whitman, with New York and New Jersey ties, shares wisdom that lights the way in autumn.  At this time of year, the earlier darkness may not be welcome, but the fall offers a different kind of beauty with autumn leaves, a sometime #Snowvember, and a greater appreciation of the day.  At night, the stars shine more clearly in the sky.

Nature’s palette in Central Park

Fall splendor and autumn blooms in a celebration of nature’s palette mark autumn in Central Park.  And then there are the greens, vibrant after this year’s rain.  On a splendid day of second summer in the park, a walk in Central Park North brings the cheers of children playing soccer, strollers on their lunch breaks, friendly chats with fellow park admirers, and the fragrance of the flowers on the last of the warm breezes.

Untermeyer Fountain, Three Dancing Maidens by Walter Schott

Chrysanthemums, daisies, and asters in the Conservatory Garden

A young mother lay on one of the giant boulders with her newborn sleeping on her chest, looking at the sky while her infant slept in a perfect moment of contentment and connection.  This sight brought to mind a wondrous thing about Central Park that the Conservancy has revitalized from the park’s original vision: park-goers know that there is no judgment in the park, which is one of the keys to its serenity.  On a wonderful early fall tour of the North Woods, park staff mentioned the Bible as a source for Frederick Law Olmsted in creating a pastoral setting, his touchstone for a shared utopia. By looking to Heaven, he connected people with Earth.

Visual poetry

We all have our favorite parts of the park, and the Park Conservancy encourages us to explore and enjoy all of it.  The park is, impressively, 843 acres (341 hectares) and a six-mile (9.6 km) around its perimeter, its inception detailed on a springtime visit in “Central Park: A Template of Beauty”.  On another visit, while circling somewhere on a wooded path in the North End, when asked which way was a central landmark, a hiker responded with a smile and a shrug that in the nicest way possible expressed, “Why would anyone head where visitors flock when there are these great woods?”  She knew the paths of the northern park expertly and shared that knowledge with enthusiasm.  Everything is about perspective.

Springbanks Arch

North in the park 

The North End includes the North Meadow, Harlem Meer, the North Woods, the Great Hill, in season, playgrounds, baseball fields, and the seasonal pool/ice hockey Lasker Rink.  The Conservatory Garden is a few blocks lower than the start of the North End at 100th Street.  Designed by Gilmore Clarke, who created the Unisphere at Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, it boasts three gardens in English, French, and Italian style.  Distinguishing the garden is the Vanderbilt Gate by George Browne Post, who designed buildings for the nearby City College of New York, the Brooklyn Historical Society, and the New York Stock Exchange, and who later lived in Bernardsville, New Jersey.  The Conservatory Garden is its own paradise thanks to dedicated gardeners.

A highlight on a recent trip was chatting with people fishing at Harlem Meer.  Fishing of bass, perch, and carp is catch and release with respect to NYC fishing regulations, but the sport is no less fun. Our grandfather, an avid fisherman, would have delighted in the fishing and have known the questions to ask.  A kidder, however, whenever anyone asked him what was new, he always answered, “New York, New Jersey, New Hampshire, and New Mexico” often accompanied by a friendly swat on the arm. Straightforward was not his way, but fun was, and through a love of fishing, he made friends easily as his fellow sportsmen at the Meer seem to do, too.

The Ravine

A tour of the North Woods offers a thoughtful combination of art, history, ecology, geology, good company, and a poetry reading, a sublime mix for those who love nature and art. The North Woods, designed to evoke an Adirondacks experience, features rushing cascades, leafy paths, and stone and rustic bridges with inspiration by Maplewood, New Jersey artist Asher Durand whose work embodied the counterpoise of “naturalism and idealization,” seen in “Kindred Spirits”.   The tour starts at the northeast corner of the park by Duke Ellington Circle, sometimes referred to as “the Gateway to Harlem” at East 100th Street at the Charles A. Dana Discovery Center.  From the center, situated on Harlem Meer, the group traverses the woodland to The Loch, “lake” from Scottish Gaelic like the Dutch “Meer,” the Ravine, and The Pool on the West Side. The water experiences were part of Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux’s original “Greensward Plan” for the park. In an impressive feat of engineering, the two created the Pool, The Loch, Harlem Meer, and three cascades from Montayne’s Rivulet, once a passageway for Revolutionary War troops.  The Meer surrounds a promontory with the remnants of a lookout from the War of 1812. The Conservancy commissioned the center and restored the area to its original beauty in 1988-1993.

With this fall’s sensation of the sighting of the Mandarin duck, and now the saw-whet owl, it may reassure us at the holiday season to know that people will rush past cynicism to experience simple wonder, which is why the park is so important.  The North Woods is also a bird habitat, noted with appreciation to others on the walk who had brought binoculars and shared some of their delightful sightings.  All park tours, now also available in Spanish and French, are a way to learn about new parts of the park, to have a deeper appreciation for favorite places or an opportunity for children to discover.  Thank you to our knowledgeable guides.

Dedicated park staff members

Finding the way

If you live in New York City, you will experience friendly neighbors waving and calling out your name from across the street, which no one to this day believes in any of my out-of-state retellings.  “New York, New York City?” they ask, but the divine wordsmith Nora Ephron always recounted stories in both interviews and her work of how New York is a city of neighborhoods.  The apparent effortless serenity of the park, devotedly designed and developed, increases that warmth exponentially in New Yorkers’ splendid front yard where visitors are cordially welcomed.

For those fellow Central Park explorers whose sense of direction needs a little navigational nudge now and then, though the paths are clear, the fallback GPS works in the North Woods.  Better to enjoy walks with friends that offer visits on log benches or hikes with a tempo that pick up with camaraderie.

On such visits, we enter the woodland with the known behind us and explore the paths.  In the heart of the woods, we look back in thanks and forward in anticipation, a Thanksgiving with a view to a new year.

(Sources: centralparknyc.org, centralpark.org, centralpark.com, nycgovparks.org, metmuseum.org, watercourses.typepad.com, nytimes.com, Wiki)

“Central Park: The North Woods” All Rights Reserved © 2018 Kathleen Helen Levey

Fishing at Harlem Meer

Downashore with Gramps, second, left, and firehouse buddies in Brielle with a champion catch that made the “Newark Evening News”

Charles A. Dana Discovery Center

Dana Discovery Center

Autumn gold at Harlem Meer

The Pool

A side trip to the zoo with a thank you to staff. Pictured is a delightful red panda.

North Meadow

North End flowers

“Heart, Mind, and Soul: The BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir”

The temple exterior and entranceway. The interior temple resembles the style of the marble arches.

This magical-looking place nestled in the rolling green fields of Robbinsville, New Jersey is a Hindu temple, the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir.  The temple, or mandir, is one of approximately 100 in the United States and 1,000 globally. The grand exterior, or mandap, houses the inner sanctum, the actual mandir, and the entire complex is is an “akshardham”.  By definition, “mandir” in ancient Sanskrit means “means a place where the mind becomes still and experiences inner peace“. The atmosphere upon arrival is immediately uplifting and reflected through pleasant exchanges with devotees and visitors on the way into and within the mandir.

Beautiful floral entry

Magnificent temple sculptures

Art, Architecture, and the Divine

The Robbinsville temple is in the Nagara style of Hindu mandir architecture found in Northern India.  Nagara style temples are square with graduated projections and towers that give the mandir height.  Characteristic features in addition to the towers are domes, golden spires, flags, the sanctum, and pillared halls. Each has symbolic meaning like the pinnacles, aspiration, the golden spires, the immortality of the soul, and the flags, spiritual attainment. The inner sanctum is where one will find the most important deities. These elements of temple architecture combined create a link between devotees and the Divine.

The temple’s style is not purely architectural.  The Robbinsville mandir is built according to Scripture as are all traditional mandirs.  This influence of religion on architecture echoed in a recent tour of Central Park when the staff guide mentioned that the landscape designers Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux took inspiration directly from the Bible to create serene pastoral settings, though the mandir follows specifications for scared architecture.  These sacred temples are not exclusively traditional. More modern temples, hari mandirs, are smaller, and ghar mandirs, shrines within devotees’ homes, are where families perform rituals and discuss scripture together.

The BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir is made of white marble, white limestone, and pink sandstone, selected to last in this cooler climate. As the mandir’s introductory film notes, the use of natural stone is similar to that of iconic spiritual centers like St. Patrick’s Cathedral and Angkor Wat. The stone-carving process is extensive and fascinating.  For an idea of the undertaking, artisans in India created the sculptures. Many volunteer, but the carving also provides work to skilled artists whose talents are not in demand as they once were.  The marble is primarily Italian Carrara, totaling 68,000 cubic feet, and the limestone is from Bulgaria and India.  The sculptured stone, some 13,499 pieces, arrived in Robbinsville 98% complete after a journey of 21,500 miles. Additional volunteers finished the work. All this is breathtaking, but it does not prepare one for the splendid interior of the mandir with white marble and golden statues that appear silver in the lamplight. The sacred images, or murtis, within the mandir and on the pillars in the mandap are not just deities, but “living works of art” and “liberated souls…ancient sages, and exemplary devotees” that are models of spiritual inspiration.

What may surprise visitors is that the grand, beautiful temple holds fast with interlocking stone.  Quotes from the Rig Veda, hymns in ancient Sanskrit, are inspiring poetry in stone that one can read throughout the temple.  Skylights and white marble floors add to the lightness of the interior.  The tradition of the lamplight in the mandir pre-dates electricity and skylights and once provided the only light in the temple within the temple. Among the sculptures, visitors will see peacocks, particularly at the entrance gate, which are the national bird of India, and elephants, which represent “resolve, grace, and nobility”.  One devotee mentioned that the elephant is honored for the many centuries when it carried stone to build the mandirs in the days before other transportation.  Ganesh, the popular deity known as the Lord of Good Fortune, the Lord of Beginnings, and the Remover of Obstacles, who is also important in Bhuddism, is depicted with the head of these beloved animals that reflect different accounts of his origin.


BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir

Bochasanwasi Akshar Purushottam Sanstha (BAPS) is a branch of Swaminarayan Hinduism.  Devotees believes that Bhagwan Swaminarayan, or the yogi spiritual leader, was God on earth and his Divine presence continues through succession.  The Swaminaryran, also referred to as “Swaminaryran Lord,” was born as Ghanshyam Pande (1781-1830). His philosophy led to social reforms in India. His follower, Shastriji Maharaj (1865-1951), a sadhu and Sanskrit scholar, or holy man of ancient Hindu letters, formed BAPS on June 5, 1907 based on his interpretation of the Swaminarayan’s teachings.  One of his successors, His Holiness Pramukh Swami Maharaj, blessed this site in August 2014. The present spiritual leader of BAPS, His Holiness, Mahant Swami Maharaj, bestowed his blessing in September 2017.

BAPS in Robbinsville continues the ancient Hindu tradition of “worshipping the Divine through murtis, or sacred images, enshrined in mandirs”.  The BAPS communities worldwide focus on spiritual living, family values, and community service.  Though the mandir has a respectful quiet on a visit, rituals and festivals involve music.  The mandir also offers Indian cultural events and celebrations for devotees in the great hall.

“A place of paramount peace” is an apt description. While walking through the beautiful inner mandir, devotees brushed aside concerns about interrupting them at prayer.  The devotees warmly shared aspects of their faith and excitement at the near completion of the spiritual center. Construction on this mandir began in 2010 and though it is complete, the mahamandir, a greater temple, reportedly the largest in the world, is under construction adjacent to the mandap where there will also be a youth center and an exhibition hall which will feature “Indian history and culture”.


The mandir is an active house of worship.  Visitors are welcome to take photos outside, but the temple kindly requests a respectful covering regarding clothing and no photo-taking inside.  Please respect their wishes.  For visitor information, please see BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir.

The visit is free, but donations, however modest, are welcome as a thank you. Reservations are not required for individuals or families, but do call for larger groups: (609) 918-1212.  Upon arriving, you will be asked to remove your shoes as a respectful courtesy.  The welcome is most cordial with the gift of prasadam (“prasad” grace and joy), a sanctified sweet, for each visitor.  An introductory film and a free guided tour with a volunteer will add to your appreciation of the temple.  If a guide is not available, the audio tour is excellent, and the book available to visitors at the welcome desk is helpful as an introduction to both the mandir and Hinduism. There is a snack shop and café.

To the right of the entrance, one may participate in the ritual of abhishek, or pouring water over the “sacred image of God,” here, Shri Ghanshyam Marahaj, the childhood form of Bhagwan Swaminarayan.  Though the deities may seem confusing initially to those who are not familiar with Hinduism, the belief is that there is one supreme God, Brahman, the creator.  Along with Shiva, who preserves the earth, and Vishnu, who destroys the earth so it can be created anew, the three are both one and separate in a mystical way like the Holy Trinity. All the deities and even devotees are the Divine presence on earth.  “That which we call the Hindu religion is really the Eternal religion because it embraces all others.” The temple guidebook complements this thought, “Without the deities, the mandir would be no more than a beautiful building.  With them, it becomes a sacred place of worship wherein God resides”.

There is so much to see and the atmosphere is so peaceful that you will want to return. We had wonderful practicing neighbors while growing up, but my knowledge of Hinduism is more academic going back to incredible studies as an exchange student at Bowdoin College. This visit is was a welcome opportunity to talk to people about their faith without being intrusive. Devotees were warm and gracious in doing so as well as proud and excited to share their beautiful spiritual home. By no means is this modest travelogue definitive about BAPS or Hinduism, so please do enjoy a visit yourself to learn more.

In researching, this Hindu proverb stood out as a cornerstone of many faiths, “There is nothing noble about being superior to some other man.  The true nobility is being superior to your previous self.”  The faith that brings the mandir’s stones to life is indeed at the heart of its beauty.

(Sources: www.baps.org/Global-Network/North-America/Robbinsville.aspx, BAPS publication for visitors and visitor film, bbc.co.uk, definitions.net, kashgar.com.au, Swami Sivananda quote, Sri Aurobindo quote, iasmania.com, americanshipper.com, Britannica.com, Wiki)

Beautiful grounds

Behind the striking temple exterior (mandap), the construction continues to complete the center (akshardham).

“Imagination: Isamu Noguchi”

“The Letter,” 1939, Haddon Heights Post Office

“Everything is sculpture. Any material, any idea without hindrance born into space, I consider sculpture.”

The Artist

Isamu Noguchi, 1904-1988, was a Japanese-American artist who felt most at home in New York City.  His neighboring New Jersey legacy is one of sublime beauty, “The Letter,” a WPA era sculpture at the post office in Haddon Heights, near Philadelphia.  The elegantly simple figure of a reclining woman writing a letter floats cloud-like above the grounded, wooden post office decor, reflecting her dreamy reverie as she writes what may be a love letter.  Mr. Noguchi’s work conveys mystery, sharing his imagination while he challenges ours. The letter writer has a serene smile that suits the friendliness of the town-proud residents by an artist who loved creating work for the public to enjoy.  This included sculpture, gardens, fountains, playgrounds, and furniture.  His art combined the best of American and Japanese aesthetics.

“News,” 1940, stainless steel bas relief, 50 Rockefeller Center, the former Associated Press Building

As one of the great figures of the twentieth century whose 84 year-long life spanned the globe and whose artistic work included Surrealism and Abstract Expressionism, there is so much to learn about Isamu Noguchi.  His mother, Leonie Gilmour, from New York City, was a Bryn Mawr graduate who once taught at the Academy of Saint Aloysius in Jersey City.  While later working as an editor in New York City, Leonie met the Japanese poet Yone Noguchi.  After the relationship ended, upon realizing that she would become a mother, Leonie joined her mother in Los Angeles where Isamu was born in 1904.  A few years later, following Yone’s invitation, Leonie and Isamu moved to Chigasaki, Japan, where Isamu grew up in a house with a garden by the sea while his mother supported them by teaching, his father, by that time, having begun a relationship with another woman.  When he was 14, Leonie sent Isamu to the US to attend a progressive school that she had read about in Rolling Prairie, Indiana, while she remained in Japan with his half-sister.  The school founder and a host family in La Porte, Indiana befriended him, and he later graduated from the local high school.  Though his childhood was far from traditional and included the disappointment of a distant father, Leonie encouraged his artistic talent and seemed to be a devoted mother.

Excelling as a student, Isamu enrolled in pre-med studies at Columbia University. Once introduced to sculpture, he had such a natural ability that he pursued art exclusively.  Ironically, his skill was so incredible that it held him back initially, his work criticized for being too perfect.  With a Guggenheim Fellowship that funded an apprenticeship with the Romanian sculptor Constantin Brancusi in Paris, Isamu’s work became more personal freeing him from that criticism.  Interestingly, they had no mutual language in common except art, but understood each other perfectly, a welcome experience after a fraught relationship with Gutzum Borglum, the sculptor of Mount Rushmore.  Perhaps realizing a longing for the father whom he never truly knew, or asserting a new identity, Isamu dropped his surname “Gilmour” and took “Noguchi” when he became publicly known as an artist. Remarkably, it was not until his early 40’s that he received widespread recognition for his artistic talent.  Regrettably, when traveling to Japan as an artist, he learned that his father did not want him to use his surname.  On the last visit while his father was still alive, Isamu did not call.

“Childhood,” rough-hewn with a smooth heart, Noguchi Museum

Worldwide travels over six decades as a working artist included friendships with Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo in Mexico and Arshile Gorky and Willem de Kooning in the US, Greenwich Village neighbors, and collaborations in Japan and Italy.  His global works include architecture, perhaps most meaningfully, his design for the Peace Bridges at Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, one symbolizing the past and the other, the future.  To his disappointment, his design for the main memorial could not be accepted because he was American.

While maintaining a studio in the village of Mure on the island of Shikoku in Japan, where he received inspiration from the Zen gardens, he fell in love with the beautiful actress and singer Yoshiko Yamaguchi (known in the US as “Shirley Yamaguchi”) whom he married in 1951. An anecdote in the museum’s excellent film shares that Isamu wanted the worldly Yoshiko, who worked with Akira Kurosawa and US filmmakers, to wear a kimono at home.  She found these uncomfortable, so he designed her a type of pantsuit that had the look of a kimono, but offered more modern comfort. Clothing styles aside, they spent several happy years together in Japan.  Sadly, upon returning to the United States for professional reasons, their careers drove them apart.

One account that may best describe the complexity of Isamu’s life was his noble impulse to join fellow Japanese-Americans during their internment in World War II. Living in New York, and not on the West Coast, Isamu, whose name means “courage” in Japanese, was free from this but volunteered to go with the thought of teaching art to boost spirits and develop talent as Brancusi had done for him.  Before leaving, actress Ginger Rogers of Rogers & Astaire dancing fame had contacted him to commission a bust.  The day after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, she invited him to her home for an initial sitting, and he stayed on the grounds for a month as a guest in a studio she had made for him.  He finished the celebrity’s sculpted portrait in pink marble while living in the Poston, Arizona internment camp, on the Colorado River Indian Reservation, during which time he wrote two letters to her about the work’s progress.  As The Washington Post notes, his work may have come to the dancer’s knowledge through his set designs for the Martha Graham Dance Company with which his sister, Alies Gilmour, was a dancer. Despite his good intentions, Isamu found that he had little in common with the farmers, shopkeepers, and laborers in the camp and asked to leave, a process which took several months.  One detainee recalled how Isamu would wander out into the desert alone to collect wood to carve. Ginger Rogers treasured her Noguchi portrait, which was a centerpiece in her home until she died and now is in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery.

The Isamu Noguchi Museum, New York City

Art at its best is transporting like incredible music, film, or literature that takes us out of ourselves and into the world of the artist’s imagination. As someone who experimented throughout his life by expressing different styles and working with a range of materials (marble, basalt, ceramics, steel, cement, paper, wood, aluminum), Mr. Noguchi risked failure and experienced rejection, but his striving makes the successes soar in a way that defies time and space.  Ideal, then, that the complementary works of Spanish sculptor Jorge Palacios, are presently on view along with Mr. Noguchi’s in the latter’s museum in Long Island City, Queens.

Noguchi Museum banners

Jorge Palacios sculpture “Link” at Flatiron Plaza North, sponsored by Noguchi Museum

Second floor museum gallery with view to Akari lights

Second floor museum gallery

At the Isamu Noguchi Museum, which the sculptor helped plan, many of the National Medal of Arts recipient’s sculptures relate to time.  The Zen Garden, rooted in a serenity that stands outside of time, is beautiful and enjoyed by visitors.  One can also admire it from the staircase exit on the second floor as well as from eye level.  Flowing water, important to Isamu, creates serenity with the fountain. Central, too, was the artist’s relationship to the material, including an almost spiritual connection to natural elements like wood, clay, and stone, describing carving as a “process of listening,” a quote from his obituary in The New York Times.

There is so much to take in at the museum that it calls for at least a second visit. Everyone will find pieces that stand out. The impermanent things, the interplay with light, water, and nature, appealed to me most on this first visit, perhaps because they are so novel. The beautiful trees are interwoven with Mr. Noguchi’s art.

Zen Garden

View into the garden

Partial garden view from upstairs

The museum’s film about his life features interviews with people who knew Isamu, including a befriended half-brother, and that is also worth a revisit to see in its entirety.  A common touching thread in the interviews was that being American and Japanese in the era when Isamu Noguchi grew up, and later, a citizen of the world, were both often lonely paths for the artist.  By living in New York City, however, he returned not to another place, but a home with fellow artists and kindred spirits in the realization of the life he had imagined for himself.

Akari lamp exhibit

Going up the stairs, where you will find the film, and entering into the world of Akari light was a heavenly surprise.  These lamp creations use “electrical light as a sculptural element”. For those interested in reading more about his life, Mr. Noguchi wrote an autobiography Isamu Noguchi: A Sculptor’s World with a foreward by his close friend architect R. Buckminster Fuller.  This is available at the museum and on Amazon, which is on order and calls for an Isamu Noguchi 2.0 revisit in “Writing New Jersey Life” and #FridayReads.  There is, however, momentum with things, and better to post an introduction before the flurry of the holidays and the Akari and Palacios exhibitions end on January 27th.

“The Kite” stainless steel and reminiscent of “Bolt of Lightning,” 1984, Philadelphia, in honor of Benjamin Franklin. Mr. Noguchi’s plans were on hold for years until a 1979 retrospective of his work at the Philadelphia Museum of Art renewed interest in his art.

Whether visiting as a family, a couple, or on one’s own, and there were one and all, the Long Island City museum is a delight. There is a nice café with a select, good menu including coffee and beverages. You can reach the museum by public transportation or car.  For those driving, there is street parking, and someone kindly suggested finding a nearby store lot, which you did not read here, but a good faith purchase will put you in good standing. The Socrates Sculpture Park  across the street has a free exhibit on through March 10th. A blocks up is a new, charming neighborhood place, Flor de Azalea Café, which has some Wifi in a pinch and thank you to the museum staff for mentioning it.

For travelers, Isamu’s former Japanese studio is now the Noguchi Garden MuseumOther notable public works include the UNESCO Gardens in Paris, the Billy Rose Sculpture Garden in Jerusalem as well as works throughout the United States pictured in the online gallery of the Noguchi Museum.

The nearby Socrates Sculpture Park

Socrates Sculpture Park views

Backpack book exchange

The Letter

As the museum notes, “The Letter” is a “mural relief” in magnesite, once again displaying Isamu Noguchi’s versatility as a sculptor.  The post office has a display case sharing information about what we might call a “3-D mural”. There is a wonderful atmosphere in places that preserve their treasures. Both their appreciation that they are such and their pride in them emanates in a generous spirit. The US Post Office itself released stamps of Isamu Noguchi’s works in 2004, which are still in use.

Under the New Deal, the Public Works of Art Project that brought about “The Letter” and through which it came to my attention, aimed to give work to artists in the Great Depression and existed under the supervision of the US Treasury’s Section of Painting and Sculpture. The intent was for the art to reach as many people as possible, which brought the commissioned artists to the WPA’s newly constructed post offices throughout the country to share their work for the public’s benefit.

“The Letter” in context with a display case (right)

Haddon Heights still charms on a rainy day

Halloween spirit in Haddon Heights

Out and about in friendly Haddon Heights

Town clock, Haddon Heights

Named to honor Algonquin chief and meeting place of New Jersey legislature, historic site, Haddonfield

Haddon Heights

Halloween spirit, Haddon Heights

Returning to South Jersey, picturesque Haddon Heights where “The Letter” floats timelessly, shares a scenic beauty with Haddonfield and Haddon Township, all the namesakes of Elizabeth Haddon.  An English-born Quaker, she sailed to the Colonies alone to begin the settlement of a large area of land in Southern Jersey, southeastern Pennsylvania, and Delaware, bought by her father who had envisioned a peaceful new start for Quakers, unwelcome in England at that time.  Too ill to make the journey, his dream was realized by Elizabeth and his name carried on with “Haddon’s Field” where she and her minister husband created a beautiful home and helped to establish the Quaker community. Their courtship, brought to the public’s attention by Lydia Marie Child, a writer and abolitionist who authored the Thanksgiving poem “Over the River and Through the Wood” that became the popular Christmas song, inspired Henry Wadsworth Longfellow to write “Elizabeth,” part of a long poem “Tales of a Wayside Inn”.

Elizabeth Haddon had a shared worldview with fellow Quaker Sarah Norris, who renamed her establishment “The Indian King” in gratitude to the “Sachem” in Algonquin, the elder or chief of the Unlachtigo Lenape, the southernmost of the three Lenape tribes in the state. With their knowledge of survival skills, the Lenape, particularly Sachem Ockanickon, were responsible for keeping the Quakers alive through their first winters. Later, when that generosity was not reciprocated, Sarah called her establishment “The Indian King” in gratitude and posted a highly visible sign as a reminder to the settlement’s debt to the Lenape. It was here at the Indian King Tavern that the New Jersey legislature read the Declaration of Independence into the minutes in 1776, and New Jersey became a state on September 20, 1777 with the changing of “colony” to “state” in its Constitution. On this site, the legislature adopted the Great Seal with the cornucopia for the bounty of the Garden State, designed by a Swiss-born artist Pierre Eugene Du Sumitiere.

In the Empire state, the path to find Isamu Noguchi’s works in New York City embraced the city he loved starting with chats with people uptown at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Central Park to midtown to downtown in Manhattan.  These began with directions when the iPhone and mini bemoaned the number of photos, which led to the delightful surprise of fireworks downtown and the Diwali Festival. There was the added warmth of Long Island City, people smiling on the streets, leafy parks, roses and flowers growing skyward through garden gates, and Halloween decorations set up early in happy anticipation.  Queens visits were welcome excursions in my Manhattan shoebox apartment days and still are.  Being able to dine anywhere in the world in Astoria and shop working my way out from Broadway, especially at the holidays, was a Saturday well spent.  Thank you to all the gracious navigators along the way.

(Sources: Noguchi Museum, “Central Park: A Template of Beauty”, WashingtonPost.com, pcf.city.hiroshima.jp, Rockefeller center.com, Haddonfield history: @kathleenhelen15, now @kathleenlevey, 2015, theartstory.org, muse.jhu.edu/article/686375/, nytimes.com, summarylevins.com, IndianKingfriends.org, njwomenshistory.org, Avalon.law.yale.edu, A-Z Quotes, Wiki)

“Imagination: Isamu Noguchi” All Rights Reserved © 2018 Kathleen Helen Levey

Sunken Garden at the former Chase Manhattan Bank Plaza, downtown

Fireworks, Festival of Lights, South Street Seaport

Diwali Festival, Southstreet Seaport

“Landscape of the Clouds,” 666 Fifth Avenue

“Unidentified Object,” 1979, basalt sculpture created in Shikoku, Japan, at the Met and Central Park

“Red Cube,” 1968, downtown

Jorge Palacios sculpture “Link” with a view of the Empire State Building

Long Island City, Queens

“A Sunday with the Shakers”

Entry view towards the Round Stone Barn, National Historic Landmark, 1826

“Simple Gifts”

“Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free

‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,

And when we find ourselves in the place just right,

‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.

When true simplicity is gained,

To bow and bend we shan’t be ashamed,

To turn, turn will be our delight,

Till by turning, turning we come ’round right.”

by Elder Joseph Brackett, 1848

Simple gifts like friendship, community, work, nature, even dancing as “turning” marks a step in a dance tune, were aspects of Shaker life that brought those in harmonious step back to the start of the dance, the place “just right”.  Composed to sound like a folk song, this tune which also served as a hymn may seem familiar as Aaron Copland used it in “Appalachian Spring”.  A wide-range of performers have recorded the song or used it as part of one of their works: Jewel, Judy Collins, R.E.M., Weezer, and the Toy Dolls. Take a few minutes to listen to the version Alison Krauss and Yo-Yo Ma, who perform each season at nearby Tanglewood, and Aaron Copland’s version, and you will realize how familiar it is. (Kindly bear with a few moments of You Tube ads prior to each.)

“Hands to work, and hearts to God”

As a living history museum, Hancock Shaker Village in the Berkshires of Western Massachusetts, a National Historic Landmark, holds talks and demonstrations throughout the day, sharing the music, craftsmanship, and other talents of the Shaker community. If you know “Simple Gifts,” but not much about the Shakers, the community came to the United States from England in 1774 to seek religious freedom. Founder Mother Anna Lee and her followers referred to themselves as the “United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing”.  The name from “Shaking Quakers” is a description, not initially flattering, given by outsiders for the members’ animated physical expression during worship when they “shook off” sin.  Dance was considered a form of worship. They did not marry and referred to each other as “sister” and “brother” in their familial communities with an estimated 6,000 members from New England through Kentucky by the mid-1800.  Shakers are known today for their beautiful music, architecture, and furniture.

At its height, the Hancock Shaker community had 300 residents who peacefully co-existed and contributed to the surroundings towns through their sale of hand-crafted goods and furniture: “hands to work, and hearts to God”. At the largest Shaker village in the eastern United States, visitors can see as many as 20 buildings.

“City of Peace” 

The Shakers believed in gender, ethnic, and racial equality as well as education working to create a pacifist “Heaven on Earth”. At a time when orphaned children had few options for care, the community took them in and educated them without obligation to remain, though some did.

At the community’s heart was the strikingly beautiful Round Stone Barn, built in 1826 and restored in 1968.  Though practical in purpose, it was a working community barn. My first thought upon seeing it through the frame of the entry gate, surprisingly, was its similarity to the Taoist Temple of Heaven in Beijing.  Though from different cultures and eras, the Shakers considered work to be a form of worship and the barn as a temple may not stray in concept.  The interior of the barn is a harmony of line, space, and purpose.

Round Stone Barn

Round Stone Barn interior

View of some of the other village buildings, both stately and charming

Interior views of residential buildings

For long-time admirers of Shaker furniture, seeing this and all the elegant architecture firsthand will be a pleasure.  A filmmaker’s dream, the doorways provided wonderful frames to view the landscape in different ways in a play on perspective. At the Stone Barn, my friend gamely complied to reenact John Wayne’s role in “The Searchers” in an irresistibly incredible door frame that would have set John Ford’s heart alight.  On a quiet June day between school groups and summer tourists, we could indulge ourselves thanks to a professional staff that reflects the welcome serenity of the original community.

Reenacting the end of “The Searchers” 🎥

The charm of the village includes friendly animals that are part of the Discovery Center for children and the working organic farm that offers monthly “farm-to-table” dining with “Food for Thought” and organic farming community farming.  Sweet miniature donkeys run up to greet visitors, clearly used to people.  Though traditional farmers, the Shakers embraced technology.  They did not file for patents, so inventive ideas like putting gardening seeds into paper packets for distribution and creating flat brooms and circular saws cannot be traced specifically to them. Today, there are still some Shakers living in Maine.

Children can wear clothes from the period, learn to weave, milk a cow, and tend to a beehive at the Discovery Center.

The Shakers may have originated the sale of garden seeds in packets.

One of the adorable and friendly miniature donkeys. The barnyard animals are a delight for children.

Furniture-making machine shop

Newly made furniture

Beautiful and popular oval boxes

August 4th marks the annual Summer Gala.  Though we actually visited last June, a revisit lends itself to mention this wonderful event that raises funds for the upkeep of this National Historic Landmark, which also features summer concerts in the Stone Barn, Shakerfest on August 18th, a Country Fair on September 29th and 30th.  For more information on this site in Hancock (Pittsfield), Massachusetts, open daily 10-4 through the summer, Makers Days (crafting), recipes, premium tours for children and adults that include scary Halloween fun, online shopping, and ways to support, watch the orientation video, or also see the calendar of events.  An excellent café is onsite. One tip to enjoy the visit is to wear good walking shoes as the grounds are extensive and the pathways are preserved to reflect the era.  Reserve several hours to enjoy this serene and beautiful place.

(Sources: hancockshakervillage.org/, www.nps.gov/nr/travel/shaker/han.htm, Wiki)

“A Sunday with the Shakers” All Rights Reserved @ 2018 Kathleen Helen Levey

Village entrance

View from across the street

“‘Work Lovingly Done’: Two Exhibitions at The Clark”

The Clark Art Institute viewed from one of its mountain trails.

The Clark Art Institute, nestled in the Berkshires in Williamstown, Massachusetts, has four summer exhibitions: “Women Artists in Paris, 1850-1900,” “The Art of Iron,” “A City Transformed: Photographs of Paris, 1850-1900,” and “Jennifer Steinkamp: Blind Eye,” the first two shared here from a June visit.

“Women Artists in Paris, 1850-1900”

Each of the featured 33 female artists has her story, but striking similarities run throughout those, primarily, each woman’s commitment in relocating to the Parisian artistic epicenter to develop her talent and to connect with other artists. In 1857, the School of Fine Arts (Ecole des Beaux-Arts) opened its doors to women, creating an unprecedented opportunity. Whether the women were students at the school or protégés of great artists as Berthe Morisot was of Camille Corot, their collective style had a profound influence on Realism, Impressionism, and later, Symbolism.

Works in each room revolve around themes like “The Art of Painting,” “The Lives of Women” and “Picturing Childhood”.  Themes such as “History and Everyday Heroism” marked departures from traditional subjects for female artists. Some of the artists like the crowd-pleasing Mary Cassatt and Morisot are familiar names today, the equally successful Rosa Bonheur, a Swiss artist, who favored realism in her painterly style, perhaps less so, though she was also the daughter of a well-known artist Oscar-Raymond Bonheur. New for this visitor were the Scandinavian artists like Anna Archer, Denmark, and Elin Danielson-Gambogi and Ellen Thesleff, Finland.  Many of the artists continued to paint after returning to their home countries, a number teaching to support new, young artists.  Some found encouraging partners in marriage, others discovered that painting was not complementary to domestic life. A common thread is that most of them found a way to continue to do what they loved. For a complete list of the artists, visit Women In Paris.

A successful Danish artist, Anna Archer, lived in the northern artists’ colony Skagen, with her painter-husband Michael. At the time Anna began her career, the Royal Danish Academy did not admit women, which led to her discovery of the works of Vermeer abroad, an influence here in “The Harvesters,” 1905, where she depicts a family.

In the innovative “History and Everyday Heroism,” this military portrait by Eva Gonzales inspired by Edouard Manet’s “The Fife Player of 1866” is striking.

Berthe Moriset, French, Impressionist scenes were often from daily life. Here are her husband and daughter: “The Lesson in the Garden,” 1886.

Mary Cassatt,  “The Reader,” 1877:

Elin Danielson-Gambogi, part of the Finnish “painters sisters” generation along with Helen Schjerfbeck, painted “Girl and Kittens in a Summer Landscape,” 1892.

Ellen Thesleff, “Echo,” 1891, in which a young girl finds her voice

Notable American painters were among the group.  Elizabeth Nourse, Cinncinati, Ohio, detail from “A Mother,” 1888.  The depiction of a working class mother and child was a bold statement at the time.

And self-portrait, 1892.

“Ernesta (Child with Nurse)”, 1894, by Cecelia Beaux, both student and instructor at Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.

Lilla Cabot Perry, from Boston, Masschusetts and Hancock, New Hampshire: “Open Air Concert,” 1890.

Rosa Bonheur, painted by her partner Anna Elizabeth Klumpke, San Francisco.

“The Art of Iron, Objects from the Musee Le Secq Des Tournelles, Rouen, Normandy” 

As the exhibit notes, at a time when many people could not read, ironwork signs for shops had a practical purpose.  Pictured in the forefront of the exhibit is “At the Two Fish,” 1750-1800, from Alsace.  The details and craftsmanship of these works for everyday raise these works to an artistic level. One person who appreciated this was artist and photographer Jean-Louis Henri Le Secq Destournelles, 1818–1882, who began to collect these often cast aside wrought iron works in Paris.  His son Henri continued this, ultimately donating their collection to the city of Rouen in Normandy, France, where they are on display in a former Gothic cathedral converted into a museum.

Both The Clark Art architecture and nature contribute to showcasing the works.

Work lovingly done is the secret of all order and all happiness.” A few months ago, The Clark posted this wonderful quote by Pierre Renoir that describes fulfillment in art and life.  The shared artist’s spirit that transcends gender and life station as seen in “Women Artists in Paris: 1850-1900” and “The Age of Iron” resonates with visitors.  For more information, visit The Clark.

Museum Building

Campus reflecting pools outside Clark Center

Museum Building extension

Campus life: outside Manton Research Center

On the way up the hillside

View from artist Thomas Schutte’s Crystal

“Work lovingly done is the secret of all order and all happiness.” Pierre Renoir

(Photo credit: “Apples in a Dish”, The Clark)

The Clark grounds, referred to as the “campus” are beautiful with trails to enjoy as part of the visit.  “Women Artists in Paris: 1850-1900” is through September 3rd and “The Age of Iron” is through September 13th. (Sources: Clark Art, Wiki)

“‘Work Lovingly Done’: Two Exhibits at The Clark” All Rights Reserved © 2018 Kathleen Helen Levey


Page 1 of 4

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén