Monday, July 31, 2006

Everybody Wants To Rule the World


For centuries Bath has been a resort town, a place to get away from crowded cities and relax. I can see why. There is something in the air here. It’s impossible to be in Bath and not feel relaxed. The green hills, the charming town, the Avon river meandering through the center of town all create a tranquil atmosphere. It also helps that the heat wave has finally broken and it rained this morning. One of the things I’ve been looking forward to most in England is the rain and this is the first day I’ve experienced a real rain. And the rain was a beautiful, convenient rain. It fell only when I wanted it to and kept the temperature perfectly mild. Bath is a place I want to come back to. It’s the perfect spot to stay in a bed and breakfast and explore the countryside from.

Bath, now a World Heritage City, received it’s name from the Roman baths that have been preserved in the center of town. As far as Roman ruins go Bath in unremarkable. What is remarkable is that they exist at all after two thousand years of use. The most exciting thing about the ruins is that the ancient temple here, which included the rare tholos, was dedicated to Sulis Minerva. This is a fascinating blend of the worship of a the local goddess of thermal water - the source of prophecy from the Otherworld,and the Roman goddess of wisdom, known to the Greeks as Athena. Minerva was one of the most beloved of the ancient deity and it is significant that the Romans allowed her worship to blend with that of a Celtic goddess. This adaptability was part of the reason the Romans were so successful in expanding their empire. They allowed the peoples they conquered to retain their religion and traditions, and in the case of Sulis, assimilated them into their own culture.





The site of the baths remained in use long after the Romans lost their empire. The town of Bath grew around it, and Bath Abbey was built nearby. Dating from the 16th century, the abbey features exquisite fan vaulting. The vaulting was designed by Robert and William Vertue who are responsible for King’s College Chapel.

As an interesting design feature the altars in the abbey are covered by stunning contemporary fabric art.

Unfortunately the abbey suffered vandalism recently and some of the stained glass windows have been broken.


Troubled Individual

The Costume Museum has a comprehensive collection of historical fashion. It’s interesting to see the way the fashionable English men and women dressed as a counter to the way they decorated their interiors. Contemporary fashion is also featured and visitors are invited to leave their own designs.





Bath underwent a cultural renaissance in the 18th century when it became a favorite destination of artists and writers. Jane Austin is one of the most notable, and despite the fact that she only lived here for five years and was glad to leave, the Jane Austin Center is open to celebrate her life. Don’t bother visiting though. The gift shop and simple presentation on her life aren’t worth the price of admission.

Much of the architecture in Bath is Georgian and can be seen as you walk through the streets. The townhouses that make up the Circus and the Royal Crescent are particularly charming.


The Circus
The Circus

Royal Crescent
Royal Crescent

Several of us had dinner at Sally Lunn’s House, a restaurant famous for their buns. The building dates from 1482 and Sally’s has been open since 1680. For me it was more exciting to know that Doctor Who had been here!



One more bit of Bath trivia: this is where the band Tears for Fears hails from.

Identity Assignment


sofa name

boy asleep

sofa analysis

Sunday, July 30, 2006


I spent my last free day in London at the Natural History Museum. It's very different from the other museums I've spent the past few weeks in because it designed for short attention spans. It's bright and flashy and perfect for kids. All the other parents in the country must agree because it was mayhem, especially in the dinosaur exhibit. Kids were running everywhere. It was crazy, but refreshing to see children excited by learning.

This is the Ecology exhibit.

It feels more like the entrance to a ride at Disneyland than a science exhibit. It makes an exciting contrast with the historic architecture.

This feature is created with one tv screen surrounded by mirrors set at angles to reflect the image. In the bottom picture you can see my reflection while taking the picture. (Click for a larger view.)

The museum shop is full of educational toys. Once again it was fun to see kids excited by learning.

The Natural History Museum was designed by Alfred Waterhouse and opened in 1881. It's been a landmark in London ever since. Children have been coming here for over 100 years to discover a world bigger than themselves. There has been so much traffic that the mosaic floors have been worn away by 80%. The museum is trying to restore them.

The dinosaur exhibit seems to be the most popular spot in the museum.

You enter on a cat walk that looks down on suspended and dramatically lit dinosaur skeletons. The walkway itself looks like the backbone of a dinosuar.

At the far end you find an animatronic T Rex, and then wind back at ground level under the walk way. It's fun and fast and the kids loved it.

I felt like a kid again too, exploring something new.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Sambourne and Leighton

The advantage to spending three weeks in London is that it gives me time to visit some of the more obscure and less touristy places that I probably wouldn’t see otherwise. Today I had the chance to visit the Linley Sambourne and Frederick Leighton Houses in Kensington with Deann, Kelly and Una. These homes compliment Red House and gave me a more rounded feel for the life of an artist in the late 1800s.

Linley Sambourne was a cartoonist for the satirical Punch Magazine for almost 40 years. His friends included William Morris, Henry Irving and Oscar Wilde. He began his career as an engineering draftsman but the cartoon sketches he made for his friends got him noticed by the editor of Punch. Freelance work soon turned into a permanent position. Sambourne made up for his lack of artistic training by using photography to improve his illustrations. He had his family and friends dress up in costumes and pose, acting out the ideas for his illustrations. This soon led to a passion for photography which he pursued as avidly as he did his cartooning. Sambourne’s home, located at 18 Stafford Terrace, Kensington, is remarkable in that all the interiors have been preserved by his family. It looks much the same today as it did over 100 years ago. The tour through the home is also remarkable. You are greeted at the door by the Sambourne family’s housekeeper who over the next hour gives you a running monologue of their life based on journals they kept. The home is very Victorian, but modern in it’s outlook. William Morris wallpaper and stained glass windows remarkably similar to those at Red House are still in place.



Kensington and Notting Hill are beautiful residential areas and it was nice to spend an afternoon walking through them.


The shops are just as nice as those in the busier areas in London, but are less crowded and the atmosphere is more relaxed. We found an art store with remarkably low prices. I bought myself a new set of sketching pencils.

We also discovered Hotel Chocolat. Hotel looks like it’s name, a trendy boutique hotel lobby with sleek brown and black walls. The chocolates are displayed like artwork, making the store sensual on several levels. I splurged and bought a few to taste.

Next we walked to the Fredrick Leighton House at 12 Holland Park Road. Leighton’s Pre-Raphaelite style has seen a resurgence in the last few years and he is most know today for “Flaming June.”

Leighton was famous in his day and painted portraits of England’s nobility. Unlike Sambourne he was paid very well for his work and put much of that money into his house.



He created for himself a fantasy land similar in vision to that of William Morris, but very different in character. The main floor features the Arab Hall, a soaring Arabian inspired dome lined in gorgeous turquoise tile. It must have been incredibly exotic to his Victorian contemporaries. Leighton had a large studio here and renovated several times before his death in 1896. Today the home is a museum and outreach art center. The current exhibition upstairs features the work of a Muslim fashion designer.

Friday, July 28, 2006

World Exclusive: Art!

Today was another day on my own so I headed to the National Gallery.

National Gallery

I don’t think I could ever get bored by a museum, especially an art museum. I stopped and looked at every single painting in the building, and loved every one. That’s remarkable even for me because this collection has 2,300 pieces. The paintings I saw include:

Virgin of the Rocks, Da Vinci

Venus and Mars, Botticelli

Sunflowers, Van Gogh

The Arnolfini Portrait, Jan Van Eyck

St. Catherine of Alexandria, Raphael

Self Portrait, Rembrandt

Seeing so many paintings together makes a few things clear. The Masters are called Masters for a reason. I’ve never been one to praise a painting just because I know the artist, but the best definitely stand out. Leonardo, Van Eyck, Rembrandt and Degas are all known for a reason. Their work is stunning. But for me they all take a back seat to Botticelli. Seeing his paintings, especially Venus and Mars reaffirmed his place as one of my favorite artists. His work is just lovely. It is sensitive and playful and full of life. In fact today, I think he became my favorite artist.

Una was with me for part of the morning, but I stayed for hours. I would have stayed longer if there was time, but I had the National Portrait Gallery to see as well. I took a break and sat on the lawn outside the gallery to sketch Trafalgar Square. The week we arrived Nelson was covered with scaffolding but today it was all gone. You could see all the way to Big Ben.




I pulled out my sketchbook and started squiggling. Before long a man in his early 20s sat down next to me and asked if he could watch me sketch. I was a little surprised, but I’m getting used to the being a spectacle when I sketch in public. Inside the gallery a man was reproducing a Rembrandt portrait in oil and people paid more attention to his work than the original. I’ve learned that there is no reason to be embarrassed because chances are you are a better artist than they are. Why aren’t they sketching too? If by chance they are better than you, then you have a chance to learn something.

He talked to me as I continued sketching. His name is Marco and he’s from southern Italy, somewhere “unimportant”. He is spending the summer in London to improve his English, but everyone in his office speaks Italian. He asked where I was from and why I was there. When I told him I was studying design he told me I needed to go to Rome and Milan. That is the home of the best Italian design. He loves art and spends his weekends in museums. Tomorrow he is going to the V&A. We discussed the Chihuly piece in the foyer. He thought the artist was Italian but I had to break the news that he is American. We then talked about our mutual love for Murano glass. When I finished the sketch I asked him his opinion. He thinks I need to add watercolor or an ink wash. He’s right. Here is the sketch.


It was fun talking to Marco, but I needed to leave. I still had the National Portrait Gallery to see. The Portrait Gallery is part of the National Gallery, but it has a separate entrance and the interior is much more modern. The collection is modern as well and it made an exciting contrast to everything else I saw today.

J.K. Rowling by Stuart Pearson Wright

The interesting thing about portraits, especially contemporary ones, is that the subject can be as important as the artist. Sometimes the subject overshadows the artist. The name on each portrait listed the sitter first and the artist second, with a description of both. Does that make portraiture a lesser art than everything I saw today? No where else was an explanation of the subject given greater prominence than the artist. Does it matter who the person in the portrait is? Or does the sitter create the art as much as the artist? I think there are arguments for both sides. The collection here is varied and fascinating, and was a fun way to end the day.