At the recommendation of Dr. Scott, Jen and I took Saturday to head east to New Windsor, NY to visit the sculpture garden Storm King. In addition to a ridiculously awesome estate name, this 550 acre garden located about an hour North of Manhattan sports over a hundred sculptures and stunningly beautiful vistas.
Jen and I got there around 11:30, had a small picnic at their picnic tables and then got to walking. Within the last three years or so the park started renting bicycles to make travel easier, but they are absurdly priced at $40/rental. The park will not allow you to bring your own bikes. I’m sure that this rule is to make sure that no one mars their lawns with thin tires – but to me it mostly seemed overprotective.
While the large pieces were sprinkled across the landscape, most of the smaller sculptures were clustered around the centerpoint of the park: a beautiful little museum that housed a focal exhibit. The museum, being atop a hill, also provided what may have been the best views of the estate.
Perhaps the most exciting sculpture was Andy Goldsworthy’s Storm King Wall (1997-98). It was a five or so foot tall wall that wound its way in, out and around a row of trees then through a lake and up a hill.
To me, the artfulness of the piece was its embrace of surplus. The effort required to build this piece makes my brain hurt.
It took us about three hours to walk the landscape. The grounds were hardly flat, as I think you can tell from the pictures, so we were admittedly pretty tired after tromping around the landscape. They have a tram that anyone can hop on and hop off anytime, but we chose to walk since it was the perfect late summer day.
From central CT, its about 1h45m to Storm king – and well worth the trek. I would imagine that it would be particularly spectacular once the leaves start to change color. Try to get out there, it’s mega-fun. Thanks for the recommendation Dr. Scott!
Jen and my last stop on our Newport mansion tour was the Breakers. This was the summer home of Cornelius Vanderbilt and is the quintessential gilded age mansion. The house is INSANE. Pretty much every surface is gold, silver, or platinum.
One thing Jen and I enjoyed about all the houses were their kitchens. The breakers was designed to be fire proof since the first version of the home burned down. The kitchen is testimony to that with its cooktop that has no exposed fire. The parties were so huge at these places that the broth pots couldn’t be moved once they were filled – they were far too heavy. So instead they had spigots on the bottom of the pot. Awesome!
It helped that all the pots and pans were beautiful copper. Although I’d hate to have to be the staff person to have to polish those up every night.
Overall, I strongly recommend you go check out the mansions of Newport. Of those that we saw, the only one I think I’d pass on next time around was the Chateau sur Meh. The other four are must-sees.
Also, all this talk of mansions has me thinking of new house names. I know that my final house shall be called “The Keep”. But if I end up owning an intermediate home – it’ll need a name. Any recommendations?
The Elms, the next stop on our mansion tour, includes a conservatory. Soo cool. Ever since my trip to Baltimore I have wanted a palm house or a conservatory. I was extremely stoked to find that The Elms had one. It was decorated with classic white tile and ornamented with superfluous fountains and cherubs (aside: cherubs are a lot weirder if you refer to them as stone babies). Ferns and Palms cascade out of elaborate stone flower pots. The room looks like it would be the perfect escape from New England winters.
The Elms also had a drawing room. And I learned that the name Drawing room actually comes from the word ‘Withdrawing’ – like relaxing. Stupid me always thought that people liked making sketches in drawing rooms.
The more you know!
Rosecliff was the third mansion on our list, and the only of the bunch that can still be used for functions.
This one features a massive ballroom and is far less of a house as much as a support structure for that single ballroom. In fact that main attraction has been featured in a number of movies for its abundant grandeur.
The coolest part of the building in my eyes was the painting of the coffered ballroom ceiling. It was painted to imitate a Roman or Grecian courtyard. The center painting panel was a blue sky, and all around the edges of the room smaller paintings showed flower filled sconces at a perspective that would hint at them decorating the pillars of an ancient Athenian courtyard. It was a cool effect.
Unfortunately, outside of a staircase that would make a king feel at home, the rest of the home was pretty blah. Think Motel 6, except from the gilded age.
The second mansion that Jen and I visited on our recent trip to Newport was the Marble House. I think this one might have been my favorite.
The House was owned by Alva Vanderbilt, who sounds like she was a fiery feminist with an aggressive willingness to upturn the table of tradition. The house was amazing. The highlights included an extremely cozy ‘small’ library, his and her sitting rooms, an imposing dining room complete with 75lb chairs, and a bedroom covered in purple marble that looked like a truck filled with precious metals had crashed into a cotton candy factory.
Again, no pictures allowed inside – but if you’re going to Newport make sure to keep Marble House on your list.
As celebration for the conclusion of my Ohio duties, Jen and I headed to Newport, RI this week for tours through some of the Newport Mansions. We bought passes for five of the mansions and visited them over the course of three days.
I’ll post a few pictures of the exteriors – unfortunately inside pictures are not allowed.
We started with the Chateau sur Mer, which was the largest of the mansions in the early history of Newport. As time went on, the owners of Chateau sur Mer sold property to persons who would ultimately build the mega-glorious mansions of Newport.
After visiting the other mansions, Jen and I jokingly referred to this one Chateau sur Meh. Not nearly as large or impressive. But this one did come with a personal tour which was a bit more interactive than the audio tours of the other mansions.
To anyone visiting the mansions for the first time, I would strongly recommend seeing this one first.
Last weekend Jen and I visited the Harriet Beecher Stowe House on Farmington ave in Hartford. This neighborhood was the place to be in the 1880s – Mark Twain lived next door and the Hepburns (of the Katherine variety) were just down the street. Hartford at the time was the wealthiest city in America! (it has since fallen to one of the poorest cities in America – but let’s stay focused).
Stowe and her book, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, were a pretty big deal in the world of communicating racial equality. Stowe was represented at the museum as having a deep impact on American culture in the civil war years. I had not yet read her book, but this visit inspired me to snag it on my kindle.
So far so AMAZING.
The book is wonderful! Jen casually made a comment that compared Uncle Tom’s Cabin to Tom Sawyer, and I think I’d instinctively bundle them into the same group as well. However, while they are contemporary to one another and have a few similar themes, I think Uncle Tom’s Cabin soars above Finn and Sawyer. Then again, I read Huck and Tom when I was in middle school – an age when life tastes a bit like sour milk. Perhaps a reread is in order.
Stowe’s writing is so beautiful and refined! She has an incredible knack at switching between the raw conversation of the uneducated slaves and the rich deep descriptions of these characters’ actions and emotions. Her vocabulary is vast. My favorite three new words so far are:
portentous: bad things looming
impudent: disrespectful to someone
obstreperous: noisy, tough to control
One of my coworkers, a civil war buff, recommended I try Team of Rivals next which describes how Lincoln’s cabinet was originally chosen and how then ended up being part of Lincoln’s legacy.
Are you reading anything inspiring right now?
This weekend Jen and I visited the Connecticut Clock Museum in Bristol, CT. I must admit that this visit was mostly unplanned and spawned more from a random flipping through a CT guide book than from a passion for museums or clocks. Surprisingly, this turned out to be one of the most fun museum trips I’ve experienced! The Clock Museum is a small museum made up of maybe 6 or 7 good sized rooms. The establishment has about 2,500 clocks on display. Clocks of every type and every material. Old wood clocks, cheap plastic clocks, wristwatches, pocketwatches and gorgeous elaborate skeleton clocks.
Jen and I specifically scheduled our visit for an arrival at the noon gonging. Wisely, the museum does not perfectly sync every clock. Instead, while most are within about 5 minutes of one another, a large portion show completely arbitrary times. This means that even those visitors that show up at 3:06 on a Tuesday may hear chiming.
At noon we walked into a room full of clocks. Big clocks. Grandfather clock after grandfather clocked stood guard around the room; the walls were nearly covered in banjo clocks and lantern clocks and more types of clocks than you could imagine.
The sound of these clocks all ticking and tocking had a remarkably calming quality to it. I sat with my eyes closed listening to the unique rhythm. And then, one by one, they began to chime.
I took some video of this experience and will be working to edit it over the next few days for publishing. In the meantime, I encourage you to visit CT’s clock museum. Note: They will be closing for the season come Thanksgiving so if you want to visit this year, time is running short!