A Missed Opportunity At The Met
If you’re going to get lost in New York City, I picked the right place.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
A few weeks ago I had a couple of free hours on a hot, sticky Friday afternoon, so I did what many New Yorkers do under the same circumstances: I went to the Met.
I headed immediately to the 20th Century Wing, intent on locating a major Grant Wood painting entitled “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere.” Being a Grant Wood enthusiast, I’m trying to see every major Grant Wood painting on display in public collections. I found “Paul Revere” tucked between a couple of Norman Rockwell and Edward Hopper paintings, and enjoyed spending several minutes studying it.
And, no, that was not Sarah Palin standing next to me asking who Paul Revere was warning….
I then made my way across the museum toward the American Wing, planning to visit their re-creation of the living room of the 1915 Francis Little House, a Frank Lloyd Wright Prairie School masterwork. The house was razed in 1972, but not before rooms were carefully dismantled and later reconstructed in three different museums. The Met rebuilt the living room in 1982, filling it with both original Wright furniture and Arts & Crafts accessories, including one of the Roycroft planters featured here in a recent column.
On the way to the Wright installation I took a wrong turn up the bronze staircase design by Louis Sullivan for the Chicago Stock Exchange (1893) and found myself on the balcony lined with nearly a dozen free-standing glass display cases containing the ‘Best of the Best’ of American art pottery.
In 2009 Robert A. Ellison Jr., a noted ceramic collector, speaker and author, pledged 250 pieces from his American art pottery collection to the Met. In their free-standing glass cases you can see examples of the best of Grueby, Newcomb, Ohr, Overbeck, Van Briggle, Rookwood, Wheatley, Marblehead, S.E.G. and others. I love the fact that you can view each piece from every angle, including the shopmarks from beneath the glass shelves.
My only disappointment was that the descriptive notes provide no information beyond the name of the makers. A student standing in front of the George Ohr shelf would have no idea whether those 16 twisted, egg-shell thin shapes were the work of a madman or a genius in clay.
Or, in Ohr’s case, both.
What could just as easily have been an educational tool ended up being a display of pots that only those who already knew what to look for could fully appreciate.
A missed opportunity for a curator to also be a teacher.
Why simply preserve when you can also educate?
All it would take is a summer intern, a tape recorder and a morning spent with Bob Ellison walking from case to case as he recorded for posterity “the rest of the story” – how he found each piece, where it came from, what attracted him to it, why it was selected for the Met’s collection, what is significant about it, etc., etc.
Then, a few minutes of typing and instead of simply stating “Marblehead Pottery” the information card could read: “The combination of natural motifs, such as insects, animals and plants, along with horizontal bands and vertical accents contribute to the architectural feel of Marblehead vases.”
Not only to preserve, but to educate.
A missed opportunity.
Until next Monday,
Have a great week!
Next Week’s Journey: Standing Atop Little Rock.