Travels with Susan Spano

People, Places, Stuff

Asilomar at 100, LA Times, 7/7/13

August 20, 2013

Tags: Asilomar, California, Architecture, Julia Morgan, Travel

The 100th birthday of the Asilomar Conference Grounds is being celebrated this year with a full slate of events, including lunch and lecture series, guided walks, chef-led cooking demonstrations and holiday guest packages.

All are designed to welcome back folks to the historic meeting grounds designed by architect Julia Morgan in 1913 as a YWCA summer camp on the Central Coast between Pebble Beach and Pacific Grove.

The old girl has great bones thanks to Morgan, the first female architect licensed in California and best known for designing Hearst Castle. She put her rustic, Western Arts and Crafts signature on 11 buildings at Asilomar (a National Historic Landmark), with its creaking wood floors, weathered shingles, overhanging roofs and yawning stone fireplaces, all set in a gnarled Monterey pine forest and bordered by 25 acres of rolling sand dunes.

Asilomar has completed restoration to rid the dunes of non-native invasives and eradicate a disease that threatened to lay waste to the woods.

During the last few years Aramark, which manages the center, has spent more than $20 million to upgrade some of Asilomar’s architectural crown jewels.

That includes Morgan’s signature Social Hall, where guests check in, play pool and sit in rockers by the fireplace. Wheelchair accessible stone walkways are being laid.

The center has a cellphone tour and Wi-Fi.

“You won’t find another California state park with that amount of improvement and no state funding,” said Scott A. Wilson, sales and marketing director at Asilomar.

Things have changed in 100 years, but not the important ones. If you walk into Dodge Chapel where a window above the altar looks out on the dunes, you may still see a sparrow flying from beam to beam.

Rome by Way of New Haven

April 4, 2013

Tags: Architecture, Rome, New Haven

Went to New Haven last week, two hours by train from New York with familiar Connecticut coast stops along the way, from Stamford to Bridgeport. It’s all just as I recall from my days in school there. But New Haven has changed. The year I was there back in the 1970’s a freshman was shot while moving into his college and walking around at night was a fool’s gambit. Now everything looks better, especially along Chapel Street, home to the Yale University Art Gallery which re-opened in expanded quarters last year.

Yale’s collection, the oldest university art museum in the country, is encyclopedic—from glorious mosaic floors taken from the Roman town of Jerash in present-day Jordan to marvelous Cezannes and Gauguins—commodiously arranged in three interconnected buildings. Plus, it’s free, as is the Yale Center for British Art across the street where I sat in on a lecture about English landscapes, part of a stunning exhibition called “Edwardian Opulence: British Art at the Dawn of the 20th Century” (through April 13).

But my real reason for the trip was to see a small show in the gallery at Whitney Humanities Center on Wall Street, Alexander Purves: Roman Sketches. I got to know Alec, who teaches in the Yale School of Architecture, while I lived in Rome; every spring he takes graduate students there for a four-week workshop devoted to sketching monuments in and around the Eternal City, in the belief that hand-drawing remains “a critical mode of investigation and expression,” despite the broadening use of the computer in architectural design. When the group got special permission to sketch at the Villa Madama—a High Renaissance marvel originally designed by Raphael, now used as an Italian government guest house for visiting dignitaries—I tagged along and never forgot it, especially the Elephant Fountain in the garden overlooking Rome.

On display in the New Haven exhibition are renderings from Alec’s sketch books—mostly using ballpoint pen, but some in watercolor—of St. Peter’s, Borromini’s La Sapienza, the Piazza del Popolo and other sites well-known to Rome aficionados. Vastly more evocative than photos, the stuff of a bad case of homesickness for Rome.

Mesa Verde's Mary Jane Colter Collection (But Don't Call It That)

July 19, 2012

Tags: Southwest, Arts and Crafts, Architecture

From Smithsonian

Everyone knows what to see at Mesa Verde National Park in southwestern Colorado: the cliff dwellings of the Pueblo people who occupied the Four Corners region from A.D. 600 to 1300. Soon, though, there will be good reason to stop at the entrance because the park is building a new Visitor and Research Center, scheduled to open late this year, that will give a state-of-the-art museum to its remarkable collection of archaeological artifacts, ethnographic material on the Native Americans of the Southwest and Santa Fe Indian School painting. Considered as a whole, it’s one of the oldest and biggest museums in the national park system.

Another one of its treasures is a collection of jewelry and ceramics given to Mesa Verde in the 1940's by architect Mary Jane Colter. Born in Pittsburgh in 1869, she attended the California School of Design in San Francisco, then went on to create and decorate buildings for the Fred Harvey Company which ran shops, restaurants and hotels along the Sante Fe Railway. Among her masterworks are Hopi House, Lookout Studio, Hermit’s Rest and the Watchtower on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, all stunning examples of the American Arts and Crafts movement that take their inspiration from Hopi, Zuni and Navajo design, as well as Spanish-Mexican hacienda architecture. Between 1900 and 1940 Colter also worked on landmark train stations in Chicago, St. Louis, Kansas City and Los Angeles.

At a time when women spent their lives in the kitchen and parlor, Colter made her way in a man’s world, striding over construction sites and seeking artifacts all over the old Southwest, her hair in an untidy French roll, her radio tuned to a Mexican music station. On forays around the Four Corners region she collected baskets, jewelry and pots, while getting to know the Native American craftspeople who made them. She used most of the treasures she found to decorate Harvey Company buildings, but kept some for herself, eventually retiring to Santa Fe where she died in 1958.Colter was a close friend of the archaeologist Jesse L. Nusbaum, who excavated Mesa Verde’s Balcony House and served as the park’s superintendent from 1921 to 1946. So the museum there seemed to Colter a suitable home for her art.

But she never wanted the 530 pieces of jewelry she bequeathed to Mesa Verde to be known as the Mary Colter Collection. “I think she didn’t want it to be about her. She wanted it to be about the artists,” said curator Tara Travis. Later some of Colter’s ceramics were added from the old Southwest Museum in Los Angeles.

When the new Visitor and Research Center opens at Mesa Verde, 30 Colter pieces will be on display, including a silver Navajo pin shaped like a biplane, heishi necklaces made of delicately strung shells, and tie slides carved from the vertebrae of cows and goats—all showing, as Travis explained, that “Colter had an interest in how artists used materials—shells, stones, turquoise and silver—and everyday objects to create works of art.”

The mastery of the Native Americans who made them should be overwhelmingly apparent. But I can’t think of it as anything other than the Mary Jane Colter Collection.
From the first annual SPEAK UP! contest, June 23, 2018, Muhanga, Rwanda

Syracuse Archaeological Museum, Sicily

Proshyan School bathroom with water tank

Takar and Kataro are my favorite Armenia reds

School time in Armenia.

Garni Temple, Armenia

Big Sur from Soberanes Point

Asilomar

Artichoke Pickers by Henriette Shore

On the way to the beach

Jalama Beach, CA

Hello, little sea urchin!

Famous Jalama Beach Burger

Three by Peter Hessler

Spring time on the Big Sur Coast

Contemplation

Jalama Beach, CA

Motya Charioteer. Image from www.telegraph.co.uk.

Laboratory for Atmospheres, NASA

Homesick for Rome

Therme Vals in Switzerland

At Vogelsgang

National Socialist Party poster from Vogelsgang

Palm Springs

Image courtesy of Tylas at English Wikipedia

Vintage Naples Historic District

From Palm Cottage

Borobudur frieze; Buddha's life

Borobudur at sunrise

Shikellamy State Park in Pennsylvania

Tacoma Narrows Bridge

Image courtesy of Politics and Prose

Image courtesy of John Wehrheim.

Lotusland in Montecito, CA

Ganna Walska of Lotusland

Image courtesy of Flickr user ViaMoi.

Conques Church. Image courtesy of Flickr user Seligr.

Weiming Lake, Peking University. Image courtesy of Flickr user ImGump.

The Coral Casino at the Four Seasons Biltmore Hotel near Santa Barbara

Agrodome, Rotorua, New Zealand. Image courtesy of Flickr user _gem_.

Vandalized images at Painted Rock

Painted Rock, Carrizo Plain National Monument

Mesa Verde National Park. Courtesy Wikipedia Commons user BenFrantzDale.

A map of Chicago, Illinois, imprinted in 1913 from the United States Geographical Survey’s historical topographic map collection. Image courtesy of the USGS.

Image courtesy of Flickr user hattiesburgmemory.

Cristo Redentor, Rio de Janeiro. Image courtesy of Flickr user alobos flickr.

Image courtesy of Flickr user joiseyshowaa.

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Selected Works

Nonfiction, Travel, Human Interest
A new collection of travel essays by Susan Spano
Article
Tracking Colette in Paris and Burgundy
A draught sinks Lake Powell, revealing lost wonders of Glen Canyon
Rome's Most Roman Neighborhood
Studying Mandarin in Beijing
Around the world and back to New York
Nonfiction Book
Divorce. Why do we do it? And what does it do to us? fourteen prominent writers have pondered these questions and have set down heir thoughts and personal stories, in this gathering of sometimes irreverent and always intelligent essays. "A disarmingly candid, invaluable collection." --Publishers Weekly
"Anyone who doubts that men, too, suffer in divorce should be required to read this." --Glamour Magazine "A rare, unusually focused anthology of original essays that both entertains and instructs." --Publishers Weekly

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