Saturday, February 23, 2008

Local Flora (and Fauna)

Upon researching historical photos related to the Mount Adams vicinity, I ran across this - a great painting by the commercial artist, Jim Flora (1914-1998).

"Mount Adams Winter Scene" [1937]. The earliest existing, only color student piece - prior to Flora's mature graphic style.

I was only semi-cognizant of Flora's work, recently adding his books - The Mischievous Art of Jim Flora [2004] and The Curiously Sinister Art of Jim Flora [2007] - to my Amazon Wish List, mainly after researching referrals connected to other purchases I had made (such as Amid Amidi's Cartoon Modern [2006]). Little did I know that he was once a Cincinnatian, attending the then-renowned Art Academy of Cincinnati [student from 1935-39].
Cincinnati Art Academy & Art Museum [before 1928]. Source: Cincinnati Public Library [via CincinnatiMemory].

Connected to the Cincinnati Art Museum, the Academy was really housing some fine artists back in the day - namely, graphic artists such as Flora, Charley Harper, Edie Harper (Charley's wife), but also more traditional artists, like Frank Duveneck (one of my old idols), Harlan Hubbard, Edward Volkert (of which my great-aunt had a substantial collection), and of course, my great-uncle Jack Bingham (whom we named our son after). In addition, there have also been numerous younger talents which have stemmed from the Academy, reappearing mainly in the Northeast today (the path that most artists seem to take, considering NY is the 'center of the art world').

"Manhattan" [1954]. Print from a hand-tinted woodcut.

Anyway, perusing through Flora's portfolio, there are notable instances of his relationship with Cincinnati, done while in school and printed through Little Man Press (a home-sewn publishing company started by Flora and author Robert Lowry). In this era, a different type of transportation infrastructure (one with character) enveloped the city and country, which obviously made an impression on him...

Untitled [undated]. Segment of a large, early work.
"Uncle Charley Royer, engineer" [early-1990s]. Sketch.

...due to the fact that he paid his school debts by working around them - a job given to him by his uncle, an employee
of the Cincinnati Railroad Terminal Roundhouse [a.k.a. Cincinnati Union Terminal].

Cincinnati Union Terminal [undated]. This train terminal sits on the west edge of downtown Cincinnati. From looking at its location (upper left), Flora would have had a long trek home if he lived anywhere near the Art Academy, which was in near Eden Park on the east side of downtown (very close to the area of his initial painting) [via CincyImages].

"Flora wrote in 1988:
My uncle John Royer was night foreman of the Cincinnati Railroad Terminal Roundhouse. He was able to get me a job wiping the soot off the huge old steam locomotives. I would go to art school from 9:00 A.M. until 4:00 P.M. and then work in the roundhouse from 5:00 P.M. until 1:00 A.M. It then took me an hour and a half to get from work to my furnished room and to bed by 3:00 A.M. I was always yawning from lack of sleep."

A persistent dedication to an expressive life, built through several obstacles, but none greater than the Depression. Considering he was also an "architectural dropout" adds to the numerous
reasons for my personal empathy and admiration.
• Quotes and corresponding Flora images via Jim [ref. Mt. Adams painting, NYC print, Untitled Train, and Charlie Royer (quote source)].

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Steps to Nowhere

Whenever Elizabeth and I are lingering near the heart of the city, we always make it a point to take an indirect route back home through downtown... an effort to not only delay the work waiting on our metaphorical desks, but to site-see. It may sound strange, being long-time inhabitants of the city and still portraying ourselves as tourists, but Cincinnati's rich architectural blood and provocative landscape almost assures one of finding hints of the past lurking around every corner. 

Berry Park (recent). 
At the foot of Mount Adams.

As an amendment to my last post (about unrealized development in the city), there is a notable rise in construction here, which is steadily altering the environment of every neighborhood (thanks mainly to 3CDC). Of course, you can always just drive down 71, hang out in Kenwood, or make the haul to Mason, but the most exciting developments take place by the river. Every stroll downtown seems cleaner, more modern, more livable than the last. With Cincinnati being such a compact city, meandering through the streets really lends to the urban feel of a much larger city - one that is increasingly becoming contemporary, yet still hints at the old floorboards under the new carpet.

Anyway, we were driving down by the river ("Riverside Drive") because Elizabeth hadn't seen the
Theodore M. Berry International Friendship Park [more info here + here], but on our exit is when we ran into a bit of history:

We found these remnants of once-standing establishments driving up Kemper Lane to Columbia Parkway - a road I had never taken (or needed to take), due to its relative inconspicuous location just past the park. Though, I'm sure this whole area will soon be redeveloped to handle the load from
juggernaut Cincinnati-developer Towne Properties' ever-growing Adams Landing project:

Captain's Watch at Adams Landing, Riverside Drive.
A development by Towne Properties.

Although seeing these pieces of the past is always interesting, finding them anywhere in the downtown vicinity is really no surprise, considering the whole area was once smothered with rooftops (that is, until the
50s highway boom)...

Downtown Cincinnati (1941). 
Source: Cincy Images.

These were not mind-blowing finds, but rather minor historical markers - unfortunately, reminders of the great American tradition: Tear-down and Rebuild. But, as we can see here, and as noted before, the rebuilding part is not always assured. There have been too many unique and culturally significant structures
downtown that have met the wrecking ball over the years and occasionally replaced with parking lots. 

This sentimentality of Cincinnati's historically broad skyline (which could aptly be shared with most of this country's urban landscape) emphasizes the importance of history in everyday life: History is what draws tourists, maintains residency, and builds pride in the populous - and (note to Council) Cincinnati has heaps of it.

To quote Wright (on the near demolition of the Robie House by a Seminary to build a high-rise dorm), "To destroy it would be like destroying a great piece of sculpture or a great work of art. It would never be permitted in Europe. It could only happen in America...".

Friday, February 1, 2008

Procrastinators Synonymous

Well, another day, another dolor for our city's development:

Cincinnati Enquirer articles (February 30, 2008).
From the Local & Business sections.
Click on images to read.

If you're from Cincinnati, this is normal fare, and if you're an out-of-towner, well, we're small potatoes compared to the metropolises that we strive to emulate, and this reporting might seem reflective of most other mid-sized cities in this age (of urban sprawl). A symptom of the modern-day Depression of today's urban cores, though, one that Cincinnati has been fighting for decades.

While the hype is built around the announcement and public review process,  the plans (e.g. Millworks & 5th & Race Tower, below) - even if they are placating the public while 'extensions are needed to secure financing (etc.)' - always seem to result instead.

Still, no matter how idealistic they may be, they give us hope - they are, at the very least, a vision of what we could be.

This reminds me of the great pseudo-construction boom here around the turn of the century - an exciting time when news articles concerning the impending construction to take place in the city 'in the near future' saturated the local papers. Granted, some ideas were a bit heady, such as Bill Butler's Freedom Millennium Tower planned for Newport in 1999, or of course, on the Cincinnati side of the river, The Banks:

Note: This is still in the works. (And to give credence to Butler's vision, I did attend the ringing of the Peace Bell on New Year's Eve 1999 - minus said Tower). Nevertheless, the sketches of these proposals alone really take you on a fantastic voyage.

Luckily, an exhibit on the multitude of forgotten concepts for our future would be reawakened in an exhibit at the CAC, Unbuilt Cincinnati - a much more thorough representation of renderings than my old newsprint collection; a tactile, enjoyable reflection of the city's redundant efforts (3D models, animated illustration, original blueprints, lustrous original artwork and all).

Even with the numerous passings of ill-fated developments showcased in the media, I suppose this is a sign
that we Cincinnatians are uniquely invested in our turf; in our storied history. After all, the accelerating redundancy of growth (socially and structurally) used to be our motto, when we eventually became know as the Queen City of the West.

Update (2/2/8): The Fifth & Race tower is a no-go (another sketch for CAC's Unbuilt Cincinnati exhibit #2).