By Jelane A. Kennedy
Our day started: “Eileen who is your favorite artist that you have their pictures hanging up in our apartment?”
“That is easy, Maxfield Parish.”
“Did you know he collaborated with Tiffany?”
“What do you mean?” she said quizzically
“Maxfield Parrish designed a mural for Curtis Publishing here in Philadelphia and Tiffany Studios then converted the mural into favrile glass mosaic tiles and installed the mural.”
So began our adventure in mosaic favrile glass tile in Philadelphia. Prior to our leaving on this quickly put together trip, I on a whim googled Tiffany stained glass. I wonder if there might be some stained glass of the Tiffany Studio in the area where we were going to an appointment. In my mind I was considering church windows and had not even considered glass tile. While looking at the search engine results I came across information about “The Dream Garden” found in the Curtis building.
The Curtis building (now the Curtis Center) was built to house the magazine publishing company of The Saturday Evening Post, Ladies Home Journal, Jack and Jill, Holiday and American Home, it was a massive white stone building that was built in grand scale. The publishing company was started in the 1830’s and it is hard to believe that this once hustling building full of writers, photographs and designers is now the home to multiple small businesses.
In middle of the building was a large open atrium with an amazing fountain that Eileen said reminded her of a waterfall in the Adirondacks as the water gently rolled down the surface of the rocks and slid to the end of the fountain like the edge of an infinity pool. As you leave the atrium there is a small metal sign that leads you to the enormous mural that glows with the surreal lighting that was so Parrish and I had only seen in his paintings.
I was unprepared for the enormity of the mural and the detail. The Dream Garden was 15 x 49 feet and was made up of over 100,000 tiles of favrile glass. Photographs do not do it justice. As we walked from side to side the light drew out different highlights pulling us closer to see a detail of a waterfall or a bush of cascading flowers. When we drew back as far as we could and moved from left to right the mountains took on a different glow. The Dream Garden mesmerized us both as it lived up to the artistry of both Parish and Tiffany. Filling our senses with wonder!
On our last morning in Philadelphia Eileen wanted to visit the United States Mint, it was a short walk from where we were staying. After making it through the security checkpoint my belt, watch and silver bracelet all had me going through the metal detector multiple times! We stepped into the lobby to only be blown away by 5 medallions and 2 half-circle mosaic glass murals high over our heads set in the stone walls of the Mint building. They depicted the ancient Roman process of making money and were an interpretation of an original mural found in Pompeii. The artist William B. Van Ingen used the mural as inspiration to develop the 5 medallions and 2 half circles that were then made into favrile glass tiles mosaics a by Tiffany. What I found amazing was that the colors are ageless, as tile as a medium does not fade. So what I saw that day would still be as beautiful years later.
As we stood stunned craning our necks to make out the details we heard a voice behind us.
“You like them too.”
Turning around we saw behind a large desk the grin of a beautiful African American woman who for the next half hour became our tour guide of this amazing artwork. Felicity walked us through each of the pieces and shared with us the small details that over the years she has enjoyed as she works under the gaze of the cherubs.
So many times I wanted to get up closer, the floor felt so far away from each one that is way above my head. I would have given anything to have a crane lift to have met each mosaic at eye level. The five circular pieces are 59 ½ inches in diameter and the two half moon pieces are 49 ½ inches high and 166 ½ inches wide. To my disappointment photography was not allowed in the building (which was understandable).
The Director of the United States Mint in Philadelphia, at the time was Mrs. Mary Brooks, she had the artwork moved them to the new Mint. Her intention was to save the mosaics as a national treasure. Truly they are that. (When I later got home and tried to google this prize, I was surprise that we had stumbled upon what I would consider a hidden treasure that it appears so few know about.) Later as we did the walking tour of the Mint, each mosaic down below was demonstrated in modern technology. Although I enjoyed the tour, what will always stand out for me will be the chance finding of another little advertised work of Tiffany.
© 2015 Jelane A. Kennedy