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Whites It All About

January 16, 2010

Feats of clay in winter white mark a luminous sculpture exhibition at Cross MacKenzie Gallery.  Artist and gallery owner Rebecca Cross welcomed the work of five exceptional ceramicists to Washington Friday night with “Snow White," her first opening reception of the year.

It’s the absence of color that unites the ceramics of Christa Assad, Charles Birnbaum, Jean-Marie Grenier, Jeff Irwin and Maren Kloppmann.  “Taking color away shows what light can do,” says Rebecca as she points to “Sam” and “Lucky,” two glazed earthenware faux wood pieces by Jeff Irwin. Resembling cut branches that coalesce into animals, these multi-layer forms amuse and inform.  More social essay than whimsy, Irwin invites viewers to examine ways we treat other species as we inspect missing body parts from pristine knotty creatures.

Charles Birnbaum takes a baroque approach with his porcelain orgy of sea creatures, corals and carnivorous plants. Imagine the specially designed form-fitting container that safely transported this albino marine life.

Jean-Marie Grenier, shown in the photo with his dance partner, “Twirling Helix." Yes, his description. You see, Jean-Marie was a classically trained dancer and circus performer in France and came to New York 30 years ago to continue his career. A friend told him that “good things can happen when you come to New York, but not dancing.”  With a smile, Jean-Marie explained that his friend was right. So he’s taught clay to move and stretch. And the white? Well, it’s about “form before the finishes,”

Ready for a nap?  There’s “Stacked Pillows IV,” Maren Kloppmann’s fluffy piece in oxidated porcelain.

Rebecca’s shows always include “functional ceramics in a range of prices that enhance your life.”  Christa Assad’s stoneware “Tower Vase” and “Pelican Teapot” will grace any table.

For an artist with a most colorful past (her work is filled with vibrant colors and pattern), Rebecca seems quite serene in her winter wonderland.  One of her favorite mediums, “clay is a soft material to work with, and one of the most fragile, yet it lasts the longest.” Rebecca explains. “All of our history has been informed by finding broken shards.”

Rebecca and her husband, architectural photographer Max MacKenzie, opened Cross MacKenzie Gallery in March 2006, and it remains Washington’s only ceramics gallery.

In addition to ceramics, Rebecca’s art includes painting, tile design as well as costume and set designs for The Kennedy Center and BalletRox, a Boston ballet company that uses the power of dance to break down racial barriers. Rebecca is excited to be designing new costumes for BalletRox’s 10th anniversary celebration of the “Urban Nutcracker” next year.  The most wearable of art, Rebecca’s costumes resemble a series of colorful ceramic platters she once designed for Barney’s.

“Snow White” runs from January 15th through March 5th and is located at 1054 31st Street in Canal Square.  202.333.7970 www.crossmackenzie.com. For more on the art of Rebecca Cross, visit: www.rebeccacross.com


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Lunch with Hugh Jacobsen

January 13, 2010

After apologizing for my Manchester Tan walls, baseboards, moldings and free-standing bookcase, I was ready to invite Hugh Newell Jacobsen into my home. I have a lot of windows and there was no chintz, so I hoped he’d be ok.  


As we sipped wine and dished over crab cakes, Baci and Calin, my two Maine Coon cats sat side by side, heads tilted up hanging on Hugh’s every word. They sensed this was no ordinary visitor.
 
Having seen Georgetown change over five decades, I was curious what he thought. “It’s not changed that much”, he said. As do I, he regrets the loss of so many local shops and parking spaces. “We should plant more trees and ban SUVs”, he said. I like that.  We agreed that Sea Catch in Canal Square, with its fabulous outdoor dining along the canal is a neighborhood treasure. He also likes La Chaumiere and Bistrot Lepic. 

From local French restaurants to Provence, where Hugh and his wife Robin of 57 years, have enjoyed many a summer, our conversation turned to the beauty of France. I was delighted to learn that he agreed that Le Corbusier’s chapel of Notre Dame in Ronchamp, or as Hugh calls her, “the nun’s hat”, is one of the world’s best buildings he didn’t design.

Boxwood Winery in Middleburg is a recent local project of Hugh and Simon. It was also a welcome respite from “doing all those kitchens and bathrooms”, he confessed. The winery is a complex of four buildings: a reception for wine tasting; a fermentation chai with 13 custom designed stainless steel fermentation tanks, a bottling building, and a circular underground cave to house oak barrels. The design is modern, but materials characteristic of the 18th century rural area of Middleburg were chosen – fieldstone, seam metal roofs, and cupolas.

Boxwood produces red wine only, blended in the French Bordeaux tradition. A dream of Rita and John Kent Cooke, they purchased historic Boxwood Farm in 2001 recognizing the great potential of producing premium wine in Virginia. Boxwood wine tasting rooms have been in Reston and Chevy Chase. Good news: they’re coming to Georgetown soon. Let’s drink to that!

What’s the best project for an architect, I asked.”Art galleries”, he answered. And Hugh has done them in Oklahoma, Greece, Paris, including a 1972 renovation at the Renwick Gallery here in Washington.

Most of his clients buy into his projects “lock stock and barrel”; however, “some decorators want to make a statement within his statement”, and so now he also offers Jacobsen-designed interiors, furniture and objects.

What doesn’t he do, I wondered?  Cross Wisconsin Avenue more than necessary, that much I learned.  As our visit sadly came to an end, I escorted Hugh out knowing we’d soon be waiting for our East Village robins to reappear on the tree I’m proud to share with him.


For more on Jacobsen’s amazing work, visit his award-winning website designed by Simon Jacobsen, Hugh’s son and partner: www.hughjacobsen.com

 

Read Part I: A Walk with Hugh

 


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A Walk with Hugh

January 6, 2010

I fell in love with his Tuscan Villa on Q Street many years ago and have been a fan ever since.  An afternoon with Hugh Newell Jacobsen was more than a special visit with an internationally celebrated architect and Washington’s premier modernist, it was a guided tour of some of my favorite buildings  -- 127 Georgetown houses have the Jacobsen touch.

He is not only deservedly world renowned, he is our East Village neighbor. Our conversation revealed that we had been admiring the same Christmas congregation of chubby robins on a treetop visible from our respective office windows.

The Tour
On a crisp Wednesday afternoon, we bundled up to go after a quick stop to his P Street office, where a touching portrait of Robert Lautman hangs. Hugh’s beloved friend and personal photographer of 50 years died in October.

At the end of the block Hugh pointed out his first office above the dry cleaners, currently home to Washington Fine Properties. Up the street was Hugh’s first residence, and around the corner on 27th, the Trentman House. Recognized as Georgetown’s first modern house, it is also the first one Hugh “built from scratch.”  It had been a dilapidated late-19th Century, two-story wood-frame house before it was condemned. Lucky for us, even 125 protesting signatures failed to stop the demolition in 1968.  As Hugh describes, it “sits quietly and shuts up” among 1900 workers’ homes and 1950’s “Coca Cola Colonials.”

To achieve harmony of scale for a thoroughly modern structure in a newly designated historic district, horizontal lines were drawn from the neighboring houses across the space of the new house to align cornices, lintels and sills.  It was the first and last time he used those exquisite curved bricks that took forever to be made. The entire house was decorated before the last brick was laid.  Inside, two 10-feet-wide, 42-feet-tall cylinders fashioned from sewer pipes contain the winding stairs. Skylights flood the interior with sunlight. The second floor opens onto a rear garden, and the bay window in front juts out far enough to offer a view of the tennis courts and Rose Park across the street rather than the sidewalk below. Current owners are responsible for organizing the lovely landscaping in and around the park that now enhance the view. 

On the way to the Jacobsen residence, we passed a former mom & pop shop at the corner of 27th & O that once advertised fryers at 25 cents a pound on its side wall.  Imagine trying that now.

True to his claim that “secrets of entry are big in my work,” we entered Jacobsen’s home though the side gate of an ivy-covered garden to the left of the original front door.  The interior has changed very little from the photos I’ve seen published over the years.  All the Jacobsen signatures were there:  white Anne Truitt painting, white walls,  white sofa,  egg crate bookcases, Hartman lamps,  glass tables,  ceiling-to-floor windows,  and of course,  no baseboards  or moldings.  Hugh’s dad once said, “If Bridget Bardot was sitting naked at the end of the sofa, you couldn’t find her.”

It was also dad who thought his math-challenged portrait painter son who had recently graduated from the University of Maryland with a Fine Arts degree needed a more traditional career path. Armed with only his portfolio, the “well-mannered Southerner who seemed to have some talent,” was admitted to Yale’s School of Architecture.

After graduation, and since 1958, Hugh Jacobsen has called Georgetown home. Had he ever considered living anywhere else, I asked him. No, “I never even considered moving to the other side of Wisconsin Avenue,” he grinned.

“For a minimalist, I have a lot of stuff,” Hugh laughed as he showed me some of his prize possessions.  That yellow Josef Albers he coveted but couldn’t afford at the time was purchased from the artist for $10, with the promise to pay something every month.  He did. It took three years.  The fabulous model of the Hotel De Crillon on the Place de la Concorde is such an exact replica it was used to film action close-up scenes of Paris.  In a library filled with 4,000 books (top row, all Agatha Christie) sits a replica of the U.S. Capitol, complete with Jacobsen’s  West Terrace courtyard addition!

We stepped out onto Hugh’s stone terrace framed by a bank of English ivy and 15 individually lit columnar American Holly trees planted in matching rows. As we exited though the rear gate, he told me he’d always wanted to have a dinner party between the trees in his formal French garden.

On our way to my place for a little wine and lunch, Hugh pointed to a white house across the street where his middle son Simon and his family live.  Simon is now Hugh’s full architectural partner and very talented, according to his proud father.  Before  following in his father’s footsteps, Simon was a punk rock musician in a group called “State of Alert.”

Join me  for the continuation of A Walk with Hugh, for lunch, if you will.

For more on Hugh Jacobsen’s work, visit the award-winning website designed by Simon Jacobsen, his son and partner: www.hughjacobsen.com


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