Archive for August, 2010

My Dog Tulip, J.R. Ackerley’s Ode to Queenie (and dogs the world over)

Posted in 20th century, Anglomania, Gay, J.R. Ackereley, Literature, Siegrfried Sassoon on August 30, 2010 by babylonbaroque

In anticipation of the Sept.1st release of the animated version of My Dog Tulip I am re-reading J.R. Ackerley’s account of his relationship with his Alsatian Tulip (Queenie).

I am looking forward to the release, the animation appears delightful without being saccharin.

They seem to have captured the books odd charm. I do have a few reservations as all lovers of books do when a favorite is put onto film.

First being the “confirmed bachelor” language, Ackerley was out as a gay man, the bachelor reference irritates, let’s see how it is handled.

Another concern is how they will handle his”gentleman  friend”, particularly Freddie Doyle, Queenie’s original owner and Ackerley’s lover.In the film clip there appears to be another man, I hope it’s Freddie.

In reading Tulip , I am eager to re-read his other writings, most particularly his bio My Father & Myself. It’s been a good ten year since I have last picked it up, but it was a great read.

Ackerley was an interesting fellow: accomplished but seemingly shy and modest, reserved yet  openly gay,  he seems to have been a bit of a homebody, yet part of a very smart set, E.M Forster, Siegried Sassoon, W.H.Auden, and Christopher Isherwood were part of his circle.

Sassoon is the character Captain Pugh in My Dog Tulip , I was unaware of that until I discovered the fact during my research. Ackerley’s  description of Pugh/Sassoon illustrates contradictions of perception. Sasoon/Pugh is a married  to the mysterious Cairn collecting Mrs. Pugh. The Pugh character comes off as odd duck, curmudgeonly,distant, more concerned with his poultry then Ackerley’s comfort. They had served in WWI together, but that bond seems to have been weakened as the good Captain is rarely about. Having read the Sassoon bio by Max Egremont, I have a  very different impression of the man, tall,courtly, handsome;dashing in “fancy dress”, devoted  to the great  society beauty Stephen Tennant yet married to that other great society beauty Hester Gatty.

Perhaps Ackerley knew best, they were friends , or perhaps Ackerley himself was also an odd duck. He did allow Queenie/Tulip to poop on  his host’s floor.

a youthful J.R. Ackerley (on right) with his father Roger

Joe Randolph Ackerley was born 4th November 1896, died 4th June 1967

In addition to My Dog Tulip (1956), and  My Father & Myself(1968), he also wrote Hindoo Holiday(1932) (love the spelling of Hindu) and his only work of fiction We Think The World of You (1960). I have not read the last two, I look forward to it.

In closing I enclose My Dog Daisy.

MY Dog Daisy

I know, pink seersucker is REALLY gay.

I also include my other two brats.

My Dogs Buddy (L) and Speck (R)

Good Night

Post Script: In todays New York Times, Stephen Holden gave a thoughtful review of My Dog Tulip.

Click here for review.

Clippings of a MadMan, the collage work of Kenneth Halliwell

Posted in 20th century, Collage, Gay, Joe Orton-Kenneth Halliwell on August 26, 2010 by babylonbaroque

As I seem to be exploring the nastiness of man through art; Punch and his violent antics, Macheath’s brutality towards womankind in Three Penny Opera, I thought I should finish off this unholy trio with some nasty gay antics. In particular Kenneth Halliwell and the playwright Joe Orton.

It’s difficult for a person of culture not to know and admire Orton, Entertaining Mister Sloan,one of the darkest , funniest plays about. Much has been said about Joe, his life, his talents.

What I have been curious about is his oft maligned “lover”, Kenneth Halliwell. I hesitate to describe Kenneth as a partner, lover,  or spouse, as their relationship seemed pretty odious, even without the murder/suicide. Orton , an unrepentant flirt, openly engaged  in trysts that enraged Halliwell, Halliwell morose and apparently so unpleasant that society went to great measures to avoid contact with him.

What has always struck me as curious was Halliwell’s devotion to the art of collage. I must say I am not a fan of collage. Victorian decoupage, charming;  20th century “mixed media”, not so much.

I have read the occasional biography of Orton,his working class background, his sordid relationship with Halliwell, the debauchery in Tangiers.

Joe Orton and Kenneth Halliwell

An unfortunate image, the uncomfortable personal dynamic apparent.

Orton the adorable talented flirt, Kenneth, resentful and betrayed.


What was always in the background  was collage, their Islington apartment, apparently cramped and uncomfortable, was made more so by Kenneth’s clipping and pasting.

Joe Orton

b. 1st January 1933

d. 9th August 1967

All in all a rather  successful wall treatment.

(Although it does remind me of my barbershop, plastered with clippings of hot boys and girls. )

I have known of Halliwell’s passion for collage, but not seen examples of it. I thought it time to remedy that.

Thank God for Google.

Kenneth Halliwell

b.23rd June 1926

d.9th August 1967



Attributed to Kenneth Halliwell.

Untitled, date unknown.

I must say I have little to comment on. The work seems competently constructed, the first handsome with an underlying Cubist aesthetic. The second reminds me of a lot of 60’s graphic art, clipping and pulling across cultures and time. I don’t particularly like it, but I want to . My heart goes out to Halliwell, he was crushed. Orton handsome, young, charming, and  deeply talented. Halliwell, older, not respected, perhaps without any true talent, clipping furiously in their dreary little apartment. Such a sad ,sad mess ultimately ending in a bloody horror.

For that reason alone I would like to admire his work.

If perhaps Orton’s society crowd was a bit warmer, a little less snubbing a lot less bitchy ; if Halliwells work was given a chance, perhaps, just perhaps, that hammer wouldn’t have struck Joe’s head eight awful times. I don’t know, I do know that empathy works wonders.

Early in their relationship Orton and Halliwell went on an artistic rampage, stealing and defacing books from the Islington library. Their creative antics landed them in jail for “theft and defacement”. Seems a bit harsh, a fine would have seemed sufficient.

The following images are examples of this early collaborative work. Perhaps it was a happier time for their relationship. The images are amusing.

Queens Favorite

The Three Faces of Eve

love the kitty

The Lunts

Image above sourced from the always wonderful Feuliton.

Alec Clunes
Storm Drift
All in all, kind of puerile not particularly interesting.
The mischievous antics came to an August 9th 1967 at 25 Noel Road, Islington. The house bears a commemorative plaque to Orton, no mention is made of Halliwell.
A sad legacy.
25 Noel Road
Recquiscat in Pace Messrs Halliwell and Orton
Good Night

Annual Fancy Dress Up Stag, and other naughty boys.

Posted in 19th cent., 20th century, Gay, George Bellows, Reginald Marsh on August 24, 2010 by babylonbaroque

In researching the last post, I stumbled upon an odd photo of handsome young men in costume, half in drag. All clearly having a lark . A very charming image, capturing what seemed to be great fun.

Annual Fancy Dress Up Stag


Louisiana State University

Agricultural and Mechanical students

by Mc Carty (?)

As we live in the age of Foucault and his “sexuality as a construction”, we know we musn’t read too much into these dispalys of male bonding and play.

OK, I won’t read too much into this, but can I at least find the couple in the center adorable?

I understand the notion of identity, social construction, etc. etc. But this camaraderie is very endearing and  apparently tender; is it really possible that intimate  (romantic)feelings were not present. Perhaps wholly chaste, perhaps just “practice”for future marriages.

We are left with a mysterious  un-answerable glimpse into their youthful lives.

Again another detail of these young men at play. Clever costumes, but what’s with the hooded fellow?

Another question raised is the meaning of a “stag party”, this photograph seems to indicate a annual meeting of boys only, “in fancy dress”, celebrating what?

Today we generally associate “stag” parties with a  raunchy get together, the sole purpose being  the intention of “sowing one’s oats” for the last time. Always seemed sordid and un-romantic to me, but there you go. I frankly wasn’t comfortable presenting any of the images that popped up when I googled “stag”.

A final detail, more cute boys in dresses and their admirers in summer whites.

Although I found plenty of images of sordid gatherings , men acting badly with strippers in Craotia and Prague, I found no link to what this Louisiana gathering meant.

I resort to George Bellows ( 1882-1925) magnificent Stag at Sharkeys.

Stag at Sharkey’s


In my vain attempt to find another link, I enclose Reginald Marsh’s ( 1898-1954), super sexy Coney Island.

Coney Island


Granted, a very weak link, but the painting is beautiful.

Perhaps my following image is the strongest link to the “Stag” theme.

Majestic Stag


Wm. Holbrook Beard


National Museum of Wildlife Art

Have a great day.

Afton Villa, a Southern Gothic Tragedy

Posted in Afton Villa, American South, architecture, Belter, George Greig, Gothic Revival with tags on August 23, 2010 by babylonbaroque

This blogging is a curious business, the following , is a suggestion from a reader. In my opinion, a reader of great merit, not only an avid history buff and preservationist, she happens to be the great, great, great niece of the artist George Miller Grieg. Mr. Grieg was the painter commissioned by Queen Victoria, to paint the interiors of Holyrood. I posted about Holyrood and it’s interiors in June. I suggest you take a peek , marvelous stuff.

Through this happy meeting I have been introduced to the fantastic, now lost, antebellum estate, Afton Villa.

Afton Villa

St. Francisville Parish, Louisiana

Gothic Revival plantation

ca. 1840

destroyed by fire 1963

The following images taken by the WPA ( now available through the Louisiana Historical  Photographic Collection) testify to the magnificence of this lost treasure. Always fond of American Gothic Revival, this 40 room plantation house , was a stunning example.

B&W photo, circa 1940’s

charming image

Afton Villa, front entrance

detail of porch

detail of entrance gallery

Definitely my favorite image in the series, the lack of interior shots curious. Perhaps the then unfashionable interiors were not deemed  a worthy subject for documentation.

a particularly romantic image

A striking image showing the stair tower.

Just look at that thing!


Avenue of live oaks.

Southern enough for you??

We all need a gatehouse.

Another romantic view of this great beauty.

Rear view?

I love this shot, slightly ungainly,  a charming quirkiness.

As a contrast to these tasteful images, I present a few of those really garishly colored 60’s postcards I so love.

Rather forlorn image

The reverse describes Afton Villa as “a famous French Chateau (????), now the home of Mr. and Mrs. Wallace Percy’, it goes on to describe “it’s hand carved Rosewood suite”, one assumes Belter or some knockoff.

another image, same room, same “Rosewood suite”.

I love how stiffly formal interiors appeared in the 60’s.

The following is of a bedroom, presumably Master.

The reverse describes the “original Rosewood bedroom suite by Mallard.

Love the crucifix.

I sincerely thank the great, great , great ,niece of the talented Mr. Grieg. I will close with an image of Mr. Grieg from her family photo album, a treasure.

George Miller Grieg



Good Night.



Pirate Jenny and the BullyBoys

Posted in 18th century, 20th century, Bertolt Brecht, George Grosz, John Gay/Beggar's opera, Kurt Weill, Lotte Lenya, Marianne Faithful, The Tiger Lilies, Three Penny Opera on August 19, 2010 by babylonbaroque

As I was having breakfast with the Beloved and his colleague , a dear friend and fellow “shrink”,our conversation naturally shifted from the banalities of life to the State of Man. I am not nearly intelligent enough to keep pace, so I found myself drifting off with thoughts of the dearly loved Three Penny Opera, and in particular the marvelous Pirate Jenny.

Original German poster

Berlin 1928

The Three Penny Opera was inspired by John Gay’s 1728 hit The Beggar’s Opera

The Beggar’s Opera, Act V



The Beggar’s Opera which explores Man’s rather unsavory side provided rich inspiration for the lyricist Bertolt Brecht, who first wrote Pirate Jenny in 1927;perhaps inspired by the London revival of The Beggar’s Opera in the twenties.

With Kurt Weill providing both the music, and the muse, in this case his wife the marvelous Lotte Lenya; Three Penny explores the theme more deeply.

Lotte Lenya photographed by Carl Van Vechten

I love many recordings of ” Seeräeban Jenny”, Nina, Uta, Ella, but one cannot help feeling that Weill’s muse was the finest. This clip from the 1931 film of Three Penny bears that bias out.

This unidentified sketch of our beloved Jenny, captures her spirit in the fashion of George Grosz.

George Grosz was particularly adept at capturing the despair and wretchedness of man. Why his images beguile me as they repulse is perhaps a question best left to an analyst.

Matrose Im Nachtlokal

George Grosz


Grosz certainly captures the lonely despair many have experienced sitting at a bar into the wee hours of the night. Sad  painful hopefulness. Jenny must feel this, hence her desire to chop off the heads of her oppressors. Can’t blame the gal.

I first became aware of Brecht/Weill/ThreeePenny through my first partner Douglas. Douglas had marvelous taste and an incredible love for dark art. He adored Three Penny, and he particularly loved the production starring Raul Julia as Macheath. Douglas fancied a physical similarity to Mr. Julia, he was correct in possessing that vanity.

Raul Julia

March 9th 1940

October 24th 1994

In the following clip, The Cannon Song,Julia captures Man’s brutality, I particulary love the “beefstak tartar” refrain, it has always amused me.

Again I turn to Grosz, his famous “Made in Germany” captures the silly pompousness of so many folks, men in particular.

Made in Germany

George Grosz


What actually inspired my thoughts of Jenny and wretchedness, was the always divine Marianne Faithful and her evocative interpretation of “Pirate Jenny”. I have a particular fondness for the line “as the soft heads fall”, chilling revenge.

I would like to include this clip of the Tiger Lillies “Bully Boys” which illustrates what ultimately happens to all those wretched Silly Bully Boys.

In closing I would like to dedicate this post to the aforementioned Douglas, who ultimately found our wretched state too much to bear.

I miss him and wished he could have seen past the ugliness.

God bless you Doug.

Good night.

The Punch & Judy Show, the original Slapstick

Posted in Bruce Nauman, Commedia dell'arte, Punch & judy, puppets on August 16, 2010 by babylonbaroque

As it is a lovely day here in the City of Angels, a day of good cheer and optimism; I thought Punch and Judy with its domestic violence,  unbridled brutality, corrupt law enforcement, rampaging reptiles, and Satan himself, a perfect topic.

I also happen to be at work on a painting of Mr.Punch, sans Judy;I should say I am currently avoiding that work as I am at work on this blog ABOUT Mr. Punch.

I was reminded of my interest in Punch by my last post on the   Incroyables ( see side bar); these Bright Young things minced about with a large bludgeon-like staff which they referred to as their “Executive Power”. Punch , another silly man with a big stick, seemed a natural progression.

Punch, derivative of the commedia dell’arte character Polchinello has always been a personal favorite.

Making his first appearance around 1662, he was wildly popular in London and Paris, he and Judy did cross the great ocean, gaining  popularity in the Colony, George Washington is known to have laughed at his antics.

Punch and company  initially were enacted on stage by marionettes, economics seems to have factored into the use of hand puppets. With light weight portable theatre and ingenious puppets, it was possible for one puppeteer to act as an itinerant troupe, perhaps a shill in the audience collecting appreciative change. From seaside attraction to seaside attraction, they entertained a vast array of folks.

It is a bit shocking to think that this shrill little hunchbacked fellow, beating on his wife, tossing Baby out the window, outwitting the police , even cavorting with Satan; was/is considered appropriate fare for wee ones. But of course he wasn’t the last fellow of dubious character to gain wild youthful popularity; the vicious antics of the Three Stooges, the stupidity of Homer Simpson, the cruelty of RoadRunner and Wily E Coyote of course come to mind.

By Victoria’s time, some of his antics were notched down a bit, precisely to address this issue; part of  her agenda for wholesomeness and family values perhaps.

A wonderful cartoon by the always wonderful George Cruikshank (1792-1878)

Of course the beatings still continued, domestic violence is always so amusing apparently.

Judy beats Punch

Judy goes down.

“That’s the way to do it!”

Punch triumphant.

Punch en famille.

Love springs eternal, always ready for another round.

Of course no discussion of Punch is complete without a mention of the wonderful magazine Punch. The cartoons have long been an inspiration to me, the dark wit, the attention to detail, the serious treatment of satire.

Punch and his crazy-assed antics inspire today, as this little video clip creepily illustrates; shades of Tim Burton.

“That’s the way to do it!”

The talented dollmakers David Chapman and Paul Robbins have done wonders with the theme.

Really quite marvelous.

Their work captures the spirit of this vintage ensemble.

Even contemporary artists such as Bruce Nauman have explored the theme.

Punch & Judy II, Birth & Life & Sex & Death

Bruce Nauman


tempera and graphite on paper


In my modest way, I will attempt to continue the tradition.

Yours truly at work.

Have a great day.

Post Script

At the suggestion of the ever fabulous Chateau Thombeau , I include this clip from the Stranglers, “Punch & Judy”. I must confess i am unfamiliar with the Stranglers, but the clip includes a bare chested young fellow and is of course thematic. Thank you Chateau Thoimbeau.

The Stranglers, Punch and Judy

Have a great evening.

The Sans-culotte, the People’s Choice

Posted in 18th century, Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette, Sans-culotte on August 11, 2010 by babylonbaroque

In fairness I thought we ought to explore the working drones of the Third Estate, the sans-culotte.

the Bonnet Rouge

The sans-culotte, with their pantaloons ,utilitarian skirts and modest fichu  obviously lack the glamour of our beloved Aristo-loving Merveliluisse and Incroyables; that said a visual journey is in order to gain a greater understanding of what happened during the course of a few bloody years.

As members of the Third Estate, which represented 95 percent of France’s population at the time, their garb was in sharp contrast to aristocratic fashion. As the Revolution progressed, nobility pared down the sumptuous aspects of their apparel. Even poor dear Louis XVI was forced to don the Phrygian cap ( bonnet rouge).

My heart breaks for the Queen, she was mortified. From what I have read Louis was more pragmatic about the situation, perhaps recognizing more vividly the symbolic power this silly little cockaded hat had .

The symbolism of the cockade’s coloring represented moderate forces at work; the white of his Majesty mingled with the red and blue of France.

Too bad the red became more emblematic of spilt blood.

The Phrygian cap of course has noble and ancient roots, long associated with the liberty loving Phrygians.

Bust of Attis

2nd century

Hadrian’s reign

This bust is thought to bear a resemblence to his beloved Antinous, certainly  a pretty boy.

If Lady Liberté felt it prudent to adorn herself with the Bonnet Rouge;mere mortals with less radical notions also felt it wise to blend in with the Great Unwashed.The coiffures so admired and emblematic of the now despised ancien regime, had fallen deeply out of favor.

Street fashion became THE fashion.

Armed to the teeth and itchin’ for a fight.

Note how the lower class women were free to expose  their ankles.

A rather romantic image of a sans-culotte, a fresh clean, blood-less pike,

as of yet…

This fellow seems more prepared for the September Massacres of ’92.

I may never forgive the sans-culotte, anymore then I can understand Bastille Day, but I do want to understand and appreciate the oppression that drove such mind-numbing violence.  Those living abroad, including the Brits were baffled by the savagery . Political cartoons appeared lampooning the revolutionary excesses.

Gallows humor perhaps.

political cartoon

George Cruishank



I really like the Mad Guillotine complete with a bonnet rouge.

Another cartoon by Cruishank follows.

Again, the same marvelously animated Death Machines.

Dancing about the Liberty Tree, note Bastille looming in the background.

British cartoon


After the September Massacres of 1792, the British were particularly disturbed by the barbarity.

We were fortunate that our own quest for liberty was far less bloody.

As we continue our quest for democracy, the image of the sans-culotte still has relevance. In my research I stumbled upon this image from Irag. I thought it a fitting end for this conversation. Please check out the site from which this arresting image was pulled, IraqWar.html

Good Night Gentle Citoyen.

Incroyables and Merveilleuses, Fashion’s Royalist Rebels

Posted in 18th century, Bourbon monarchy, Directoire, Fashion-art, Incroyables and Merveleilleuses, Patrick Mc Donald, SteamPunk on August 10, 2010 by babylonbaroque

Always eager to explore the excesses of fashion and monarchy, my thoughts of late have been on that fleeting moment of time when the Merveiilleuse flirted with the Incroyable. As all youth must, the fashion forward of the Directoire were compelled to assert their individuality by embracing allegience to the ancien régime. The Children of the Revolution were Royalists, at least concerning fashion.

After the fall of the dreaded Robespierre, the Reign of Terror a recent memory, the parties began. The most pervesely beautiful party theme being the Bal à la Victime, the horrors of the guillotine being refashioned to suit coiffure and sartorial splendor.

Boys in cropped hair,( replicating shorn locks which would have allowed the blade easier access )and saucy girls in gauzy dresses trussed with ribbons( as those unfortunates that had faced the block) spent their evenings dancing on recently mopped blood.

The Bal was an exclusive affair , attendance was only allowed to those who had lost a relative to the Terror.

A louche form of therapy perhaps.

Combining a fascination with anglaise fashion, aristocratic anachronism, and a romantic notion of Classical garb à la Grecque, the result was fantastic. Exaggerated  lapels, indecently tight trousers, gauzy dresses alluding to Athenian nudity ( the maillot, a flesh coloured body stocking enhanced this illusion), comical eyewear, and the most inventive bonnets, the forms both fascinated and incited ridicule.

The Eternal Generational Divide

“New” fashion vs. “Old”

fashion plate by Chataignier, 1797

Les Incroyables 1795

Green seems to have been a particular popular color.

The Grecian Ideal always a popular theme as the following images illustrate.

I admire how this Directoire Darling combined a Robespierre bob with Grecian draping. Love the illusion to bacchic leopard, smart touch.

Has there been a fashion moment like this since? The Aeshetic affectations of Wilde and Beardsley seem middle class next to this posturing.

Perhaps the horror of Robespierre and his crew had one positive (certainly charming and inventive)result.

Maxilmillen Robespierre

b. 6 May 1758

d. 28 July 1794

(not soon enough)

In the spirit of dandies, I was thinking of our own fashion forward. the Steam Punks are of course a delightful bunch, like the Merveilleus looking to the past to refashion their present presence.

Hot young fellow, any self respecting Incroyable would have envied his goggles.

Adore the macabre beauty of this corset, the Merveilleus blood-ribbon seems frivolous in comparison.

Alexander McQueen was able to tap into excess with tremendous grace and beauty,

The white pantaloons remind me of the maillot, suggestive yet holding back.

Of course no conversation concerning dandies and sartorial excess is complete without the ever marvelous Mr. Patrick McDonald. This gentleman truly carries the torch, carry on Mr. McDonald.

Have a Merveilleus day,

sorry, I couldn’t help myself.

Exoticism @ the Centennial Exhibition, part II

Posted in 19th cent., architecture, Centennial Exhibition, Egyptomania, Japonism, Philadelphia, Sculpture on August 5, 2010 by babylonbaroque

As we were determined to celebrate our Centennial on a grand scale and   establish our national legitimacy, the Centennial Exhibition offered Americans the opportunity to ogle exotic markets and peoples.

I am always a sucker for Continental allegory, it  enchants me.

The Exotic clearly enchanted our 19th century forefathers.

Each participating nation was granted an opportunity to participate and show off it’s national glory.

And show off they did.

One can never have enough Egypto-mania, the Egyptian Hall was of course a smash.

magic awaits

fabulous goods

what more do you need?

difficult to see, but that’s a stuffed crocodile between tusks, exotic enough for you?


by Enrico Braga

from the Masterpieces of the Centennial International Exhibition Illustrated, Vol. I


edited by Edward Strahan

The entrance to Agricultural Hall was a Moorish fantasy come to life.

a promenade worthy of a Sultaness.

Of course nothing speaks of the Exotic like Japonism, the Japanese were happy to oblige.

from the Gems of the Centennial Exhibition, my own pitiful scan, please pardon.

Mammoth Japanese Bronze Vase

What every Robber Baron needs for the Entrance Hall.

Let us not forget Exoticism in our own land. The freed slaves obviously provided picturesque artistic inspiration.

Freed Slave by Francesco Pezzicar

shown in the Art Gallery, better known today as Memorial Hall.

Perhaps women were considered equally exotic as they merited their own hall, the Women’s Building.

Never pass up the chance to oogle naked lady bits is what I say.

Although much of the Art  appears to have been  exhibited in the Memorial Hall.

Memorial Hall

architect H.J. Schwarzman

H.J. Schwarzman

Chief Planner of the Exhibition

This was no easy task,held in 1876, from May through November; close to ten million visitors passed through it’s gates. 30,000 exhibitors from 51 countries, enticed, enlightened and befuddled the throngs.

Main Exhibition Building

Over 50 acres of exhibition space, the Great Exhibition of 1851 was a little over 20 acres.

Once again we felt the need to over compensate.

Horticultural Hall

Interior of Agricultural Hall

same as Horticultural Hall???

Our individual States erected pavilions.

Was this before California became it’s own State?, I cannot remember.

My own home state had a much more magnificent building in which to boast.

From my reading of the “Gems”, New Jersey was the first to sign on to the Exhibition, some southern states soon followed. Perhaps Carpet Baggers eager to please the North.

How charming, how so NOT Jersey Shore.

I have never been to Memorial Hall, I only know it as a floating Xanadu above Fairmont Park.

My sister assures me things have changed, lets just hope they haven’t scrubbed away the romance.

A bit of ephemera.

Recquiscat in Pace Sts. Peters and Paul, Trenton Churches

Posted in 19th cent., architecture, Blessed Virgin Mary, Gothic Revival, Sacred Architecture, Trenton on August 3, 2010 by babylonbaroque

Saints Peter & Paul

The Belles Heures of Jean, Duke of Berry

The Cloisters

My intention had been to finish the second installment of my Gems of the Centennial Exhibition.

In my research I stumbled upon some sad news. Sad on a personal, perhaps spiritual level.

My beloved little church in my hometown of Trenton, Sts. Peter and Paul, was on the auction block.

Peter and Paul’s as the natives referred to it as, was the home base for my paternal grandmother, a Slovak woman, born and raised in this industrial part of South Trenton. One of many little ethnic neighborhoods making a claim to the American Dream; establishing families, communities, and churches, wondrous churches. My ancestors poured , what seems from my perspective, ridiculous sums of money as donations to establish churches that would represent their particular ethnic interests. This was happening all over the East coast, Trenton has it’s share of really lovely churches, Italian, Slovak, and Pole. So many folks built so many impressive churches, sacrificing effort, time, and hard earned cash.

Unfortunately neighborhoods change, the factory worker’s children become middle class, leaving behind charming neighborhoods, shops, and sadly these really lovely churches and the communities built around them.

Peter and Paul’s was one such church.

Sts. Peter and Paul

395 -403 Second Street

Trenton, N.J.

Although possessing a modest exterior, a dour grey stone, softened only by our Blessed Mother gazing down upon her faithful, I quickly grew to love  this church.

When I was nineteen my first partner Douglas and I purchased a charming little rowhouse around the corner from the church, in the late 80’s, we paid $5000.00, cash.

The neighborhood had fallen terribly, gangs, welfare folks, illegals. I didn’t notice the squalor, it was a delightful little house to claim as my own, with a teeny patch of land in which to plant radishes. When we told my Grandmother where we had moved she was delighted and startled. I hadn’t known my new neighborhood had been  where she was raised; she regaled me with neighborhood tales, but her spirit was dampened by her fear for my personal safety. She took comfort in that we were “two boys”.

I discovered Peters and Paul’s through her stories. I was looking for a church, looking for something, I’m still looking. Peters and Paul’s seemed like an opportunity.

It was. They had an early Mass, 5:30 am, I would stumble out of bed, slip through the alley between my street and the Church, and enter the rear side door, past the altar to the Blessed Virgin Mary. I quickly secured my own pew and my own position in this odd ball little congregation. The last few Slovaks left, loyal to the neighborhood, it’s traditions, and this church.

Or they were just broke.

I was enchanted time and again. In May, the month devoted to our Blessed Mother, homemade bouquets, often sweet blue hydrangeas from their gardens, were gathered by the Altar Guild. They were adorable in their coffee cans decorated by tin foil and ribbons. So much more wonderful then the costly spiritless arrangements made by the local florists. These tender bouquets, modest and sweet against the faded grandeur of this really magnificent neo-Romanesque interior really touched my personally, spiritually, and aesthetically.

If the exterior was essentially un-inspired, the interior compensated for the modesty. Romanesque influences abounded, a magnificent painted ceiling complete with strangely large Archangels. A very impressive High Altar ,resplendent in it’s polychromed marbles, intricate carvings, ignoring  Romanesque archetypes but delighting this particular peasant’s eye. Early electrical fixtures, elaborately fashioned Seraphs from which one bare little electric bulb offered illumination.

Amidst this splendor, were water stains, broken pipes, and neglect due to lack of funds.

But certain traditions were not to be ignored, finances be damned.

The front doors, which in the sad photo show as an unfortunate dingy white, were initially finished in a vernacular form of  faux bois. A curious finish which included adding beer to the paint, the result, an almost alarming orange-ish “oak”. I spoke to the artisan, he lived in the neighborhood, had been taught his craft as an apprentice, finishes such as this were mandatory if you were to be a reputable painter. He bemoaned the fact that cheap latex paints and a desire for economy had all but eliminated the use of his talents. He donated his services to the church. God love him.

Secular maintenance, though important, was not as valued as sacred tradition. The Sacristan’s duties were stringently enforced, Vatican II be damned.

Statuary was draped in purple during Holy Week, the Blessed Sacrament interred in a mock Sepulcher, the ceremonial procession making theatric use of the thurible (censor) and patent sprinkler. Our Lord protected under the umbraculum, a strange handheld umrella, ornamental in it’s swags, tassels, and embroidery. Charming, emotionally touching, and doomed. I knew, as a very young man, that these traditions were coming to an end. No more would our Virgin receive her purple shroud to signify Her, and our heart’s mourning for the dead Lord. The “ombrellino” would go into storage as an artifact of a primitive faith.

#1-holy water pot

#2 patent sprinkler

#3 thurible

#5 baldacchina

#6 umbraculum, “ombrellino”

And so it happened.

As I was moving away to brighter happier places, Peter and Paul’s was in the process of  it’s own changes. To accomadate the evergrowing Hispanic flock, Spanish masses were added. Initially there was some Slovak grumbling, but the transition went surprisingly well. The new members were dutiful, sincere, and frankly young, with children, energy ,and joy. The mutual love both communities shared for the Holy Mother smoothed the way.

I had hoped that would ensure the  future of Sts. Peter and Paul.

I guess not. The auction  sheet states that the sacred elements will be removed prior to closing.

But what about the devotional window of St. Anne, donated through sacrifice by some long dead parishioner. What about the crumbling fresco of St. John in the Baptistry? Will he be primed out and given a fresh coat of Contactor’s white?

My heart breaks at these changes.

I treasure my being able to witness the last moments of this one little sweet church.

I close with a few of the churches that seem to still thrive in the Capital City of Trenton.

Basillica Church of the Sacred Heart

founded 1819

Final construction, 3rd, as shown, 1899

another view of Sacred Heart

St. Hedwigs

A thriving church, popular with the Polish community

Interior of St. Hedwigs

This particular type of splendor, is frankly quite typical of so many Trenton churches. The desire to outshine Rome apparent.

Again, the strangely large painted Archangels.

Detail of St. Hedwig’s interior.

The light Rococo coloring, lovely and fresh.

Church coloring has always influenced my own work. The altar angels are wonderful, I covet them.

A procession at St. Hedwig’s making happy use of the Baldacchina.

The Umbraculum apparently wouldn’t have been sufficient to protect our Lord from the noonday sun.

Immaculate Conception

built 1888

This church, built and loved by Trenton’s  Italian community, was my father’s church. As a boy I looked up with  wonder at  the Neo Gothic architecture, it’s rich carvings, and it’s paintings, endless painting.

Immaculate  Conception inspired me to be an artist. I will never forget this church.

To indulge our Protestant brothers I include a few beauties.

St. Michaels Episcopal

established 1703

Last major alteration 1870, in the Fantasy Gothic style, after Lambeth Palace, the residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury.

I close with this country church, outside of urban Trenton. This Methodist church is in Groveville, where I was raised. Groveville is an early little town, rural in nature, mid-19th century  architecture, as far away from the Sopranos, Jersey Shore, and Real Housewives as you can get. It is my particular understanding of  what being from “Jersey” is all about.

Groveville Methodist Church

established 1837

built 1887 in the vernacular Methodist “plan-book” style.

Sts. Peter and Paul

chromolithograph 19th cent.

Have a great day.