The Elms, Newport

The Newport summer cottage known as The Elms, the recreation of an 18th century French chateau, because rich people.
Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again

For our twenty-third wedding anniversary, we took a day trip to Newport and enjoyed a tour of The Elms. Nerds? Yes. Nerds. The Elms is not the grandest of Newport’s Gilded Age “summer cottages” (mansions), that would be the Vanderbilts lavish Breakers, but it is still pretty grand. It is the third largest of the Newport mansions with forty-eight rooms some of which, like the dining room, were designed around enormous pieces of art. Anyone can have a gold-encrusted piano. The Elms had an underground rail tunnel designed to bring in coal from a nearby station without anyone having to see or hear it. And, you know, the piano.

An Italian wellhead made of marble with a frieze of dancing cherubs.
An Italian puteal with a frieze of dancing cherubs.

PemberleyThe Elms, modeled after the Château d’Asnières (c.1752) in Asnières-sur-Seine, France, was designed by Horace Trumbauer for Edward Julius Berwind. If you, like Edward, had stupid amounts of new money and wanted to impress, Horace Trumbauer was THE Gilded Age architect for you. He designed two other Newport “summer cottages”—Clarendon Court (Edward C. Knight mansion) and Miramar (Eleanor Elkins Widener mansion)—as well as the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Free Library of Philadelphia.

A German-born coal magnate who counted the Prince of Wales and Theodore Roosevelt as friends, I cannot begin to stress how rich and powerful Edward Julius Berwind was. In 1930, the New York Times named him “one of the 59 men who rule America.” He had a monopoly on global coal production and supplied much of the coal used by the New York Subway system (he helped found it) and the US Navy (he was retired from it). He was strongly opposed to union organizing. He may, as the docent repeatedly said, have been kind to his household staff, but I doubt his miners would have said the same.

Opulent yellow, white, and gold bedroom decorated in the stereotypical 18th century French style.
All the bedrooms were decorated in the French neoclassical style.

The Elms’ lavish interior was designed by Jules Allard to emulate the opulent 18th century French style. It showcases many of the French and Venetian artworks collected by the Berwinds during their travels abroad (all those Venetians in the dining room, etc), as well as sculptures and statues original to the Château d’Asnières.

The tea house overlooking the Beaux-Arts style sunken garden.

I have nothing to say about the gardens. They were fine. Marble pavilions, fountains, a sunken garden, and tea house. Everything as expected. Nothing particularly wow.

7/10; would not be surprised if my ancestors mined Berwind coal.

Jamestown Arts Center

For our twenty-second wedding anniversary, we went day tripping in Jamestown and Newport, Rhode Island. Our first stop was the Jamestown Arts Center where my beloved was sure I would enjoy “Spacing Out: Expanding the Field of Vision” exhibition and he was so very right.

Spacing Out: Expanding the Field of Vision unites art that blurs the boundary between two- and three- dimensions. Spacing Out contextualizes the work of contemporary artists who challenge the limitations of space among historical works that also play with dimensionality. It asks the viewer to reconsider their visual and spatial perception, questioning the art’s depth and attachment to a surface. This surface, as well as edge, texture, scale, volume, place, and movement become the dialect with which the artists expand our concepts of sculpture and art in general.

Tom Deininger, Hanging Summer Tanager, mixed media, 2021

I was immediately smitten with Deininger pieces and wish I had thought to film them rather than take photographs. Then the distortion of form and the play of objects would be more obvious to you. Like many of the pieces Deininger contributed to the exhibition, “Hanging Summer Tanager” can be viewed as a whole, recognizable bird from only one angle. But move to either side and the bird is revealed to be a glorious explosion of plastic tat. That it all comes together to form a charming yellow bird seems unlikely, but there it is.

An American Robin, made of junk, sits on a rusty pair of hedge clippers.
Thomas Deininger, We Killed Cock Robin, found objects, 2021

The same is true for “We Killed Cock Robin,” a cloud of plastic toys surrounding an arrow that pierces the heart of the robin. The arrow, as with the rest of the found objects, is not visible when looking at the bird in its entirety. Looked at sideways, the robin appears to be exploding out from the arrow. Contained chaos.

Alicia Renadette, Hurtling, mixed media, 2019-2021.

Inspired by telescopic images of asteroid belts and microscopic views of environmental particulates, Renadette’s pieces are assembled from such disparate ingredients as styrofoam packaging, window screen, disassembled artificial flowers, and cocktail swords. As with “Tanager” and “Robin,” “Hurtling” is an artwork that needs to be seen in person to be best appreciated.

It felt so good to see art again in person.