01 November 2014

Art hotels in Hobart, Vancouver and New York

Art hotels provide traditional hotel accommodation and amenities, but they also offer something special. They display an interior of creat­ive exhibits, paintings, photos and draw­ings from a particular artist or style. Some art hotels operate on a single theme, while others may have one for each floor or each particular room. Dining areas or lobbies often work as miniature art galleries in themselves and sculptures may be placed in the lobbies or in the garden. 

Whether it is to provide more attractive facilities or to attract a creative clientele appreciative of art culture, art hotels provide a key cultural site where guests can enjoy local art, music and theatrical heritage. Thus these hotels are most likely to be found in major cities with established artistic communities.

Henry Jones Art Hotel
right in the centre of Victoria Dock, Hobart

The first art hotel I ever discussed in this blog was The Hotel Chelsea in New York. The twelve storeys were converted into a hotel in 1905, perfectly located in a centre of the New York art, theatre and music world. But it was not until the 1950s and 1960s that young, creative and avant garde artists took up cheap lodgings here and experimented with modernity, sex, booze and drugs. When they were impoverished, the artists sometimes left works of art in lieu of rent; these art pieces still decorate the hotel today.

But you may not have expected an art hotel in Hobart. Settlers arrived in southern Tasmania in Feb 1804. The settlement grew rapidly, fed by convict labour, thriving whaling and sealing industries. Factories, storehouses and dwellings emerged. But in the 1830s, a severe depression hit the area hard. The whaling industry had collapsed, a new wharf had been constructed across the bay (at what is now Salamanca Place) and the Old Wharf and nearby residential areas were gripped by poverty. Only the brothels and taverns thrived.

But in 1869, businessman George Peacock moved his successful jam making business to newly acquired warehouses on Old Wharf—the best location in Hobart for exporting produce. Henry Jones was not even a teenager when he started his first day of work at George Peacock’s jam factory. After years of long working hours, Henry Jones eventually took over the business, IXL Jams, in 1895.

Over the decades Henry Jones carefully build an international industrial empire with interests in jam, fruit, timber, mining and shipping. There would not have been a kitchen in Australia that did not have IXL jams in the cupboard. As a result, Henry Jones had one of Australia’s most successful businesses. By the time of his death in 1926, he had become the first Tas­manian to be knighted, the biggest private employer in Tasmania, head of the largest private company in Australia and a global exporter of his own product.

 Henry Jones Art Hotel, Hobart
dining room (above)
lobby (below)

The Henry Jones Art Hotel in Hobart became Australia’s first dedicated art hotel when it opened in 2004, based in the old jam factory . This Hobart factory was perfect, both because of its location beside Victoria Dock, offering views of Mount Wellington and Fisherman's Wharf, and because of the amazing 19th century industrial architecture. The block of sandstone buildings that comprise the Henry Jones maintain the building's classic façade, including the Jam Company signage.

Australia's first dedicated art hotel exhibits 300 original contemporary artworks, outside and within the building. The art work, by emerging and established Tasmanian artists, is exhibited in the lobby, the lounge, Henry's Restaurant, IXL Long Bar, Jam Packed Café and bedrooms. The collection includes original paintings, prints, works on paper, photo media, sculpture and design by Tasmanian artists. Most of the artworks are recorded in a catalogue and are for sale.


Since writing about Hobart’s art hotel, I noted that The Weekend Australian (25/10/2014) reviewed Skwachàys Lodge in Vancouver. Just opened in 2014, this boutique hotel (18 rooms) is Canada’s first Aboriginal arts hotel. Located near Vancouver’s historic Gastown, Skwachàys Lodge is a project run by an housing organisation for First Nations people living in Vancouver from anywhere in Canada. Six diverse artists collaborated with inter­ior designers on the suites e.g a Plains Cree artist from northern Saskatchewan, a Northern Tutchone from the Yukon.

All fixtures incorporate traditional cultural elements. Attention to detail can be seen in the wood-carved feature around each door, designed to resemble the entrance to a longhouse that signifies welcome.

guest bedroom at the
Skwachàys Lodge in Vancouver

There are two ways in which the artists benefit from this Vancouver art hotel. Firstly it is a social enterprise; the Urban Aboriginal Fair Trade Gallery is owned by the Vancouver Native Housing Society. Profits from the hotel and gallery provide the ongoing subsidy for 24 urban Aboriginal live/work studios. Secondly the artists are given studio space at the lodge. There they can produce carvings and other artwork that they can then be sold in the Urban Aboriginal Fair Trade Gallery on the main floor of the lodge.

For a review of some of the world’s other art hotels in Copenhagen, Toronto, Berlin or San Francisco, see The Guardian Newspaper. Perhaps the most unusual is a Victorian hotel in Devon that has its own contemporary art gallery and a 10-acre sculpture park, displaying over 300 sculptures.

28 October 2014

Can People Power save treasured London churches?

Two thirds of the Anglican churches in the City of London should be closed, said a 1994 commission chaired by Lord Templeman. His com­mission was one of many set up to solve the problems which arose when 36 churches served a small city region, with a permanent residential population of 7,000 and a weekday workforce of 300,000. However Lord Templeman made it clear that churches should not be demolished for lack of a congregation. He said 'the buildings are magnificent. They belong not only to the Church of England, but to the City and to the nation. It is out of the question to pull them down.'

He suggested that only 12 churches be retained in active service. The other 24 churches should be transferred to the Reserve List and could be used for libraries, for music, or for business purposes. The com­mission also proposed that the historic endowments of the City churches be redistributed among all the churches of the diocese. At present, the City Churches Fund has an annual income of 3 million pounds, of which a million is spent on the 36 churches of the City, and the remainder distributed among the 1,000 other churches of the diocese of London. In 1994 the then-Bishop of London, Dr David Hope, said he was totally committed to implementing the lively and bold Templeman report.

Coffered dome and supporting arches
St Stephen Walbrook Church
built 1672-9
by Sir Christopher Wren

Historians and architects paid particular attention to the planned moth-balling of those churches designed and built by Sir Christopher Wren. The Great Fire of 1666 had devastated the centre of London, with a loss of old St Paul's and 86 parish churches. Wren, working with commis­sioners appointed by Parliament, was responsible for rebuilding the cathedral and at least 50 of these parish churches.

I realise that not all Wren churches had survived into the current era. St Christopher-le-Stocks was demolished in the late 18th century so that the Bank of England could be located in a perfect position. (Money 1, God 0). Some were lost to Victorian parish rationalisation. Many were destroyed during WW2. But those (23?) Wren churches that remained were historically precious. The Templeman Report wanted only four of the existing churches (none by Wren) to be retained as parish churches in the City of London. Conservationists were offended.

Painted internal dome pierced by windows
St Mary's Abchurch
destroyed in the Great Fire of London of 1666
rebuilt by St Christopher Wren 1681-86

Could a public outcry save these historical churches from being used as an insurance company or school library?  Friends of Friendless Churches, a charity that saves listed, medieval churches that have been declared redundant in England and Wales, resuscitated itself and launched a vigorous campaign. Regular opening of reserved churches to visitors became possible when responsible persons started watching over them at least weekly. The National Association of Decorative and Fine Arts Societies joined The Friends to organise the watchers serv­ice, starting with St Sepulchre Without Newgate and St Mary Alder­mary. The Friends made repair grants for bells, vestments, pews and visitors’ guides. Signatures were collected, newspaper articles were written and politicians were lobbied. SAVE Britain's Heritage, which itself champions the cause of decaying country houses, redundant churches, old mills and warehouses, town halls, railway stations and asylums, became involved. 

The affected churches also responded. St Lawrence Jewry stopped being a parish church after WW2; instead it became a guild church and the official church of the City of London Corporation. Some of the so-called redundant churches have introduced yoga classes in their spaces - exercise with some of the best ceiling views in London. Others, like St Martin’s, have started jazz nights, one further east offers sea bass and other delicacies in the crypt. One local church, the historic St Sepulchre, is enjoying operatic performances; they love La Traviata apparently. In St Andrews Holborn, the priest set up a counselling service after the financial crisis. St Ethelburga’s Church reopened with a renewed focus and vision; it is now St Ethelburga’s Centre for Peace and Reconciliation. St Andrew Under­shaft, a fine City building dating back to the eve of the Reformation, has been completely refurbished for religious services, bible study classes and an enormous hospitality mission.

St Lawrence Jewry
destroyed in the Great Fire of London of 1666
rebuilt by Christopher Wren between 1670-87.

What is the status of the Templeman Commission Report now? Has People Power finally won? Only one brief mention suggested that "the proposals were dropped following a public outcry and the consecration of a new Bishop of London".

25 October 2014

Dutch pottery, tulips, British royalty and an Australian gallery

Early in the 17th century, the Dutch East India Company really did have a vigorous trade with the East and imported beautiful and very expensive Chinese porcelain. Of course only the richest of the rich could afford the early imports.

The Dutch potters did not know about kaolin and could not create porcelain themselves. So they began to imitate Chinese porcelain with whatever technology they had, particularly after the death of the Wanli Emperor in 1620. This was when the supply from China to Europe was interrupted. Delftware was never going to be as fine as real porcelain, but the Dutch tin glazed earthenware pottery was impressive in its own right. It must have worked - by the late 17th century there were 30+ substantial pottery works in Delft alone.

Even middle class Dutch homes in the 17th century aspired to having fresh flowers on their hall stand. If they couldn't afford a constant supply of fresh flowers, they could commission a beautiful painting of fresh flowers in a pottery vase, and put the painting on their hall stand instead. Ambrosius Bosschaert paintings from the 1620s included gorgeous tulips and other flowers in proud display.

Earthenware vase from Delft, 1695
1 metre tall.
Commissioned by Queen Mary II
Acquired by the NGV in Melbourne

In any case by Feb 1637 that tulip traders could no longer find new buyers willing to pay increasingly inflated prices for the precious bulbs. As this realisation set in, the demand for tulips suddenly collapsed and prices plummeted. Tulip Mania ended but the passion for fresh flowers did not.

A tulip vase, that is a vase with spouts that could hold tulips, could actually hold any flowers in an exuberant display. Let me cite Amanada Dunsmore (Gallery Magazine May-June 2014), who is the senior curator of International Decorat­ive Arts in Melbourne’s most important state gallery, the NGV. She described a very important object, newly acquired by the NGV, as a magnificent seven piece pyramidal flower vase. One metre high, the vase was made in the 1690s at one of the famous earthenware potteries in Delft in the Dutch Republic. This is one of those factories’ most technically and artistically stunning works of art.

The vase stood on a hexagonal base moulded as a columned, classical pavilion, topped with recumbent frogs that supported the six tiers above. Each tier comprised a water reservoir adorned with six open-mouthed, animal headed spouts intended to hold a variety of cut flowers, including tulips and roses. The blue and white palette was inspired by imported Chinese porcelain, yet the decoration on this vase was a mix of European and Chinese motifs, Chinese characters and birds on rocks amid flowering plants, a common decorative motif on 17th century Chinese porcelain.

Stadtholder William of Orange and his wife Mary moved from the Netherlands to Britain and began their joint reign as King William III and Queen Mary II in February 1689.

The many amazing vase-structures reflected Queen Mary II’s great patronage of the Delft potteries and their increasingly exuberant product­ions inspired by Chinese porcelain. Queen Mary’s collection of Chin­ese-style pottery at Kensington Palace numbered almost 8,000 pieces. Her china-mania, as Daniel Defoe referred to it, fed the productions of the Delft factories and encouraged the development of pyramidal vases with spouts. They became increasingly grander in scale towards the end of the century and were commissioned by royalty and nobility all over Europe. The vases became symbols of wealth and prestige at the most elite level.

Earthenware vase from Delft, 1690
1 metre tall.
Commissioned by King William III
Royal Collection, Hampton Court

There are several points I would like to raise, not covered by the NGV description. Firstly why were the earlier 17th century tulip vases small­er and less spectacular than those from the 1680s and 1690s? Pottery skills had not advanced throughout the century and passion for pottery vases had, if anything, marginally gone down with the passing decades.

Secondly why did the nation continue to pour money into monumental flower vases, decades after the tulip sensation ended in the Netherlands? And why did the pottery makers have to wait for Queen Mary II for endless royal patronage? Earlier rulers in the newly independent Dutch Republic must have surrounded themselves with both fine art and decorative arts de jour.

I don’t know the answer to these questions, but I do know that by the end of the 17th century, Delft faience became very, very popular in the Netherlands. Queen Mary was not alone. Delft potteries were also commissioned by King William III to make impressive tulip pieces to decorate the palaces of his new kingdom across the Channel. Examine (photograph above)  a large tulip vase that was made in the Delft pottery De Grieksche for the stadholder-king, as we can tell from the royal arms.

Earthenware vase from Delft, 1691
1.1 metre tall.
Commissioned by King William III
Royal Collection, Hampton Court

My personal favourite was another tulip vase with the arms of Wilhelm III, 1691. As the photograph shows, it too was made from blue painted faience, is 1.1 m high, and can be found at the Royal Collection, Hampton Court. This vase was more aesthetically pleasing because the spouts were arranged around the vase in horizontal rather in vertical bands, and because the top section resembled a beautiful crown.