You know how sometimes you Google a name from your past just to see what comes up? Well, I Googled a childhood friend and found an email and got in touch with her. It took a while but we managed to hook up and we made a date to meet in Roslyn, Long Island and go to the Nassau County Museum of Art. Donna picked me up at the station and it’s a short ride to the museum. You can take a cab if you don’t have a car.
The museum sits on 145 acres and there are marked trails throughout. Unfortunately it was a very drizzly day and we couldn’t walk around to look at the trails or the sculptures. I did see a Fernando Botero on the way out and a Tom Otterness on the way in. Both are such fun artists and I wish I’d had more time to look at the pieces. From inside I could see three sculptures by Allen Bertoldi.
The formal gardens look like they’d be beautiful in the spring and summer. The land used to be owned by Willam Cullen Bryant. It was later purchased by Lloyd Stephen Bryce, who built the home that became the museum. And then Henry Clay Frick bought it as a gift for his son. Childs and Frances Frick built Millstone Lab, which is now the Museum’s Art Studio.
The major exhibit is illustrator Maxfield Parrish. Almost every room in the house is dedicated to Parrish’s paintings and illustrations. It was difficult to navigate despite the numbered rooms. We ended up looking at pieces from the end of his career before we saw the pieces from the beginning of his career. During the height of his career one in five American families had a Parrish print in their home. The calendars were the first prints we saw. There would be one print and the calendar’s months would be ripped away. Amazingly some of the calendars were totally intact. Donna mentioned how realistic the backgrounds looked compared to the figures in the front. Then we read that the landscapes were photographs that Parrish projected and traced.
There were rooms devoted to all the magazine covers he did – Ladies Home Journal, Colliers, Life to name a few – a Parrish cover was guaranteed to sell out. There are illustrations of nursery rhymes used to sell products. And his illustrations for Arabian Nights were probably some of my favorites.
Parrish posed for his own paintings, as did his daughter and her friend, Bryant’s granddaughter. But most of the faces look the same because he used the same model a lot – Susan Lewin, who came to his home as a babysitter when she was 15yo and stayed as his assistant, model, muse, lover, and companion.
In his later years, Parrish concentrated on landscapes.
I could definitely see the influence that Parrish had on Norman Rockwell. A lot more than I’d imagined. I can’t say the Parrish prints or painting moved me much. Like I said, I liked the Arabian Nights illustrations the most. Probably the darkness. Everything else was too light and airy for me. And verged on New Age-y fairies. The landscapes were good but not great.
A smaller exhibit – all housed in one small room – were the painted sculptures of Christopher Hart Chambers. Most of the small pieces were painted with auto paint and looked like weirdly shaped boogie boards.
The permanent collection, which seemed to be housed in a large meeting room, were a few paintings by Louis Comfort Tiffany.
Both Donna and I wished there had been more information about the house. It was difficult to tell what each room had been used for and a house and garden tour would have been really fascinating. The museum would be a fabulous place to visit on a lovely spring or summer day when you could see the exhibits and walk the grounds.
By Carene Lydia Lopez