discover artists: Moving at Art Basel

Li Hongbo, Bust of Marseilles, Eli Klein Gallery

Hongbo's paper sculpture, Bust of Marseilles

Click here to watch how it works

A former book editor and designer, trained in a variety of artistic fields from Fine to Folk and Experimental art, Li Hongbo plays with the appearances and connotations of paper. The material is to him an endless source of inspiration and interpretation. Li Hongbo observed that honeycomb paper is a folk art present in many aspects of life in China, from children’s toys to festive decorations. Dismantling one such object, he discovered how simply it is made and the amazing flexibility, resilience and strength of the paper material once built into layers of hexagonal cubes. The artist reproduces the mechanical process manually, making it a painstaking craft, which requires a whole new level of perfection to achieve the machine made rendering. The thousands of layers of brown paper are cut, folded and glued together to look just like what they originated from: wood. The artist then carves the block of paper as if he was sculpting wood. Common brown paper, usually associated with wrapping and meant to be discarded, is then interpreted in shapes of much more valued objects, such as a pair of porcelain vases or even human figures, to give it a whole new significance.

U joo Lim and Hee Young, Nice Engine

A married couple Korean U joo and Lim Hee Young , are engaged in quite an original artistic work. They exercise their imaginations through a variety of forms of visual expression, including kinetic sculpture, drawing.

Nice Engine

Click here to see video

Tony Oursler, Variant Love Finds a Way

I can’t even explain this. It’s like a multi-screen movie theater, with different movies going at the same time, but each movie screen is the size of a postage stamp.


Can’t find a video of this particular piece, however, here’s his youtube page.

From Wikipedia

Tapes, Installations: 1977-1989

Tony Oursler is known for his fractured-narrative handmade video tapes including The Loner, 1980 and EVOL 1984. These works involve elaborate sound tracks, painted sets, stop-action animation and optical special effects created by the artist. The early videotapes have been exhibited extensively in alternative spaces and museums, they are distributed by Electronic Arts Intermix. His early installation works are immersive dark-room environments with video, sound, and language mixed with colorful constructed sculptural elements. In these projects, Oursler experimented with methods of removing the moving image from the video monitor using reflections in water, mirrors, glass and other devices. For example, “L-7, L-5”, exhibited at the Kitchen NYC 1983, used the translucent quality of video reflected on broken glass.

Projection: 1991

Oursler began working with small LCD video projectors in 1991 in his installation “The Watching” presented at Documenta 9, featuring his first video doll and dummy. This work utilizes handmade soft cloth figures combined with expressive faces animated by video projection. Oursler then produced a series of installations that combined found objects and video projections. “Judy”, 1993, explored the relationship between multiple personality disorder and mass media. “Get Away II” features a passive/aggressive projected figure wedged under a mattress that confronts the viewer with blunt direct address.

Signature works have been his talking lights, such as Streetlight (1997), his series of video sculptures of eyes with television screens reflected in the pupils, and ominous talking heads such as Composite Still Life (1999). An installation called Optics (1999) examines the polarity between dark and light in the history of the camera obscura. In his text “Time Stream”, Oursler proposed that architecture and moving image installation have been forever linked by the camera obscura noting that cave dwellers observed the world as projections via peep holes.





Discover artists: Art Basel 2013

This year, I went to see Art Basel. Not to write about it, but, I couldn’t help myself. As I learned more about what I saw, I wanted to share the information.

Walking-around-time was limited, and I could not talk to gallery owners who were busy talking to real customers. So here’s what drew my attention, coupled with bits of bios cut and pasted from here and there….

Wade GuytonKelley Walker at Green Naftali Gallery

Guyton and Walker are two New York artists who collaborate to deliver visual pop and sculpture.

“One day, we were approving the tufting designs and mattress tape for our prototypes, the next day this old family from New Jersey that made them was out of business—100 years, then two mattresses with us and gone. They made them by hand and we haven’t found anyone with comparable skills. Who knew buttonless tufting was such a rarified technique?”

In any case, just because they will be featured in a gallery doesn’t mean they aren’t still suitable for sleeping or hanging out on. Or, as GuytonWalker says, “They’re meant for use! Meant for life!”


Nir Hod, Once Everything Was Much Better Even The Future, Paul Kasmin Gallery

The sculpture consists of a moving scale model of an oil pumpjack encased within a large globe of oil, creating a world suspended in time, where the contradictions inherent in oil production and consumption peacefully coexist, while also alluding to the nostalgic scenes often depicted in snow globes. Hod, from Tel Aviv, lives and works in New York.

Once Everything Was Better

Globe by James Naras at Paul Kasmin Gallery

James Naras was born in London; lives and works in New York. His paintings and projects seek to capture the very moment of their own creation. They are most frequently made in a single brushstroke, recording a gestural passage of time and motion across the canvas. Using brushes of his own design, he repeatedly creates and erases his strokes until he feels he has made one that represents a precision of balance between intent and improvisation.

Nares’ films and videos reference many of the same preoccupations with movement, rhythm and repetition, while also ranging further afield in their scope. To see this in motion, click here.


Richard Wentworth, Local Produce Animal Vegetable Mineral, Peter Freeman Gallery

Wentworth lives and works in London. His work encircles the notion of objects and their use as part of day-to-day experiences. By transforming and manipulating industrial and/or found objects into works of art, Wentworth subverts their original function and extends our understanding of them by breaking the conventional system of classification. The sculptural arrangements play with the notion of ready-made and juxtaposition of objects that bear no relation to each other.

Local Produce Animal Vegetable Mineral

Will Cotton, Sweet, Scott Campbell Galleries

In 1996, Will Cotton began to develop an iconography in which the landscape itself became an object of desire. The paintings often feature scenery made up entirely of pastries, candy and melting ice cream. He creates elaborate maquettes of these settings from real baked goods made in his Manhattan studio as a visual source for the final works.


Erika Verzutti; Venus Major, Venus Yogi, Venis Aluna; Galerie Peter Kilchmann

Erika Verzutti is interested in the formal qualities of things found in nature, and her work reveals the beauty and symbolic power of common objects with enigmatic properties. The intuitive and material qualities of Verzutti’s sculptures, collages, drawings and paintings recall the mid-20th-century Neo-Concretist movement in her native Brazil, which rejected mechanized and overly intellectual approaches to art making in favor of a sensual, intuitive relationship between the artist and the object.

Venus Major, Venus Yogi, Venis Aluna

Tony Tasset, Snowman with Scarf, Kavi Gupta

Mixed-media Chicago artist Tony Tasset sends up Americana and the American dream in his sardonic, psychedelic sculptures, installations, films and photographs, which he describes as “Pop Conceptual.” These include a giant Paul Bunyan with uncharacteristically drooping shoulders; trompe l’oeil snowmen and smashed jack-o-lanterns; abstract compositions on panel of colored blotches spilling from various consumer products and fast foods; and a grotesque, cartoonish figure composed of hotdogs. Citing Norman Rockwell and Walt Disney as influences, Tasset aims to tap into and twist iconic American imagery, asking: “Could I take something that’s so banal, so quoted, that everybody has kind of made, and could I treat it like a Giacometti? Could I give it that pathos and existential angst?”

Snowman with Scarf

The work titled, Notions of Narrations II is a continuation of Rashid Rana’s most recent “Transliteration Series.‟ In this series, Rana selects a random image from one time and place in history, cuts it into pieces and reassembles it together, forming another image from another time and place. By doing so, he creates an unusual relationship between both, a method which he refers to as visual transliteration.

In Notions of Narrations II, a famous painting by Rubens, Rape of the Daughter of Leucippus has been digitally sliced and its micro fragments scrambled in mixed order. The macro image is not easily recognizable as a known image in this case; however, the emblematic figurative objects within it hint towards a bold narrative involving the entanglement of both violent and carnal acts. Although the original image Rana uses is from an older period in time, it is not dissimilar to modern notions of the same. The process of pixilation aids in transcending the immediate/local link, thus, a relationship is established between both the composite image and constituent fragments.

a section of Notions of Narration

Shilpa Gupta, I look at things With Different Eyes From Yours, Chemould Prescott Road

Soap, microphones, sign hoardings, books: these are some of the familiar materials that Shilpa Gupta uses to engage audiences with wider and deeper issues. The artist also has a background in graphic design, and she has an ability to transform mundane imagery into something more profound. In her 2009 work Threat, Gupta created a sculpture with 2,400 bars of soap, engraved with the word ‘Threat.’ The audience was invited to take a bar of soap away and use it, washing away any trace of any imagined threat by the end of the exhibition. Fear is a tool often used to manipulate groups of people in power struggles, and Gupta’s works often harness participation and interactivity, shaking up our ideas about why we are asked to act the way we do.

In this piece, which includes a print on a mirror framed by an embroidered curtain on a metal rod, I took away an image of myself with my friend Mike, standing in the background…

I Look At Things With Different Eyes From Yours

A Gentile Carioca

Paulo Nenflídio, White Noise

Paulo Nenflídio constructs absurd machines and sound sculptures. His work hovers at the interface of art, dream and science. In a symbiosis of elements taken from everyday contexts, digital technology and art historical references, the artist has devoted himself to interdisciplinarity.

White Noise

Laura Lima

“I am more interested in the intricate social relationships, the exchange of behaviors that in time serves to alter our perception of the quotidian, the every day,” said Brazilian-based artist Laura Lima. She is primarily concerned with the human body, using it to question our relationship to the objects, people, and society  and raising questions about the tensions between the individual and the collective body.

Three pieces by Laura Lima

Art Miami

Accumulation of Disorder by Lionel Smit at Cynthia-Reeves

Smit’s reference to the end of the world can be understood as an end of ‘the-world-as-we-know-it.’ His use of the same face repeated, once again repatriates original identity. Smit’s work indicates this model crisis, this state of the accumulation of disorder, as the end of the individual remodeled in the wake of global consumerism. Smit’s work signifies identity and the human condition surpassing time and history.

Accumulation of Disorder

Enrique Gomez De Molina

There was quite a crowd in this booth. Here’s why.

Enrique Gomez De Molina is a taxidermy artist from Miami, Florida.  He gained recognition for his taxidermy for a few reasons. He created very unusual creatures when he mixed  parts from several animals.  And more notably, De Molina was sentenced for wildlife smuggling and is currently in prison.

De Molina used connections he had in several countries worldwide to illegally acquire and import both living and dead animals.  He acquired animals that were on the endangered species list to create his art. In addition to a 20-month jail sentence, De Molina also received a $6,000 fine, one year’s probation, and he must forfeit all smuggled wildlife in his possession.

De Molina

Jennifer Trask, Double Blossom Queen Anne’s Lace Object, Sewing needles, python and rattlesnake ribs, Lisa Sette Gallery

“My curiosity about the intrinsic nature of things, of materials and my interest in biology is paramount. What is written in the bones? Meaning, what desires, ideals, motivations do we carry silently?”

Double Blossom

Angela Ellsworth, Seer Bonnet XIX, 24,182 pearl corsage pins, fabric, steel, wood at Lisa Sette Gallery

Angela Ellsworth is an American multidisciplinary artist whose paintings, drawings, installations
and performances explore the female body in its various contexts and constraints. Her work considers subjects such as physical fitness, endurance, social ritual, religious tradition, performance art and American Colonial history. Ellsworth’s ‘seer bonnets: a continuing offense’ (2009-2010) refers to her rejected Mormon heritage presented through a series of antiquated pioneer women’s bonnets, constructed out of thousands of pearl-tipped corsage pins embedded into fabric with their points directed inwards. the small, fetish-like objects not only refer to the tradition of craft work in the home – women’s work – but also stand as disembodied memorials to the lives suffering cruelty, submission and control.

Seer Bonnet

Robert and Shana Parkeharrison, Thief of Paris, Edelmangallery

“We create works in response to the ever bleakening relationship linking humans, technology and nature. These works feature an ambiguous narrative that offers insight into the dilemma posed by science and technology’s failed promise to fix our problems, provide explanations, and furnish certainty pertaining to the human condition. Strange scenes of hybridizing forces, swarming elements, and bleeding overabundance portray Nature unleashed by technology and the human hand.

“Rich colors and surrealistic imagery merge to reveal the poetic roots of the works on display.  The use of color is intentional but abstract; proportion and space are compositional rather than natural; movement is blurred; objects and people juxtaposed as if by chance in a visual improvisation that unfolds choreographically.  At once formally arresting and immeasurably loaded with sensations, this work attempts to provide powerful impact both visually and viscerally.”

Thief of Paris

Hans Breder, Cuilapan, Ethan Cohen New York

A co-founder of the Intermedia Program at the University of Iowa in the late 1960’s, Hans Breder was a teacher. He was also artist Ana Mendieta’s lover (1948-1985). He took many of the photographs documenting her early performances in Mexico and elsewhere, images that are among the strongest in her Whitney retrospective. Indeed, a full understanding of Mendieta’s career must take into account the collaborative aspect of that early work.

That said, there’s clearly a difference between the two artists. Several photographs from Breder’s ”Ventosa” series (1973), for which Mendieta served as a model, are at Algus, and one is at the Whitney. In them, she lies nude in the surf on a beach in Mexico, holding a large polished steel mirror that hides her torso but reflects her lower body, leaving her figure truncated, headless and composed of four splayed legs. Breder has since made other photographs using mirrors; examples at Algus date from this year. Also, he photographed women in a wooded section of Iowa where he documented several of Mendieta’s performances.


Zhao Kailin, Cloud, Eli Klein Gallery

Zhao Kailin’s more recent work has concentrated on depicting beautiful, introspective young women, most of whom are Asian and dressed in traditional Chinese attire. Several feature females with musical instruments. These paintings capture the essential aura of young women suspended between the innocence of childhood and the smoldering sexuality of womanhood, evoking a sense of longing, dreams and desire.

“Every painting I do involves personal stories and memories,” Zhao explained. “I am always striving to communicate not only the beauty and unspoken personal narratives of these women, but also the inherent beauty of Chinese culture and life.”


Pedro Friedeberg, Gold Side Table, Todd Merrill 20th Century Studio Contemporary

“I was born in Italy during the era of Mussolini, who made all trains run on time. Immediately thereafter, I moved to México where the trains are never on time, but where once they start moving they pass pyramids.

“My education was first entrusted to a Zapotec governess and later to brilliant mentors such as Mathias Goeritz, who taught me morals, José González, who taught me carpentry, and Gerry Morris, who taught me to play bridge.

“I have invented several styles of architecture, as well as one new religion and two salads. I am particularly fond of social problems and cloud formations. My work is profoundly profound.

“I admire everything that is useless, frivolous and whimsical. I hate functionalism, post modernism and almost everything else. I do not agree with the dictum that houses are supposed to be ‘machines to live in’. For me, the house and it’s objects is supposed to be some crazy place that make you laugh.”


Arno Elias, Tembo 5, Modernbook Gallery

Arno Elias was born in Paris, France. He is a multi-talented musician, painter and photographer, known for his compositions of Buddha Bar music. His creative talents did not stop at his musical career, but continued to his artistic career, leading him into the world of painting and photography.  Studying the European contemporary artists from the 60s and 70s and the American Pop Art movement inspired Elias.

His focus is to travel the world and continue the journey. He is particularly passionate about endangered species and the lives of indigenous people, who are connected to the environment and depend upon its natural resources for survival.

Tembo 5

Mark Jenkins, High Noon, Fabien Castanier Gallery

Mark Jenkins is a sculptor and installation artist whose work focuses on urban themes and often locates itself within this physical context. The artist invented the technique of casting objects using packing tape and plastic wrap. With it he has created a range of characters from clear ducks, dogs and babies to clothed hyper-realistic anthropomorphic beings molded from his own body and that of his partner Sandra Fernandez. He describes his work as “absurdist” and with the idea to “to create situations that turn the world into a stage.” He currently lives in Washington, DC.

High Noon

And some other sights…

a tight-rope walker
a person being painted
And someone asleep

Palm Beach classic marion sims wyeth home for sale

The vintage house at 4 Golfview Road, landmarked in May 1997, is better than it was when it was new.  A Mediterranean-style with all the accoutrements – stucco façade, barrel-tile roof, touches of wrought iron and Cuban tile – it even has a polygonal tower. The parcel, Lot #4, was bought in 1922 by the Golf View Development Company, a partnership between architect Marion Sims Wyeth and builder Harry Raymond Corwin. Their endeavor to build single-family homes on the street is said to have been financed by Edward F. Hutton. In 1921, Hutton and Marjorie Merriweather Post built their estate, Holgarcito, on the south side of the road.

Currently, another “Marion” has added touches to 4 Golfview.  Marion Hugh Antonini with his wife, Penelope, bought the home seven years ago. Now completely renovated, surely Wyeth would be impressed.

Click on image above to see more photos

But since the Antoninis have begun restoring the Maurice Fatio-designed Casa Eleda, they’ve listed their furnished home with four bedrooms, four bathrooms, two half-baths, and 4,480 square feet inside and out with Jim McCann and Alison Newton, realtors with the Corcoran Group, for $12.995 million.

“When we first saw the house, it was unloved,” Penelope notes. But, they saw right through to the heart of the matter, with the help of a great team: architect Jeff Smith, landscape designer Mario Nievera, and builder Jeff Wildes.

“We used the same objectives as Wyeth,” explains Marion, “We wanted to bring the house back and to utilize every space available from a living and entertainment standpoint. The structure was very solid and we knew we could build on it.

“The way Mario designed the gardens encourages you to sit and dine outside. With many outdoor seating areas, the eye is guided out to the gardens. That’s Mario’s genius,” Marion says.

Adds Penelope: “We loved all the vegetation around the house. We knew we wanted to open the home up and let the outside in.

“Mario is very talented. In his new book, Forever Green, our garden is featured as the secluded garden,” Penelope says.

The entry of the front wall, designed by Smith, welcomes one into the courtyard, and it’s easy to see why Nievera would use the word “secluded” to describe the gardens. Incorporated into the wall are two little windows complete with shutters, which offer visitors a secret peak.  The front yard is embraced by the main wing, which runs north and south, and a second wing that runs east and west, which together form an inverted L. Sheltered in this space is the Nievera-designed lap pool that also serves as a reflecting pool with fountains emitting the soft soothing sounds of gurgling water. Coquina-stone frames the pool as well as areas of grass. Amidst tropical landscaping to the west of the house are seating areas with outdoor furniture by Janus et Cie. At the back of the house is a patio with a fireplace, an area for grilling, and an outdoor shower conveniently located by the back gate, perfect for rinsing off after coming back from the beach, which is just a block away.

At the crux of the L on the east side of the house is the front door and foyer, a circular space featuring an alcove for sculpture. Going south is the living room and library, a large space with French doors that open to the outdoor areas. The floor is reclaimed antique oak and the color scheme is soft sea-foam, the color palette used throughout. Other architectural features include Venetian plaster finishes on the walls, crown molding, casement windows and a fireplace with an antique stone mantel.

The dining room, just east of the foyer, has stenciled walls, with the reverse pattern used on the tailored drapery. Floors are octagonal Cuban tile, and French doors open onto the pool as well as a dining pavilion.

The doors have side panels of glass. One set of panels was hidden under plaster, Penelope says.  “I was going to add them, but when we began to open up the wall, we were surprised to find that they were already there.”

Off of the living room behind the foyer is a stair hall with a powder room. The railing is wrought iron, and the treads are tile framed in wood. The kitchen with a breakfast area and butler’s pantry are off the hallway, as well as a commercial elevator. The island kitchen features custom cabinetry, marble countertops and backsplash, and professional-grade appliances integrated into the cabinetry.

Above the stairway, as well as the second floor hallway, the ceiling is pecky cypress.

Within the footprint over the main wing is a guest bedroom suite with carpeted floors, windows that offer views of Palm Beach’s rooftops and a large Waterworks bathroom. The master suite, over the east-west wing, has French doors that open to a Juliet balcony and casement windows that offer gorgeous views of the pool, patios and gardens. Part of the suite are a large dressing area and Waterworks bathroom, as well as a gym and sitting room, a new area that the Antoninis built over the garage. These new rooms can be used separately from the suite, since they can be closed off and accessed by elevator. The gym, by the way, has wainscoting paneling repurposed from the home’s original wood floors.

Both of these bedrooms have distinctive pecky cypress beamed pitched ceilings.

From the landing and up another set of stairs is a lovely guest suite, which also has a Waterworks bathroom.

Furnishings throughout the house include 18th and 19th century antiques with custom pieces upholstered in fabrics by Kravet, Nancy Corzine, Holly Hunt/Rose Tarlow, and Quadrille’s China Seas collection. Curtains were custom made by Paul S. Maybaum and floor coverings are by Stark.

In the back yard is a guest cottage with French-tile floor and open beamed pitch roof.

Historic Palm Beach home: whimsical and fun

This mid-1920s Mediterranean-style home at 322 Clarke Avenue has a colorful history. Named Villa Filipponi, it was built for Count Carlo Filipponi and Countess Laurietta Ford von Stresenreuter Filipponi, the grandmother of Palm Beacher, Frank Butler (who died August 22, 2014).

Click on the photo above to see flickr photo album.

While the Landmarks Preservation Commission states that the architect of the Mediterranean style home is unknown, it certainly is lovely, featuring handsome architectural details that include a clay-barrel-tile roof, stucco finishes, applied ornamentation, asymmetrical fenestration, wrought-iron balconies, decorative tiles and Corinthian columns. The home received landmark status in 2001.

And the color continues. Marilyn and Emmet Tracy bought the home in 1997 from artist Thomas McKnight and his wife, Renate.

“They lived here for a number of years before they moved to Litchfield, Conn. because he wanted a studio that would give him the room to paint large works,” Emmet Tracy says.

“They made changes to the house as did Patricia Morris and George Gillett when they lived here.”

According to the designation report, extensive work was completed in 1990 by Jeffrey Smith of the Smith Architectural Group: “Smith added a loggia and pool pavilion and a 1,200-square-foot addition to the southwest corner of the building.”

“Renate was so resistant to selling, that the only way he got her to agree was to promise her a plane. She flies down here occasionally, and comes over to see the gardens,” Emmet says, adding she established the gardens, which were designed by Victoria Barton.

“The McKnights knocked down the house next door, which gave them the space for the garden,” Emmet says.

Then the Tracys bought the home, and worked their magic on it. In 2004, they expanded a sitting room, built a pergola, expanded the guest apartment and garage and commissioned Mario Nievera to install brick curved walkways throughout the garden.  Marilyn, with New York designer, Charlie Moon, decorated the interiors, and she made design changes and additions to the garden “to the point where it was named to the Smithsonian honor roll of gardens in Spring 2013,” Emmet says.

“It’s a real attraction and it’s been a very satisfying effort for my wife, to bring the transition from what it was when Renate had it.”

“I really love the potting shed and the orchid house,” Marilyn says. “I enjoy orchids, and the way that Mario designed the wind-y paths, there are five places that open up to the center of the garden. I think it’s a wonderful garden.”

Now though, they plan to downsize, and their seven-bedroom, seven-bath, and two-half-bath home with 7,682 square feet inside and out, is offered through Thor Brown, a realtor with Fite Shavell & Associates for $10.895 million.

The covered entry, an addition designed by Smith, leads to the stately foyer and stair hall. To the east is the sitting room and pergola that the Tracys expanded. Features in the sitting room include windows and French doors with fans above that offer views of the garden and a pecky-cypress ceiling with applied molding.

To the west is a two-storied living room with the first-floor hallway and second-floor arcade running along the south side. The first-floor arcade has French doors that opened to a covered loggia, and offer views of the patio and pool.

Features in the living room include a fireplace with stone mantel and slanted cypress ceiling with stenciling.  West of the hallway are the dining room, butler’s pantry and island kitchen, with stainless-steel appliances, granite countertops, tile backsplash and breakfast area with banquette seating.

The dining room has an art niche, small fireplace, walls painted terra cotta, yellow ceiling, antiqued gold woodwork around the casement windows and French doors that lead to a dining patio.

The main foyer opens to a stair hall, with a stone stairway, wrought-iron balustrades and arched glass windows.

Floors throughout most of the downstairs area are Cuban tile.

Upstairs and north of the landing is a guest-bedroom suite, with French doors that lead to balconies. Two charming rooms to the south, which the Tracys use as offices, were McKnight’s office and studio. Features include high-gloss white floors, built-in stucco shelving, skylight, Juliet balcony, stairway to the rooftop, a window seat and touches of pecky cypress.

The second-floor arcade, with one wall lined in bookshelves beneath the windows, leads to the master suite, with a sitting room, bedroom, large bathroom, balconies and arbor. The bathroom has a soaking tub, walk-in shower, marble and coral key stone floor.

Off of the pool courtyard is a dining pavilion as well as garage with second-floor guest apartment.

To the east of the house are Marilyn’s spectacular gardens with specimen trees, the out-buildings she loves, as well as a little hut with a thatched roof for the grandchildren. “Some Washingtonians have grown many feet since we’ve lived here,” Marilyn says.

Note: I don’t know why, but I love this house. Some say Marion Sims Wyeth was the architect, but he is not named in the story because Landmark report states that paperwork cannot be found on this house… If Dr. Curl was still alive, he’d probably know...

I had the pleasure of writing about the gardens a few years ago. Click here to see it.



Gifting Palm Beach style

Tis the season to gift shop, and oh what to buy? To get the creative juices flowing, maybe take inspiration from some former Palm Beachers.

How about a new home for your Beloved? In 1902, Henry Flagler built Whitehall for Mary Lily Kenan as a wedding present. With 75-rooms, 100,000-square-feet-plus, electricity, central heat, indoor plumbing, and telephones, the New York Herald noted that Whitehall was “more wonderful than any palace in Europe, grander and more magnificent than any other private dwelling in the world.”

Other gifts Flagler showered upon Mary Lily included Standard Oil stock, a diamond bracelet, a Burmese pigeon’s blood ruby-and-diamond ring and a 60-inch, opera-length strand of perfectly matched natural pearls with a 12-carat diamond clasp that cost $2 million. “According to Tiffany & Co., the necklace is the most expensive piece of jewelry it has ever sold, when corrected for inflation,” says Tracy Kamerer, chief curator at Whitehall.

Flagler frequently purchased wedding gifts, party favors for guests and personal gifts for family members from Tiffany’s. A holiday list from a personal letter details the purchase of “a locket and chain, powder box with puff, two fans, two silver vases, brushes, and an umbrella,” Kamerer says.

A display (at Whitehall) of the Flagler’s affections is a breakfast set of Limoges porcelain decorated with oranges, orange branches and leaves, made by Tressemann & Vogt between 1883 and 1908. “The Flaglers gave the set as a wedding present to Mr. and Mrs. Warren Smith around 1902.  Smith was Mr. Flagler’s personal secretary before and while he lived at Whitehall. The set was imported by Greenleaf & Crosby, a jeweler that operated stores in Hotel Ponce de Leon and Hotel Royal Poinciana,” Kamerer says.

When it came to gift-giving, Marjorie Merriweather Post had a generous spirit, says Estella Chung, Hillwood historian and its curator of American Material Culture. But she was surprised about what she uncovered while researching for her book, Living Artfully: At Home with Marjorie Merriweather Post.

“I was anticipating extravagance, but, rather, I found tokens of holiday affections: Christmas wreaths, flowers, napkins, even turkeys,” Chung says.

Lists of gifts given and received are part of the museum’s research archives, she explains. “The lists were very much like accounting ledgers. She managed her homes so beautifully and she was a natural with numbers; the ledgers were an easy way to keep organized.”

Post, like Santa, made her lists, checking them twice. “She kept lists of gifts she received, checking off when she sent a proper thank-you note, and in reverse, checked off if she received a thank-you note.

“Here’s what she received as a holiday gift from Harry Winton. It just reads ‘Harry Winston, box of cheese.’

“And here’s an interesting exchange; she received flowers. She kept floral arrangements in all her homes. She had a green house at Hillwood, and she’d fly the orchids down to Mar-a-Lago in her plane, so flowers were a thoughtful gift.”

Chung notes a gift exchange with Ladybird Johnson: “Marjorie gave a donation to Ladybird’s pet project, a Society for a More Beautiful Capital, and then for Christmas, the First Lady sent Marjorie a basket of baked bread from the White House with peach and pear preserves from the LBJ ranch.”

Post gave subscriptions to the National Symphony, she was one of the main benefactors at that time, and  she was generous with her lady friends and staff, says Chung. “She gave them luxurious hosiery after World War II when it was hard to come by and I remember seeing gifts of perfume back and forth.”

Upon interviewing Post’s Mar-a-Lago superintendant, Jimmy Griffin, Chung learned that Post gave a good friend, a socialite who had fallen on hard times, a job as her personal Christmas shopper. “Wherever the woman traveled, she bought gifts that she sent back to Mar-a-Lago. “

These were token-type present: scarves, picture frames, cocktail napkins, fancy paper party hats.

“Closer to the holidays, Marjorie’s friend was given a room to work from at Mar-a- Lago, and she would write up a list of what would go to whom. Then the presents were wrapped and sent.”

Life might have been hard, but Palm Beach’s settlers found time to celebrate the holidays, too.  A 1979 Palm Beach Life “PB Dateline” article lists Christmas gifts given in 1891, recorded in an old ledger from Palm Beach’s first store, Edward Brelsford’s general store.

Mrs. F. E. Brown bought herself a pair of shoes for $2.25, and a collar for her husband at $1.25. E.N. Dimick bought currants, candy, shirts, two toilet brushes, one looking glass, one rattle, one violin, a picture frame, three handkerchiefs and a tiny copper kettle. He came back Christmas morning for a belt and a pair of drawers. George Lainhard bought olives, a picture frame, five pounds of flour and a rubber ball. Also that morning, R.R. McKormick bought six cigars and L.D. Hillhouse picked up a box of candy (for his wife?) for 30 cents and a rifle for himself, $16. John Climmson was the last Christmas Day shopper. He purchased candy, drawers, a shirt, coat and vest, socks, shoes, pants, suspenders, buttons, and then, from the look of his bill, went straight to Christmas service, the best-dressed man in church.

So Gift Givers, if you don’t have a personal shopper, don’t fret. Whether it’s a mansion or jewels, a thoughtful trinket, a pair of suspenders, an umbrella, or whatever the heart-of-your-heart desires, a shop on the Island (has always had and) will most likely have it, except for maybe the drawers…

This year’s trends:

Taking the temperature of gift giving in general, people are in high spirits for the holidays, according to a report by the American Affluence Research Center. 89% of the women and 72% of men surveyed expect  to receive a holiday gift this year. Popular items on their gift lists include some form of currency (gift card, cash or check – 46%). Clothing (36%) comes in second.  Books, CDs and DVDs (16%), jewelry (14%), iPad or similar tablet (13%), and sports equipment (13%) also made the wish list.

Spending is “up,” too, according to the Harrison Group and American Express Publishing’s 2013 Holiday Forecast.

Specific holiday spending trends include:

  • Total U.S. consumer spending on gifts this holiday season is estimated at $71.3 billion: 7.7% higher than last year’s forecast of $66.3 billion.
  • The 90% are expected to spend $50.6 billion, up 7.4% from last year’s forecast ($47.1 billion)
  • The Top 10% (affluent and wealthy consumers) are expected to spend $20.7 billion, up 8% from 2012’s forecast ($19.1 billion)

Jim Taylor, vice chairman of the Harrison Group and the study’s director observed, “While holiday shopping will be conservative among the Top 10%, it appears that the 90% are opening their wallets as they return to more traditional holiday spending patterns after a dismal end to last year’s holiday season. The group to really watch is the Core Affluent.  They are growing in size, boosting their spend and getting more and more comfortable with luxury brands as they do so.”

Written for the Palm Beach Daily News “Holiday Gift Guide”