Joan Leigh Fermor: Artist and Lover. Benaki Museum

Athens Benaki Museum Exhibition ends October 21, 2018

I had read about this exhibit months ago and was pleasantly surprised to find an hour to slip into the Benaki Musuem, just three blocks from Grande Hotel Bretagne. Joan Leigh Fermor was married to one of the most well know British travel chroniclers, Paddy Leigh Fermor. Their marriage of love, was also a marriage of artistic sharing; he a writer and she a noted photographer.

Joan Leigh Fermor: Artist and Lover. Benaki Museum, Athens

Her classic black and white photos of their years in Greece, and in particular, the Peloponnese are riveting. Everyday images of everyday people in their natural environment. An archive of the Greek landscape and its ancient sites before troves of tourists have made their visits, in a pre-digital age, she composed simple yet haunting images. A treat even if you aren’t a photographer.

From the Museum site: Joan and Paddy Leigh Fermor were united in a pact of liberty – sharing their lives, mostly in Greece, as lovers and friends. As photographer and writer, they were also artists of equal stature.

Joan was a restless rebel when she took brilliant images of the London Blitz as a symbol of all that she would be leaving behind. She met Paddy in Cairo in 1944 and soon he was following her to Athens. They travelled all over Greece before settling in the Peloponnese – in the beautiful house they built at Kardamyli and bequeathed to the Benaki Museum.

Between the 1940s and 1960s Joan took thousands of photographs of people and places as she travelled with Paddy round Greece. A few appeared in his books Mani and Roumeli; most remained unseen on her death in 2003. Her archive is held at the National Library of Scotland in Edinburgh.

In her lifetime, Leigh Fermor was hailed—and hired—by John Betjemen and Cyril Connelly, and she was recognized as a powerful recorder of the London Blitz. But the true scale of her achievement was only realized after her death, when a treasure trove of photographs was discovered documenting the landscape and culture of Greece between 1945 and 1960. Through Leigh Fermor’s fundamentally democratic lens, we meet Cretan shepherds, Meteoran monastics, and Macedonian bear tamers. She brings the same intimate eye to architecture, while showing just as much facility in the panoramas of landscape—all clearly animated by a love of Greece. This book, drawn from a collection of five thousand images held by the National Library of Scotland, lets one see Leigh Fermor for what she was: a twentieth-century master.

If your plans lead you to the Golden city of Athens before the end of October, I encourage a visit to this extraordinary exhibit.







The Museum of International Folk Art Santa Fe

The Museum of International Folk Art Santa Fe New Mexico

Just ONE of many interesting museums, every time I visit Santa Fe, my dear friends introduce me to yet another amazing museum. The Museum of International Folk Art not only contains an eclectic collection of folk art, the landscape and buildings are also world class. Nosh at the café with vistas to die for – and you will enjoy a delightful inspiring afternoon, the gift shop is also a treasure trove.

From the Museum website: there are many different ways to think about folk art. In fact, there is no one definition of folk art. In collecting and displaying folk art, the museum considers various concepts.

Generally, folk art is ART that:

  • May be decorative or utilitarian
  • May be used every day or reserved for high ceremonies
  • Is handmade; it may include handmade elements, as well as new, synthetic, or recycled components
  • May be made for use within a community of practice or it may be produced for sale as a form of income and empowerment
  • May be learned formally or informally; folk art may also be self-taught
  • May include intangible forms of expressive culture like dance, song, poetry, and foodways
  • Is traditional; it reflects shared cultural aesthetics and social issues. It is recognized that, as traditions are dynamic, traditional folk art may change over time and may include innovations in tradition.
  • Is of, by, and for the people; all people, inclusive of class, status, culture, community, ethnicity, gender, and religion

There were two exhibits at the museum which resonated with me: Beadwork Adorns the World Extraordinary how a small glass bead from the island of Murano (Venice, Italy) or the mountains of Bohemia (Czech Republic) can travel around the world, entering into the cultural life of people far distant.

Glass beads are the ultimate migrants.  Where they start out is seldom where they end up.  No matter where they originate, the locale that uses them makes them into something specific to their own world view.

This exhibition is about what happens to these beads when they arrive at their final destination, whether it be the African continent (Botswana, Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa), to Borneo, to Burma, to India, Native North America to Latin America (Mexico, Bolivia to Ecuador).  However, this exhibit is not actually about beads, rather it is about the working beads resulting in Beadwork, and what a collective of beads in a garment or an object reveals about the intentions of its makers or users.

I have a massive collection of African beaded jewelry, elaborate beaded hats, and beaded wall hangings. Our fabulous safari expeditions always include a visit to a local Maasai village where the women excel in this craft.

The second exhibit in the Girard Wing opened in 1982, a long-term exhibition Multiple Visions: A Common Bond, an awe-inspiring display of approximately 10,000 pieces of folk art, toys, miniatures, textiles, and more from the Alexander and Susan Girard Collection. More than a million visitors have delighted in this exhibition, which represents just 10% of the Girard’s immense collection. This unorthodox exhibition was designed by Alexander Girard, a renowned designer who worked for Herman Miller and collaborated with many other renowned designers. It features objects displayed within vignettes of Girard’s invention or installed at various heights, including hanging from the ceiling. Girard insisted upon a pure visual experience, rejecting the use of object labels, using bold areas of painted color to delineate different sections of the exhibition, and often juxtaposing objects from very different cultures. Multiple Visions has been a perennial favorite of visitors for more than 30 years. The Girard Collection reflects a lifetime of travel and a love of objects. They began collecting on their honeymoon to Mexico in 1939, selecting objects for their beauty, humor, whimsy, and directness. Visitors to the Girard Wing are greeted by the Italian proverb “Tutto il mondo e paese” (The whole world is hometown), a saying Alexander Girard liked to quote, and which was a guiding principle of his and his wife’s collecting of folk art.

Alexander Girard (1907–1993) was one of the most influential textile artists and interior designers of the twentieth century and a collector extraordinaire. His worked with Herman Miller, collaborated with Charles & Ray Eames and George Nelson. For a period of time, he lived in Santa Fe and the museum greatly benefitted from his keen eye and astute flair for artfully coordinating interiors down to the smallest details. He was inspired by his colorful folk art collected throughout Mexico, India, Egypt and other international destinations. Girard donated a legacy collection of over 100,000 pieces of folk art to the Museum methodically arranged folk art scenes, depicting human experiences typical and atypical alike. Mesmerizing and full, each vignette contains either a small collection of related objects or massive glass display boxes displaying hundreds of like objects – each tells a story – vibrant and vivid stories which also provide a background story of the interesting lives of these sophisticated collectors.

Come for the whimsy, color, texture and style, and stay for the story revealed in each display.

To neatly tie this up, my friends introduced me to yet another delightfully delicious restaurant in Santa Fe and coincidentally the interiors were designed by Alexander Girard. Local Dining at The Compound Restaurant, Santa Fe can be found amid my blog posts.

Santa Fe is a delightful long weekend escape all year long. Land of Enchantment.  The “Land of Enchantment” describes New Mexico’s scenic beauty and its rich history. This legend was placed on New Mexico license plates in 1941. This nickname became the official State Nickname of New Mexico on April 8, 1999.