Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Framing My Visit to the New "The Art of the Americas Wing" of the MFA

On Saturday, Boston's venerable Museum of Fine Arts flung open its doors to the community to allow neighbors free admission to see the new The Art of the Americas Wing. I went with two friends and we spent three hours wandering the freshly painted hallways and galleries. It was a memorable introduction to the new space, and in some cases it was also a re-introduction to some old familiar friends that are now presented in new settings. We lingered for a long while in the galleries devoted to paintings by Copley, Gilbert Stuart, John Singer Sargent, Winslow Homer, Mary Cassatt, Andrew Wyeth, et al. I love the choice that was made to integrate paintings and sculpture with furnishings and decorative art from the same period, often times reproducing whole rooms from period homes. The overall effect is that I felt as if I were wandering through a series of beautifully appointed homes, enjoying the furnishings and private art collections of the hosts.

I kept returning to one painting in particular: "The Passage of the Delaware" painted in 1819 by Thomas Sully. It is by far the largest single painting in the museum, the canvas alone measuring 17x12 feet. One gets the impression that the room housing this painting was built around the masterpiece. What is not displayed in the photo above is the impressive gold frame - about two feet wide - that creates a spectacularly beautiful setting for this depiction of Washington and his troops preparing to cross the Delaware prior to the Battle of Trenton.

The very knowledgeable docent who described the history and provenance of this work of art talked about the fact the the canvas had been stored for many years rolled up. Originally commissioned to be hung in the North Carolina State Capitol, the finished painting proved to be too large for its intended site, and was shipped to Boston where it hung in the now defunct Boston Museum. The frame had been disassembled and lay gathering dust in a forgotten corner of the MFA basement. In preparation for the construction of the new wing, the basement was cleaned out. No one knew what these pieces of wood were supposed to be, until the pieces were measured, and it became clear that they could only fit one painting in the museum's collection. So, the frame was refurbished, re-assembled, re-gilded and "unsullied," and then reunited with Sully's canvas. The opportunity to see this frame alone is worth a visit to the museum.

The mind of The White Rhino cannot help but draw an analogy from the history of the frame recounted above. How many human beings - potential treasures - lie forgotten, disjointed, confined to the musty basement of forgetfulness and neglect and apparently good for nothing? It is not until someone invests the time to properly take their measure that it is revealed just what a treasure lies under the dust, ready to be re-assembled and used for a high purpose.

In Psalm 103, David reflects on the way that God sees us:

"For He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust."

OK - enough preaching. Look around in the "basement" of your networks of friends and acquaintances and extended family and see if there are some underutilized treasures among those you may have overlooked. Take their measure, and be part of the process of refurbishing, re-gilding and re-framing them for a higher purpose.





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