Why I Love Art Museums (Part Two)

Frightening furniture . . . a Wish-Granting Cow . . . and an 8th-Century multi-tasking mother: Just a few of the many reasons why I LOVE art museums! You never know what you’ll find.

Back in 2009, I kicked off my art-oriented blog, Artdog Observations, with a post called “Why I Love Art Museums.” I’m no longer juggling two blogs, but I still love art museums–especially our local Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, where I’m a member of Friends of Art. I had lunch there with a friend recently, and found some fun things to share with you.

Frightening Furniture 
There are many things about the Victorian Era that would make contemporary Americans scratch their heads. But the Nelson-Atkins has a couple of gorgeous pieces of mid-19th-Century furniture that would seem right at home in a horror flick, if you look at them right. 

Designed by Gustave Herter, carved by Ernst Plassmann, and manufactured by Bulkley and Herter, this magnificent bookcase dates to 1852-53, and resides in the Nelson’s Gallery 215.

The first is a fabulous carved bookcase with sumptuous wood carvings and leaded glass inserts. It is a fabulous piece of furniture . . . and, as my friend pointed out, it looks haunted. We think the leaded glass inserts look like ghostly Cookie Monsters, with wide-open mouths, white eyes, and an angry unibrow. We informally dubbed it the “Haunted Bookcase.”

Charles Baudouine’s 1855 settee is a striking piece of furniture in the American Art collection of the Nelson-Atkins Art Museum in Gallery 215. Unfortunately, in this photo it’s not clear that the medallion at the center of the back-rest is a rather scary-looking face.

Then we turned around and realized the nearby settee also had a rather grotesque, goblin-like face in the medallion at the top center of the back-rest. We called it the “Scary Settee.”

I remember when I was a little kid, when lots of the family was at my grandparents’ house, my sister and I would sleep on the floor under the carved black Victorian dining table. We’d make up ghost stories or other tales. I think if we’d had the Haunted Bookcase and the Scary Settee to inspire us, our fictive collaborations would have been a lot spookier. 

A Wish-Granting Cow 

Kamadhenu, The Wish-Granting Cow

Upstairs in the South Asian galleries, I discovered an intricately carved, functional religious sculpture from Western Deccan, India. It depicts Kamadhenu, The Wish-Granting Cow. Kamadhenu not only has gorgeous, intricate carvings, with bells on (literally), she has a reservoir inside and little metal tubes in her udder that allow her to “give milk.” She’s beautiful, she’s ingenious, and she’s a wish-granting cow! What’s not to love?

An 8th-Century, Multi-tasking Momma
Then I walked into the Gallery 229, filled with funerary ceramics from ancient Chinese tombs.

The wealth of wonderful characters you can meet in this gallery boggles description. But the one who caught my eye on the latest trip was the multi-tasking momma on the camel.

In the middle of the room, I encountered someone who appears to be a consummate multi-tasker, and also something of a wish-granting milk-giver, herself. She is the Central Asian Caravan Woman Rousing her Camel while Nursing. She’s made of earthenware with unfired coloring, and she’s been frozen in time and mid-action since the 8th Century. 

Central Asian Caravan Woman Rousing her Camel while Nursing

I like this versatile momma. Central Asian women lived hard, stressful lives in her time period, yet this one seems to be balancing her life as adroitly as she balances on top of that camel. The camel doesn’t seem any too pleased, but Momma is clearly in charge. I bet her kids behaved, too!

IMAGES: The logo for the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art is from their website’s “Welcome” page. I took the photo of the “haunted bookcase” myself. The piece of furniture we called the “scary settee” is shown in a photo of the gallery on the Nelson-Atkins website. Kamadhenu’s photo is from her catalog page on the Museum’s website. The image of the main Chinese gallery is also from the Nelson-Atkins website. The Central Asian Caravan Woman’s image is from her catalog page. MANY thanks to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, MO–both for a fun afternoon with my friend, and for the images I used for this post.

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jansgephardt

Kansas City-based Jan S. Gephardt is a writer, artist, and teacher. She makes nationally-recognized paper sculpture and writes sf mystery novels about a sapient police dog.

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