On a recent visit to Cape Ann, Massachusetts, I had the pleasure of visiting the lovely Cape Ann Museum. This smorgasbord of art and history artifacts relating to the Cape has been recently reopened after nearly a year of renovations. The crisp galleries smell of fresh paint and the woodwork shines with new varnish. It's an inviting place.
A center piece of the completely redone galleries is a rare first order Fresnel Lens, gifted to the museum by the Coast Guard who no longer wanted it for their own museum and intended it only for storage. The lens had been removed from its lighthouse tower on nearby Thacher Island after more than century of service saving lives. The extraordinary lens could broadcast its small lamp's light twenty-two miles across the ocean.
The lens is lovingly displayed in its own diminutive but tall gallery, illuminated by a window from above which let's you enjoy the prismatic and changing light bouncing off its many facets.
The Museum states proudly that the lens "was built in Paris, France, in 1860, installed on Thacher Island the following year and served as a beacon for mariners for over 120 years. It was originally lit by whale oil, then by lard oil and eventually by kerosene. It was electrified in 1932 and ultimately removed by the Coast Guard in 1980. The shining lens stands 10 feet tall ... and is comprised of over a thousand glass prisms set in a bronze frame. It weighs just over a ton. First order Fresnel lenses are extremely rare. There are only 39 in the country ..."
"Strong Breezes and Passing Clouds"
One piece of art in the museum that jumped out at me was a recent installation of four panels. Each contained ceramic shipwreck shards and Chinese export plates, sunk into a mortar and sand mix to give the appearance of being buried in the sand.
The piece is called, "Strong Breezes and Passing Clouds" by Diane KW. The shards were donated by a dealer in general antiques in Warwick, England; Odyssey Marine Explorations from Tampa, Florida; an antique dealer from Pennsylvania; and Dr Koch-Weser from Hawaii, a retired physician who is enjoying a second career as a ceramic artist. Despite their disparate origins the pieces of pottery look remarkably at home with one another.
In light of my recent sea gleanings, I enjoyed how the artist took broken pieces and recreated the experience of buried objects.
Enjoying the Moment
Looking at art galleries can be an exhausting experience, don't you find? You feel compelled to 'see everything' and find yourself beginning to 'see nothing' as you grow overloaded with sights.
Studies have estimated that gallery visitors tire after about 35 minutes, mentally and visually. Renowned Japanese architect I. M. Pei was mindful of this when designing the East Wing addition to the National Gallery in Washington DC. With his open spaces and visual rest between exhibits, Pei purposefully built in natural visual breaks timed to coincide with the visitor's flagging attention. The intimate and lovely Cape Ann Historical Museum certainly seems to have this principle in mind in the way it designed the experience of a visit. Our brief sojourn there was a lovely break.
Just as a short time spent sketching can give us the reprieve we need from rush and hurry, so a visit to a gallery to open our eyes afresh can provide a welcome respite from the busyness of life. It needn't be exhausting.
What can you pause and enjoy today?