31 December 2018

Exterior Color: The Fulton Street Sisters

In which we learn that the whole is greater than the sum of its details.

Cranston and Keenan-designed Queen Anne Victorian circa 1890 recently restored, with color design by Lynne Rutter
My work as a colorist is often more involved than simply choosing paint colors for a "Painted Lady."  
Working with the historic homes of San Francisco has given me a deep understanding of the regional architecture, and it is so rewarding when I can collaborate with people who appreciate and work to preserve that architecture.  The owners of neighboring Cranston and Keenan-designed "Queen Anne" style homes on Fulton Street wanted their sister houses to look good next to each other, and to set a precedent for the rest of the street. They knew things were missing and that they needed more than just a paint job. Both owners enlisted San Francisco Local Color Painting, and asked that their façades be restored in tandem.

Here is a "before" picture from 2016:
Before:  aging sisters on Fulton Street, hanging onto their dignity
As you can see, these sisters share the great bones they were born with. Like many grand old homes in our fair city, this pair of Queen Anne mansions endured many decades of slow neglect.  Changes in the neighborhood, deferred maintenance, hidden damage, and past expedient repairs over time, can add up to a very shaggy appearance and what looks like a really daunting project.  Praise is due to the dedicated owners who coordinated their efforts and committed considerable resources and energy to rejuvenating these beauties.

Now, here is our glorious "after" photo of 1374 and 1368 Fulton Street.
Sister houses: "Queen Anne" style Victorians with their newly restored and painted façades.  color design: Lynne Rutter

For those of you who'd like to know a bit more about how this renaissance was accomplished, read on.

1368 Fulton "before."  I stopped here at the base of the stairs and wondered, what's going on with the mismatched crown at the roofline? Also, please, don't ever paint your steps with battleship gray porch paint ~this is not your garage floor, it's your entrance.
Analysis and Research
I met with the owners of both homes to discuss what they'd like to see. Naturally, each house would have colors according to the taste of its respective owner, but as neighbors they wanted the colors of both homes to be compatible, and to be somewhat consistent as to the use of ornament and color placement.  As the houses face south, we needed to use colors that work well in full sun and won't fade easily.  But before I could finalize where those colors would be used, both façades needed some resolution about missing ornament and other carpentry matters.

1374: some areas we needed to resolve prior to painting
A Queen Anne style house, especially one built by Cranston and Keenan, tends to have a lot of ornament on its façade. Unlike many other period styles of architecture, these designs don't follow any classical rules about proportions or column height or window size. It can be extremely difficult to figure out where to put colors to complement this style of home. There is no clear "body" or "trim" as their façades are mostly mouldings and ornament. It's like the builder  pulled up with a cart full of surface ornaments and threw them on the house. 
All the same, there is a style, and details that really work, and when they are missing or replaced with undersized elements, it's terribly obvious and  can result in a lopsided or unstable appearance. So I worked up a list of problem areas I felt needed to be addressed.
For example, due to a code change requiring railings to be higher, each house had had its original balcony replaced with taller, fairly indifferent-looking railings.  At 1374 the rounded balcony (7) had been straightened and its bowed "clamshell" (8), no longer protected properly, began to rot. Missing ornament in the frieze (6)  had been covered over with shingles, which resulted in a shaggy, heavy-looking area over the arch.
We looked at other houses in the area by the same builders which have similar details, to find solutions. 
Even better, one of our homeowners located an archive photo that would answer many of our questions!

1374 Fulton Street, circa 1910
This amazing photo from 1910 showed us the original ornament plan of BOTH houses. I was then able to place colors for them using this photo as a guide.
To solve the issue of the modern requirements for balcony railing height, I recommended continuing the horizontal band from under the window clear across, and then adding better proportioned balusters above that. And then of course, finials or vases on top of that. And then of course some little balls atop those, so we can gild them!

Rallying Resources
It is my distinct honor to belong to a group called  Artistic License - A Guild of Artisans. It is through this guild that I met Bruce Nelson, owner of SF Local Color Painting, and many other skilled carpenters, architects, painters, and designers. Like me, most of the members of this guild could not look at that "before" photo without making a mental inventory of everything that was wrong or missing from these façades.  So Bruce recommended several members of the guild to our homeowners, to help set things right. 

Chris Yerke of Restoration Workshop mastered the restoration of the façade at 1368. Missing mouldings were custom milled and replaced, and copious amounts of ornament cast by Lorna Kollmeyer Ornamental Plaster were added where appropriate. Chris re-designed the balcony with a parapet and turned balusters, in a very pleasing proportion that seamlessly integrates with the original design. Urns were placed on top of the balcony railing of course. With little balls on top.

1368 Fulton after painting. Color design by Lynne Rutter
Local Color's team restored the old wood surfaces and painted the subtle scheme of six colors with 23.5 karat gilt details. As the house is so high from the street and faces south, some ornament was dry-brushed with an accent color,  to bring up more of the detail in the full sun.
This color wasn't a big departure from the previous scheme, which the owners liked.  But to note is the relatively minimal contrast between colors, and this was done to give the façade a more unified and and elegant look.  

Layers of wood and cast rosettes were used to recreate the ornamentation of the upper pediment
Meanwhile, next door... at 1374, new wooden window sashes were built with stained glass panels, recreating the originals in the antique photo.  Skeeter Jones of Clearheart Fine Design and Building lead the revival of this façade including restoring the curved balcony with custom turned  balusters and finials, replacing rotted wood and missing ornament, again with castings from Lorna Kollmeyer. Dozens of elements were painstakingly assembled to create the richly textured surface of the original façade.

1374 Fulton Street restored 2018. color design by Lynne Rutter

Finishing touches
Years of old paint were removed, epoxy repairs and minute details carefully prepared by Local Color painters prior to painting this six-color scheme. Some ornament was enhanced with a glaze, by painting a thin layer of color over the surface, then wiping back the raised parts to create more depth.  Finally, special details and buttons were gilt with 23.5 karat gold leaf, which adds a warm accent color as well as shimmery finesse.

1374 and 1368 Fulton Street newly restored and painted. color design: Lynne Rutter
In addition to expressing my admiration to my colleagues for their fine work, I want to express once  again my deep appreciation to the owners of these important homes, for their stewardship, and for their commitment to the beauty of our city's shared history.


Period Revival Artisans of the San Francisco Bay Area 
Artistic License,-A Guild of Artisans

Find an archive image or learn more about your Victorian house:
San Francisco Public Library Historical Photo Collection
SF Heritage Historical Research Guide
Open SF History historical images and maps
Guide to San Francisco Architecture at the Bold Italic

10 August 2018

Exterior Color: The Nightingale House

The upper bay and tower of the 1882 Nightingale House, San Francisco Landmark #47
The Nightingale House, San Francisco Landmark #47,  is named for John Nightingale, who built  the house in 1882, as a wedding gift for his daughter Florence.   I have long adored this house, ever since I moved to the city. I love the scale of it, the eclectic Victorian Gothic-a-rama style of it. 

The Nightingale House in 2008

The house had seemingly always been white: layers of post-WWII Navy surplus paint and then some, gave it a sunny cottage-like appearance.  Its longtime owner, Jo Hansen, a San Francisco artist and activist, cared for it with everything she had for over 40 years. As a young artist living nearby I met Jo a number of times. It’s still hard to imagine this city without her.

Since 2010, the new owners and current custodians of the Nightingale House have been carefully restoring it.  But by “carefully” I don’t mean living in a museum. They have researched its history, repaired its injured areas, and made it their own. 
I have been thrilled to participate in what has truly been a collaboration between me, the owners, and the house itself.  

Entry and tower after restoration and painting
We started talking about color before the heavier aspects of the restoration work had even started. Envisioning the color was not just the light at the end of the tunnel, but a step towards solidifying the intent and goals.  I asked what they were looking to say with their color scheme;  one said  “historic, important”  the other said  “gothic, unusual …  ”     Elvira may have been mentioned.
Well then, said I, let’s see if we can do both!

Rare in San Francisco, a covered entry porch, with outer pocket doors, which we painted with a faux bois finish
The curved balcony had been missing, and was recreated from a vintage photo
The color scheme I designed is for the most part monochromatic, with different shades of warm greens. The eaves are brightened with a green-gold color, and 23.5 karat gold leaf helps celebrate  some very special details.
Historic homes of this period were often painted with a medium tone body and darker trim.   I have been finding more and more, that the white trim so prevalent in the 20th century is not as appealing, especially when urban dirt accumulates on it. The 19th century style of painting darker trim can give the period architecture a lot of stability and grace.  
A favorite detail:  Gothic pendant under the bay window
Many years of work have gone into the restoration of this landmark home. Dozens of skilled artisans have contributed to its revival along with tireless effort on the part of the owners.  A complicated roof and tower was totally refitted, with copper gutters, working chimneys, and metal cresting sitting atop like tiara. Window sashes have been restored or reproduced, lead paint stripped off, missing ornament and architectural features recreated.   During some of the work evidence of the original paint color was found to be... green.

Sometimes I go a bit out of my way just to pass the corner on which the Nightingale House is perched.   

More about the Nightingale House at  Hoodline
Color Design by Lynne Rutter

I have never heard that the house was haunted, but I'd be happy to start a rumor...

08 June 2018

Underground Treasure in Venice

In which we discover Venetian Pearls and Buried Beauty 


San Simeone Piccolo, Venice, built 1738
The Maestro, as we call him, composed the first two acts of his new opera in the spare bedroom of our Florentine flat this winter. When the time came for him to take this work up to Austria to present it to the theatre, we put the electric piano in a snowboard bag (it fit perfectly) to make it easier to take on the train.
I know, it sounds glamorous, and maybe it is.

A glass bead coral necklace by Marisa Convento

I accompanied Erling and his piano as far as Venice, and treated myself a day to wander about the city on an unusually warm and uncrowded midwinter day, feeling a bit blue that I would not be staying for Carnivale this time. Feeling even bluer that I wasn't able to return to Venice with my mother, something we talked about a lot during her last year.  I was cheered and inspired by a visit with the great Impiraressa, Marisa Convento, a Venetian artisan reviving the traditional art of seed glass beading from her small shop in San Marco, Venetian Dreams.  Not just an expert beader, Mariso knows the history of her art, and the significance of its revival.  She works with vintage and antique glass beads, and has an impressive collection of the special "Pearls:" antique (and highly collectible) Murano-made beads used for centuries in trading around the world, and which have found their way back to the city, and into her skilled hands.
Marisa is one of the artisans involved with Venezia Autentica, a brilliant organization helping to educate visitors on how to have a more meaningful experience in a city being trampled by mass tourism.  While we commiserated on the fate of the artists in our respective cities, I could see that the fight to save Venice may well be won by her artists.  Who knows more about perseverance than a Venetian?  Than a Venetian artist? 

Buried Treasure
Just across the canal from Santa Lucia station is the strangely proportioned church of San Simeone Piccolo (above.)   Attracted by its impressive copper green dome, visitors might peek inside the circular nave, see the protective plastic sheet covering the ceiling, and then leave.  I personally have never seen the inside of this dome and the church under it is unremarkable. However, this church keeps a secret treasure in its crypt.  You can buy a candle from the attendant as admission, and go down the stairs.

Now, stay still, until your eyes get used to the dark. 

painted designs on the walls of the crypt
You will see, the entire crypt is covered in ornament and murals! Rough and sort of theatrical in style, the painting shows up pretty well in low light.  Most of the ornament is done with a very limited palette of yellow ochre,  red, white, and a bit of black.

Lit by a single candle, the crypt walls and ceiling are visible only for a few feet.
Crypt ceiling painted in ornament with red and yellow ochre
Yes it is well below ground, and yes it is damp and cold.  It appears to have been painted in the 18th century after the church was built,  and I have no idea if...  
darn it my candle went out and I have to make my way back to the entrance, where one little candle was left burning.    
Xe mejo on mocolo impissà che na candela stuà. (1)

A small chapel in the center of crypt, lit by a single light near the entrance
Radiating from a central octagonal chapel are corridors leading to small shrines and burial chambers, These were ransacked and ill-used during the Napoleonic period. Any records about who is buried here were lost at that time.  Any candelabra that may have been here... have not been replaced.

A mournful mural detail by candlelight
A small shrine inside the crypt with loose but effective trompe l'oeil painting
The stoning of St Stephen,  in a faux gold mosaic cartouche.*
I don't have a flash on my camera but I resort to using the flashlight of my phone a few times. 
Especially when I hear things.

Entrance to a family tomb
inside a tomb, with a yellow, black, and ochre color scheme
A tomb where the tunnels split into four directions. The trompe l'oeil grill on the ceiling mimics a real grill elsewhere in the crypt.
macabre decoration in the crypt of San Simeone Piccolo, lit by a single candle

Five months later, in Klagenfurt rehearsals have started.  In three hours I  am in Venice to see the spectacular retrospective of Nancy Genn at the Palazzo Fero-Fini, which corresponds with the opening the Biennale Architettura.   The art galleries are opening new shows, and prosecco is being poured in every doorway of the Dorsoduro.

Erling joins me for one day. I pay my respects to Tintoretto.  On our way back, I stay with the bags while Erling ventures into the crypt.

It is perhaps better if you go into the crypt alone.

(1) Venetian proverb: Better to have a lit candle stub than an extinguished candle. 

All photos in this post by Lynne Rutter, 2018
except* by Erling Wold

Rattensturm a opera by Erling Wold and Peter Wagner,  13 -30 June, 2018 at the Klagenfurter Ensemble, Klagenfurt-am-Worthersee, Austria.

Churches of Venice  website in English with details on every church and its art

Venetian Dreams  Marissa Convento on Instagram
Alessia Fuga  contemporary glass bead artist

Venezia Autentica   because the more you know about Venice the more you will love it

04 June 2018

Grotesque Obsession: Uffizi Revisited

Here is a beautiful video of one of my favorite spots in Florence, featuring the grottesca ceilings in the East Corridor of the Uffizi.

Last year, while touring the Uffizi by wheelchair (being dutifully pushed by my butler)  I noticed my perspective of the ceiling was different, wider.  Erling gave me his video camera and we tried making a slow tracking shot of the corridor ceilings.  That didn't work very well because every time we rolled over a seam in the marble floor the camera jostled.

We returned, several times, and Erling shot the ceiling again using a handheld gimbal.  And then he edited this lovely video and added some music from his opera A Little Girl Dreams of Taking the Veil.  Thank you, Maestro!

Video and music by Erling Wold
Uffizi East Corridor Ceilings   Read more about these painted ceilings in this previous post:
A Little Girl Dreams of Taking the Veil   a chamber opera by Erling Wold

28 May 2018

Studio Visit: Paolo Bellò, Sologna, Italy

In which we are greeted by the warmest of Venetian smiles

trompe l'oeil coffered ceiling by Paolo Bellò with various rosette designs 
Stucco bas-relief in Stile Liberty by Paolo Bellò

From Venice I took the regional train to Bassano del Grappa, where I was greeted by Paolo Bellò and his wife Stefania, and two of the warmest of Venetian smiles, then on to town of Sologna where Paolo's studio occupies a prominent place on the main street.

I first met Paolo at the Salon in Lecce in 2015. At that time he was shy about speaking English, mainly because he didn't speak English. Since then, he and Stefania have been taking intensive English classes in order to better communicate with their new international friends.  Among them, the Irish painter Noel Donnellan, with whom Paolo recently formed a collaborative company called Pigmentti.  While it can be argued that studying English does not always help a person understand Noel when he gets going, both of these guys can paint, and they sure get the job done. 

The Sologna, Italy studio of Paolo Bellò features several workrooms, and a mezzanine displaying samples of work. The giant mistletoe design is for a house in Switzerland and was rendered in stucco bas-relief.

In his enormous and beautifully organized studio, Paolo treated me to a comprehensive demonstration of stucco bas-relief, one of his specialties.  

After showing me the basics of  traditional marmorino, its mixing, application and finishing, as well as ways to color it, Paolo transferred a design onto the still damp plaster using a spolvero (pounce) and some charcoal.

the spolvero transfers the design onto damp plaster
special stucco carving tools, some you buy, some you hack !

While still soft the marmorino is scratched out along the design to key the surface. New white stucco is added into the ornament areas and then sculpted using special tools.

detail of stucco being built up
Paolo Bellò sculpting detail in the stucco ornament

As the stucco hardens finer detail can be added, but all of this must be timed just so and this requires a real understanding of the material and what it can do.

Paolo Belló has worked in decoration since the age of 14. He attended the European Centre for Heritage Crafts and Professions in Venice.  Then after studying with maestro Ennio Verenini in Bassano, Paolo was invited to join the Verenini decoration company, and three generations of knowledge was passed on to him over the next 20 years. He opened his own studio in 1994.

The hundreds of sketches, samples, maquettes, and tools in the studio are a testament to the the life's work of this consummate artisan.

optional designs for a doorway: on the right, Paolo pays tribute to his favorite architect, Carlo Scarpa.
Exterior Design: sketches for two possible treatments which include ornament, color and relief stucco work.

During my visit Paolo and Stefania took me on a tour of their favorite Veneto sights: the Tomba Brion of Carlo Scarpa, and the Palladian Villa Barbaro with its Veronese frescoes that make my heart sing.   Along the way we passed  houses Paolo has decorated with fresco sundials or ornament, keeping alive the tradition of the Veneto artisans. 

Noel, Lynne, and Paolo at the Salon 2018 in Leeuwarden.*
I look forward each year to attending the International Decorative Painters Salon, where I have met so many friends and fellow artists from around the world.   

See more of  Paolo Bellò's work on his website.

Tomba Brion by Carlo Scarpa
Villa Barbaro

photos in this post by Lynne Rutter, Sologna, 2018
except * by Stefania Bellò

19 February 2018

Ravennae Inundata

mosaics circa 535 AD,  presbytery vault, San Vitale, Ravenna
“Ostrogoths” I said, punching Erling on the arm. As we entered the Basilica of San Vitale we heard music, and I froze on the spot. At first I thought it was in my head, because that’s not terribly unusual for me, but the magnificent tenor voice was coming from small well-placed speakers which filled the entire church with sound. Not plainsong or medieval chant, but a contemporary Russian choir singing a credo. Theatrical, yes, and compelling. We soon found ourselves overwhelmed by 5th century mosaics glittering with symbolism. 
Traveling with Erling is always good in these instances because like me he has a thorough education in Christian history and further, he is fascinated with it. Lunchtime conversations may involve intense discussions about transubstantiation or the Arian heresy. 

The walls of the Basilica di San Vitale are clad in book-matched marble imported from Constantinople
In such a place where there are so many brilliant buttons for my mind to push, my brain is flooded with words and phrases.  So passed this day...
geometry... fondo oro... iota... filioque... cosmatesco... horror vacui... clean-shaven Jesus... gammdia... bookmatched marble... octagons... conventional design... the Empress... archaic symbols... peacocks... palm trees... acoustics... recycled roman mosaic... roman mosaic... opus alexandrinum... opus sectile... Persian flaw... matroneum... pulvino... space ships... eunuchs... ecce homo... consubstantial... homoousios... transubstantiation... transfiguration... schism... spaceships...  Ostrogoths...

 mosaic in the apse features a youthful Jesus and an uncountable number of gold glass tiles

The floor of San Vitale was raised and repaved in the 13th century and again in 1599 with cosmateque mosaics.  The original 5th century floor is about 5 feet below and completely under water
counting the border elements under the Justinian panel (547 AD) and shoes...

This border is of  Roman design and references the Trinity. or spaceships.
The famous ceiling of the "Masoleum" of Galla Placidia (d. 450) and an obvious Persian Flaw
Mosaic ceiling of the 5th century Arian baptistry

All photos in this post by Lynne Rutter  Ravenna, 2018

Listen: Credo Universale (youtube)  New Liturgical Chant of the Russian Orthodox Church  Moscow Patriarchal Choir with Ilya Tolmachevy Natalia Haszler

Livia Alberti - fascinating report on the restoration of the mosaics of San Vitale

07 January 2018

Looking Forward

Palazzo Corsini, Florence photo by Lynne Rutter
I am appreciating everything, even as my eyes get used to the dark.  In my head I am still 24 years old and running through the doorway to see what's around the corner, while the more mature me fumbles with my camera to be ready for it.

03 January 2018

The Seven Virtues of Santa Felicità

Temperanza, fresco by Pietro Gerini 1387  Santa Felicità, Florence

The Chiesa di Santa Felicità is a small Oltrarno church whose facade holds up part of the Vasari corridor on its way to the Palazzo Pitti.  During my Florentine stay in 2014, I made repeated visits with the goal of seeing the 14th century Sala Capitolare, the Chapter Room,  in the older part of this former Benedictine convent.
I didn’t mind returning so often, and seeing my favorite Pontormo Annunciation in the Capponi Chapel, and the Poccetti murals in the chapel opposite to it.  I became friendly with the volunteer sitting inside the church who would see me coming in just about every week. She knew my name, because I’d given her my card in February, and she pronounced it Leeee-na. She wrote on a slip of paper “venerdi 13-16h” for me, meaning that between 1 and 4 PM on Fridays the Gothic sections of the building are open, and I kept this bit of paper in my wallet.
But every Friday when I returned, she would then say “oh, non oggi, non possiamo aprire la sala… puoi tornare la prossima settimana...” and then “sorry” the only English word she seemed to know. Apparently more volunteers were needed to escort people back there, and she was minding the door on her own.
The very last Friday of April, at the end of my sabbatical, I showed up one last time, and encountered a different volunteer, but the same rejection, and I was deeply embarrassed when my disappointment turned into tears. Why did I need to see this interior so badly? 

A pair of gilt reliquary busts designed for the relics of martyrs, Santa Felicità, Florence.
Earlier this year (2017) I made another visit, this time in a wheelchair having broken my ankle, and was elated to find the Sala Capitolare open, and two extra volunteers on hand to lay a plank on the stairs.  Erling took something of a running start to push me into the room, to the long-for glimpse of the Gothic painting inside. 

The chapter room of Santa Felicità, with a gothic ceiling and baroque murals
The Crucifixion mural and the ceiling of the Seven Virtues were painted in 1387 by Niccolò di Pietro Gerini, a follower of Giotto. Only traces of blue remain, and this is because blue pigments like lapis lazuli are generally unstable in wet plaster, and so are added over a red or brown base a secco, after the fresco is dry.  These tend to be the first to be lost, leaving the reddish color underneath, and as a result these paintings have an overall warm brown look. (In this case the color is further muddied by the fluorescent lights used in this room.)  The fields on this ceiling also show the ghosts of Giotto-style 8-pointed gilt stars.

A Favorite Detail:  The ribbed groin-vault of this ceiling is a painted effect.  What is actually a rather shallow barrel vault was given the appearance of ribbing by the addition of painted geometric boarders dividing the space into sections. A striped border changes direction, and a painted shadow along one side adds relief, making the ceiling feel taller, more graceful, and more substantial.  Other borders have faux-mosaic "cosmatesque" designs which enhance the illusion and act as frames for the panels.

cosmatesque borders flank the "ribs" of the trompe l'oeil groin vault, Santa Felicità, Florence

The allegorical figures of the Virtues, have square or octagonal halos.  This is, I have learned, a convention to distinguish them from angels or saints. Like saints, the figures are depicted with their attributes:  Fides (faith) holds a chalice with the host;  Charitas (charity) nurses a baby and holds a flame in her hand; Iustitia (justice) wields a sword and scales; Prudenza (prudence) is often depicted with a face on the back of her head and holding a snake; Spes (hope) holds up her hands in payer; Fortitudo (fortitude) carries a shield with a pillar.  Temperanza (temperance) (see first image above) puts a finger to her lips in silence and self-restraint.

The Seven Virtues, ceiling fresco painted by Pietro Gerini 1387,  Santa Felicità, Florence
Murals by Cosimo Ulivelli and Angelo Gori, 1665    Santa Felicità, Florence
The Chapter room and its pronaos (porch) had been open to the cloister on one side, and there had been a lot of moisture damage, but in 1615 this area was enclosed. Then in 1665, the artists Cosimo Ulivelli and Agnolo Gori frescoed the walls with murals and quadratura architecture. 
It's possible the older areas were painted over when the room was remodeled, but despite being aesthetically at odds with the ceiling,  the murals do seem to have been designed to work with it.

Santa Felicità was ordered to close on 11 October 1810, when Napoleon suppressed the monasteries of Florence. The murals were then completely whitewashed over, and have only recently been restored.

Let's review:   
Visits- lost count
Years - three
Cosmatesque ornament- check
Tears- twice (once inside the room) 
Virtues - seven.  No, eight - patience is also a virtue!


Santa Felicità has a new! website with some nice virtual visit links.

All photos in this post by Lynne Rutter, Florence, 2017.  click on images to view larger.