Monday, September 23, 2013

Art & Sol events include architectural tours in Saginaw, Midland and Bay City

by janet i. martineau

Strange as it may seem, architecture is playing a prominent role in the Fall In...Art and Sol festival hosted throughout the Great Lakes Bay Regional late September through October.

Billed as the world’s first solar art festival, Art and Sol is showcasing seven outdoor solar art pieces from around the world, installed in such venues as the FirstMerit Event Park in Saginaw, Wenonah Park in Bay City and Dow Gardens in Midland.

Some of them are massive, like “Night Garden” with its giant lotus flowers more than 12 feet in diameter along with tulips and dewdrops -- all colorfully powered solar energy charged by the sunlight during the day and illuminated through energy-saving LED lights at night.  

And others are smaller and rather than color offer solar-powered sound --  including Craig Colorusso’s “Sun Boxes,” consisting of 20 sound speakers, each powered by the sun via solar panels, each with a computer board loaded with a recorded guitar note and programmed to play continuously in an evolving loop.

Example of a Luxfer Prism window
So, as a part of the festival celebrating the sun, Saginaw’s Castle Museum is sponsoring four walking or bus tours dealing with Tiffany windows, Luxfer prism plate installations, stained glass and a greenhouse complex that once was.

“All of them will deal with the theme of light and how transmitted light has been used in architecture -- both pragmatically and aesthetically,” says Thomas F. Trombley, the Castle Museum’s deputy director. “All will last about 2 hours and all will require some walking.”

Midland’s Alden B. Dow Home and Studios is hosting a one-day  “Light From Above” tour of nine Midland churches -- its title referring not only to the sun’s rays but also the heavenly father up there with the sun.

“We chose nine of what we consider the most historically significant of the 101 churches we have in Midland County,” says Craig McDonald, the director of the Alden B. Dow Home and Studios of the tough choice.

And the Bay County Historical Society is chiming in with its annual “Tour of Homes,” featuring seven dwelling built form the late 1880s onward.

“We might be the stretch,” says Judy Jeffers, co-chair of the “Tour of Homes” and president of the Bay County Historical Society. “But it is outdoor event with the traveling from home to home, and many have gardens that are a product of the sun.”

The schedule, in order of occurrence, is;

-- Sunday, Sept. 29, “Capturing Daylight: Luxfer Prism Plate Installations in Old Town Saginaw,” a walking tour. 

As Trombley explains it, in the early 20th century, buildings throughout the country were transformed by an innovative glazing system manufactured by the Luxfer Prism Company of Chicago (with the commissioned help of a guy named Frank Lloyd Wright). Through the use of carefully positioned ribbed glass panels, natural light was directed into interiors. 

“It was all about putting daylight into buildings,” says Trombley. 

Several spots in Old Town Saginaw -- the Red Eye Cafe and Jake’s Old City Grill among them -- still include examples of this firm’s work and during the 2pm walking tour participants will explore the history of the firm and how its products transformed those buildings in Old Town Saginaw. 

$5. Reservations required by calling (989) 752-2861.

-- Wednesday, Oct. 2, “Tiffany Studios Installations,” a bus tour.

In the early 20th Century, New York’s famed Tiffany Studios was renowned for its decorative designs and innovations in how light was transmitted through stained glass. 

The 2pm tour will visit Tiffany windows in three churches (First Presbyterian, St. John Episcopal and First Congregational), exploring the histories of the windows and the buildings in which they are located.

“And it also includes a stop at Oakwood Cemetery (in Saginaw Township),” says Trombley. “Tiffany Studios also created granite-carved cemetery monuments.”

$20. Reservations required by calling (989) 752-2861`.

-- Sunday, Oct. 13, “Bay County Historical Society Tour of Homes.”

The seven homes on the self-guided tour are open from 11am to 5pm, says Jeffers, and are on both the east and west sides of the city. “We have Victorian homes, an Aladdin kit home (the pre-cut mail order company was based in Bay City), an Arts and Crafts style home that hints of Frank Lloyd Wright.

“One of them, built in 1888 for a doctor who had his office in the basement, is now a funeral home.”

Annually participants come from all over the state for this event, says Jeffers. “I think it is because we have so many large homes, on Center Avenue, that were built by rich lumber barons and have been well maintained.”
As is traditional with this annual tour, Jeffers says guides will be in the rooms open to the public at each venue to talk about the history of the home and point out furnishings of interest.”

Tickets are $12 in advance and $15 the day of the tour, on sale only at the historical museum, 321 Washington Ave. and by calling (989) 893-5733. A free shuttle service between locations is also available for those who prefer to let someone else do the driving, she said.

-- Wednesday, Oct. 16, “Stained Glass Windows of Saginaw,”  bus tour.

Trombley is keeping all the destinations secret, but they will include both the west side and east side of the city, both churches and private installations; some viewed just from the exterior and others by going inside.

“To be truthful, I am still working on the line-up,” he says. “There is no shortage of choices.”

2pm. $20. Reservations required by calling (989) 752-2861.

Memorial Presbyterian
-- Saturday, Oct. 19, “Light From Above: Midland’s Houses of Faith.”

The free self-guided tour runs noon to 4pm, says McDonald. And only three of the nine were designed by native son Alden B. Dow. “We wanted this tour to showcase all different styles, not just his, as well as several different faiths.”

As McDonald explains it, participants can start at any one of the nine churches, where they will receive a guide booklet providing background on each church as well as an overall locator map. Guides will be at each venue to talk about the church and answer questions.

“A committee looked at photos of all 101 churches in our county and discussed them and then chose the nine based on the architect and the design; that they brought a richness to the community; a high quality. They date from the 1950s onward.”

St. John's Lutheran
The churches are St. John’s Lutheran, 505 Carpenter; United Church of Christ, 4100 Chestnut Hill; St. John’s Episcopal, 405 N. Saginaw; Trinity Lutheran, 3701 S. Jefferson;  First United Methodist, 315 W. Larkin; Poseyville Methodist, 1849 S. Poseyville; Blessed Sacrament, 3109 Swede; Holy Scripture Lutheran, 4525 W. Main, and Memorial Presbyterian, 1310 Ashman.

McDonald says limiting each stop to 20 minutes should allow each visitor enough time to view all nine, which includes the travel time between them.

-- Saturday, Oct. 19, “Tour of a Vanished Greenhouse Complex” walking tour, starting at 2pm at 1805 Gratiot in Saginaw.

Throughout his work, Pulitzer-winning poet Theodore Roethke incorporated references to the extensive greenhouses of his family’s floral business in back of his boyhood home at 1805 Gratiot.

The greenhouses were demolished more than 60 years ago and houses stand where carnations, sweet peas and geraniums once thrived. However, the neighborhood that replaced them still provides clues to their existence. 

During this half-mile walk, Trombley will explore the neighborhood and use 
photographs and tape measures to bring these vanished greenhouses to life. And Roz Berlin, a member of the River Junction Poets, will read some of Roethke’s greenhouse-inspired works. 

Free but preregistration required by calling (989) 752-2861. 

Not all of the stops on the architectural events are barrier free.

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