Atlas Unshrugged: H Street, NE

June 18, 2013

H Street is a wide boulevard in Northeast, large enough to hold the city’s past and expansive enough to herald the future. It’s still a work in progress, with sidewalks of cracking concrete, and almost as many permits on still un-rehabbed spaces as open and functioning stores, restaurants, and bars. It is a magnet for possibility, and it’s happening now.

Long-time D.C. resident and realtor Joel Martin recalled H Street was the third largest commercial district in D.C. from the ’20s through the ’40s, but much was destroyed in the riots of 1968. The Hechinger Mall was built in the late ’70s and was said to be the harbinger of urban development, but it took three decades for that to happen.

On a recent evening crowds poured out of restaurants and night spots, including Granville Moore’s Gastropub, Sticky Rice, the Coney Island-inspired Palace of Wonders, and the H Street Country Club. Everyone seemed to be having a good time and was respectful of one another. It reminded me a little of living in the East Village in the ’70s and walking Avenue A, then an edgy experience, but now in the heart of boutique-Manhattan. Residents of the Hill are thrilled by H Street’s resurgence, especially in this downturn economy.

Granville Moore’s is unique and when I stopped by on a Saturday night there was a two-hour wait for their mussels and Belgian beer. Dr. Granville Moore was a neighborhood doctor who provided free service for the sick in the house that it is now the restaurant. The interior is modeled on the traditional English pub. It is furnished simply, and the food is modern European.

I had stopped at Taylor’s during the day for an excellent salad and sandwich. The owners of Taylor’s, Casey Patten and David Mazza, both share an Italian/Philadelphia heritage and said that their aim was to make a great hoagie in D.C. They have succeeded well with bread imported from Philly. They gave me a tour of one of their high tech apartments above Taylor’s, as well as their office space just featured in Dwell magazine.

In recent years, the H Street corridor has developed its own theatre district, with the opening of the H Street Playhouse and the Atlas Performing Arts Center. In fact, the area is called the Atlas District. The H Street playhouse was the neighborhood pioneer in 2002, transforming what was originally a 1920s auto showroom into a 100-seat black box theatre. With up-and-coming troupes like the Theatre Alliance using the venue, the Playhouse gained a quick reputation as D.C.’s off-off-Broadway. If the H Street Playhouse still has a scrappy, upstart feel, the Atlas complex in the same block delivers something akin to a neighborhood Kennedy Center. This larger and glossier facility features four theatres, dance and rehearsal studios, a lounge, and production facilities. Theatre, dance, and musical groups use the Atlas, and you might find anything from the Washington Savoyards to the well-regarded In Series to jazz and cabaret on the monthly bill.

Moving to the area last year, Conner Contemporary opened a fantastic gallery space on Florida Avenue and recently sold a major work to the National Gallery. Annie Gawlak of G Fine Art is moving her gallery nearby. She says, “The 5 years at 1515 14th Street were invigorating for the gallery. But the forces of the real estate marketplace dictate that once the arts make a location attractive, restaurants, clubs, and other retail establishments move in. As a result the rents are raised. The area in Trinidad and the H Street Corridor is healthy for us. It is welcoming, has a diverse population that is desirable, and feels right. Leigh Conner and so many other individuals have made the area a known location for the arts. There are buildings that look like they would be perfect for artist housing and studios, it is exciting and already comfortable. I plan to open in probably two months.”

Right now in the middle of H Street new trolley tracks are being constructed. A trolley will bring a bit of old DC back into the new downtown and hopefully bring even more consumers into the area.

Siobhan Catanzaro, editorial director of The Georgetowner/Downtowner, lives near H Street. She relates, “My favorite place right now is Little Miss Whiskey’s. It’s really inconspicuous. It doesn’t even have a sign outside to tell you where it is, just a little purple light and on the weekends there is usually a wait to get in, but once you do get inside there is great music usually with a DJ on the second floor and good drinks.

“They also have an outside patio area so that is always a plus. Only drawback is that they take cash only, but I guess that stops me from spending too much money. I also like the H St. Country Club. It’s fun to go with a group of guys and girls because they have delicious mojitos and indoor miniature golf.” Siobhan is one of the many young professionals who find H Street their favorite destination.

The buzz on tater tots is that Sticky Rice’s are the best! It’s all about the special sauce served on the side and that a bucket of tots is a great appetizer for the whole table. People are going to Sticky Rice just for the tots! Now, can a cupcake place be far behind?—

Dvorak and Burleigh at Ellington

April 22, 2013

When Antonin Dvorak, Czech-born, came to America he had as his assistant the African American composer, Harry T. Burleigh. Burleigh would have an influence on Dvorak’s “New World Symphony,” composed in 1893, through introducing him to African American spirituals. A concert at Duke Ellington School of the Arts played by students from Ellington and Georgetown University will present music by Dvorak and Burleigh at Ellington conducted by Angel Gil-Ordóñez of the PostClassical Ensemble.

Speaking with Gil-Ordóñez, who also teaches at Georgetown University, about the upcoming concert I asked him about the collaboration and what he enjoyed the most about it. He replied, “the Duke Ellington students are younger than those of the Georgetown Orchestra students. You would think there would be less maturity in their approach to this music. Not the case. From the first rehearsal they had the same level of commitment and understanding than the Georgetown students. When I work with an orchestra I don’t make any difference between professionals, students or amateurs. There are only good or bad orchestras.”

I asked him as well about the Dvorak story in America. Gil-Ordóñez emphasized that it was “fascinating, Dvorak arrives in New York and feels immediately attached to the African American spirituals and to the dances and chants of the Native Americans. All this transpires in the ‘New World Symphony.’ Even without an explanation of this, when you play the work as an American you recognize yourself in it.”

The not-to-be missed performance of “Harry T. Burleigh meets Antonin Dvorak” including “Harry T. Burleigh and Plantation Song” will be presented at the Duke Ellington School of the Arts, Friday, April 19, at 7:30 p.m. 3500 R St. NW, Tickets: $15 (Georgetown University and Ellington students will be admitted free with ID.)

George Gordon, Architect

May 3, 2012

Meet the man behind several of Georgetown’s signature structures, including Patisserie Poupon, Bo Concepts and Patagonia. John Blee sits down for a chat with George Gordon, one of the neighborhood’s most prominent architects.

When you work with a client, how do you merge with their aesthetic? Or do you try to shift their taste in your direction?

We begin by listening to the client’s needs and vision for the project and interpreting them into a built form. For example, we recently worked with a restaurateur who wanted a sign and awning but on meeting him, we observed that the interior of the restaurant used a good bit of stainless steel. We designed a metal “awning” (instead of the fabric type normally seen) with a stylized sign of his logo in stainless steel. Although pricy, the client was thrilled with the concept and is eager to have the awning installed, extending the theme of his restaurant out over the sidewalk.

In designing a house what do you enjoy the most? What do you have to struggle with other than financial constraints?

In working with a client on a house or other owner/user residential spaces (apartments, etc.) what’s most satisfying — and actually most challenging too — is conceptualizing a design that envelopes the client’s lifestyle and image. It is easy to get a quick impression of how a person lives and what seems important to them, but in working with clients, the true concerns eventually emerge. Clients who have portrayed themselves as very traditional have been revealed to really dislike clutter, and in the design process gravitate toward a cleaner, more streamlined design. Clients who at first meeting almost demanded such finishes as granite countertops have reconsidered when a warmer, more welcoming palette of materials is presented to them. Summing up, it is a challenge to know when to listen and when to prod.

Where did you study, and who has influenced you as an architect?

I went to school at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and received a rigorous, though a bit technical, education. The people who have had a great influence on me as an architect are the architects who I worked for when I started my career. All architects admire the greats. Architects such at Le Corbusier, Lutyens and Kahn. But the greatest impact was from working with very talented architects and observing how they worked their “majic.”

Do you do interiors, including placement of furniture, and if so, is that more complex in terms of client preference?

Not usually. We do measure a client’s furniture and show furniture placement on the drawings to give a sense of room size and layout. But actual placement not as often.

Is the contractor someone you carry over from job to job?

We do have a preferred group of contractors, and view recommending general contractors to clients as kin to marriage brokering. One contractor’s operation may be better suited to a client’s personality and preferred way of doing things than another. We try to make that pairing.

What’s your fastest turn-around for designing a house from scratch, from drawings to the client moving in?

Probably about a year. There are many decisions to be made and clients often want a bit of time to consider all the choices. After all, they are going to live among the decisions for a long time, so better to do the best at first pass.

Do you do kitchens, and if so, what’s the most expensive job you’ve done and what did it include?

We do kitchens, usually in conjunction with another program component, such as a family room or outdoor space. The most involved kitchens have included professional equipment, specialty appliances (such as a custom-made French range) and specific equipment for specific tasks: pizza oven, etc.

How do you work with light in your houses, how is that achieved?

We like to be involved in the design and fixture selection of lighting systems. There is a good bit of new technology, such as scene controls, that will allow the client to further customize their living experience and adapt the feel of spaces to various situations, family living, Sunday brunch, elegant dinner party. The selection of fixtures from a performance point of view and energy consumption is very important. And what makes the space come to life more dazzlingly than really nice lighting?

What is the house you’ve worked on that you are most proud of?

A waterfront house in Annapolis. It is a very quirky design, very tailored for the client and the setting. For example, there is a roof dormer in the master bedroom that exactly frames a view of the [State House] dome. The framing of views, connection to the water and the play of the spaces, interior to exterior, has produced a sequential experience that must be seen. Photographs do not adequately capture the progressing through the house from front door to pier on the water.

Name the five best buildings in the D.C. area you did not design.

The Institute for International Economics on Massachusetts Avenue, the lobby of 1999 K St., the Christian Science Center on 16th Street, the Gannett Complex in McLean, and the National Association of Realtors building on New Jersey Avenue.

Other than your own, what house in D.C. would you most like to live in?

The Marcel Breuer house in northwest D.C.

Hugh and Simon Jacobsen, Architects


Few Washingtonians need introduction to Jacobsen Architecture, the Georgetown firm behind some of the snazziest edifices in Washington and the world, including the Smithsonian’s Renwick Gallery, the U.S. embassies in Paris and Moscow and several external additions to a little building called the U.S. Capitol. John Blee sits down to chat with father-son architecture aces Hugh and Simon Jacobsen.

When you work with a client, do you merge with their aesthetic, or do you try to shift their taste in your direction?

Our approach is that a client is not just another client or project, but rather an individual with a very unique set of circumstances, tastes, experiences, fears and enthusiasms who, out of all the architects in the world, has come to us to design their house and, hopefully forever, change their lives for the better. We listen with a kind of architectural stethoscope for the blatant design instruction and for the subtle murmur of something that they can neither explain nor describe.

In designing a house what do you enjoy the most, and what do you have to struggle with, other than financial constraints?

There is no greater satisfaction for architects and designers that when the initial presentation is complete, the client is no longer sitting in their chair but jumping up and down shaking your hand and trying to kiss you.

The struggle for us comes in the form of trying to get the project past the oceans architectural review boards in the international and national jurisdictions that we work in. We like to say “it is like giving birth to a barbed wire fence.”

Where did you study, and who has influenced you as an architect?

Hugh: Yale, much influenced by Lou Kahn.
Simon: The Chicago School of Architecture-UIC, influenced by Richard Meier and many deconstructionists and theorists of the Chicago School.

What is the easiest thing about working with clients, and what is the most difficult?

The easiest thing, of course, is being permitted to do what we do best, which is to streamline the project on time and on budget. The hard part comes when the client makes changes during construction, for whatever reason. We have very innovative and unique details and methods that are not intuitive at first sight to the builder. Much planning goes into the construction preparation and for it to change can be frustrating and expensive for everyone.

Do you do interiors, including placement of furniture? If so, is that more complex in terms of client preference?

We are one of the few firms in the world where the design of the building starts with the furniture (both ours and the owners’), in addition to art and light. Therefore, our completed building is a total envelope of a congruent aesthetic of a single company, rather than other firms, who seem to lock arms in an uncomfortable collaboration of people trying fruitlessly to coordinate the thousands of parts and hopefully getting them to fit together like ill-fitting puzzle pieces. In our work, the interiors and furniture is part of the architecture, and it doesn’t look as if someone stopped by at the last minute and lobbed in a bunch of stuff, hoping that it would work.

Is the contractor someone you carry over from job to job?

We are currently working in the Cayman Islands, California, Colorado, Maine, Nantucket, Washington, Melbourne (Australia), Florida, etc. We prefer to always work with the same builders when possible, for we go through a kind of teaching and explanation period on every new project and new builder. However, many of our projects are in “one-shot” locations, and in those places we are unable to use a preferred builder.

What’s the fastest turn around, in designing from scratch with a house, from drawings to the client moving in?

One year, and we still can’t believe it. The client didn’t make any changes!

Do you do kitchens, and if so, what’s the most expensive job you’ve done and what did it include?

Well, we have done million-dollar kitchens and we have done ten thousand-dollar kitchens. Our expertise is not building expensive kitchens, but really good ones. Yes, the $1 million kitchens do pop up, but we would rather spend that money on the roof or the pool — or just put the pool on the roof.

Light is what your firm is known for in his houses, how is that achieved?

To most people who know the work, it may appear that buildings just have a great deal of glass. Although this is key, it is only a fourth of the issue. We bring light inside, then it is prismed on reflective plains of the interior. The houses are positioned so that the sun doesn’t overpower the spaces, damaging art and fabrics, and we use walls of books, art and furniture to introduce color where the light then dances off all of the surfaces.

What is the house you’ve worked on that you are most proud of?

The ones we have underway now.

Name the five best buildings in the D.C. area you did not design.

The British Embassy, the East Wing of the National Gallery of Art, Society of Cincinnati, The Metropolitan Club, The US Capitol.

Other than your own houses, what house in D.C. would you most like to live in?

Hugh: Evermay.
Simon: The Egyptian Embassy off Sheridan Circle.

Did you design your own home, and if you did, what are you happiest with about it?

Hugh: That it has survived 40 years of children, mumps, measles, holidays, teenagers, illness, prosperity and the occasional visiting Republican.
Simon: That people walk by and look in the windows. I think it is also on a local tour map, where it is listed as “some weird guy’s all-white house.” [gallery ids="99167,103004" nav="thumbs"]

Jennie Mann, Realtor


Jennie Mann is a rising star in real estate sales and works for McWilliams/Ballard. She is the sales manager for Yale Steam Laundry, an up-and-comer in the condo world located in the exciting tip of Penn Quarter, right next to the new Urban Safeway.

What is the most memorable property you have closed yet?
My most memorable property was an amazing 1200-square-foot open space loft in the Yale Historic Building with 16-foot-high ceilings, exposed brick, big arching window — the works. It was beautiful!

How do you like to celebrate with your clients after you have closed a sale?
For general brokerage clients you can’t go wrong with a nice bottle of Champagne and a gift card to their favorite furniture store.

Have you sold to or worked with any local celebrities on a deal? And if so whom might we know?
I have, but I never kiss and tell.

What was the first thing you bought with your commission money besides paying bills?
The first thing I purchased with my commission was a quality handbag — a big quality handbag! I needed one that would fit my laptop and files.

Are you single or married? If single, do you date other agents ever or have you? If married, what does your spouse do?
I’m engaged to a wonderful man who is the co-founder and creative director of a branding agency located in Georgetown.

What is your dream home in the District to live in (on or off the market)?
In the District I would love to live in my good friends’ condo. They own a super modern penthouse unit [near Thomas Circle]. I admire their great taste, from their choice of artwork to their well-designed terrace. However, thanks to my Estonian fiancé’s influence, my ultimate dream home would have to be a pre-fab home. Pre-fab homes can be custom-designed to fit the homeowners’ lifestyle, plus they reduce waste and save on energy. I value function over wasted space. Less is definitely more. I think people add clutter and spend too much money on unnecessary decorations for their home. Who needs 15 vases and 20 decorative pillows? For example, someone once gave me a teddy bear for Valentine’s Day and I kept thinking to myself, “where the hell am I going to put this?” I sent it to Goodwill the next day.

What is your favorite thing about being an agent in the business?
The best thing about my job is that every day is different. I learn something new every day. I meet people from all different walks of life and having a flexible schedule doesn’t hurt.

How do you get your face out there? Do you use advertising, marketing, charities, or community involvement?
I used to attend a lot of networking parties and events. However, these days I find that the best way to generate business is through referrals from friends and family.

What are some trends you see in the market?
Being environmentally responsible is a big trend. We have a more conscious buyer these days. People are actively seeking out green buildings with LEED certification and using sustainable materials for their homes. It’s a trend that I hope will stay around for good.

Robin Waugh, Realtor


Robin Waugh, a specialist in the luxury market, has recently joined up with Tutt, Taylor & Rankin Sotheby’s International Realty, bringing with her experience and fantastic energy. We sat down to chat about being a realtor in today’s market.

Where do you live? And why did you pick that area?

My principal residence is located just across Chain Bridge, for easy access to D.C. I have a third of an acre lot with beautiful gardens, a spacious four-bedroom, three-bath, two-car garage brick home. Though I am always looking in D.C. for a beautiful space at the right price!

What is the highest ticket you have closed yet?

$3 million is the most my clients have spent, though a few almost pushed higher.

What are some of the special/extra things you have done for a client in order to help them purchase or like you more?

Each client is unique. I try to understand how they perceive the process and work diligently to make it happen! On the listing side, I “stage” my listings creatively, hopefully lending them a “wow” factor for a top-dollar sale! I truly enjoy celebrating a successful transaction with my clients. One of my most memorable client celebrations was a delicious chef’s tasting dinner with wine pairs at CityZen. We were seated right behind Robert Redford and Tony Bennett arrived later that evening. Our dinner was fabulous, though I was in awe of celebrities in our midst. Of course, kids and animals hold a soft spot in my heart — prezzies and treats go a long way — they’re easy to please!

Have you sold to/worked with any local celebrities on a deal? And if so, whom might we know?

You may know them, books have been written about them and by them; however, most prefer discretion, which I must honor.

What were your highest commissions made so far on a deal? And what was the first thing you bought with the money earned, besides paying bills?

I have had some very nice paychecks, the commission is customarily 6 percent; when I have both listing and sale sides it’s a bonus! I work very long days and weeks, and so I would compare our salaries with most other hard-working professional groups in D.C. That said, jewelry, art, designer clothes and shoes are my selfish splurge. I love that I can give back to local and national charities.

Are you single or married? If single, do you date other agents ever or have you? If married, what does your spouse do?

I live with my significant other, who is consults to a bank in Milan, Italy. We’ve had some incredible trips to Venice, Rome, Lake Como, NYC and more!

What is your dream home in the District to live in?

It’s one I admire from afar! It’s of my dream garden in an historic 1831 Georgetown property with rear veranda’s overlooking Marc Chagall’s 30-square-foot mythical mosaic hung on their brick garden wall surrounded by dogwood and magnolia trees, climbing roses, ivies and elegant border plantings … ahhh!

What is your favorite thing about being an agent/in the business?

That there’s always a new challenge involving the inherent complexities, architecture, design, construction, families, communities, negotiations, marketing. One must be very creative to stay competitive. Plus, I feel privileged to represent some of the most beautiful private homes!

How do you get your face out there do you use advertising, marketing, charities, or community involvement?

I advertise using both print and online campaigns. I am involved in several local and national charities, including various social events. Last month, I was on the host committee for the fifth annual “Turn Up the Heat on Ovarian Cancer,” with over forty women chefs contributing. This month it’s a fundraiser for Clark Ray for D.C. city council, on March 9 at Peacock Café in Georgetown. I’ve lived in D.C. since 1983 and I enjoy meeting new people. We have an ever-evolving community of exciting and vibrant people; I love how we maintain a sense of community with a global perspective!

‘Art in Congress’

November 3, 2011

I have often noticed the incredible exterior of the 19th-century house at the corner of Q and New Hampshire. It is every bit as grand on the inside as the outside and it houses the Woman’s National Democratic Club (1526 New Hampshire Ave.). There is currently a show there (through July 22) entitled “Art in Congress,” with works by members of the U.S. Congress and their families. Everyone can cheer the inclusion of Representative Barney Frank’s partner, Jim Ready, who has a large photograph, “Inauguration Day, January 20, 2009.” It depicts the view of the crowd attending the Obama inauguration in epic manner.

The works in the show contain some surprises, including the thought that Senator Diane Feinstein of California could quit her day job and launch a respectable career as a floral artist. Though she is needed in the Senate, her lovely “Autumn Bouquet” would be welcome to anyone needing some quiet color affirmation. And Representative Raul Grijalva of Arizona displays some very strong graphic gifts in his “Long Day of Legislating,” drawn with a Sharpie. One can feel the tension of April 28, 2007 in his jagged linear qualities.

A surprise is also the sumi-e brush painting on rice paper by Representative Jim McDermott, of Washington. He has been classically trained in the sumi-e technique, and his “Mountain Bamboo” brings its auspicious freshness to the show. On a totally different note, Representative Dina Titus of Nevada shows her book cover for “Bombs in the Backyard: Atomic Testing.” It is appropriately grim.

Erin Kelly, daughter of Representative Betsy Markey of Colorado, is a gifted photographer. She has a diverse body of work that shows a wide range of styles. Representative Mazie K. Hirono of Hawaii is represented by a technically accomplished clay sculpture entitled “Tokyo Dango” that includes cherry tree twigs. There is a bit of ikebana in the piece; it is bold, but in a graceful way.

There is a poem by Representative Diane E. Watson of California entitled “Aunt Gert.” Poems should be found more often on the wall. And California Congressman Mike Thompson has a very skillfully done “Drake Hunting Decoy” made of redwood, oil, and glass, used for duck hunting in the Pacific Flyway of California.

Suzanne Finney of the Woman’s National Democratic Club’s Arts Committee accompanied me through the show. I asked her in the spirit of bipartisanship if any Republicans were invited, and she smiled in response. [gallery ids="99134,102722,102714,102699,102707" nav="thumbs"]

Adam Lister Gallery


Think “alternative space” and your mind will conjure up concrete floors, unfinished walls, improvised lighting with wires dangling from the ceiling. Alternative spaces in the hip, art world sense are somewhat rare in D.C., but are even rarer outside D.C. itself, let alone outside the Beltway, as the Adam Lister Gallery (3995 Chain Bridge Road, Fairfax, VA) is. Adam Lister is a Fairfax native who recently returned from New York after studying at the School of Visual Arts. Like many artists in New York, he lived and worked in Brooklyn. While living there he was involved in organizing and participating in art exhibits within alternative spaces, as well as galleries in NYC and New Jersey. He’s even done a show in the back of a Ryder moving van!

Adam recalls, “We would drive all over the five boroughs of New York City, parking on streets and opening up our show in different neighborhoods. I also ran a studio space in the industrial section of East Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The studio was in an old factory building, and we turned a raw 1000 square foot room into a six-studio ‘art lab’ for young emerging New York artists. I’m interested in the struggle and tension visible in young frustrated artists.”

The truth of alternative spaces is found in the rawness of its art. It is often more than a little unvarnished and with that famous edge, cutting or no. This is true of the Adam Lister Gallery, where many of the artists showing are still actually in graduate school. The work is inventive and searching. Its energy is undeniable. What it lacks in finesse is made up in earnestness, something often lacking in more “finished” work by artists further along. The urge to create here seems stronger, more palpable. There is more fumbling perhaps because more is being attempted.

One standout in the current show is Stephanie Rivers, the granddaughter of Larry Rivers, whose work fuses images from nature with graduated stripes. But the work in the show that is most magnetic, literally, is by Adam Lister, who uses magnets in surprising ways to create installation pieces as well as sculpture. His use of color is his own, and a pleasure for the eye. There are a number of pieces that incorporate mosaic, a technique Adam acquired while restoring New York subway stations.
With his gallery, Lister aims “to provide an environment and exhibition space for emerging artists at different levels in their careers. I currently have a rotating exhibition schedule and we’re in the process of setting up artist ‘labs’ for artists to have space to experiment, create, and have their work seen by the public. I would also like to create a space that offers rare and unique, quality artwork, in an area that craves a contemporary art space.” The gallery is currently doing an open call for a 2010 summer group exhibition. Submissions should be made online at www.adamlistergallery.com.
[gallery ids="99052,99053,99054,99055" nav="thumbs"]

In the Realm of the Buddha at the Sackler


At the Sackler Gallery, a wonderful exhibition of Tibetan art, “Lama, Patron, Artist: The Great Situ Panchen,” as well as a spectacular recreation of a Tibetan altar, have just opened. Situ Panchen was an 18th-century Tibetan version of the Abbé Suger, engendering the Encampment style that incorporated aspects of Chinese landscape and color. There are incredible paintings (thangkas) and bronzes in the show that have an amazing spiritual intensity. Though Tibetan Buddhist art is very much related to Chinese and Indian Buddhist art, it is somehow able to magnify its implosiveness.

Situ Panchen was an artist himself, and for that reason he was probably very interested in shaping the art that was produced for monasteries that were part of the Karma Kagyü sect he belonged to. Because Situ Panchen was a Rimpoche (reincarnated Lama), his life is chronicled, unlike most Tibetan artists. We know that Situ Panchen began to paint even before he had been schooled in painting. At the age of 15 he undertook instruction in iconometric proportions. One of the Karmapa Lamas, the leader of the Tibetan Buddhist sect that Situ Panchen belonged to, was also a noted painter.

The Encampment style of painting had emerged in central Tibet in the late 16th century. It was called by that name because the Karmapas lived in portable encampments, or moveable monasteries. There had subsequently been political problems that had resulted in the suspension of the style. Situ Panchen re-empowered the style.

Looking at Tibetan painting as a whole, the Encampment style stands out as being freer and having an extra element of fantasy. It also uses a sweeter and softer green and has some amazing landscapes, thanks to its Chinese infusion. In the midst of skies there are conjoined figures. It is symbolic, but at some level it is also sexual. Perhaps it is truly visionary sexuality.

In the show there are also some staggering sculptures of Lamas, some of the greatest portrait sculpture ever.

The Tibetan Shrine, with the contents of the Alice S. Kandell collection, makes an enormous impact. Though viewing individual works of art is preferable in the museum manner of the Situ Panchen show, the power of the actually quite-small chapel is possibly greater. I took students of mine, not well versed in art and not at all in Tibetan art, to see the show and chapel. They had a hard time looking long at anything. They stood and gazed into the fantastic array of Bodhisattvas and Demons and Lamas for many minutes, getting it. One student remarked it was just like his (Ethiopian) church. The chapel was truly enlightening. (Through July 18.)

Diane Epstein: All the Flavor of Rome


It’s the Eternal City, and Diane Epstein has lived there for 15 years, where she is renowned not only for her photography but for her culinary accomplishments. And food is one of the subjects of her photography. Epstein has evolved a technique that she calls fresco photography. She has it printed on stone, but it’s the fusion of images she shoots and reshoots, layering into them images of Roman walls, that creates the resonance. Thus they have a blurred look that gives them their unique vintage.

Epstein does not shy from the familiar: it’s the Pantheon Dome (looking suspiciously like National Gallery rotunda,) the Forum, St. Peter’s, the Castel St. Angelo and the Coliseum. But there is also piselli (peas,) aglio (garlic,) and best of all carciofi (artichokes) looking like roses, almost. Some very beautiful limoni are one of her subjects as well.

Originally from New York and California, Epstein is self-taught in photography. She admires many photographers, but it is the impressionist painters who inspire her most. She mentions especially Cézanne and Renoir.

Recently she has had several commissions that have caused her to print her photographs in very large sizes so that her work has the feel of murals. She prints the fruits and vegetables in fairly small sizes, perfect for the kitchen.

In her culinary habit, she wanders around Rome with tourists and collects local produce and then prepares a feast. Epstein also shares her feast of Rome in her photographs. (At Susan Calloway Fine Arts, 1643 Wisconsin Ave., opening April 9.)