Sunday, July 11, 2010

Wave Hill

NYC has every urban need you possibly could want, from a complex mass transit system to 24-hour delivery of food and drink. There is energy and chaos, as well as multiculturalism and cosmopolitanism. And yet with all this urban excitement, sometimes it's an absolute pleasure to take a day to leave the City for a little bit of nature. Today I went for the first time to Wave Hill, a public park and garden in the Riverdale section of the Bronx, with magnificent views overlooking the Hudson River and beds of picturesque flowers and shrubs arranged like English cottage gardens.

The day started with me making the trek to Inwood, the northernmost tip of Manhattan, where I met up with DC and walked around his neighborhood. This area is largely Dominican in population, and in many ways still retains the urban grit of old, working class New York with its noise, graffiti, and local bodegas. It calls to mind my childhood memories of the Bronx when I lived there and when we always returned in later years to visit family after we had moved to New Jersey. We ate a great brunch at the Indian Road Cafe, then took the Bx7 bus north to the Bronx. Despite most people's expectations about that borough, the Riverdale area is quite lovely. It has retained much of the Hudson River Valley feel, with flagstone churches and overhanging maple trees adorning quiet sidewalks.

Wave Hill is nestled in a community of private homes. It is governed by a Board of Trustees who, since the 1960s, have taken care of the gardens originally laid out in the early 1900s by George W. Perkins, an associate of J. Pierpont Morgan. The gardens themselves conjure the feel of Gilded Age New York. You can envision women in parasols and leg-of-mutton sleeves promenading with gentleman suitors or sitting in wooden pergolas smelling the honeysuckle flowers. It was an absolute joy not only to spend time just absorbing nature, but to watch so many people just leisurely reading in deck chairs under the limbs of trees. The website for Wave Hill has numerous pictures worth checking out.

But we also went here because there was an art exhibition in the Glyndoor Gallery called Propagating Eden: Techniques of Nature Printing in Botany and Art. I admit I wasn't expecting much from it, but I turned out to thoroughly enjoy the show, not only because of the array of works on display but also because of the discovery of how nature has always been used as a means in which to experiment with new techniques of artistic production. The exhibition focused on printmaking and photography from the 1700s to the present and included examples of work by everyone from the early 19th-century cyanotype photographer Anna Atkins to the conceptual and sculptural artist Kiki Smith. There was early colonial money with botanical themes printed by Benjamin Franklin, and an beautiful low-relief print of wheat stalks by Ed Ruscha that used a modern industrial technique that transforms paper pulp into sculpture. We were able to leave with free catalogs of the exhibition, which can be viewed online as well, so check it out just to see the great works on display.

We wrapped up our day with a long walk through Riverdale (okay, we got lost looking for the subway), got a bit drenched in a thunderstorm, drank coffee and doughnuts at a dive, and wound up at Scavengers, an antique shop, where I was thrilled to discover and purchase for only $40 a framed 19th-century engraving of the Duke of Wellington...but I'll blog about all that another time.

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