The Arts and the Liberal Arts
I’ve lived in this Ohio forest for three years, but I hadn’t yet been to the Forest City. Recently, I fixed that: my friend Hannah and I drove north to see the Cleveland Ballet adapt Bizet’s opera “Carmen” at Playhouse Square, and stayed overnight to spend a day at the Cleveland Museum of Art. Outside of New York, Playhouse is our nation’s largest performing arts center, and the beauty of its eponymous theater testifies to the noble history of fine arts in the Midwest.
As we walked down Euclid Avenue, buildings slowly replaced ballet as the subject of our discussion. I noticed the distinctive architecture — detailed facades welcomed light and shadow onto their graceful moulding, and the handcrafted stone culminated vertically, inviting the eye upward. I realized that thanks to our village, I could better appreciate the city.
I live in Old Kenyon, which is flanked by Hanna and Leonard Halls. As anyone on the Hill would attest, these parts make a whole; the buildings complement each other. I felt similarly about the buildings on and around Euclid Avenue, and I realized that merely living on the Hill is an architectural education. Contemplating Kenyon’s Gothic buildings has taught me to look past the modern metro area’s sheer glass reflections and appreciate the humanity of ye olde stone textures — here-bumpy, there-graceful masonry. Around every corner, I found some new delight (I especially enjoy gargoyles). I saw Cleveland with Kenyon eyes, and found warmth in an unfamiliar place.
The Cleveland Museum of Art is only two hours from Kenyon, and the museum is free. Free! This fact bears repeating. The original neoclassical marble is a sight in itself, but recent additions complement it well. Right outside the entrance is a cast of “Le Penseur” (or “The Thinker”), one of the most famous sculptures in the world. But this is perhaps the most unique version of Rodin’s masterpiece.
One night in 1970, unknown radicals laid a bomb that obliterated his bronze feet. Mercifully, when I visited the Cleveland “Penseur” last weekend, his countenance was still pensive; his thinking was not disturbed. (An aside: I recently heard this Russian phrase: В ногах правды нет. Transliteration? V’nogakh pravdy niet. Translation? There’s no truth in the legs; one thinks best while sitting.)
Walk past our “Penseur,” check your coat and step into a glass atrium one could well measure in acres. Proceed directly past the tidy troupe of trees and enter the East building, which is the proper place to start your journey, not least because you will be greeted by “The Cleveland Apollo.” Having survived nearly three millennia and the trip from Athens, Greece, to Ohio, he is not to be missed.
Now that we have found our way back to bronze sculpture, we must return via the Greeks to Rodin, and thereby from the city back to our village. In one wonderful sunlit room, the Cleveland Museum features “The Age of Bronze,” which a Kenyon student can’t help but notice. Why? Because it clearly foreshadows “Renaissance Man and Woman,” a statue made specifically for Kenyon.
Usually I write about Gambier’s natural beauty, but such human contributions as building and statue raise Kenyon to a higher dimension. Earlier I observed that Ohio has much to offer, and now I will broaden the point to say that one cannot let this hill lapse into mere surroundings. To actively appreciate Kenyon’s beauty is to truly understand the poetry of this dwelling, written from steeple to tree, from Gothic to Gund, from the grand “Renaissance Man and Woman” to the simplicity of a group of friends studying together.