Home -> John J. Newbegin -> The City of Domes -> Chapter 18

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The Illuminating and the Reflections

That motionless steam engine, all in gray, harmonizing with the Travertine, was furiously at work. Into the air it sent clouds of steam that turned to red and blue and green under Ryan's magic. And up there, at the top of the Column of Progress, we saw the Adventurous Bowman and his companions in two groups, one reflected on the illuminated fog.

Through the smoke and the fog the bombs were shooting and breaking into great masses of liquid fire, golden and green and pink and yellow. "Someone says we're all children at heart," the architect remarked. "These fireworks get more attention than all the architecture and the art put together. But, after all, they're just about as beautiful as anything man can make and, in the way of color, they put the artists to shame."

We were part of the crowd that swept to the Court of the Universe, never so splendid as at night, with the columns reflected in the pool and Calder's star figures shining from the concealed electric bulbs. On reaching the court itself we stood at the end of one of the corridors and looked down. Great drops of light hung on the columns like molten gold. "Ryan has done something very artistic and unusual there," the architect remarked. "So far as I know nothing just like it has ever been done before. It suggests the tongues of fire mentioned in the Scripture that descended from Heaven."

In the sunken garden those two shafts, rising from the fountains, looking like stone by day, had become great candles, glowing from the base to the glass globe on top. "They're practically the sole means of illuminating this court. The other lights are merely ornamental. So far as I'm aware nothing just like these shafts has ever been tried in an Exposition or anywhere else. It's a novel Expositional effect. Some people don't like it; but most people admire it immensely. It symbolizes the gold that first drew the multitude to this part of the world. If the golden color had been used more extensively throughout the Exposition it would have helped a lot. Guerin gets it at night by means of the light that shines through the windows and Faville gets it in the light behind those wonderful doorways of his that haven't been praised half as much as they ought to be."

The Court of the Ages lured us along the dimly lighted inner court, the arches taking on an even more delicate beauty in the night light. Once within the court we found ourselves under the spell of Mullgardt's genius. The architecture, the cauldrons sending out pink steam, the flaming serpents, the torches on the tower, the warm lights from within the tower, the great ecclesiastical stars, brilliant with electricity, all carried out the idea of the earth, cast off by the sun.

In the entrance court we found the effects less magnificent but, in their way, just as beautiful. The lighting emphasized the refinement of the court, the rich delicacy of the ornamentation. "Mullgardt ought to go down into history for this contribution to the Exposition," said the architect. "He has shown that originality is still possible in architecture."

In the Court of the Four Seasons we watched the Emerald Pool turning the architecture into a mermaids' palace. The water flowing under the four groups of the seasons shone from an invisible light beneath, coloring it a rich green. "When Ryan promised to illuminate the water here without letting the source of the light be seen, it was thought by the people it couldn't be done." For a long time we sat in front of the lagoon where the swans were silently floating and, and the Palace of Fine Arts was reproduced with a deeper mystery. Now we could feel the relation between the colonnade and Gerome's chariot race. "It would please Gerome if he could know that he had helped to inspire so magnificent a conception," said the architect. "And if Boecklin could see this vision and hear that his Island of the Dead had started Maybeck's mind thinking of it he would probably be astonished and delighted at the same time. With his fine understanding of the influences operating in art he would see that his contribution did not in any way detract from Maybeck's originality. Down the centuries minds have been influencing one another and, in this way, adding to the sum of wisdom and beauty in the world. Now and then, as in this instance, we can plainly see the influences at work. Behind Boecklin and Gerome there were doubtless influences that led to their making those two pictures, inspirations from nature or from other artists, or both together. And this palace will doubtless inspire many another noble conception."

"When we apply that thought to the Exposition as a whole," I said, "we can see what a big influence it is likely to have on the art of the country."

"It has undoubtedly had a big influence already, even though we may not be able, as yet, to see it working. The very interest the Exposition has, aroused in the people that come here, whether they are artists or not, can't help being productive."

Seeing the Lights Fade

We went over to the South Gardens to see the lights change on the Tower of Jewels, passing the half-dome of Philosophy, the stained glass of the windows enveiling the background. They were still robing the tower in pure white, and the hundred thousand pieces of Austrian cut glass were shimmering. "They must have had a hard time getting those jewels fastened on the ornamentation of the upper tiers. The wind up there is very strong. Some of the men came near being blown off. It took pretty expert acrobatic work to hang the jewels out on the extreme edges.

Suddenly the lights on the tower glowed into red. The tower itself seemed to become thinner and finer in outline.

"There are people who don't like this color," said the architect. "It's fashionable nowadays to feel a prejudice against red. But it is one of the most beautiful colors in nature and one of nature's greatest favorites, associated with fire and with flowers. To me the tower is never so beautiful as it is when the red light seemed to burn from a fire inside. See how it tends to eliminate the superfluous ornamentation. It brings out the grace of line in the upper tiers, like folded wings. With just a few eliminations the improvement in that tower would be astonishing."

Presently the lights in the tower went out altogether. The four Italian towers also grew dim. It was getting late. People were hurrying out. But we lingered. We wished to see this city of domes as it appeared without any lights at all, except for those that were kept burning to meet the requirements of the law.

For an hour we roamed about the deserted place. Here and there we would meet a belated visitor or a group of people from some indoor festivity.

The material had taken on a finer quality. It looked like stone. Wonderful as the Exposition was by day and in the evening, it was far more wonderful at this hour.

Now it was easy to imagine the scene as a city, with the inhabitants asleep in their beds. But just what kind of city it was I could not make up my mind. When I expressed this thought to the architect, he said:

"Have you ever seen David Roberts' big illustrated volumes, 'Travels in the Holy Land'? If you haven't, look them up. Then you will see what kind of a city this city is. It's a city of Palestine. It's Jerusalem and Jaffa and Akka all over again."

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