Northeast Times

A robust new Rodin

A ren­ov­ated Rod­in was un­veiled last week. Three years of work to the ex­ter­i­or of the mu­seum yiel­ded an al­lur­ing garden area, foun­tain and walk­way around the mu­seum.

After three years of work, the Rod­in Mu­seum’s ren­ov­ated pub­lic gar­dens are bring­ing a new sense of splendor to the Park­way.

On Ju­ly 14, 1789, French in­sur­gents stormed the gates of the Bastille.  This me­di­ev­al pris­on and fort­ress was the primary sym­bol of French roy­al power, and its fall marked the de­teri­or­a­tion of the An­cien R&ea­cute;gime and the be­gin­ning of the French Re­volu­tion.
Some 222 years later, on a gor­geous morn­ing in Phil­adelphia, loc­al friends and art pat­rons stormed the gates of the Rod­in Mu­seum. Well, really, they walked, as­tutely, through the French in­spired lime­stone arch­ways.
Non­ethe­less, this too was the mark­ing of a ce­re­mo­ni­ous event — the com­ple­tion of a three-year renov­a­tion pro­ject to the mu­seums’ grounds and gar­dens.
The Rod­in Mu­seum, loc­ated along the Ben­jamin Frank­lin Park­way, is home to one of the largest col­lec­tions of works by French sculptor Au­guste Rod­in, and has been a beacon of art and cul­ture since its open­ing in Novem­ber 1929.  Ori­gin­ally born through the vis­ion of col­lect­or and phil­an­throp­ist Ju­les Mast­baum, and ex­ecuted through the tal­ents of French ar­chi­tect Paul Cret and land­scape de­sign­er Jacques Gr&ea­cute;ber, the mu­seum and its sur­round­ing gar­dens is a cel­eb­rated trib­ute to both fine art and to a city ded­ic­ated to the sup­port and main­ten­ance of cul­ture in daily life.
The renov­a­tion pro­ject, a $20 mil­lion en­deavor, was brought to fruition through fund­ing from the state and city, as well as the Pew Char­it­able Trusts, the John S. and James L. Knight Found­a­tion, and the Wil­li­am Penn Found­a­tion.
OLIN, one of the na­tion’s premi­er land­scape design firms, over­saw the pro­ject, work­ing closely with the in­tent of Gr&ea­cute;ber’s ori­gin­al French design, stray­ing only to provide the gar­dens with more prac­tic­al, in­di­gen­ous spe­cies. Im­prove­ments such as re­struc­tured path­ways, im­proved light­ing, benches, and bet­ter ir­rig­a­tion and lawn con­trol, have trans­formed the once over­grown and trampled ground in­to a truly won­der­ful, in­spired space.
On Thursday morn­ing, in the shaded area sur­round­ing a 1926 cast of Rod­in’s fam­ous sculp­ture, The Thinker, a group of vis­it­ors and sup­port­ers gathered for an open­ing re­cep­tion of the re­ju­ven­ated gar­dens.  A light breeze swelled as key lead­ers of the city and the Rod­in pro­ject wel­comed the guests and cel­eb­rated this fi­nal stage of trans­form­a­tion.
“Great cit­ies de­serve great gar­dens,” said Timothy Rub, dir­ect­or and CEO of the Phil­adelphia Mu­seum of Art. “They are an es­sen­tial part of the urb­an ex­per­i­ence and in this re­gard, Phil­adelphia is truly blessed … Through shared goals, we can achieve great things … and this pro­ject is about stew­ard­ship; re­new­ing a great in­sti­tu­tion and pre­serving it for our fu­ture gen­er­a­tions.”
Fol­low­ing the open­ing ce­re­mony, guests moved through the arch­way in­to the mag­ni­fi­cently re­struc­tured court­yard, com­plete with a shal­low pool and foun­tain, sym­met­ric­ally de­signed gar­dens and stairs lead­ing to the Rod­in’s haunt­ing en­trance, The Gates of Hell.
Guided tours were con­duc­ted by OLIN land­scape ar­chi­tect Susan Weiler, whose know­ledge and pas­sion were evid­ent as she led guests through the garden’s in­tim­ate path­ways, ex­plain­ing the pro­ject’s goal of restor­ing co­hes­ive­ness along the Park­way, which was also de­signed by Gr&ea­cute;ber, and con­nects Phil­adelphia’s ma­jor mu­seums and artist­ic in­sti­tu­tions.
As the Rod­in is fam­ous for its bronze, marble and plaster sculp­ture, ef­forts con­tin­ue to place these pieces in their in­ten­ded loc­a­tions in and around the mu­seum.  Already, the breath­tak­ing Burgh­ers of Cal­ais has been moved out­doors to the mu­seum’s east side, cre­at­ing a won­der­ful garden al­cove.  And there will be more to come as the Rod­in closes in Septem­ber for in­teri­or renov­a­tions and the Ben Frank­lin Park­way con­tin­ues its re­ju­ven­a­tion pro­ject through 2012, end­ing with the re­lo­ca­tion of the Barnes’ Found­a­tion just steps away from the Rod­in Mu­seum.
“Today, we are stand­ing in a spot that has been il­lus­trated time and time again as clas­sic im­age of Phil­adelphia.  This is a place the world equates with our city: green, dappled with life, in­tim­ate, and most im­port­ant, in­vit­ing, said Gail Har­rity, pres­id­ent and COO of the Phil­adelphia Mu­seum of Art.
The Rod­in Mu­seum is loc­ated on the Ben­jamin Frank­lin Park­way at 22nd Street. The garden is open Tues­day through Sunday from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and there is no fee for tours.
For more in­form­a­tion, vis­it www.rod­in­mu­seum.org or call (215) 568-6026.••

You can reach at ebrooks@bsmphilly.com.

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