The artisans who created the tile floor mosaics of the Athens asylum which can be seen in the Kennedy Museum of Art were working in an ancient tradition.
In Rome today I was reminded of this by the ornate floors in this marble design in the nave of the basilica Santa Maria in Trastevere.
This afternoon my friend Lynne Lancaster, author of Concrete Vaulted Construction in Imperial Rome, gave me a fabulous introduction to the Pantheon complete with scholarly details. The deep Imperial Purple stone here, part of a huge circular floor tile in the Pantheon, is porphyry quarried two thousand years ago in Egypt and brought to Rome by boat.
Lynne also introduced me to the gelato combination of chocolate and pistachio, one scoop each!
This spring I took a linoleum block printing class at the Kennedy Museum of Art. Our instructor, printmaker Elizabeth Ferrill, showed us her pen and ink drawings of The Ridges. You can see more of Elizabeth’s work at elizabethferrill.com.
The former living spaces of the asylum superintendent and his family – second floor in the painting below left – are now studio and gallery spaces.
Finally it is spring in Athens. Hundreds of acres on the old asylum grounds are green and blooming. Here’s a dandelion on the steps of what was originally the women’s dining room.
The meadows and woods behind Cemetery 2 are great for hiking, and this old forsythia hedge is on Dairy Lane, formerly part of the asylum’s dairy operations.
Last week while hiking on The Ridges I met Will and Robert, from Cleveland, who are finishing up the demolition of Building 26. The wood has already been hauled away, the metal recycled, and the two men are in Athens to dispatch with the enormous piles of brick, stone, and mortar left from the project.
Will runs this big blue crusher, filling it first with cubic yard size backhoe buckets of the stone. The crushed material is loaded into a dump truck which Robert drives up toward Radar Hill and empties onto the road. We will soon have a newly graveled path there; instead of mud we will be walking on the remains of Building 26.
Will’s daughter has been accepted to Ohio University, among other schools, for the fall and is trying to decide where to go. I told him she is already a Bobcat.
Last week Building 20 (left, photo taken this afternoon) on The Ridges was closed as “unsafe for occupancy.” Five to eight million dollars are required to make it habitable with updates and repairs to mechanical and electrical systems.
Completed in 1950 as a general hospital for the Athens asylum, the 45,000 square foot building hosted lobotomist Dr. Walter Freeman. Wrote Supt. Fockler in a memo dated 13 December 1956:
We have been doing lobotomies here at Athens for several years and several hundreds of them have been done…the operation is not without risk, therefore, it is not resorted to until other methods of treatment such as ECT, tranquilizing drugs or routine therapy have failed to bring about a cure…Dr. Freeman comes twice a year for a series of operations…The mortality rate from this operation has been given as from two to five per cent. In the last 55 operations we had one death due to fatal hemorrhage. (p. 179, Asylum on the Hill: History of a Healing Landscape.)
For more information on Dr. Freeman, see The Lobotomist by Jack El-Hai.
It was cold this afternoon on The Ridges, with wind and snow. I walked up to view the demolition site at Building 26, left.
I had wondered whether the little group of deer that stays just below the site would be affected by the commotion: apparently not much. I asked one of the men working on the project whether the deer were still around and he nodded yes and pointed them out. The men have been poking around the area looking for deer antlers, haven’t found any yet.
Demolition of Building 26 on The Ridges, locally known as the TB Ward, is well underway. I was encouraged to read that the university plans to develop the site as a green space, so appropriate for its beautiful hilltop view of the grounds, the river and Athens.
I have stayed away from the demolition site as asbestos is a factor in the work, but here is a photo from The Post. Read here the latest news, a piece in The Post by Will Drabold on the re-activation of a university advisory committee charged with planning for The Ridges.