|Home -> Paul Elder - > The Art of the Exposition -> The Illumination - Conclusion|
While a daytime investigation of the Exposition no doubt has its rewards, the full meaning of the Exposition reveals itself at night. Never before has an Exposition been illuminated in the unique fashion of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition.
Former exposition lighting consisted of a lavish display of lighting fixtures, and of unavoidable millions of glaring bulbs, the number of which nobody was permitted to forget. The offensive glare of the direct light had to be eliminated to preserve that feeling of tonality, of restfulness, so impressive in daytime. In other words, the sources of all lights at night have been concealed, or so concentrated that they could be far removed, so as not directly to offend the eye. The effect is very much like the flood of light of a full-moon summer night.
In speaking of the rich mellowness of the lighting effect, one feels again compelled to speak of the travertine stucco as the artistic foundation of not only the architecture, sculpture, painting, and landscape garden effects, but also of the illuminating effects designed by Mr. W. D'A. Ryan, and executed by Mr. Guy L. Bayley. Without the mellow walls and rich orange sculptural details, no such picture of tonal beauty could have been produced.
It is difficult to single out, among the many suggestive pictures, the most alluring one, but I may safely say that the first half hour after the close of day, as enjoyed around the lagoon, with the Fine Arts Building in the background, reflected in the waters, will linger forever in the minds of all who are privileged to see it.
Such blues I have seen only in pictures by Maxfield Parrish. Combined with the rich gold of the colonnade, they are almost supernatural. The whole effect, as reflected in the placid surface of the lagoon, occasionally broken here and there by a slowly moving waterfowl, or the protruding mouth of a carp, is inspiring, and must awaken an aesthetic response in the soul of the most ordinary mortal. Very quickly, however, does this colorful picture change, and the very intense blue of the early evening sky rapidly changes into a colorless black.
The Palace of Fine Arts, above all others, offers many wonderful bits of enchantment at night. It seems to have been thought out not only for its daytime effect but for the night as well.
Of the inner courts, those with larger and smaller bodies of water are most effective at night. The Court of the Four Seasons, with its placid, shrub-encircled pool, is doubly interesting at night. The four wall-fountains add much to the outdoor feeling that this court possesses, by reason of the suggestive murmur of the waters, descending in gentle splashes from bowl to bowl.
The most striking court, in its mysteriousness, is Mullgardt's Court of Abundance, particularly so on a foggy night. Large volumes of vapor are lazily rising from huge bowls and torches, below, and in the tower, suggesting the early days of the cosmic All, cooling off from the turbulent period of its creation. The fogs sweeping from the bay add more mystery, and with the gorgeous perfume of the hyacinth carpet in the garden spaces, the effect is almost narcotic. The whole court, under these conditions, seems heavy with the atmosphere of abundance, of physical well-being, of slumbering natural powers.
At the same time, it is truly religious in its effect of turning the mind away from the ordinary world into the realm of the mystic and the supernatural. I never realized what our San Francisco fogs could produce in artistic effects until I visited Mullgardt's court on a foggy night. The effect of the fog is absolutely ennobling.
So many things like these, possibly not originally thought of, have added, together with the illumination, rare charm to the Exposition. Great masses of pigeons, attracted by the light thrown upon the two great groups of the Nations of the West and of the East, give an unusually inspiring touch to the Exposition at night. The spectacle of these graceful birds encircling rhythmically the great sculptural piles, apparently enjoying the bath of light, will never be forgotten. These pigeons seem to have decided to live in the Exposition; they are there always, and apparently glad to play their part in the Exposition ensemble.
The lesson of the Exposition will be far reaching in its many demonstrations of the commercial value of artistic assets. The whole Exposition is really a city-planning exposition of the first order. Any city-builder, by the respectful use of the great fundamental principles of balance, harmony, and unity, cannot help but do on a large scale what the Exposition presents in a more condensed fashion. I admit that we have made tremendous strides in the remodeling of many of our large cities, particularly in the East, but we are still constantly starting new cities in the old planless way.
Our only practical and lasting effort in San Francisco along the lines of civic progress has been made in the civic center, where a far-reaching plan has been adopted and partly put into existence, and in some of our very charming newer restricted residence districts in the western end of the city, like St. Francis Wood, or in Northbrae and Claremont, in Berkeley, and elsewhere around the bay.
There is no doubt that we must better capitalize our own artistic assets, which we often allow to lie idle before we ever utilize them properly. The water front, Telegraph hill, the ocean shore, Sutro Heights, and Lincoln Park are all waiting to be developed in such a way as the Exposition suggests. The talk of cost is idle twaddle. If the Exposition, as an artistic investment, pays - and I see no reason whatever why it should not pay for itself - then we cannot do anything better than to invest our money wisely in other artistic improvements of a permanent character.
San Francisco is known all the world over for its unique location, rivaled only by that of Marseilles, and we have now the responsibility to use this natural asset, for which many envy us. The Exposition will start an avalanche of improvements along artistic lines which will be given increasing momentum by the development of long periods of prosperity.
The most urgent need, no, doubt, is the establishment of a municipal art gallery in the civic center, the only ideal place for it, where the workingman from the Mission and the merchant from west of Van Ness avenue will find it equally convenient of access. If a smaller number of citizens could raise the money for a municipal opera house, there should be no trouble in getting funds for a building devoted to a far more extensive public benefit, like an art gallery. People generally will want to know why it is that certain things can be given to them for one year, so successfully, and why it should not be possible to have them with us permanently. The inspiring lesson of beauty, expressed so simply and intelligently, will sink deep into the minds of the great masses, to be reborn in an endless stream of aesthetic expression in the spiritual and physical improvement of the people.
We, out here in the West, have been measuring the tide of human progress in biological terms. We have almost forgotten the days of our great calamity, and still speak of them in that typical expression of apprehension of the "earthquake babies." Let us think now of the future and its bright prospects, inaugurated so auspiciously for the benefit of our Exposition generation.