Walking through the galleries, you can’t miss Phil Powell’s brightly colored door, carved with various designs and painted in shades of yellow, orange and red. This month’s mystery image captured a small segment of this door, currently installed in the Putman-Smith Gallery at the Museum. This door was part of Powell’s earliest residence in New Hope, PA.
In looking closely at this work, it reminds me of various doors to buildings I have seen in my travels over the years. The door’s characteristics remind me of the carvings and decorative elements found in the architecture of Spain, such as in the Alhambra in Granada and the Alcázar in Seville. It also reminds me of doors and grand entrances I encountered in India, such as the Taj Mahal in Agra and the Jama Masjid in Delhi. This work also echos the same feeling and presence found in the doors of Gothic cathedrals in France, such as in the Cathedral at Rouen, painted by the French Impressionist, Claude Monet in the late 1800s. So, it’s no surprise that the travels that Powell made to countries such as Spain, Portugal, England, Sicily, India, and Morocco, were a key part of the artist’s creative inspiration for his work. He took the carvings and decorative elements of these cultures and infused them to create his own personal style. He stated, ““travel influences my work the most – for the awareness of what’s been done.”
Powell created art to sell so he could make enough money to take a trip to one of the far corners of the world. He came home, made more art, made some sales, and again, headed out on his travels. He loved the museums and food in Italy, and the natural beauty on the island of Sicily. He slept in a temple at Abu Simbel in Egypt, and explored a small town in China where no one spoke English. Powell loved the intricately carved doors in Morocco. He said, “[In Morocco] You are already welcomed before the door opens.”
When the Michener first acquired Powell’s door, it required conservation. It was dark blue-green-black, and suffered damage from insects and exposure to the elements. For several months, furniture conservator Behrooz Salimnejad analyzed the door’s paint layers under a microscope with visible and UV lights. This analysis revealed that the original finish consisted of five shades of vermilion, bright red, reddish orange, orange, and warm yellow in distinct carved areas of the door. The analysis also determined that the original paint had an oil binder, while there were two latex layers above the original layer: an earlier dark green and the latest dark blue. In addition to restoring areas of wood loss, Salimnejad carefully removed the top layers of latex paint to reveal the door’s original paint colors and crisp carvings.
Visitors of the Museum can now walk through this door to enter the Museum’s Martin Wing, and the Paton | Smith | Della Penna-Fernberger Galleries. In reading more about how Museums approach the installation of doors in their galleries, I came across a segment on the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s website, called Connections. On this page, Dan Kershaw, an exhibition designer, shares how the installation of doors in the galleries can create unique “juxtapositions”. He states, “It’s wonderful where the door isn’t just something that leads you between places, but is something unto itself.”
Does Powell’s door remind you of any doors that you have encountered? Does the installation of this door at the Michener change your experience when you move from gallery to gallery? Share your thoughts, comments and ideas with us!