May 3, 2015

A Walk by Design: The Cooper Hewitt and a Stroll in Central Park

This walk of about 1.5 miles encompasses parts of the Carnegie Hill neighborhood on the Upper East Side, a visit to the renovated Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum on E. 91st St. and 5th Avenue, and a stroll in Central Park around the southern rim of the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir. The walk begins and ends at subway stops, stretching from the Upper East Side to the Upper West Side. See map following post.


Don't rush the streets of the East 90s, especially in spring.



The focus of this walk is the renovated design museum, housed in the Andrew Carnegie Mansion, but any of the nearby museums on 5th Avenue's Museum Mile could easily be added to the itinerary.


For anyone interested in the history and contemporary practices of design, the Cooper Hewitt must be added to the museum repertory. It's also unexpectedly fun. Upon admission, the visitor is handed an interactive pen to virtually gather museum objects for further study. It can be a little awkward at first (press the magic pen against the cross mark), but practice training is involved (via a light table, shown below). Once I started roaming the galleries and gathering images of a few objects I liked - a traveling dressing table set from England, a golden embroidered French textile from 1700, a 2012 poster for Elmer Rice's Street Scene, a pocket watch that belonged to Abraham Lincoln, among them, I could hardly stop. The interactive pen helps inspire further exploration, which I suppose is largely the point of a museum. Once home, I could log into my personally curated collection at the museum's website and then explore its vast database.



Aside from the novelty of digital interaction, it's worth visiting several of the current exhibitions. One exhibition presents the fascinating collection of Eleanor and Sarah Hewitt, granddaughters of Peter Cooper and the museum's founders. While the house itself exudes the baronial wealth of its original owner, the objects the Hewitt sisters collected for the original space in Cooper Union (the museum moved here in 1970) are exuberantly feminine and lush, awash with colorful patterns. As most of these pieces would have graced domestic interiors, they sit pretty in the former bedrooms of the Carnegies. Don't miss the birdcages. And you won't.

Another current exhibit, "How Posters Work," teaches the essential tricks of one of the most influential media of our time.


And, another, makes you think about tools.


The new Cooper Hewitt includes a store and a fetchingly designed cafe. The museum gardens will open in the summer of 2015 and will be open daily to the public free of charge.


See the museum website for complete information.

In one of the galleries, I happened upon a wall text that suggested that a walk in nearby Central Park would make a nice extension of the museum visit. The thought had occurred to me, but not every day is a beautiful day.

That day was one of them. Once outside, more design of both art and nature was fully on display.





See also the post, East Side to West Side: A Spring Walk in New York's Central Park, for a similar park walk just to the south.


Images by Walking Off the Big Apple.

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