Robert W. Duffy

Robert W. Duffy reported on arts and culture for St. Louis Public Radio. He had a 32-year career at the Post-Dispatch, then helped to found the St. Louis Beacon, which merged in January with St. Louis Public Radio. He has written about the visual arts, music, architecture and urban design throughout his career.

Ways to Connect

A crowd takes in a performance at the Opera Theatre of St. Louis.
Courtesy Opera Theatre of St. Louis

Forty years ago this week the lights went down on the Loretto-Hilton Theatre in Webster Groves. A special brand of illumination radiated that first night, shining optimism, hope and artistic authority on a new opera scene. It rose like a fiery dawn in late Midwestern springtime.

This week, that light continues to shine on Opera Theatre of St. Louis, which opens its new season Saturday with Giacomo Puccini’s “La bohème.”

The Isamu Noguchi ceiling, which had been hidden for years under a drop ceiling at the U-Haul building on Kingshighway, has finally emerged for all to see. Click through the slideshow to see more views of it.
Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio

A late autumn's promise has bloomed in the spring: a once-hidden architectural gem in St. Louis is open to the public at last.

U-Haul International Inc. has made good on its commitment to uncover and repair a sculptured ceiling created for the main lobby of its mid-20th century facility on South Kingshighway by the late American artist and designer Isamu Noguchi.

"Woodhenge" by Indian contemporary artist Gigi Scaria relates to the reconstruction of the ancient woodhenge site at Cahokia in the Metro East. Scaria's work will be featured for Obscura Day at Laumeier Sculpture Park.
Atlas Obscura |Laumeier Sculpture Park, Gigi Scaria

Two St. Louis area sites are among hundreds of locations around the globe being featured in an exotic festival of places of interest this Saturday.

DeAnia, a junior in the College Bound program, looks around at works of art she can see through WoofbertVR virtual reality goggles.
Howard Lerner | DecemberPress

An art-related virtual reality system is taking some St. Louis students to places filled with beauty and inspiration without their having to move any distance at all.

Entrance to the Mercantile Library at the University of Missouri-St. Louis
Provided by the library

If your job were to nourish and to advance a venerable cultural institution so skillfully that its dignity and integrity would be burnished while, at the same time, you send it riding high into the cultural and civic mainstream by selling it to an over-stimulated, word and image weary public, what would you do, what should you do?

Danny Kohl
From Washington University website

For many who have died, the “good family man” description is draped upon them like an embroidered pall, often as much in the interest of being nice and polite than in descriptive accuracy.

Because Daniel Kohl, who died Saturday, March 12, at 87, was generous, he might agree that this person or that one was a good family woman or a good family man.

But as scientist, a biologist, an eminent one at that — he would want proof also.

Saint Louis University Hospital
Courtesy SSM Health

When the industrialist Firmin Desloge died in 1929 at 86 years of age, his various enterprises, including Missouri lead mining, made him as rich as tycoons such as William K. Vanderbilt and Andrew Mellon. In obituaries he was described as one of the wealthiest men in America, and his status was buoyed as well by his membership in the select group of the French-American aristocracy. A portrait photograph shows him sporting a great bushy mustache, along with unruly curly hair and a very content and happy face.

One of the rugs in the Carpet and the Connoiseur exhibit at the St. Louis Art Museum. This is a western Anatolian knotteed woll carpet with 'Lotto' patter from the 16th century.
Courtesy, St. Louis Art Museum

In the art exhibitions business, when you find yourself faced with the conflicting character attributes of a millionaire who built his fortune on patent medicines of questionable quality yet who carried with him works of art of extraordinary aesthetic and historical value, you can be reasonably certain of having a hit on your hands.

The back door of St. Mary's Infirmary shows some of the deterioration of the building.
Robert W. Duffy | St. Louis Public Radio

The old St. Mary’s Infirmary is on life support.

St. Mary's -- once a valuable component of the health-care structure of St. Louis and an institution of special importance to the community's African-American population -- has a month left, but after that month has passed, it’s marked for demolition. Even now it is considered an “an imminent threat to public safety."

Editorial Room of the Westliche Post newspaper. Carl Schurz is seated lower left next to the table, c. 1868.
Missouri History Museum

Why would anyone invite thousands of 19th-century German immigrants to join us in the middle of February, the month dedicated to American black history?

Isn’t the idea of formalizing a black history month a way to shift emphasis away from Americans of European descent, the better to shine the light of achievement on African Americans’ stories? 

The exterior of the U-Haul building on Kingshighway. Inset: A detail of Isamu Noguchi's sculptured ceiling.
Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio

For two decades at least, exotic swirls of extraordinary biomorphic beauty hung in obscurity above the heads of the temporary truckers, the moving box buyers and the storage facility renters who came to do business at the U-Haul store on South Kingshighway and Northrup Avenue, just north of I-44.

Image courtesy of Kyrle Boldt III

Modern art, architecture and decorative arts created in the middle of the 20th century were swamped by the reactionary ruckus of the late 20th century post-modernist movement. 

Given the quality and originality of so much of the mid-century’s aesthetic industry, its relegation to obscurity was a big mistake and a now recognized lapse of taste. However, all wasn’t lost. A new exhibition opening this weekend at the St. Louis Art Museum joins other scholarship and exhibitions dedicated to setting the record straight.

Rendering of a marker at the I-64, Skinker Boulevard and Wells Drive entrance to the park.
SWT Design | Provided by Forest Park Forever

In response to a story about the markers project published two weeks ago, we’ve had thoughtful responses to the entrances-to-the-park issue. Some harkened back to Lawrence Halprin’s proposal for elaborate gates that was hooted down and abandoned in 2001; others expressed ideas about the current plan, created by SWT Design, St. Louis.

Evelyn and Eric Newman
Provided by the family

Evelyn Newman – a pillar of the community if ever there was one -- died Tuesday at Barnes-Jewish Hospital after a brief illness. She was 95 years old.

Although born in Georgia Mrs. Newman considered herself a lifelong St. Louisan. With her loyalty to this region, she brought business acuity and a special talent for marketing to bear on worthy regional causes.

Ernst Zinner
Provided by the family

Ernst K. Zinner, an astrophysicist who spent a distinguished and game-changing career at Washington University -- who, in fact, discovered fossils older than the solar system -- died Thursday, July 30, of complications of mantle cell lymphoma. He was 78 and lived in University City.

Mr. Zinner's interests, his career, the objects of his research, along with his stunning accomplishments, were infinite, as deep and profound as space, aspects of which he knew so well. Although personally modest, his dedication to science was renowned. Colleagues held him in esteem as a brilliant scientist and a nurturing mentor, and as a warm and generous friend.

The Superior Well Ticket office, constructed some time before 1915 is adjacent to one of the last intact mineral wells in the town at 610 Roosevelt Avenue. Excelsior Springs
Missouri Preservation

Updated with announcement - From bridges to a calaboose, the list of properties in peril put out by Missouri Preservation is a mix that highlights to variety and wealth of architecture that need help.

Getting the loudest reaction from the more than 100 people assembled for the occasion was the Clemens House on Cass Avenue.

Ellen Eisendrath Post
Provided by the family

In the sunny room in which Ellen Eisendrath Post spent her last days, the room in which she died at 79 years of age on Friday, she was surrounded not only by the warmth and stimulation of people she loved but by an abundance of objects, new and old, and flowers and books — things that mattered to her and things she loved as well.

Galen Scott Bower sings the title role in Union Avenue Opera's Don Giovanni
John Lamb | Union Avenue Opera

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s 19th opera – the one sandwiched between “The Marriage of Figaro” and “Cosi fan tutte,” is described regularly and superlatively with the word “perfection.” This opera is “Don Giovanni,” presented over the weekend by Union Avenue Opera in a production conducted by Scott Schoonover and directed by Jon Truitt. Two more performances are to come, on Friday and Saturday, June 17 and 18, at 8 p.m..

Esley Hamilton
Robert W. Duffy | St. Louis Public Radio

Often the steady, sturdy and stalwart are described as bricks, those men and women who rise to the occasion when there’s a difficulty of one sort or another. Bricks are smart, determined, rigorous, tireless, scrupulous, thorough, imaginative, honest, and they don’t shy away from conflict. They are courageous. Esley Hamilton, as much as anyone I know, is a brick. Because his business has been historic preservation, standing up for threatened structures often made out of bricks, he is aptly described by that moniker.

Unidentified artist, Helmet mask, wood. length of 30 and one-half inches. The Arti Institute of Chicago, African and Amerindian Purchase Fund, 1963:842
Provided by St. Louis Art Museum

“Senufo Unbound: Dynamics of Art and Identity in West Africa,” an exhibit of extraordinary interest that opened recently at the St. Louis Art Museum, is the rare bird that flies between two branches with grace and a keen sense of intelligent direction.

Rendering of the exterior of the renovated Arch museum.

The timing might have been better, Walter L. Metcalfe Jr. said Wednesday.

His plan was to remain as chairman of the CityArchRiver Foundation through Oct. 28, 2015, the golden jubilee of the topping off of the Gateway Arch, which is the central feature of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, the signature of St. Louis.

Oct. 28 was his marker, Metcalfe said, his exit cue. He said he had no desire to stay on for the next phase of the project, the organization of a conservancy for the Arch-centered project.

Joyce El-Khoury as Emmeline Mosher, Meredith Arwady as Aunt Hannah Watkins, and Geoffrey Agpalo as Hooker in Opera Theatre of Saint Louis’ 2015 production of Emmeline.
Ken Howard

The muntined window that looks into the suffocating world of Emmeline Mosher is opaque with filth, and a broken pane offers the only possibility of viewing this world. Not that anyone would want to, unless he or she were interested in discovering in the person of Emmeline Mosher the pain and sadness of the human condition we all experience to greater and lesser degrees.

Susannah Biller as Costanza and Tim Mead as Richard the Lionheart in Opera Theatre of Saint Louis’s 2015 production of Richard the Lionheart.
Ken Howard

Anyone who’s been a regular visitor to Opera Theatre of St. Louis in its 40-season history knows there’ve been no shortages of memorable productions on its stage. George Frideric Handel’s “Richard the Lionheart,” given its American premiere here his year, will be the crowning achievement of this special-anniversary season, and will lodge itself as a touchstone in history and memory, as are Jonathan Miller’s “Cosi fan tutte” (1982) and Colin Graham’s “Beatrice and Benedict” (1983) and other operas one might choose.

 Corinne Winters as Magda in 'La rondine,' her exulting performance is worth the price of the ticket.
Ken Howard | Opera Theatre of St. Louis

By the time the opera “La rondine” finally was given its première in Monte Carlo in 1917, the world as the West had known it for centuries had begun to fall to pieces inexorably.

One of Mayya Panfilova cats astound every cat person.
Donna Korando | St. Louis Public Radio

Yo-Yo has a new pair of shoes.

For just shy of 30 years, when Yo-Yo the Narrator stepped balletically into the center of the ring of our city’s own Circus Flora, she was shod in court shoes with a medium heel, rather fancy in the footwear world, shoes in keeping with her studied gestures and attitudes.

On opening night at the circus on Friday, her shoes were quite different, low to the ground, decidedly sensible, nondescript. And intended or not, these new shoes are signifiers.

Leo Drey
Provided by the family

In 1929, Luther Ely Smith, whom the National Park Service calls “the father of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial,” convened a group of civic worthies for lunch at the old Noonday Club downtown. Later on, a fellow named Leo Drey joined the group. Mr. Drey, who died Wednesday at the age of 98, would become a stalwart member of the group, and one of its most dynamic leaders.

Aida Act 2, scene 2, set design for the Cairo premiere by Edouard Despléchin

“Aida” is one of a group of extraordinary 19th century works of musical drama that gave opera its sometime first name, that is, “Grand.” In an all-stops-pulled-out production of “Aida,” soldiers lead chain gangs of slaves and supernumeraries wave huge feather fans, with nubile ballerinas dancing their own special ballet, plus the company of acres of choristers, plus elephants sometimes and a cast of principals with voices grand as all outdoors.

Such an “Aida” etches indelible memories on an audience member, leaving him or her either breathless with devotion or convinced that all this actually is excessive and silly.

Richard Gaddes introduces Christine Brewer at the Walk of Fame ceremonies Wednesday.
Willis Ryder Arnold | St. Louis Public Radio

On Wednesday, Christine Brewer was properly awarded a star on St. Louis' Walk of Fame in the Delmar Loop. To think about her journey there, it is useful to go back 34 years, when Opera Theatre of St. Louis had become the regional American opera company to watch. And that dates to 1976, when Richard Gaddes, a fearless young British impresario, was brought to town to establish the company.

The dark red cylinder in the background is the 'hydraulic actuator' that moved a large steel box.The large red tube in front is the 'hydraulic accumulator' that supplied surge flows of oil, and absorbed the hydraulic pressure surges.
Provided by Jim Vosper

When I talked to Elaine Gregory McCluskey recently at her office at Fermilab in Batavia, Ill., and explained I was working on a story about engineering experiments at the Pruitt-Igoe housing project in the 1970s, she was bewildered. Why, why was I writing about Pruitt Igoe almost four decades after the place had been obliterated?

Joseph Pulitzer the Fourth
Provided by the family

Joseph Pulitzer IV, the last of a line of Joseph Pulitzers stretching back to the 19th century to hold positions at the family’s St. Louis Post-Dispatch, died Thursday in Berkeley, Calif., following a massive heart attack. He was 65 and lived in Sheridan, Wyo.