Real Dilemma for Tiffany Dream Garden
by Diane M. Fiske
Where does architecture end and interior art begin? In Philadelphia this question revolves around The Dream Garden, a mural designed by the Tiffany Studios in 1916. It was installed in the headquarters of The Curtis Publishing Company which had been designed by architect Edgar Seeler in 1910. The mural's fate now hinges on whether it is entitled to the same protections as historic architecture under the strong local historic preservation code.
The Dream Garden measures 15 by 49 feet (4.5 by 15 meters) and was reported to be the last and favorite work of Louis Comfort Tiffany. It shows a series of vibrantly colored plants and flowers in a setting of waterfalls, rocky mountains, and valleys. The mural was based on a painting by Maxfield Parrish.
It is made up of 100,000 pieces of glass that work together to produce the effect of an oil painting. It includes 260 color tones set in 24 panes of glass. Installing the work took six months.
Now, a legal battle centers on the fact that the mural is historically certified by Philadelphia and cannot be removed without city permission. The executor of the estate that owns the building has been trying to sell the mural.
At the same time, four universities, including the University of Pennsylvania, that are part of the estate, have agreed that The Dream Garden should not be sold. The estate claims that potential buyers disappeared when removing the work became legally difficult.
The Building Through History
Home for the mural is a marble-walled hall at one end of the brick and stone Curtis Building, resembling a Greek palace, that was commissioned by Cyrus P. Curtis to house his publishing empire. The Curtis Publishing Company produced The Saturday Evening Post, The Ladies Home Journal, and other household mainstays until 1970 when the company went out of business.
The Dream Garden was produced by the Tiffany Studios in 1916, based on a painting by Maxfield Parrish.
Photo: Carol M. Highsith
Now called the Curtis Center, the 1910 design of architect Edgar Seeler was once home of The Curtis Publishing Company.
Photo: Lawrence S. Williams, of Drexel Hill
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