Last week I reported on the remarkable hotels and some of the sights and history of Cincinnati. Here’s a rundown of arts opportunities for tourists, and we certainly did not get to all of them!
The Taft family has done much to create a lasting legacy of arts programs in the city. One of the family mansions downtown has been turned into the Taft Museum of Art, whose permanent collection includes a wide representation of different artists and styles, and a lot of beautiful Chinese porcelain. Nicely displayed, approachable.
We made no attempt to cover all the ground of the Cincinnati Art Museum, ignoring the permanent collection in favor of interesting temporary exhibits, “Van Gogh in the Undergrowth,” effectively curated to demonstrate the influence of painters of his era on each other. Plus an exhibit of the work of the legendary Lexington, Kentucky, Camera Club. Lovely gift shop, too.
The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center is a memorial, a detailed story of the slave trade, and an enlightening examination of the people who sought freedom north of the Ohio River and those who aided them along the way. Multimedia presentations.
The quirky American Sign Museum, whose main exhibition is set up like an old-time Main Street, the museum explores the evolution of advertising signs of every type (who knew there were so many!). It’s designed to tickle your nostalgia centers, like Simple Simon with the pieman on the sign for Howard Johnson’s 28 Flavors—pistachio was my favorite.
We didn’t partake of the renowned Cincinnati Orchestra (also started by a Mrs. Taft), and the Kennedy Center had invited the Cincinnati Ballet to perform its “Nutcracker” in the nation’s capital. But we did see a lively, well-staged performance of Much Ado About Nothing by the Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, which is soon moving to new and expanded quarters.
Loved the Romanesque City Hall and the old telephone exchange, with a parade of dial phones carved into a frieze above exterior windows. Many other buildings had charming art deco details. And cannot overlook the beautiful fish sculpture on the exterior of McCormick and Schmick’s downtown outpost!
Right by City Hall at Eighth and Plum are two stunning religious edifices. A classic Greek design, the Cathedral of Saint Peter in Chains (1845) has large murals depicting the stations of the cross that were done by Cincinnati artist Carl Zimmerman, inspired by Greek pottery painting. The sienna background with gold, black, and white figures creates a most unusual—and beautiful—effect. A magnificent gold mosaic glows from behind the altar, and the stained glass is a plaid of colored and clear panes.
We were lucky that a bat mitzvah was about to take place at the Byzantine-Moorish Isaac M. Wise Temple (1866) across the street, and we slipped inside to see the interior before the service began. The Temple’s astonishing painted décor covers every surface, much like religious buildings you may have seen in Central Europe. This historic temple is “the fountainhead” of Reform Judaism in America.
In Mount Adams, we stopped into the Holy Cross Immaculata Church (1859), smaller and more traditional than St. Peter in Chains, soaring white and light inside, with spectacular views of the river and city from its hilltop perch.
Also in this series: