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04 December 2009

The Death of A Ballroom

Man of style and curator of Ten Chimneys Keith D. MacKay sent me a link to this NYSD entry which featured the above photo of the late Earl Blackwell's ballroom. Who could these murals be by, we wondered?

I found the answer here, in a 1998 New York Times article:

The murals were painted in the 1950's ''in the Venetian style'' by a little-known artist named William Hankinson, the apartment's last tenant, Earl Blackwell, told Architectural Digest in 1972. Mr. Blackwell, the celebrity maven, said then that he had considered finding Mr. Hankinson and having him restore the murals, which were already showing their age. ''But most of my friends say, 'Let it age as if it's been there for centuries,' '' he added. ''And I agree.''

As NYSD mentions, the penthouse apartment was recently purchased by Wilbur and Hilary Ross, who hired Mario Buatta to freshen things up.

After: The Ballroom now as Drawing Room....

Bottom photo by Scott Frances for Architectural Digest. Tour the entire Ross residence here.

23 comments:

Toby Worthington said...

Fascinating and instructive.
Much as I revere Mario Buatta, the "freshened" room
struck me as being, in its own way, just as arch and whimsical as the painted ballroom. And certainly more
Palm Beach circa 1980 than New York circa 2009.
Still~ great sleuthing on your part, EEE.

ArchitectDesign™ said...

While the Buatta roomis great (how could it not be?) I mourn the loss of those beautiful murals! Buatta could have at least kept the ceiling rather than silver leaf?.

An Aesthete's Lament said...

Bad, Mario, bad, bad! And boo to the Rosses. God, the murals were fabulous. And worth preserving for their period charm.

William J. "Hank" Hankinson's 56-foot mural for the National Bank of South Carolina (it depicts the history of Sumter, Scouth Carolina) is still relatively intact, sections of it having been relocated to a new building erected by SCNB on Broad Street, restored, framed, and hung. And as for Hankinson being little known, perhaps it's because nobody has thought to Google him.

Here is his 1996 obituary from the Daily Press of South Carolina:

WILLIAM J. HANKINSON

WILLIAMSBURG - William Joseph Hankinson, 74, of Williamsburg, died Sept. 26, 1996, at his home after a lengthy illness.

A native of South Carolina, he lived in New York and New Jersey before moving to Williamsburg six years ago. A former deacon of the Marble Collegiate Church in New York City, he was a member of the Pennington Presbyterian Church, New Jersey.

Mr. Hankinson was a prominent professional artist. He received his B.A. degree in Art from the University of South Carolina in 1943.

After serving in the Army Air Force Camouflage Unit in France during World War II, he completed graduate studies in Art at the Parson's School of Design in New York City, and La Grande Chawmiere, Paris, France.

Well known for his outstanding talent as a muralist, his work includes murals in hotels, stores, restaurants, and private homes in many cities in the United States and abroad, including New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, Boston, Atlanta, Washington, D.C., London, Dublin, and Mexico City. Locally, his murals include the French scenes at the Papillon Bristra, Hospitality House, and the Colonial Garden scenes at the Quality Suites, both in Williamsburg.

Mr. Hankinson was a multi-talented artist, versatile in oils, acrylics, watercolors, pastels, and pen and ink. Describing his style as Romantic Realism, he was gifted as a painter of portraits, landscapes, and still-lifes.

His paintings have been exhibited in shows in several cities, including New York and Philadelphia. The Museum of Art in Columbia, S.C., featured a one-man show of his work in 1967. His work is also represented in many permanent private collections in the United States and Europe.

Mr. Hankinson was highly regarded not only for his artistic talent, but also for his warm personality. His gentle nature and goodness will be deeply missed by all who knew him.

He is survived by his beloved wife of 45 years, Johanna Hankinson of the home; two daughters, Corry H. Hughes, and her husband, Roger, of Amelia, and Marina Hankinson of Osprey, Fla.; two granddaughters, Sky and Elora Hughes of Amelia; one brother, Richard Hankinson, and his wife, Nelle "Pokey," of Phippsburg, Maine; one sister, Louise King of Atlanta, Ga.; a sister in marriage, Leny Westerfield, and her husband, Piet, of Rotterdam, the Netherlands; six nieces and nephews; and nine great-nieces and nephews. He was preceded in death by his parents, Milledge and Linnie Hankinson, of Columbia, S.C.

An Aesthete's Lament said...

Actually Mr Buatta didn't cover up the murals for the Rosses, as I mistakenly thought. A later New York Times article (2007) states that the Hankinson murals were removed during a reconstruction of the apartment in 1999, when the building (the Briarcliffe) was converted to condominiums in 1999. And that was AFTER the murals had been completely restored the year before at the insistence of architect Richard Rice!!!

Anonymous said...

Earl Blackwell did not do the Best and Worst lists Richard Blackwell did.

Emily Evans Eerdmans said...

Thank you, Aesthete, for adding to our appreciation of William Hankinson. How wonderful to read that Mr. Hankinson wasn't only abundantly talented, but also a warm, gentle soul.

Anonymous - but you are too right! My apologies to both Mr. Blackwells!

Toby Worthington said...

No doubt I'll go straight to hell for such disloyalty to Mr Buatta, but what I objected to when first seeing that spread in AD was the broken pediments over the doors to either side of the chimneypiece~a touch of false grandeur that has marred many an otherwise fine room (such as the de la Renta's NY drawing room) and to make matters worse, the architraves have been poorly marbled. It's all rather confectionery.
Soane disapproved of pediments being used in interior architecture (breaking his own rule from time to time) but really, it only ever works in rooms of Palladian proportions such as the Stone Hall at Houghton, Norfolk or that at Ditchley Park.

balsamfir said...

Why the US doesn't look like Europe. I'm glad to know that Mario Buatta didn't do it, although this is not my favorite room of his.

JT said...

Yes, those out-of-scale broken pediments ruin the room. Despite some lavish touches, there are obvious signs of cost-cutting. Sadly, hiring a competent architect appears to be one of them.

Sydney said...

Aesthete, does "removed during a reconstruction of the apartment in 1999," mean destroyed or removed, as in canvas removed from the walls ? If they were destroyed it makes me sick. What cretin would do such a thing ?!

home before dark said...

What a pleasure, once again, to hear the lofty ones weigh in with knowledge, passion and insights. I always enjoy these conversations.

Reggie said...

Mario Buatta and the Rosses are responsible for giving dignity back to a room that was shockingly vandalised by the developer who destroyed the murals when the building was "renovated". While one may quibble with MB's choices at times, and one certainly needn't aspire to having him decorate one's own house, I believe he should be commended, along with the Rosses, for appreciating and understanding the beauty of this space. The Rosses are indeed fixtures on the mature NYC/South Hampton/Palm Beach circuit, so their choice of MB is understandable, and suitable. There is no-one who has perfected that set's "look" such as he has. I for one do not understand why so many in the bloggisphere poo poo his work. So what if you can identify an MB interior a mile away, you can say the same of a Rolls Royce.

Lynne Rutter said...

how wonderful to learn more about this muralist and see a shot of the ballroom. in general there are not enough ballrooms and not enough murals these days.

The Peak of Chic said...

How often do the Rosses move? Wasn't their former apt, also decorated by Buatta, featured in AD just a few years ago?

Cote de Texas said...

I actually like the room now - but of course I would.

Toby - who would you say would be more appropriate over the doors? more in scale? just curious in case I ever get a job with a room of these proportions-I would like to get it "right." as if. ha!

Seriously though, what would be better in your opinion, which you know I highly value?

Reggie said...

I believe the Ross' previously-published apartment was a temporary job done by MB as they were waiting to finish the current apartment...

FYI -- Wilbur Ross was previously briefly married to Betsy McGaughy, the former (then) leiutenant governor of New York. Her married name was Betsy Ross. Whatta laff that must have been...

Pigtown-Design said...

I {heart} KDM! He's got a great eye for things and we need to make him get a blog.

Anonymous said...

Well - I am glad MB did not destroy the murals - but what a loss. Guess that means you all have to come out to Ten Chimneys to see our safe-and-sound murals by the little known Clagget Wilson . . . KDM

Anonymous said...

You've all missed a very important part of the story!
(I'm especially surprised at Mitch Aesthete and Mrs. Erdmans!)
THIS is when the murals disappeared! : April 2007 AD
http://www.architecturaldigest.com/architects/100/charles_allem/allem_slideshow_042007
The developer restored the murals-The penthouse was purchased by a couple who hired a designer called Charles Allem, who then gutted the place and created the apartment shown in the April 2007 AD.
The Ross' bought the apartment just a few months after it was published and, using Mario Buatta, removed the great majority of Charles Allem's work, except for the silvered ceiling in the "ballroom".
To my eyes, Mario performed rescue work.

Anonymous said...

Sorry! The link above seems to be incomplete-
Let's try again. If this link diesn't work, go to Architecturaldigest.com and search for
"Manhattan Grand" Interior Design by Charles Allem, ASID; Text by Nancy Collins- April 2007 or March 2007

http://www.architecturaldigest.com/architects/100/charles_allem/allem_slideshow_042007

Emily Evans Eerdmans said...

Great super sleuthing, Anonymous! You brought the whole sequence of events into focus... EEE

Corry said...

A bit of insight on the Hankinson Murals... William J. Hankinson was my father, and as a young girl I had the privilege of seeing the wonderful Venetian murals he had painted in Mr. Blackwell's ballroom. Shortly before Dad died in 1996, I asked him what his favorite painting "job" had been. His reply was the Venetian murals because he had been given "total artistic freedom..."

Emily Evans Eerdmans said...

Corry, I know we would all love to see more of your talented father's work - please do feel free to email me: emily.eerdmans@gmail.com