Enter to win every day in CTNOW's 21 Days of Summer Giveaways. Click here to see today's prize.

Travel books: New York's storytelling murals

"Murals of New York City: The Best of New York's Public Paintings from Bemelmans to Parrish"

(Rizzoli, $45)

"In their purest form, murals have the ability to tell stories," writes Graydon Carter, editor of Vanity Fair. But as he also points out, there are plenty of stories behind each mural. And so this beautiful book combines gorgeous photography with the informative text of Glenn Palmer-Smith. Indeed, the stories behind the murals offer a mini-history of 20th-century American art.

The images are as lovely and impressive as anything this side of the Sistine Chapel. The book begins with the magnificent murals inside the New York State Supreme Court Appellate Division. Architect James Brown Lord, according to Palmer-Smith, emulated the work of the Italian Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio. An early 20th-century jewel of a building, it was considered the "grandest" courthouse in the U.S. and, notes the author, "also represented the zenith of American mural painting."

One of the most entertaining murals is by painter and illustrator Maxfield Parrish in the King Cole Bar of the St. Regis Hotel. (The mural originally was in the Knickerbocker Hotel). Consider the delicious irony in knowing that this most famous of images — that of the crowned visage of Old King Cole looking devilishly down on bar patrons — was created, reluctantly as it turns out, by Parrish, a teetotaling Quaker. Meanwhile, Thomas Hart Benton's populist "America Today" in the Metropolitan Museum of Art is a sweeping vista of 20th-century American life, "the visual equivalent of Aaron Copland's 'Fanfare for the Common Man'" as well as, Palmer-Smith adds, the literary equivalent of a Carl Sandburg and a Mark Twain.

Relish too the characters from "The Iliad," "The Odyssey" and "The Divine Comedy" in the Morgan Library & Museum; the depiction of muscular workers on the lobby ceiling of the Chrysler Building; the childlike whimsy on the walls of Bemelmans Bar in The Carlyle hotel; and the impish antics of Edward Sorel's caricatures of 1920s- and 1930s-era celebrities in the Monkey Bar at the Hotel Elysee. (Sorel's work also is on glorious display at the Waverly Inn and Garden: 43 caricatures of famous Greenwich Villagers, from Whitman to Dylan).

Other artists include the Mexican social realist painter Jose Clemente Orozco (the New School), the African-American painter Aaron Douglas (Harlem YMCA), the left-wing Lithuanian-born painter Ben Shahn (Bronx General Post Office); the swirling musical symbols and images of Marc Chagall (Metropolitan Opera); and the pop art of Roy Lichtenstein (AXA Equitable Center).

The book is a majestic achievement.

"The Kid's Guide

to Los Angeles County"

GPP Travel/Globe Pequot Press, $12.95

Los Angeles appeals to all ages, but as the metropolis of movie stars, tar pits and Disneyland, it is especially popular with children. In this fun little guidebook, syndicated family travel columnist Eileen Ogintz writes about the City of Angels from the perspective of a child. There are chapters on museums (from the La Brea Tar Pits to the Autry National Center), Hollywood and Universal Studios, and, of course, Disneyland.

Chock-full of fun and quirky trivia (Mickey Mouse was almost named Mortimer; there are 88 cities in Los Angeles County), the book also includes "What's Cool?" sidebars scattered throughout the text. Those include getting lunch from a food truck or seeing stars at the Grove Shopping Plaza while on break from the nearby CBS Television City studio.

"Tell the Adults" sections offer tips and advice on how adults can help kids experience LA at its best. In addition, there are short sidebars on such iconic LA people and things as the Hollywood sign, Los Angeles County lifeguards (there are about 700 of them, from San Pedro to Malibu) and a dictionary of skateboard lingo ("deck," for example, refers to the wooden part of a skateboard) and surfer lingo (a "gremmie" is a beginner). Comments from children are included too.


Copyright © 2015, CT Now
Related Content
  • Finding The Cheapest Airfares Takes Some Digging

    Finding The Cheapest Airfares Takes Some Digging

    With a sister in Chicago and kids in California, I'm always on the lookout for airfare savings. I check for cheap flights on Priceline.com and Travelocity.com and get price drop alerts on my favorite routes from AirfareWatchDog.com, BookingBuddy.com and Yapta.com.

  • A Madison Daycation: A Beach, A Bookstore, A Beautiful Hotel

    A Madison Daycation: A Beach, A Bookstore, A Beautiful Hotel

    Downtown Madison, Connecticut, has the feel of a beach town, though the beach itself is nearly 2 miles away. In addition to shops and restaurants, the town has one of the best independent bookstores in the state and a century-old independent movie theater.

  • Cape Cod's Natural Beauty Provides Perfect Summertime Escape

    Cape Cod's Natural Beauty Provides Perfect Summertime Escape

    CAPE COD, MASS — The Cape Cod experience, for some, is lathering on the sunscreen, grabbing the boogie board and riding the waves of the cold Atlantic Ocean. For others, it's eating freshly shucked oysters and cracking a boiled lobster and extracting meat like a skilled surgeon.

  • Discovering Connecticut: Winsted, Norfolk Lure With Charm, History

    Discovering Connecticut: Winsted, Norfolk Lure With Charm, History

    Winsted and Norfolk (the locals pronounce it Nor-Fork), adjoining towns in the northern Litchfield Hills, aren't often spoken of in the same breath, but together provide for an outstanding Connecticut day trip adventure.

  • Manhattan's New Le District A Truly French Experience

    Manhattan's New Le District A Truly French Experience

    MANHATTAN — Like a beached luxury liner straight from Calais, a new French food hall, Le District, opened on the southern tip of Manhattan in early spring. It's come to offer buttery croissants, expensive charcuterie and sweet morsels in fancy tins to the office workers and tourists of downtown...

  • Van Gogh, Whistler's 'Mother' Exhibits Worth Road Trip To Williamstown

    Van Gogh, Whistler's 'Mother' Exhibits Worth Road Trip To Williamstown

    New England's No. 1 can't-miss museum road trip this summer is at the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Mass. Until Sept. 13, two blockbuster attractions will be on view at the same time in the art space in the northwestern corner of the Berkshires: 40 paintings by Vincent Van Gogh, and the...