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Dan Longone

Quaffable History

500 Years of American Grapes and Wine

by Katie Whitney

posted 5/15/2009

U-M chemistry professor emeritus Daniel Longone curates the current exhibit at the Clements Library. His knowledgeability and elbow-patched blazer are quintessentially professorial-especially surrounded by the Clements' dark wood and ancient tomes.

It seems like the perfect setup for a hoity-toity exhibit about wine-but the collection, like Longone, turns out to be warm and informative. From colonial failures with European grapes to early American successes with native varieties, from Prohibition to cocktail culture, the exhibit explores the history of American wine making and alcohol consumption with a light-hearted emphasis on quirky anecdotes.

An 1823 letter Thomas Jefferson wrote to Georgetown winemaker John Adlum praises one of the bottles Adlum had sent him, but then goes on to write, "the 2nd bottle, a red wine, I tried when I had good judges at the table. We agreed it was a wine one might always drink with satisfaction, but of no particular excellence." Adlum printed the letter-despite its faint praise-as a foreword to his book. I wonder if Adlum was so thrilled with a letter from the former president that he completely ignored the dig. Or was the book world so different from today that no one would think of excerpting the letter and ending it with a quiet ellipsis after "satisfaction"? I secretly hope for the latter, creating an idealistic picture of early American honesty.

On the day I visited the exhibit, an older couple from Kalamazoo pored over a party menu from the early 1900s. They marveled at the wine selection that included a bottle of an 1810 Madeira and mused about a mention of maraschino cherries. Although they were there because they read about the exhibit in a "Wine Events" section of the Wall Street Journal, they (like me) lost themselves in the stories these books conjured.

A wine exhibit-even one confined to Americana-would hardly be complete without the French. Besides the American obsession with European wine that creeps its way into many of the books and the heavily French

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wine list of the London Chop House in 1969 Detroit (a must-see for wine buffs), the exhibit also includes two French drawings. An 1878 Harper's Weekly wood engraving of a California vineyard, created from a drawing by a French artist, depicts Chinese and American workers. Wild West cowboy hats mingle with Chinese conical straw hats in a tableau that wouldn't be out of place on an episode of Kung Fu. In the other drawing, a French artist depicts America during Prohibition as a giant menacing gangster towering over a nondescript but utterly American city. His two pistol-holding fists pop starkly out of his massive silhouette. Both images seem equally fabled-America through the eyes of foreigners. Although in this room, I'm a foreigner, too, using these little treasures to piece together a picture of America and filling in the gaps with my own fables.

New exhibits this month:

Ann Arbor Art Center, 117 W. Liberty. Jewelry + Object (May 15-June 21). Reception 29 Fri., time TBA. 994-8004.

Ann Arbor District Library, Malletts Creek Branch, 3090 E. Eisenhower Pkwy. Ink Drawings on Paper by Aleksis Lahti (May 2-June 16). 327-4510.

Clay Gallery, 335 S. Main. John Glick: New Works (Apr. 26-May 29). Reception 1 Fri., 7-9 p.m. (see 17 Sunday events listing). 662-7927.

EMU Ford Gallery, Ford Hall, E. Cross between Welch Hall and Boone Hall, Ypsilanti. Sculpture by Julia Ashcom (May 4-15). 487-1268.

EMU Student Center Art Gallery, 900 Oakwood, Ypsilanti. Graphic Design by Kris Rudolph (May 11-22). 528-3993.

First Unitarian Universalist Congregation, 4001 Ann Arbor-Saline Road. Acrylic & Multi media Paintings by Barbara Anderson (May 1-31). 665-6158.

Gallery 55+, Various Media by Kwang Cho, Kay Yun, and Sun Paik (May 4-July 31). Reception 17 Sun., 4-5:30 p.m. 998-9353.

Kerrytown Concert House, <415 N. Fourth Ave. Textiles by Sharon Fay and >Recent Paintings by Nancy Wolfe (May 1-June 30). Reception 13 Wed., 6-8 p.m. 769-2999.

Rehill Gallery, 1679 Broadway. Photography by Sue Wyman (through May 31). Reception Apr. 30, 7 p.m. 663-5503

U-M Bentley Historical Library, 1150 Beal. Dancing at 100: Celebrating a Century of Dance at the University of Michigan, 1909-2009 (through June 30). 764-3482.

U-M Duderstadt Center Gallery, 2281 Bonisteel. Home: Loving It, Losing It, Leaving It

U-M Exhibit Museum of Natural History, 1109 Geddes. Journeys of the Bison Hunters and Bird: It's What's for Dinner (through Aug. 31). 763-4191.

U-M Museum of Art, 525 S. State. What Untitled (History Painting): Painting and Public Life in the 21st Century (May 23-Sept. 20) and Treasures Rediscovered: Chinese Stone Sculptures from the Sackler Collections at Columbia University (May 23-Aug. 16). 763-UMMA.

U-M Special Collections Library, Harlan Hatch er Graduate Library, seventh floor. Clues Beyond Sherlock Holmes: The Arthur Conan Doyle Collection at Michigan (through Aug. 15). Reception 17 Sun., 3:30-5 p.m. (see 17 Sunday Antiquarian Book Fair listing). 764-9377.

WSGGallery, 306 S. Main. Fortunes: Children's Gown Installations by Valerie Mann (May 12-June 21). Reception 29 Fri., 7-10 p.m. 761-2287.

Yourist Studio Gallery, 1133 Broadway. Exquisite Cup: Cups by 28 Local Artists (through June 29). Reception 8 Fri., 6-8 p.m. 662-4914.

Ypsilanti Historical Museum, 220 N. Huron, Ypsilanti. The Art Show: Works by Local Artists (May 10-24). Reception 10 Sun., noon-5 p.m. 482-4990.    (end of article)

[Originally published in May, 2009.]

 

 
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