Off-site visits can provide inspiration in a variety of ways, some direct, others indirect. Friday we toured the internationally treasured Wanamaker Organ in the Macy’s store (formerly Wanamaker’s). What we saw was indescribable. Truly! This world wonder deserves the descriptor: “Amazing!”
Local connections are invaluable. Amy Forsyth, who lives just outside Philadelphia, arranged with her friend and colleague, Scott Kip, for a personal tour of the internal workings of The Wanamaker Organ. We had little idea what to expect, except for off-hand comments about flights of stairs and rooms filled with organ pipes, reeds, baffles, and shutters.
In the photo below, try to visualize us on an upper level, standing on a small ledge, overlooking this courtyard. Entrance to that ledge required crouching low and turning slightly sideways, then inching onto the ledge (yes, there was a railing). I poked my head through the opening, then decided to remain in the small room … someone needed to guard the entrance!
This photo is a view from the atrium of the downtown Macy’s store. Behind the balconies on the upper floors, there are a dozen or so rabbit-warren-type rooms that contain the Wanamaker Organ pipes. We toured every one. (The visible organ pipes don’t actually make music.)
Scott Kip is one of two talented woodworkers who restore and maintain the organ’s internal workings, as well as perform other woodworking jobs throughout the building. They work out of a woodshop in the building, accessed by entering a door just behind racks of clothing.
The Wanamaker Organ is played at noon every day, as well as at other times. When we gathered at 6:40 Friday evening, organ music filled the vast sales area of the women’s shoe department. Little did we know our tour would last almost two hours, but the time flew by for everyone!
Our fist glimpse of what we were to see came from storage areas on the way to the woodshop.
Little details in a beautifully restored room we visited caught my eye. Now fully restored, it houses another organ, a much-smaller Whirlitzer, previously owned by the Smithsonian Institution. Left to right, a corner of a picture frame, a brass doorknob and its doorplate, and one of the iconic images along the walls.
A few photos from inside ….
Details, details, details suggest possible designs. The relationships between forms, openings, and materials are fodder for future object-making.
I wonder if the other Windgate Fellows also had trouble sleeping Friday night. I did. But I did not regret one minute of this special opportunity to see something, up-close, that few are privileged to have. Thank you Scott Kip for the tour and Amy Forsyth for making the connection!
For additional information about the Wanamaker Organ and to listen to it being played, click on this link: Video
— Betty J. Scarpino, Photojournalist