In Chapter 8 of Dark Mural, Nicole Tang Noonan recalls how she got her start as an art historian.
"When Mom took me to the de Young Museum, about ten blocks from our house, I didn’t want to leave. I started crying when she said it was time to go home. When we got home I used my crayons to make copies from memory of paintings I had seen at the museum so I wouldn’t forget them. When I was older, I took art lessons and started studying art, but the real lesson from my childhood was that copying and thinking about a picture could make me feel better."
Today the de Young occupies an ultra-modern building that opened in 2005. Were she a real person, Nicole would have been a teenager at the time.
But during Nicole's childhood, the de Young occupied a building created for a world's fair in 1894, converted into a permanent art museum in 1895, and expanded and repaired several times throughout the twentieth century. It is described as having "a pseudo–Egyptian Revival style."
Since the new building is on the same site as the original at the eastern end of Golden Gate Park, Nicole could easily have walked to both from her family's home in the Inner Sunset neighborhood of San Francisco.
Goodale Park is the other side of the Short North in Columbus, Ohio. By contrast to the smaller houses east of High Street, it is a neighborhood of grand Victorians.
Here is where one might expect to find houses converted to bed-and-breakfast inns, but that is not the case. The b&b where I stayed is on the east side, in a modest house probably originally built for the family of a factory work.
West of High Street, these larger houses appear still to be single-family homes. Walking around the neighborhood, I saw no signs of division into apartments or condos.
The largest of them is large indeed:
I haven't yet come up with a reason for Nicole to explore this side of The Short North, but I think she will in some future book in the Nicole Tang Noonan series.
In Dark Mural Nicole says, "My office on the third floor of Arts Humanities had a window overlooking the downward slope of a wooded hillside. Sitting at my desk, I saw some pale yellow spots among the wave of green treetops, my first glimpse of autumn color."
This photo gives an example of the kind of scene she describes. The people seen as tiny figures on the sidewalk suggest the grand scale of such vistas on a campus in the Appalachian foothills.
Since this was taken in springtime, as shown by sparse foliage on the trees, it gives a better impression of what Nicole would see from her window in Dark Picasso, the third Nicole Tang Noonan mystery, which takes place in April. Dark Picasso will be published in January, 2019.
In fact, I took this picture on the campus of Ohio University, in Athens, Ohio (not to be confused with Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio), near the border with West Virginia. The fictional location of the Nicole Tang Noonan mysteries is somewhere between Chillicothe and Athens, so the landscape would be similar.
I previously wrote about Schlegel's Coffee in Chillicothe, Ohio, as a source for a coffee-house scene in Dark Exhibit, the second Nicole Tang Noonan mystery. I like it's historic vibe and the friendly reception I got from the proprietress.
But this place provided one detail of the place Nicole visits to meet a mysterious person: "The cafe occupied a corner storefront, which gave it abundant daylight from windows on two sides."
As you can see this coffee house has windows both on the street and around the corner on the alley. The extra exposure to passers-by made Nicole and her companion more vulnerable, which helped the nervous feeling of the scene.
The sign hanging in front of this place says, "Paper City Coffee," a reference to the paper mill that has long been Chillicothe's economic life-blood. Because of the good jobs it provides most of the neighborhoods in town are looking all spruced up, as folks around here might say.
At a critical point in Dark Exhibit, the second Nicole Tang Noonan mystery, Nicole agrees to meet a mysterious figure at a coffee shop called Klein's in Chillicothe, which is a half-hour drive from her campus in southeastern Ohio.
As she describes it:
"On Thursday afternoon I found Klein's in a block of three-story, red-brick buildings that looked like they'd been around since the 1880s. The cafe occupied a corner storefront, which gave it abundant daylight from windows on two sides. I guessed it could seat fifty people, though there were less than a dozen customers on that afternoon. The space to walk between the tables and the groupings of couches and easy chairs was a luxury unknown back home in San Francisco where space is always at a premium."
I counted three coffee houses in Chillicothe, and I may have missed one or two. This description doesn't exactly match any of them. I assembled the parts that were most useful for the scene I wanted to write.
The coffee shop where I had breakfast was Schlegel's (see below). I asked the proprietress about the impressive storefront with the name in glass over the doorway. She said the place was originally a jewelry store that operated for many years in the town. When she leased the space, the obvious choice was to keep the historic storefront and call her new shop Schlegel's coffee.
Those of you who have read about half-way through Dark Exhibit (and I know some of you have) know Nicole takes a weekend break by checking into a bed-and-breakfast in the Short North, a neighborhood of Columbus, Ohio.
I stayed in such a place when I visited Columbus for research on the series. Though none of the houses pictured above is the one I stayed in, it was a house very much like these on a street like this.
Front porches seem to have gone out of style, and that's a shame. Somewhere I read an architect's idea that porches facing the street create community. For one thing, they put lots of eyes on the street, so people behave themselves. Also, neighbors sitting out on their porches are available for passing conversations and casual visits.
Sadly, they don't build them like this any more.
In Dark Mural, Nicole and Lionel visit the Columbus Museum of Art. Here's how she describes her visit:
"Lunch at the museum cafe overlooking the sculpture garden was like breathing pure oxygen. After lunch, we walked through the permanent collection, and I made mental notes to return. I liked the way they hung the work of local artists alongside that of recognized masters to invite comparison. The collection was especially rich in the works of George Bellows, who is both a native of Columbus and widely recognized."
My visit to this museum was similar. It's not as grand as the Cleveland Museum of Art or the Cincinnati Art Museum, but they do smart, innovative things. I enjoyed seeing paintings by widely recognized masters such as Edward Hopper hung alongside similar paintings by local and regional artists such as Emerson C. Burkhart.
Readers of the first two Nicole Tang Noonan Mysteries will notice she visits a neighborhood in Columbus, Ohio, called The Short North. She goes there to take a break from the rural campus where she lives and teaches. Unlike her campus, it's a real place.
Along High Street, she finds art galleries and restaurants, just as I did when I visited there. Brew pubs are also well-represented, which is trendy but also traditional for this heavily German part of Ohio. There is another neighborhood on the south side called Brewerytown.
These three-story brick buildings are about 100 years old, with retail space on the street level and two floors of apartments above. Very civilized. The adjacent neighborhood is built almost entirely of red brick, but on this commercial street the builders went for orange and tan and made bold patterns.
I was fortunate to visit on a mild spring evening, and enjoy my dinner al fresco (see below).