Adrift on a beach, the tide creeps o'er the Boneyard-- withering away
As an automobile enthusiast, I had occasion to visit the recently opened Classic Car Museum of St. Augustine on a drab weather day. It was a fitting opportunity to take my newly acquired Porsche 718 Cayman out for a drive before the expected rain.
The 30,000 sq. ft. garage displays 80 cars from Sidney Hobbs’ collection,
showcasing every decade through the 20th and 21st century,
with a miscellany of antique and classic cars from private collectors consigned for sale.
like fins from the 50’s;
or hood ornaments;
Sometimes the accents serve little purpose…
and sometimes they do.
And sometimes it nothing more than a bunch of hot air.
But the unspoken truth is, none of it really matters unless the car is driven.
Despite the three years since Leah and I visited Mt. Rushmore, what could be more American than re-posting this visit on Independence Day? And still, there’s great turmoil within the country. A trip to Mt. Rushmore means many different things to different kinds of people. One person’s treasure is another’s abomination. To visit was once considered patriotic. Now it’s an act of partisan politics.
There’s no better way to celebrate the 4th of July, than a trip to Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Memorial. Sure, the crowds were large; that was to be expected. But once the cars were garaged, the pedestrian traffic was easy to negotiate. And with everyone looking up at the mountain, the Presidents’ faces and intentions were never obstructed.
It was also a time to celebrate family. There were plenty of kids riding in strollers, hanging from moms in carriers, or balancing on dads’ shoulders. Generations of families–many of them immigrants–had gathered to pay homage to the principles of freedom that make our country a beacon for the oppressed and downtrodden.
Seniors were being escorted through the Avenue of Flags by their grandchildren. Extended families organized group pictures at the Grand View Terrace, unified by their love of democracy and their reunion T-shirts.
All expressed awe at Gutzon Borglum’s grand vision and remarkable achievement–the transformation of a mountain into a national symbol visited by approximately 3 million people every year.
The 14-year process of carving the rock began with dimensionalizing the Presidents’ portraits through Plaster of Paris masks, on view at the sculptor’s studio-turned-museum.
Additional exhibits detail the construction of the memorial, and the tools used by workers, like the original Rand & Waring compressor, which powered the jackhammers for all the finishing work.
An overlooked fact–Mt. Rushmore was once intended as a tribute to the “Five Faces of Freedom,” but funding ran short when Congressional appropriation for the monument approached $1 million during the Great Depression. Hence, the unfinished carving of the Great Ape to the right of Lincoln serves as a reminder that we are never far from our true ancestors.¹
No less ambitious, and equally as impressive, the Crazy Horse Memorial is a work-in-progress located 16 miles away in the heart of the Black Hills–considered sacred land by the Lakota people.
Conceived by Korczak Ziolkowski in early 1940s,
the memorial, when completed will stand 563 ft. by 641 ft. across, and is expected to be the largest sculpture in the world. Already, the completed head of Crazy Horse measures 60 feet tall…
…twice the size of any of the presidents at Mt. Rushmore. While the first blast was conducted on the mountain in 1947, the current prospects for the memorial are to complete the outstretched arm during the next twelve years. There is no completion date available for the finished carving, which has been financed entirely by private funding since its inception.
Mt. Rushmore was created by a Danish American. Crazy Horse was created by a Polish American. And visitors to both destinations manifest the melting pot that has brought us all together as Americans. It’s our diversity that makes us strong, our ambition and determination that makes us great, and our compassion and sacrifice that make us whole.
These are the values reflected from the faces we’ve immortalized in stone. Yet, we would honor them more by living according to these principles.
Happy Birthday, America!
¹ Just kidding, but the photograph is real and has not been retouched.
Eila Hiltunen’s landmark sculpture, Passio Musicae pays tribute to Finland’s Jean Sibelius, but not without controversy.
Sibelius was an internationally acclaimed symphonic composer inspired by Finnish folklore. Long regarded by Finns as a national icon, his celebrity and talent sparked a public fundraising campaign to memorialize him in a meaningful way after his death in 1957, while also fueling a public debate on the purpose of public art.
In 1961, the Sibelius Society arranged a competition among 50 of Finland’s finest sculptors. The local jury recognized five finalists with statuary proposals and gave consideration to Hiltunen’s abstract design of 600 stainless steel tubes clustered in free-form formations.
The second tier of judging was bolstered by three additional experts of international reputation, who ultimately favored Hiltunen’s more refined proposal, and awarded her the commission,
immediately angering half of Finland’s population who favored a more figurative solution (later added by Hiltunen as a compromise),
yet pleasing the other half of the nation looking for a modernist approach.
But irony abounds when Hiltunen’s monument honors an accomplished violinist, but resembles a mighty display of scrolled organ pipes, or perhaps a birch forest or the Northern Lights to an imaginative viewer.
Nearby, Leah and I huddled for warmth inside a fanciful shoebox called Cafe Regatta, located on the edge of the park,
to contemplate the Sibelius monument, and enjoy a hot cocoa and donut…
while around the bend, on the water’s edge,
two hearty locals dared to dip into icy waters–
reminding me that taking the plunge is risky, but the results can take your breath away.
Leah and I eagerly anticipated our arrival to Tromsø. For one, we were bored of cruising, having spent two consecutive days at sea after missing the port of Bodø because of high winds and rough seas (see Order of the Blue Nose).
But Tromsø, for us, provided the needed adrenelin rush to jumpstart our Norway adventure. Now that we finally arrived at the Gateway to the Arctic, we could participate in many of the off-the-ship excursions within our reach, like snowmobiling through white-carpeted mountain passes, and searching for the Northern Lights.
The Viking Star gently glided past Polaria’s domino-stacked building as Captain Nilsen steered us through the harbor on our way to docking.
While waiting for the local authorities to clear our vessel, I had an opportunity to photograph our new surroundings from our stateroom veranda, looking from stem…
But one building that piqued my interest sat off the port side of the ship, nestled in the snowy foothills of Tromsø Sound–the Arctic Cathedral. Absolutely stunning!
Strikingly modern, the church was designed by architect Jan Inge Hovig and built in 1965. It’s roof structure was formed by concrete sheathed in aluminum panels,
as opposed to Tromsø’s other landmark church, the Tromsø Cathedral. Located in the center of town on the spot of Tromsø’s first church built in 1252, this cathedral was finished in 1861, and remains Norway’s only cathedral made of wood.
Leah and I crossed the Tromsø Bridge by bus for a closer look.
Likened to the Sydney Opera House, the exterior of the Arctic Cathedral is simple in shape and style,
while the interior design is modestly appointed to accentuate: the large prism chandeliers;
the sparse altar rail and pulpit; and the grand glass mosaic commissioned by artist Victor Sparre–depicting three rays of light emanating from God’s hand: one through the form of Jesus, one through woman and one through man.
The western wall of the sanctuary is complemented by Grönlunds Orgelbyggeri’s organ, built in 2005.
The Star of David radiating through the eastern wimdow symbolizes a spirit of inclusiveness and community acceptance. (Just kidding)
The organ was built in the French Romantic tradition, and was adapted to the cathedral’s architecture, providing illusions of sails and ice floes. The organ comprises 2940 pipes, measuring from 32 feet (9.6 m) to just 5 mm. Much of the woodwork is solid pine with bellows made of reindeer hide.
It’s a pity I never heard it played, as I’m certain the cathedral’s vaulted vortex provides impressive acoustics.
Back at the Viking Star, after a brief bout of daylight (6hrs, 15min.)…
I returned to my veranda to record the Arctic Cathedral bathed in moonlight…
and I imagined I heard Grieg’s Song of Norway playing from its soaring arches.
Leah and I crossed a rocky North Sea from Tilbury, England aboard Viking Star (more on this Viking ocean liner later),
and docked at Stavanger Port on an overcast morning.
Stavanger is Norway’s third largest region, and best known as the European capital for the oil and gas industry–which explains the town’s Norwegian Petroleum Museum, and its unusual derrick-like design on the city’s waterfront.
Stavanger is also a popular tourist hub, as it’s the gateway to the fjords. To that end, Leah and I had booked an off-ship excursion to Rogaland to cruise through Lysefjord in search of Preikestolen, better known as Pulpit Rock.
But with some time to kill before our departure, we disembarked early to stroll along the harbor plaza to find our bearings, and regain our sea legs after a day and a half of cruising.
The plaza was sleepy for an early Wednesday morning, but it was refreshing to have the place to ourselves.
We could enjoy the local art (that celebrates the shrimping industry)…
without concern for another’s footsteps.
We opted to tour the Gamle Stravanger (Old Town), where 173 wooden buildings from the turn of the 18th century have been preserved…
down to the cast bronze utility plate covers.
A casual walk along Old Town’s winding roads of white cottages…
soon brought us to an end-of-the-road cafe,
where old begat new,
and reminded us how far we’ve come…
and the distance we’ve traveled.
Our adventure continues…
Our time in London was limited–only two days to explore the sights. With so much to see and so little time, Leah and I buckled down for a tour of London’s greatest hits, which easily includes a visit to Westminster Abbey, England’s Gothic royal church, and familiar site for British coronations and weddings, and national celebrations dating back to the 11th century.
We walked around the massive structure until we found the gate entry. Signage informed us that access to this London landmark would set us back 23£ ($30 with current exchange rates), but seniors were entitled to a 3£ discount.
The price seemed steep, but the opportunity to walk through history doesn’t come along every day.
There is a strict NO PHOTOGRAPHY policy inside, which the church keepers will tell you is for the benefit of giving their guests an experience without distraction, and to perserve the solemnity of a working house of worship.
Nevertheless, we walked through the transepts and chapels listening to interactive video recordings while admiring the captivating architecture and memorials, and reflecting on the notion that Charles Darwin and Isaac Newton lie beneath our feet.
But with a newly purchased camera dangling around my neck (Sony RX10 IV), I couldn’t resist the urge.
I had to see what this camera could reproduce in low light…
using advanced stabilization software for hand-held shots…
until I was admonished by an Abbey marshal in Henry VII’s Lady Chapel while capturing an overhead view from a polished mirror.
My bad! He wouldn’t leave my side until I reversed the shade and capped my lens. Even then, I could feel his eyes trained on me as I walked around the royal tombs acting as contrite as I could possibly be.
Fortunately, photography IS allowed in the College Garden,
and the Chapter House.
As we prepared to leave through the Great West Door, Leah and I walked past the Grave of the Unknown Warrior toward the Coronation Chair behind glass, I was so tempted to surreptitiously point and shoot…but thought better of it. Lesson learned.
As serendipity would have it, the Marshal and I reunited outside, and all was forgiven.
We parted as friends, and I believe I was absolved for my vainglory sin. He used our final moments together to tell us the tale of Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna, his favorite modern martyr, whose ediface adorns the Abbey’s Great West Door.
According to Marshal John…
Elizabeth of Hesse-Darmstadt was born on 1st November 1864. She was named after Elizabeth of Hungary (1207-1231), a Catholic saint of her own family. Her mother died when she was a child, and she came to England to live under the protection of her grandmother, Queen Victoria. If her childhood was Lutheran, the religious culture of her adolescence was distinctively Anglican. In 1884 Elizabeth married Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich, the fifth son of Tsar Alexander II of Russia. Elizabeth found Orthodoxy increasingly absorbing, and in 1891 she adopted the faith.
Although her life had assurance and all the comforts of eminence, it rested on fragile foundations. The Tsarist state maintained its grip over a changing society by repression. Talk of revolution persisted, and grew louder. Acts of terrorism mounted. On 18th February 1905, the Grand Duke Sergei was assassinated.
This marked a turning point in Elizabeth’s life. Now she gave away her jewellery and sold her most luxurious possessions, and with the proceeds she opened the Martha and Mary home in Moscow, to foster the prayer and charity of devout women. Here there arose a new vision of a diaconate for women, one that combined intercession and action in the heart of a disordered world. In April 1909 Elizabeth and seventeen women were dedicated as Sisters of Love and Mercy. Their work flourished: soon they opened a hospital and a variety of other philanthropic ventures arose.
In March 1917 the Tsarist state, fatally damaged by the war with Germany, collapsed. In October, a revolutionary party, the Bolsheviks, seized power. Civil war followed. The Bolshevik party was avowedly atheistic, and it saw in the Orthodox Church a pillar of the old regime. In power, it persecuted the Church with terrible force. In time, hundreds of priests and nuns were imprisoned, taken away to distant labour camps, and killed. Churches were closed or destroyed. On 7th May 1918 Elizabeth was arrested with two sisters from her convent, and transported across country to Perm, then to Ekatarinburg, and finally to Alapaevsk. On 17th July the Tsar and his family were shot dead. During the following night Elizabeth, a sister from SS Mary and Martha named Varvara, and members of the royal family were murdered in a mineshaft.
In the Soviet Union Christianity survived in the face of periodic persecution and sustained oppression. But Elizabeth was remembered. In 1984 she was recognized as a saint by the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, and then by the Moscow Patriarchate in 1992.
I’m certain that Saint Elizabeth, in her charity, would have pardoned me too.
To avoid taking interior photos of Westminster Abbey, go to https://www.westminster-abbey.org/visit-us/photo-gallery for complementary images.
Leah and I could not leave London without visiting Tate Modern, a post-industrial power plant repurposed to house a wide collection of global artists, past and present, who conceptualize their vision through a variety of mediums.
These are only a sampling of my impressions of their work and installations…
See Part 1 before continuing…
With our table cleared, and the house lights dimmed, the performance was about to begin. We were reminded by the maitre d’ to take as many pictures as we wanted, provided no flash photography was used.
Drawing from Mexican folklore and fantasy, the storyline is set in an alchemist’s library/laboratory–complete with rigging and a trap door–where we are introduced to a loyal menagerie of characters,
beholden to a mischievous girl, and her scatterbrained, but well-meaning grandfather,
who for the next 80-minutes embark on a quixotic quest through space and time to rescue Grandpa’s Book of Life, and in the process gain an understanding and greater appreciation of the world’s wonders and secrets of life.
Throughout their journey (part bilingual theater, and part circus), the duo encounters: a skip rope team…
a Risley acrobatic duo,
a silk curtain dancer…
an audience participant…
pageant and puppetry…
and a trampoline wall before the finale…
The show, now in its 6th season was sassy, classy and fun.
As expected, the performers’ imaginative costumes were cut from the same creative cloth that distinguishes Cirque’s originality.
And the acrobats’ anthems appropriately delivered the romance and drama that supported their feats of daring-do.
With the last bow was taken, and the house lights turned up, our family agreed that this was an evening well spent,
deep within the repurposed Yucatán jungle.
Miami Beach was too overcast and blustery to spend time by the ocean,
and the hotel pool was too chilly to swim…
so Leah and I took an excursion to Wynwood Walls to survey the graffiti draped across Miami’s warehouse district.
While there is plenty to see and appreciate within the gates…
…and inside the containers…
a walk around the neighborhood delivers an extended impression of what can happen when an idea catches fire,
and ignites a movement that transcends artistic boundaries and property lines.
Albuquerque’s International Balloon Fiesta celebrates ballooning for nine days in October, continually drawing record crowds and attracting new entries every year.
But for two days–Thursday and Friday– the special shapes take over, and Balloon Fiesta takes flight without ever leaving the ground. Since 1989, the Special Shape Rodeo has grown into Balloon Fiesta’s most popular attraction.
The first-of-its-kind rodeo originally attracted 28 shapes and huge crowds, but today, parking has reached near-capacity, delivering crushing crowds and shrinking field capacity for one-hundred balloons that currently participate during dusk.
Known as the Special Shape Glowdeo™, the special shapes inflate and glow for 2 hours after sunset, followed by a fireworks display sponsored by Canon.
On its surface, this is exactly the kind of event I look forward to: colorful crowds and colorful balloons just waiting to be photographed. But I am not alone. Special Shape Glowdeo™ has become a photography touchstone, and claims to be one of the most photogenic events in the world.
Nearly everyone in the crowd is carrying a camera, or becomes a de facto photographer by virtue of their cell phones and selfie sticks.
And those without cameras are usually pushing strollers, or busy juggling food and babies.
Somehow, all of this works during daylight hours. As more balloons populate the horizon, most people are walking in trances as they look to the heavens, all the while focusing on a particular shape nearby.
It’s hard to calculate all the near-misses, with so many people competing to capture the same image simultaneously, but as long as there is light, accidental collisions are easily forgiven.
But all of that changes when darkness takes over and the only available light eminates from the ephemeral flicker of the balloons across the landscape.
It’s as if the winds have shifted, and all who are present have either been transported to the dark side,
or they now move through space and time as if they are moving through space.
Instantly, carriages and strollers become ankle missiles, and avoiding children on wheels while weaving through the crowd becomes an impossible challenge.
Then there are the Bimbos…
who seeingly run out of gas,
and stop in their tracks without warning,
or those who would sooner walk over me as if I wasn’t there.
It’s enough to make a person scream…
or turn to a higher power for strength–
praying for order to return to the universe.
If only there was another way to get around.
Nevertheless, against all odds, I rally against the lawlessness,
and persevere with a determination worthy of Uncle Sam’s attention.
My mission is to get as close as I can to as many of these nylon giants without getting trampled…
And when my camera battery begins to fade,
I know that it’s time to pack it in,
and reconnect with Leah, who’s been wandering the grounds with family.
“Where are you,” I ask into my cell phone.
“I’m under the elephant,” she answers.
We play Marco Polo by phone for the next 15 minutes.
Waves of pedestrian traffic push against me as I attempt to swim upstream.
It’s not an easy reunion, but it’s as welcoming as the sun on a cool desert evening.
After a time, all the balloons have deflated, except for the sponsor, and our family has settled down on blankets, bracing against the north winds as we dine on pizza ($7 per slice) while enjoying the culminating fireworks display.
And I can’t wait to do it again next year.
I met Andy Warhol once, although it was nothing glamorous. I can’t brag about meeting him on the set of one of his Factory films or dancing together at Studio 54 or sharing lines of coke in the ladies room of Max’s Kansas City. Nevertheless, I’ll settle for our chance encounter in the back seat of my taxi.
It was July 25, 1985 and I was waiting at the light on W. 65th St. and Amsterdam Avenue when I recognized Warhol exiting Lincoln Center. He stepped off the curb to hail a cab, and I held my breath that the light would change before another driver could snatch him from me.
When the light turned green, I gunned the feeble engine, and the taxi lurched across the intersection. I pulled up alongside of Warhol, and he scrambled into the back seat of my cab carrying a Commodore tote bag. He requested I drive him to his Upper Eastside townhouse after attending a Lincoln Center event with Debbie Harry to launch Commodore’s Amiga 1000, and promote its color graphic capabilities.
He wasn’t much of a conversationalist, and the trip–all of 15 minutes–was covered in relative silence, although he asked me turn up the volume when “Brown Sugar” played over the radio.
“I designed that album cover for the Stones, y’know,” he said softly.
These memories came flooding back to me as I explored the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, walking through seven floors of collections from the early years,
through his productive New York days,
until his demise in 1987.
The Andy Warhol Museum–managed by the Carnegie Museum of Art–holds the world’s most extensive collection of Warhol’s art, including:
…approximately 100 sculptures;
…nearly 2,000 works on paper;
…more than 1,000 published and unique prints;
…4,000 photographs; 60 feature films; 200 Screen Tests; and more than 4,000 videos.”
The collection also features Warhol wallpaper and books;
…and an archive of perhaps half a million objects collected by Warhol spanning a 40-year career, including his original Amiga 1000 computer and assorted discs filled with unseen digital art…until recently.
Nearing the end of the exhibition, I approached a Warhol painting detailing a series of female torsos, but found the photograph lackluster and flat. And I wondered, “What would Andy do in this situation to add contrast and depth?”
That’s when I framed a posthumous collaboration of Keith Haring’s painted elephant with Andy’s torsos.
Feeling inspired and somewhat creative, I decided to try my hand at screening a kerchief in the Underground Lab for $2.00.
While it’s not perfect, it’s nothing to sneeze at, so I’ll be using tissues instead, whenever necessary.
The cultural evolution of Pittsburgh’s North Side began with the Mattress Factory–an anchor and incubator for contemporary art that’s been cutting the experimental edge of international expression by artists for artists since 1977.
Just a short walk from Randyland, the Mattress Factory factors heavily in site-specific installations occupying a collection of once-abandoned, but rehabilitated properties that have contributed greatly to the economic development and revitalization of a once-depressed community.
Not knowing what to expect, Leah and I dropped in during a transitional time for the museum, when much of the Main Building was undergoing preparation in anticipation of a late September opening.
But what we saw pushes the boundaries of form and information, while pushing the buttons of eccentric taste and interpretation.
Two outlying row houses housed separate exhibits. Our exploration began at the Monteray Annex…
…and continued at the Sampsonia Annex…
…before returning to the Main Building, where we followed the advice of an admissions clerk, and started on Floor 3 for a look at Yayoi Kusama’s two rooms…
…followed by a voyeuristic installation by Greer Lankton.
When the elevator dropped us at Floor 2, we paused long enough in the darkened foyer for our eyes to adjust, before feeling our way through a serpentine corridor that guided us to James Turrell’s light projections.
We finished our tour with a stroll around a compact courtyard garden designed by Winifred Lutz.
While not as exhaustive as a Whitney Museum Biennial, the Mattress Factory holds a firm place in the art world, where artists can dream and “create remarkable works of art that help us see the world in a fresh and different way.”
Randy Gilson grew up dirt poor in a small mill town just outside Pittsburgh’s city limits. As one of six children from a “broken” family, he remembers being teased by schoolmates, who called him “dumb, stupid, dadless, welfare boy, and white trash.” But his mother, a minister, advised him to ignore the noise, and instilled in him a commitment to do good for others. Her voice became Randy’s moral compass, and he’s walked the high road ever since.
He recalls a childhood Christmas when there was no money for presents, so he scavanged the neighborhood trashcans in search of discarded toys, and placed a wrapped gift for each of his siblings under the tree. It was a powerful lesson.
He learned that “making others happy made me happy.”
He also discovered that traditional learning was a waste of his time. He was wired differently from others, and blamed his failing school grades on an unofficial diagnosis of “ADHD and OCD, mixed with a little bit of autism,” because he was never formally tested. Rather than depend on his brain, he reminded himself that “my eyes are a tool to see, my ears are a tool to hear, my hands are a tool to work, and my heart is a tool to help.”
Randy’s first money came from mowing neighbors’ lawns, but in a roundabout way. At first, he furtively cut their overgrown grass as a goodwill gesture. The neighbors called Randy out for tresspassing, but eased their anger once they realized the benefit to their properties. Eventually, they hired Randy to tend their yards–where he honed his topiary skills on their hedges and trees.
Additionally, working on family farms over the summers taught him the value of nurturing seeds and the resultant harvest. In later years, Randy’s interest in horticulture blossomed into the Old Allegheny Garden Society, which resulted in planting hundreds of whiskey barrel gardens along the Mexican War Streets of Pittsburgh’s North Side during a risky time of transition and uncertainty.
“Living his life” gave Randy the confidence to gamble on his future. In 1978, he moved to Pittsburgh’s North Side, because it was the best he could do at the time. When long-time residents fled to the suburbs, the gangs moved into the area, and a drug culture took root and held the community hostage. “The neighbors used to shoot off guns in the middle of the night. For them, it was particularly useful in keeping the rents low,” claimed Randy.
But Randy stood his ground. Although planting gardens and painting murals raised eyebrows of derision and suspicion among grown-ups, the children of the streets gave Randy the benefit of the doubt. At first they were confused.
“Why would a stranger be doing all sorts of nice things on their streets?” Randy mused. “When I told them that I was doing it for them, then they wanted to help, too.”
The street became Randy’s parish, and he preached a gospel of stewardship and goodness. Soon after, his Pied Piper nature won over the rest of the community, and he was accepted as their resident eccentric (or eccentric resident).
An opportunity presented itself in 1995. An abandoned building on Arch Street, earmarked for the wrecking ball, was saved from demolition when Randy bought the property from the bank with a $10,000 credit card loan covered by the bank.
Immediately, he began collecting litter, planting gardens and painting wall murals.
That was the genesis of Randyland…
a candy-coated, pie-in-the-sky habitat of repurposed whimsy and soul,
People travel to Randyland from around the world, and prepare destination arrows to indicate their country of origin.
They stop by for the novelty…
for the vibe and the energy…
and to remember the child still trapped inside us all.
Randy doesn’t pretend to be an artist. In fact, he disagrees with the characterization. “I’m not an artist. I’m a gay hippie that smokes pot, and believes in sharing my vision.”
Randy’s charm is infectious; his energy is contagious;
and his message is inspirational. His mother would be proud of him.
What started out as a typical tour of a colorful outdoor habitat, turned into a surprisingly deep and endearing conversation with Randy, once Leah and I introduced ourselves.
Passerby cars with follow-up horn toots were a constant interruption, but Randy always had a quick response for them:
“Hey, pretty mama…”
“I love your weave…”
“Lookin’ good in the neighborhood.”
Randy is eager to tell his story and have his story told. He is also unabashed about his upbringing and background. Few people I know are so accepting of themselves. He easily shares the details of his life normally reserved for confidants or therapists. But then I realize that Randy’s candor is probably an ongoing part of his therapy…where he plays the therapist.
Randy placed a wad of business cards in my hand, and like a butterfly in search of its next flower nectar, he flew off to be photographed with his next best friends.
It’s easy spotting a rainbow, but following him to his pot of gold is a greater reward.
Detroit has been working overtime on a public relations campaign to scrub the grime off its tarnished reputation and buff the rentability of its landmark towers. A downtown resurgence is helping to restore the luster of a once-burgeoning city that grew into an industrial and economic juggernaut during the first half of the 20th century, but became a municipal pariah after accruing $20 billion of debt since the 1950s.
In its heyday, Detroit was a magnet of opportunity, attracting new residents from all American sectors with the promise of manufacturing jobs. Consequently, its population swelled to 2 million.
The collapse of the city’s automobile industry was the catalyst for Detroit’s demise. Racial tensions culminated in riots in 1967 that led to a mass exodus, and Detroit shrank to a third of its size. Vacant lots and abandoned buildings became the norm. Ultimately, the city went bankrupt in 2013–the largest debt of its kind for an American city.
Today, Detroit is rebounding, but not without new growing pains. City leaders hope to strike a balance between renewed economic confidence and building a future that is more inclusive of long-term residents who have suffered the most.
As it’s explained by Pete Saunders for Forbes Magazine:
…A partnership between city and state government, business leaders and the city’s philanthropic community led an innovative effort to restructure the city’s debt, estimated at $19 billion.
Private investment in downtown Detroit, already on the upswing prior to the bankruptcy filing, continued to trend upward. Last fall’s opening of Little Caesar’s Arena, part of the larger District Detroit business and entertainment area, the construction of a landmark mixed use development on a former iconic department store site, and the recent acquisition by Ford Motor Company of Michigan Central Station all demonstrate the accelerated pace of development in the city.
Detroit’s Midtown area, also just north of downtown and home to many of the city’s arts and cultural institutions and Wayne State University, has been the site of dozens of new mixed use developments with hundreds of new units designed to attract Millennial urban dwellers.
The city’s former warehouse district on the east riverfront is attracting development attention for high-end condos and apartments with downtown and waterfront views.
Detroit’s Corktown neighborhood, the city’s oldest neighborhood and one that’s grown in trendiness over the last half-decade, is set to receive more investment in commercial and residential development, pushing its recent successes to the next level.
The New Center area, further north of downtown, is beginning to see development activity tick upward as well. Community anchor Henry Ford Hospital has just broken ground on a new cancer center. The Detroit Pistons basketball team will build a new office and practice complex in the area as well. More high-end condos and apartments are being constructed in New Center too, and the Motown Museum is planning for a $50 million expansion.
Detroit’s development resurgence is being tied together by a brand-new streetcar line that opened last year, the QLine. The 3-mile streetcar connects downtown with the adjacent neighborhoods where activity is taking place, and there are hopes that the line could expand further outward and gain additional branches.
Leah and I took a walk around downtown to see for ourselves. First, we stopped at an Art Deco-styled landmark building celebrating its 90th anniversary.
A short walk to the Detroit River brought us face to fist with an homage to Joe Louis.
Nearby, the Spirit of Detroit was undergoing a makeover.
We crossed E. Jefferson to arrive at Hart Plaza to gaze at Michigan’s Labor Legacy.
Walking a short distance to the Detroit River brought us views of Windsor, Canada as once imagined by slaves making their escape through the Underground Railroad.
In the distance, stands the Ambassador Bridge–the busiest crossing between U.S. and Canada–with 10,000 commercial vehicles making the trip daily.
Beyond Dodge Fountain, the GM Renaissance Tower rises from the International Riverfront.
A walk along the riverwalk delivered us to the GM Wintergarden, where a life-sized model of a Chevy Silverado was made entirely of Legos.
It took 18 master builders over 2,000 hours and 334,544 “bricks” to complete. At 3,307 lbs., the sculpture stands at half the curb weight of its legitimate counterpart.
Equally as impressive, and no less the engineering feat, the Fisher Building has been referred to as “Detroit’s largest art object.”
Finished in 1928, the 30-story building was financed by the Fisher family from the sale of Fisher Body Company to General Motors.
Albert Kahn’s opulent 3-story barrel vaulted lobby…
decorated in paint…
and marble by Géza Maróti is considered a masterpiece.
Alfred Kahn also spent time up river on Belle Isle (an island park originally designed by Frederick Law Olmstead in the 1880s), where he designed America’s first Aquarium and Conservatory in 1904.
Another part of Detroit’s revitalization effort included the construction of Ford Field, the domed home of NFL’s Detroit Lions,
conjoined with Comerica Park, home to baseball’s Detroit Tigers.
Detroit has been hailed as The Comeback City, emerging from Chapter 9 with a new vibe that seems to be drawing people back to a city that was broke and broken, and considered unliveable only six years ago. With continuing investment and broad community suport, the prospects for Detroit are bright,
and turning naysayers into believers.
At first glance, the large number of vacant lots between derelict buildings on Heidelberg Street in Detroit, MI resembles a crooked smile through a handful of broken teeth. The gaps are filled with collections of discarded remnants from everyday life that could easily be mistaken for a flea market on crack. But first impressions are completely unjustified, and there is a purpose to the madness…to be discovered over time.
In 1986, Tyree Guyton returned to his childhood neighborhood in Detroit’s East Side, only to find a ghetto ravaged by drugs and poverty so severe that it touched his soul and roused his spirit. With encouragement from Grandpa Sam Mackey, he vowed to fight back with a paintbrush and a broom, which would eventually carry him on a celebrated journey–fighting his way through local partisan politics to national prominence.
To his credit, Guyton recruited sympathetic volunteers to change the face of their community, and after a massive clean-up, he incorporated the wreckage gathered from vacant lots, converting his neighborhood into an urban sculpture installation that has garnered world-wide attention.
For 30 years, Heidelberg Street has been a grass roots, work-in-progress. The HP (r)evolution continues today through personal donations and strong foundation support–providing funding for transformative paint-overs, and the acquisition of border properties to replace the homes lost to arson.
During my visit, I crossed paths with several photographers who felt as I did–that we had walked into someone’s wild dream, and we were there to interpret his dream through our cameras.
However, should the art critics and cognescenti remain unmoved, or the public dismisses Guyten’s art as junk, there is more to the story at the end of the day. When all the visitors return to their homes, the residents of Heidelberg Street stay behind knowing that their plight has been replaced by pride and opportunity.
Leah and I had set up camp near Muskegon, MI with plans to visit Grand Rapids for an evening concert with “Weird Al” Yankovic. Being one hour away, we decided to make a day of it and explore the Grand Rapids area, but we needed an activity to keep us occupied until late afternoon, and it had to be captivating. After an internet search, all roads led to Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park.
Not knowing what to expect, we packed a lunch and set a course for what Trip Adviser informed us was the #1 attraction in Grand Rapids. With over 2800 reviews, who were we to argue with such a consensus. Upon arrival, our first impression was the immensity of the property (158 acres), And the bigness was becoming bigger with new construction all around us.
Apparently, Frederik Meijer was a big success. Who knew? Turns out, Fred was a supermarket magnate worth billions, and this park was to be his legacy–with an endowment fit for a world-class museum, and subsequent listing by 1,000 Places to See before You Die as one of the “30 Must-See Museums” in the world.
There is an impressive conservatory on the grounds with flora from every climate and environment, including a trove of carniverous plants,
but it was a beautiful day and we were there to walk the Japanese gardens…
and celebrate Meijer’s devotion to outdoor sculpture.
These are a few of my favorite things…listed alphabetically by artist:
Our time through the park went quickly. We walked over 2 miles, and returned to the parking lot to find hundreds of people tailgating behind the amphitheater, awaiting Lyle Lovett’s evening performance. Had we not made previous plans to see “Weird Al,” it would have been the perfect venue for another songfest from Lyle (see Music City, USA).
We must return some other day…after checking the concert calendar first.
The Chicago Art Institute is considered one of the highly regarded art museums in the world. Its collection is deep; it is wide; and it’s displayed in 200+ galleries over three floors.
However, with only two days scheduled in Chicago and so much to do, Leah and I had less time to roam the museum than I would have preferred. What to do?
Fortunately, the Art Institute has a solution! The museum provides a guide for locating twelve essential must-sees, and comprehensive floor plans to help find them. It’s their version of a cultural scavenger hunt through time and space.
Leah and I accepted the challenge, walking 3 miles in 2 hours (which also included a visit to the Member’s Lounge to sip some coffee) until we saw all twelve works of art.
Realizing that time is precious, and many people may not have the capacity to travel, I’ve taken the liberty of recording the museum’s highlights and displaying them for all to see without spending the time or walking the distance–although it’s impossible to replace the sensation of seeing these masterpieces up close and personal.
Nevertheless, consider it a public service and a crash course in art appreciation…
Our appetite for fine art took us to Milwaukee Art Museum with its collection of 25,000 works on display–making it one of the nation’s largest galleries. While I was curious about the collection, I was most interested in the Quadracci Pavilion, built by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava in 2001.
The iconic winged structure has demonstrably changed the city skyline by Lake Michigan’s waterfront…
to the point that Milkwaukee now incorporates Calatrava’s brise soleil in it logo.
Parallels to Calatrava’s Oculus at NYC–Gound Zero are unmistakable;
comparisons are inevitable.
The wings are extended most days until sunset, but stay retracted during nasty weather or high winds.
Sadly, Leah and I were greeted with high winds, but we were fortunate to tour the museum with so few visitors.
With the exception of a group of mini-pals,
and isolated cases…
here and there…
we felt like we had the space to ourselves–
which gave us more time to study some of the special artwork in greater detail without distraction or interruption:
(quickly scroll up and down for cool moiré effect)
While I never considered that the building was competing with the exhibitions, I was always eager to return to Calatrava’s public spaces…
to cleanse my palette before indulging in another bite of brain food!
There’s very little to write about Frank Lloyd Wright that scholars haven’t already written.
His affinty for nature, his indefatigable energy, his genius for design, his eagerness to experiment, his immense ego, his appetite for women, his dedication to family–it’s all been revealed and discussed in numerous books and lectures. But it’s also apparent from walking through his Taliesin estate in Spring Green, Wisconsin.
Leah and I would have preferred the immersive, 4-hr Estate Tour, but when I checked on-line for tickets, only one ticket was available when I needed two. It seems that no tour exceeds 21 people, matching the number of seats on the shuttle. Instead, we opted for the 2-hr Highlights Tour.
We boarded the bus at the Visitor Center–
orginally designed by Wright in 1953 as a restaurant and “gateway” to Taliesin, but Wright’s death in 1959 stalled any further construction until his former apprentices completed the building in 1967.
The ride took us past Midway Barn, Uncle John’s farming complex,
on the way to Hillside, the site of the home school he built for his Aunts Jane and Ellen Lloyd Jones.
Currently, the building is occupied by a time-shared architecture “Fellowship”–funded by the Taliesin Foundation–that occaisionally gathers in the Assembly Hall,
and takes meals in the Fellowship Dining Room,
before returning to the 5,000 sq. ft. “abstract forest” Drafting Studio.
We finished up at Wright’s intimate, 120-seat Hillside Theater–originally intended as a gymnasium, but converted by Wright to a cultural space after determining that the arts were more important than sports–
and reboarded the bus for a brief blast of air conditioning and quick trip to Wright’s home studio,
where we browsed through a drafting room filled with “Usonian” models, like the Willey House from 1934,
and assorted personal artifacts.
The house was noticably cooler, thanks to geothermal plumbing installed during the third re-build. We rounded the studio from the outside,
walked across a mound with views of the restored Romeo and Juliet windmill,
and traversed the gardens,
before re-entering the house through the expansive living room,
filled with wonderful flourishes, like glass-cornered windows (which Wright would ultimately perfect at Fallingwater)…
built-in table lamps,
and integration of sculptures that survived the previous two house fires.
Roaming through Wright’s personal bedroom (because he was an insomniac), we discovered no door, a wall of windows without window treatments, and original electric- blue shag carpeting.
The terrace offered glorious views of the Wisconsin River and Tower Hill State Park,
and Unity Chapel in the distance–
the site of Wright’s maternal family’s burial plots, his stone marker, and his empty grave.
As our driver passed Wright’s man-made falls,
our docent passed along a local story of intrigue and scandal:
During March 25, 1985, under cover of darkness, Frank Lloyd Wright’s body was exhumed from his Unity Chapel resting place by his oldest granddaughter, Elizabeth Wright Ingraham, and moved to a burial site at Taliesin West, in Scottsdale, Arizona.
She claimed to be fulfilling the dying wishes of her grandmother and Wright’s widow, Olgivanna Lloyd Wright, whose ashes were united with her husband’s within a memorial wall overlooking Paradise Valley. The event sparked outrage around the globe from associates and friends who argued that the architect would have desired to spend eternity at Unity Church with his family.
Even now, Spring Green residents hope that one day their favorite son will get his ash back to Wisconsin.