Randy’s Pot of Gold

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.

Randy

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.”

torsos and painted rocks].jpg

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.”

garden gate

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.

red knight

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.

swan planters

“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.

stairs (2)

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). 

land beach

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.

Randy house

That was the genesis of Randyland…

Randyland entry

a candy-coated, pie-in-the-sky habitat of repurposed whimsy and soul,

Welcome to Randyland

People travel to Randyland from around the world, and prepare destination arrows to indicate their country of origin.

every which way

They stop by for the novelty…

belonging

for the vibe and the energy…

sandbox

and to remember the child still trapped inside us all.

knit fish

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 with paint photo.jpg

Randy’s charm is infectious; his energy is contagious;

neighbor paint

and his message is inspirational. His mother would be proud of him.

rainbow pergola (2)

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.

Neal-Leah-Randy

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.”

signpost

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.

Say cheese

It’s easy spotting a rainbow, but following him to his pot of gold is a greater reward.

A Concrete Idea

Chiseled from concrete, George Bartholomew stands aside Logan County Courthouse in Bellefontaine, OH with a pick ax and a plan. He is widely regarded as the American father of concrete pavement,

GB tribute plaque

but it took ingenuity and loads of confidence before city leaders agreed to allow him to continue his experiment.

Logan County Courthouse (2)

Little did he or the citizens of Bellefontaine realize what the profound effect his efforts would yield, and its resultant impact on the future of transportation across the country.

1st road plaque

Imbedded plaques surrounding his likeness detail Bartholomew’s discovery and his process, and memorialize his achievement.

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

11

12

But that’s not all there is to Bellefontaine!

Sandwiched between Garfield Avenue and W. Columbus Avenue lies 30 feet of patched concrete known locally as McKinley Street (named after President William McKinley),

McKinley St

and recognized nationally as the shortest street in America, or the corners of No Parking and No Parking.

High Time

While camping alongside the Airstream factory in Jackson Center (see Building Airstreams), Leah and I wondered how we would kill time during our weekend stopover. There wasn’t much to do in town, although we were within walking distance of the Elder Theatre, a one-screen cinema showcasing Dora and the Lost City of Gold and the Heidout Restaurant, serving bar food backed by a roadhouse jukebox.

We took a pass on both, and drove to Bellefontaine, 20 miles east of our location. How fortuitous, because high atop Campbell Hill–overlooking a scenic parking lot, and peaks of grasslands beyond, as far as the eye can see–

Campbell Hill panorama

sits the Ohio Hi-Point Career Center, a two-year career-technical high school campus that also doubles as the highest point in Ohio, at 1549 feet elevation.

Campbell Hill marker

Once upon a Cold War time, this site was home to Bellefontaine Air Force Station, providing radar surveillance to NORAD in the event of a Soviet invasion from the North Pole.

Remnants remain.

Hazmat Team

Leah and I were giddy with excitement. It could have been the altitude, but the notion that we were standing at the highest point in Ohio nearly took our breath away. 

highest point

However, we are seasoned travelers who have Airstreamed through most of America (see Top of the World), and we refused to be intimidated by the height of Campbell Hill.

Admittedly, we were weak-kneed.

We took a deep breath to clear our heads, and took a seat on a strategically placed bench by the geodetic survey marker.

Campbell Hill bench

After a snack to raise our blood sugar, we managed to trek to the parking lot a short distance away. As I regained my composure inside the F-150, I realized that we were brought here for a reason. I figured that given our vantage point and strategic positioning, the military may be interested in recommissioning this location as a secure listening post as we approach the 2020 presidential elections.

 

 

Building Airstreams

Originally, our itinerary would have taken us directly from Cleveland to Pittsburgh, but after phoning Airstream’s Factory Service Center, and learning of an available repair appointment, we redirected Jennifer (our GPS avatar) to plot a course for the western border of Ohio. 

Although we were headed in the opposite direction, it was a small price to pay to fix the damage sutained to the right-side wheel well from a blown Goodyear Marathon tire in Sault Ste Marie, Ontario (see Blowout!).

Shredded tire

Located between Ft. Wayne, IN and Columbus, OH at the intersection of State Routes 274 and 65 sits the village of Jackson Center with a population of nearly 1,500 people, whose largest employer is Airstream with 730 workers.

factory exterior

In 1952, founder Wally Byam, migrated to Jackson Center from Los Angeles with visions of expanding the output of his iconic brand.

Wally and Stella (2)

Sixty-seven years later, Airstream continues its hand-built tradition of America’s longest tenured travel trailer, and now awaits completion of its state-of-the-art 750,000 sq-ft eco-friendly facility by year’s end, which should help correct the current 2,400 trailer shortfall.

When Leah and I arrived, we were overwhelmed by dozens of Airstreams–from its earliest incarnation,

1930s Airstream

1930 Airstream

to several vintage varities,

Wally and Stella's golden ride

Vintage 19

Airstream 345

to newest production models–

Airstream park (2)

all towed across America with a wide array of boo boos,

gutting a classic

junk pen

and lining the parking lot in need of attention and TLC.

repair lot

After confirming my appointment with Amica Insurance Company–who contracted for an adjuster to appraise the damage upon our arrival on Friday morning–I checked in with Customer Service, and registered for the afternoon tour of Airstream’s currrent manufacturing facility.

Customer Lounge

We were joined by 50 additional visitors and Don Ambos, a 60-year veteran of Airstream who retired as a line worker, but currently curates the 2-hour tour–from components to assembly.

Don Ambos

Currently, Airstream builds 72 travel trailers every week…

Furniture assembly

galley build

forms cutter

curving the walls

chassis build

shells

 

wiring

assembly

final assembly

finishing

…and 13 Class B Motorhomes every week.

Atlas

By the time the tour had ended, our trailer had already been towed to the on-site Terraport, where we stayed the next two nights with full hook-up at no extra charge ($10/day for visitors)!

terraport

The Airstream factory tour runs every day at 2pm from Monday through Friday, although on Friday, the production cycle only runs half a day, so goggles and eye protection are not required.

 

 

After traveling over 50,000 miles behind the wheel of my F-150, with my Flying Cloud 27-FB hitched behind me, I can’t image a better tandem for comfort, performance, and durability.

Awards

And having witnessed the assembly of both truck and trailer (in Dearborn, MI and Jackson Center, OH, respectively) I am reassured that Made in America matters.

banff-ca-2.jpg

Cleveland Rocks

The sole reason Leah and I traveled to Cleveland was to visit the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, period…

and it didn’t disappoint.

Cleveland Rocks

exterior

Leah and sign (2)

Classic rock music filled the cavernous lobby…

Power of Rock

and lighter-than-air concert props hung from cables…

Pink Floyd plane
Pink Floyd’s plane
Phish hot dog
Phish’s weiner
U2 cars
U2’s cars

It was a crusty carnival atmosphere on the outside, but we were there for the gooey goodness of the center.

Evolution of Rock

Inside was like a multi-media circus. There was so much information and memorabilia organized on the walls, on the ceilings, and inside floating kiosks that whiplash seemed inevitable. And the Hall was buzzing: with so many tourists, campers, musicians, and music enthusiasts, that at times it felt like a mosh pit, as I moved from one area to another.

To be expected, there was a tribute to Woodstock…

Yasgur Farm Dairy

Woodstock poster

and Dick Clark…

WGN TV

a salute to the 2019 inductees…

2019 inductees

and the icons of rock: Elvis,

Elvis

The Beatles,

The Beatles

Burning the Beatles

The Rolling Stones,

Rolling Stones

and Jimi Hendrix, to name a few.

Jimi Hendrix sound board

Hendrix guitars

There was plenty of concert apparel to gush about…

 

Tom Petty hat
Tom Petty
Michael Jackson
Michael Jackson
Stevie Wonder shirt
Stevie Wonder
Elton John jumpsuit
and Elton John

And there were interactivities to capture one’s creativity, like Garage Band.

Garage Band

Most importantly, when the last lyric was sung and the last chord was strummed, it was time to shop!

Gift shop lore

Because in our own minds, we are Rock Stars, 

mugs-1.jpg

and Rock Rebels!Rock Rebel

 

Henry and Thomas

Henry Ford and Thomas Edison–the two men are inextricably linked in so many ways that it defies kismet. Both were iconic inventors and visionaries with a twist of genius; both were titans of industry; they were best friends; they were neighbors; they were presidents of each other’s mutual admiration society; and they were both anti-Semitic.

On October 21, 1929–two days before the stock market crash–invitees arrived at Greenfield Village to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the electric light, and Ford’s dedication of Greenfield Village to Edison.

jubilee invitation
The Henry Ford

The event was a who’s who of dignitaries and celebrities, with the likes of Will Rogers, Marie Curie, Charles Schwab, Adolph Ochs, Walter Chrysler, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., J.P. Morgan, George Eastman and Orville Wright, etc.

Ford, Hoover, Edison
Henry Ford, President Herbert Hoover, Thomas Edison–The Henry Ford

All gathered inside Edison’s reconstructed Menlo Park laboratory…

Edison Office

Edison Lab

to witness the symbolic relighting of an incandescent lamp made famous a half century earlier, and credited with changing the world.

Early-Light-Bulb

Later, Ford ordered the armchair where Edison sat during the ceremony to be nailed in place for all time, and never to be sat in again.

It remains in the exact same place, today.

Edison Lab1

Greenfield Village was dedicated to Edison that evening as the Edison Institute of Technology. Henry Ford had prepared all year for this public relations bonanza by bringing Menlo Park, NJ to Dearborn, MI.

Menlo Park sign

Ford incorporated Edison’s machine shop…

MP Machine shop sign

Edison workshop

dynamo

Edison machine shop

and years later, he built a facsimile of Edison’s first power plant.

Edison Station sign

Edison station

Edison generators

Although Ford was 16 years Edison’s junior, and Edison had been Ford’s employer for a time, they became bossom buddies by the time World War I erupted. Ford’s acceptance of a 1914 invitation to Edison’s winter retreat in Ft. Myers sealed the deal.

estate exterior (2)

Two years later, Ford purchased The Mangoes beside Edison’s Seminole Lodge, and they became Floridian neighbors.

Henry Ford and cottage (2)

They took public vacations together, inviting John Burroughs and Harvey Firestone along for the ride–usually to the mountains or parts of rural America. The press corps were encouraged to follow their every move, dubbing them “The Vagabonds.”

The Four Vagabonds

While roaming the country, Ford was always eager to share his anti-Semitic views around the campfire, blaming the Shylock bankers in Germany as the root cause of the war, and Jews in America as the source of economic anxiety–all of which was propagandized in the Dearborn Independent, a newspaper published by Ford and used to expose his “truths” about the Jewish threat.

Ford's newspaper mantra
While Edison’s anti-Semitism was never as overt as Ford, it became clear that he harbored similar sentiments, and used his motion picture company to propagate Jewish myths and stereotypes. Cohen was a recurring dislikeable character in his early short films…


While Jean Farrell Edison, the granddaughter and heiress of Thomas Edison’s fortune was funding the Institute for Historical Review (an organization that promotes Holocaust denial), Henry Ford II had distanced himself from his grandfather’s vitriol by offering philanthropic support for Detroit’s Jewish community, as well as renouncing the Arab League’s boycott of Israel after Israel achieved statehood in 1948.

And how would Henry Ford react to Mark Fields’ appointment as Ford Motor Company’s CEO in 2014, or Bill Ford’s dedication of Ford’s first technology research center opening in Tel Aviv this year?

Likewise, Edison might pale upon discovering that the motion picture industry exploded in Hollywood with studios founded by: Carl Laemmle, Sam and Jack Warner, Sam Goldwyn and Louis B. Mayer, William Fox, and Adolf Zukor.

Paradoxically, in 1997, the Israeli Postal Authority memorialized Edison with a stamp.

Israeli Edison stamp

Yet, a bigger question remains…
How is it that we live in a world that continues to embrace an ancient hatred that modern-day leaders are unwilling to disavow?

A Walk through History

Typically, most people with a predilection for collecting turn to everyday items, such as stamps, figurines, sports memorabilia, books, shoes, or records to name just a few obsessions. But not Henry Ford. By virtue of Ford’s bottomless budget, and his insatiable curiosity, his path to collecting took him through time itself, because Henry Ford collected significant relics of history and personal sentiment, and planted them across 80 acres in Dearborn, Michigan.

He called it Greenfield Village, making it the largest museum of its kind in the world.

Plaza fountain

Greenfield Village originally operated as an experimental school known as Edison Institute in 1929 (as a nod to his dearest friend) before opening to the public as an outdoor museum in 1933.

Ford, mused, “I am collecting the history of our people as written into things their hands made and used…. When we are through, we shall have reproduced American life as lived, and that, I think, is the best way of preserving at least a part of our history and tradition…”

There are over 100 original or replicated buildings filled with hundreds of thousands of artifacts and Americana intended to preserve authenticity. Additionally, costumed spokespeople throughout the complex tell antecdotes of historical nature, fully re-enacting an experience that captures an earlier time in America.

Baseball pitch

baseball sidelines

If there was a homestead that had historical value or childhood sentiment to Henry Ford, and it stood in the way of progress, then Henry seized the moment and had the house razed and moved to Michigan for restoration.

As excerpted from Telling America’s Story–A History of the Henry Ford:

In 1919, a road improvement project in Ford’s hometown of Springwells Township, Michigan (now the city of Dearborn), meant his birthplace would need to be either moved 200 yards from its original location – or destroyed.

Ford-Home-Original-Site-c.1880

Ford decided to move the house and restore it to the way it looked at the time of his mother’s death in 1876, when he was 13 years old. Ford personally took charge of the birthplace restoration, meticulously recreating the details of the house down to the original or similar furnishings.

 

Ford home

Ford Home sign

For example, Ford remembered sitting by a Starlight stove in the dining room as a child. After 18 months of searching, he discovered the exact make and model on a porch in Stockbridge, Michigan, which he purchased for $25 and loaded into his car for the journey back to Dearborn. And when he couldn’t find the precise pattern of dishes his mother had used, he had the original site of his birthplace excavated and had replicas made from the pottery shards found.

Ford Living Room

Ford family kitchen

Ford bedroom1

Ford dedicated the restoration of his childhood home to his mother’s memory and her teachings, particularly noting her love of family, her belief in the value of hard work, in learning “not from the school books but from life,” and her belief in trusting one’s intuition. His mother had encouraged his early tinkering and youthful inventions, and he felt sure she had set him on his unique path in life.

The rest is history…

And it’s all organized into seven historic districts: Working Farms;

steam tractor

windmill

farm equipment

Liberty Craftworks;

Spofford Sawmill at Greenfield Village - Dearborn, Michigan

Henry Ford’s Model T;

Model T ride

15 millionth

1931 Model AA Bus

Railroad Junction;

Roundhouse sign

Steam engine roundhouse

Engine 45

Edison 1

Main Street;

Village Pavillian

Bell Tower

MM Chapel sign

Martha-Mary Chapel

Wight Cycle sign

Wright Cycle Shop

Wright cycle build

Wright plane build

Heinz House sign

Heinz House

Heinz House Ad

Porches & Parlors;

Susquehanna Plantation sign

Susquehanna Plantation house

Slave quarters sign

Slave Quarters

Robert Frost home sign

Robert Frost home

Plympton Family home sign

Plympton Family home

Luther Burbank sign

Luther Burbank house

Cotswold Cottage sign

Coswold Cottage

Coswold Cottage gardens

Noah Webster Home sign

Noah Webster home

Webster's Dictionary

Farris Windmill sign

Farris Windmill

and Edison at Work, which is a future subject unto itself.

As one might expect, walking through history can be exhausting. Leah’s iPhone calculated that we hiked nearly 5 miles around the village in 3 hours, although there was still so much more to see and do. However, it was a hot and humid day, and apropos to Henry Ford, we simply ran out of gas and steam.

Or, to bastardize a famous Edison quote, we were inspired while we perspired!

 

 

The Rouge Confession

Every 52 seconds, another Ford F-150 rolls off the line at The Rouge Complex in Dearborn, Michigan, making it the world’s best selling truck, and generating over $28 million in daily revenue. The Henry Ford Museum offers an elective tour of the Rouge as part of its a la carte admission package.

For Leah and me, it was never a consideration. We elected to take the tour to see how our beloved truck was assembled.

F-150 Raptor chasis

The self-guided tour consists of five parts:

The Legacy Theater, offering a short film charting the Rouge’s 100-year history–from Model A to present.

The Manufacturing Innovation Theater, a special effects homage to Ford’s F-150 truck, from vision to conception;

The Observation Deck Tour, with views of Ford’s 10-acre living roof of sedum and associated rainwater reclamation system, which provides a cost-savings of $50 million in annual maintenance.

sedum (2)

The Assembly Walking Plant Tour, which carries observers along a catwalk above the production floor for a birds-eye view of the final assembly of an F-150;

Assembly line process

Line 1

Line 3

Line 2

Line 7

Line 4

Line 8

Line 6

and, The Legacy Gallery, which showcases some of the legendary cars manufactured at the Rouge.

Model A

V8

49 Coupe

T-Bird

Mustang

F-150

To be clear, there is a strict no photography policy during the film presentations and assembly plant portion of the tour. However, being the renegade that I am, I was determined to capture a few frames as I walked the perimeter of the production walkway…but in a covert fashion.

The line never stopped moving with the exception of lunch at noon. It was an industrial pas de deux of human labor and robotic engineering, with components arriving from overhead conveyors and snatched for assembly.

My camera hung casually around my neck as I moved from station to station, where I’d stealthly point my lens in a general direction, always avoiding factory workers, yet hoping to record this dynamic performance. Along the way, I was mindful of patrolling docents, who were fountains of statistical information, but also doubled as picture police.

While I admit to taking a foolish risk, I also confess to the challenge of shooting blindly with the notion that something sublime might materialize.

USA

Somehow, I can’t imagine I’m the only one who sneaks a shot or two! You out there, you know who you are, and you know what I’m talking about.

Nevertheless, I’ll surrender my digital files if I have to, but I will not surrender my ride.

beach1

Cheers

 

This is Detroit

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.

front desk

Guardian arch

Guardian mural

Guardian entry

A short walk to the Detroit River brought us face to fist with an homage to Joe Louis.

homage to Joe Louis

Nearby, the Spirit of Detroit was undergoing a makeover.

Spirit of Detroit

We crossed E. Jefferson to arrive at Hart Plaza to gaze at Michigan’s Labor Legacy.

Labor's Legacy, Hart Plaza

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.

Windsor CA

In the distance, stands the Ambassador Bridge–the busiest crossing between U.S. and Canada–with 10,000 commercial vehicles making the trip daily.

Ambassador Bridge.jpg

Beyond Dodge Fountain, the GM Renaissance Tower rises from the International Riverfront. 

Dodge Fountain

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.

Lego Chevy left.jpg

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.

Lego Chevy rigft

Equally as impressive, and no less the engineering feat, the Fisher Building has been referred to as “Detroit’s largest art object.” 

Fisher Building

Finished in 1928, the 30-story building was financed by the Fisher family from the sale of Fisher Body Company to General Motors.

1928

Albert Kahn’s opulent 3-story barrel vaulted lobby…

Fisher Building arcade

decorated in paint…

Geza Maroti frescoe

and marble by Géza Maróti is considered a masterpiece.

Black marble

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.

Auquarium facade

Belle Isle Aquarium

Marlin mosaic

Belle Isle Conservatory

Conservatory

Another part of Detroit’s revitalization effort included the construction of Ford Field, the domed home of NFL’s Detroit Lions,

Ford Field

conjoined with Comerica Park, home to baseball’s Detroit Tigers.

Comerica Park.jpg

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,

lungfish

and turning naysayers into believers.

Looking Back in Pictures

Leah and I are winding down our Great Lakes circumnavigation 200 miles south of Lake Erie, where a hundred or more local and distant celebrants have gathered in Ligonier, PA to party with Tiff and Jim on their 25th wedding anniversary.

Appropriately, it was Ligonier and the surrounding Laurel Highlands where Leah and I broke our Airstream cherry. It was the cusp of winter/spring; it was the day after Leah’s 60ish birthday; and it was my first day of retirement.

We dug ourselves out of a major New Jersey snowstorm, and loaded up the Airstream and the F-150 with a year’s worth of gear and courage. Our maiden voyage left us white-knuckled as we precariously cruised the backroads to find Tiff and Jim’s country house in darkness. That was 29 months ago.

Today, we are seasoned road warriors who have grown in confidence, and somehow avoid repeating our original mistakes. Instead, we make new mistakes, which keeps us on our toes.

Circling back to Ligonier after three months of Great Lakes coastal roads has also given me time to reflect on the places I traveled, the things I’ve seen, and the moments I captured.

What follows is a snapshot retrospective along our route:

Niagara Falls ON
Niagara Falls, Ontario–Victoria Avenue
Wawa ON
Wawa, Ontario–Young’s General Store
St. Ignace MI
St. Ignace, Michigan–Castle Rock
Ft. Williams, ON
Fort William, Ontario–Mount McKay
Duluth MN
Duluth, Minnesota–Canal Park
Duluth MN (2)
Eldes Corner, Minnesota–Jay Cooke State Park
Carlton MN
Carlton, Minnesota–Buffalo Valley RV Campground
Cloquet MN
Esko, Minnesota–East Highway 61
Bayfield WI
Bayfield, Wisconsin–Howl Adventure Center
LaPointe WI
Bayfield, Wisconsin–1st Street
Musining MI
Munising, Michigan–The Dogpatch
Sturgeon Bay WI
Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin–N. 3rd Avenue
Ellison Bay WI
Ellison Bay, Wisconsin–WI-42
Egg Harbor WI
Egg Harbor, Wisconsin–WI-42
Devil's Doorway, WI.jpg
Baraboo, Wisconsin–Devil’s Doorway, Devil’s Lake State Park
Baraboo, WI
Baraboo, Wisconsin–Circus World
Wisconsin Dells, WI
Wisconsin Dell, Wisconsin–Broadway
Plain, WI
Plain, Wisconsin–Ederer Dairy Supply
Milwaukee WI
Milwaukee, Wisconsin–Lakefront Brewery
Stay Puft
Highland Park, Illinois–Ravinia Festival
Niles IL
Niles, Illinois–Leaning Tower of Niles
Grand Rapids MI
Grand Rapids, Michigan–Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park
Traverse City, MI
Traverse City, Michigan–Warehouse District
Dearborn, MI
Dearborn, Michigan–Ford Rouge Factory
Detroit, MI
Detroit, Michigan–Heidelberg Project
Detroit, MI1
Detroit, Michigan–Comerica Park
Long Live Rock Leah
Cleveland, Ohio–Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
Bellefountaine, OH
Bellefontaine, Ohio–S. Main Street
Pittsburgh, PA 1
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania–Andy Warhol Museum (Keith Haring)
Pittsburgh, PA
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania–Mattress Factory (Yayoi Kusama)
Willie and Leah
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania–PNC Park (Willie “Pops” Stargell)
Ligonier PA
Ligonier, PA–Fort Ligonier

This is only the beginning for us. Stay tuned for more travel follies…

This is Motown

Leah and I were looking forward to touring Hitsville, USA after determining that a visit to Detroit was an essential part of our Great Lakes adventure.

Once we arrived at Motown Studios, I sensed a different kind of energy around me. Almost immediately, I found parking for the F-150 just beyond the funeral parlor’s yellow lines, and saw it as an omen of sorts for something good.

The scene around the house pulsed with enthusiasm and excitement. The crowd was as mixed as a casting call for Felinni’s Amarcord, yet everyone shared a common connection to the music, which made for instant bonding.

A like-minded gentleman of similar age joined me as I read the commemorative plaque, and I turned to him.

“Do you realize that we are the generation of those spider things?” I joked.

plaque a

“Tell me about it!” he shrugged. “I got memories fitting that thingagmajig into the record hole just so I could stack my 45’s on the record player.”

plaque b

“Amen!” I replied.

We shook hand and moved on.

Fans from across the country and around the world made the pilgrimage to celebrate the soundtrack to America’s social, political, and cultural consciousness.

Leah took a trip to the box office, while I attempted a portrait of Hitsville Chapel, all the while dodging families posing for selfies on the steps. 

Hitsville USA

Leah returned without tickets. To our disappointment, the 5pm tour was sold out…weeks ago. It never occurred to us to secure tickets beforehand.

“Let’s go inside,” I suggested. “We’ve come this far. Maybe there’s something to see, or something we can do to fix this fiasco.”

The front door opened to an overflowing gift shop doing brisk business, but we weren’t there to buy souvenirs (at least not right away). We were there to relive our childhoods.

I walked around the backside of the shop, where I found the exit to the exhibition. 

MLK

So close, yet so far…to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, 173 miles east of us…

60 years
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame display

to catch up on nifty artifacts.

artifacts (2)
Stevie Wonder costume/Fan magazine (from Rock and Roll Hall of Fame collection)

“I think I can get us in,” Leah announced.

“Really!?” I mused. “And how are you gonnna manage that?”

“I think I can convince the guard to feel sorry for us, and he’ll let us in,” she boasted.

“Just like that!?” I laughed.

“You’ll see,” she insisted.

I think the security guard of 25 years has probably heard every sob story imaginable, except for Leah’s. To be expected, Leah’s story had little impact on his decision, but he must have been moved somewhat.

He withdrew a tattered writing pad from his shirt pocket. “Y’know, over the years, I collected the addresses of some Motown legends, and I don’t really show it aroun’, but I’m gonna make an exception in your case, ’cause you came all this way for nothin’.”

Notebook (2)

“And all these addresses are in Detroit?” I asked.

“Yup!” declared security.

Wanting clarification, “and they’re real?”

“Yup, but do me a favor and keep it on the QT, OK? I don’t want the neighbors hassled and all,” he advised.

Cool! While we had lost the grand prize, it seemed, at the very least, that we were leaving with parting gifts. With addresses in hand, Leah and I decided to regroup and return the following day to play “private investigator.”

When plotting addresses on GPS, it became clear to us that many of the homes were within a ten-mile range of each other, so off we went on our real estate scavanger hunt of once-lived-in homes of America’s greatest rhythm and blues, and soul singers.

We started our tour at Florence Ballard’s home in Detroit’s largest historic district, Russell Woods. Florence was a founding member of the Supremes, who passed in 1976.

Florence Banard

In her early years, Diana Ross lived with her family on the top floor of this duplex, just north of Arden Park.

Diana Ross

It turns out, it was only five miles away from Berry Gordy, Jr.’s home, until he sold it to Mavin Gaye in the ’70’s…

Marvin Gaye

and moved to a 10,500 sq ft Italianate mansion in Detroit’s Boston-Edison historic district with 10 bedrooms, 7 baths, a 4,000 sq ft pool house, and a 5-car carriage house.

Berry Gordy

Nearby, Gladys Knight lived in a 4 bedroom, 3.5 bath Tudor in Detroit’s Martin Park neighborhood.

Gladys Knight

Around the corner, lived Temptation’s co-founder and lead singer, Eddie Kendricks in a 4 bedroom, 2 bath 2,300 sq ft house.

Eddie Kendrick

And only a couple of miles away in the Bagley neighborhood lived Stevie Wonder in a 3 bedroom, 2.5 bath gabled house.

Stevie Wonder

By now, I was fading from driving through Detroit traffic; and I was losing interest in photographing the rest of the listings. Additionally, I considered that crawling to a stop in front of someone’s house, double-parking, and positioning a camera through the window probably looked suspicious and creepy to any onlookers.

The following afternoon, the day of our departure, a home in Detroit’s Chandler Park section exploded–14 miles east of our recent real estate sweep.

 

One firefighter was injured in the blast. The Fire Marshall determined that a gas leak was to blame, but arson investigators are on the scene.

“Y’think this was an omen, too?” Leah mused.

“Nah! Just a coincidence!” I answered.

(Or maybe the beginning of another impossibly flaky, half-baked conspiracy theory!)

 

 

 

 

Heidelberg Project–Detroit

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.

time to pray

time to grin

time after time

taxi time

kitty 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.

automower

trucks and grins

shoes

playpen pals

boat of toys

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.

vote-here.jpg

tvs and toy car garage

the rafters

purple transport

carhood ranch

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.

taxi depot

you

Time is now house

Love Sold house

Numbers House reno

dot house

porch-dots.jpg

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.

shrink wrapped doll

TV and Rock

face on a gate

crutch cycle

brick shrine

the kitchen sink

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.

sign the house

A Sleeping Bear Dunes Ditty

Do not descend the dune.

Sleeping Bear Dune

A thousand feet of uphill sand could easily be your ruin.

Sleeping Bear

The Sleeping Bear will soon awake.

Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive

He’ll cause your arms and legs to ache.

climbing the dunes

You’ll wish you never saw the lake,

Glen Lake

for now you sing a sorry tune.

Warning

 

 

 

Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park

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.

garden map

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,

pitcher plants

and cacti…

red spine mammallaria

but it was a beautiful day and we were there to walk the Japanese gardens…

Japanese Garden2

Stone Lake Waterfall

and celebrate Meijer’s devotion to outdoor sculpture. 

These are a few of my favorite things…listed alphabetically by artist:

Nina Akuma's American Horse
The American Horse
A monument to creativity, The American Horse was created by famed animaliere, or animal sculptor, Nina Akamu. The work was inspired, in part, by a work created by Renaissance master Leonardo da Vinci for the Duke of Milan in the late 15th century. The project was championed by Fred Meijer in the late 1990’s, resulting in two casts of the 24-foot monument—one for Meijer Gardens and one for the city of Milan, Italy. In addition to inspiration from Leonardo, Akamu was also inspired by the history of equine imagery and the study of horses.
Hanneke Beaumont's Bronze 25 amd Bronze 26
Number 26 and Number 25
While these life-size sculptures are made from bronze, they are finished to appear more like terra cotta, which Beaumont often prefers. She is also known for her work in clay and iron. Their rough surfaces convey a strong sense of age, deterioration and simplicity, while the silence and stillness of the figures helps to create intimacy between the sculptures and the viewers. 
Jonathan Borofsky's Male-Female
Male/Female
One of the most recognizable and celebrated works in the Sculpture Park, Male/Female depicts the precise 180 degree intersection of a male and female silhouette. To fully understand the meaning and form of this colossal sculpture, the work is best viewed from a variety of vantage points. For Jonathan Borofsky, this sculpture represents two energies, the male and the female, coming together to create a stronger whole. In this way, his figures are not portraits, but symbolic images presenting the common human condition.
Louise Bourgeois' Spider
Spider
Louise Bourgeois was one of the most intriguing and influential artists in Contemporary art. Beginning her career as a painter, sculpture and installation work became her focus and strongest legacy. Biography and the relationships among family are frequently addressed in her work and Spider, one of her most iconic themes, is no exception. In tribute to her mother who made a living repairing ancient tapestries, Bourgeois portrays spiders as clever, dainty and protective.  The eggs described in the lower portion of the body emphasize the maternal symbolism of the sculpture.
Deborah Butterfield's Cabin Creek
Cabin Creek
Deborah Butterfield’s work focuses on the spirit and form of the horse as an intelligent mare rather than the war horse which is usually illustrated in art. Cabin Creek is the name of the location where Butterfield found a variety of materials for this sculpture. First, she assembled the found materials to form an image of a horse. Then each piece of wood was meticulously translated into bronze, then reassembled and patinated. Such a process allows Butterfield to create works appropriate for outdoor placement.
Mark DiSuvero's Scarlatti
Scarlatti
Since the 1960’s, Mark di Suvero has been at the forefront of Contemporary American sculpture. Working on a monumental scale and focusing on composition and space, he uses industrial building materials such as I-beams, scrap metal, and steel cables. Movement, whether actual or implied, is another key element in his sculpture. di Suvero frequently uses references to music and literature in his titles. Scarlatti is named for Domenico Scarlatti, the eighteenth-century Italian composer whose music di Suvero greatly admires. In this piece, the suspended “V” beneath the tip of the central beam is intended to move with the wind.
Jim Dine's Large Parrot Screams Color
Large Parrot Screams Color
Together with Claes Oldenburg, Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein, Dine helped define the Pop Art movement, which transformed the art world with the use of imagery from popular culture. The form of the heart has been a part of Dine’s artistic vocabulary since the mid 1960s and it has appeared prominently in his paintings, drawings and prints as well as in his sculpture. 
Andy Goldsworthy's Grand Rapids Arch
Grand Rapids Arch
Andy Goldsworthy works with natural materials such as leaves, sand, ice, and stone to create and often photograph highly ephemeral works of art. Permanent works, such as the Grand Rapids Arch, are more rare. Made with stone from the artist’s native Scotland, this piece is intended to be viewed as a work of sculpture rather than an architectural element. Goldsworthy sited the work during his visits to Meijer Gardens. For Goldsworthy, the arch is a way to talk about movement, commenting, “The arch seemed an appropriate form to talk about ideas of travel because the stone, out of the context of an archway or a building, a free-standing arch, has a sense of a stone taking a walk; a stride; a movement. So that became the really important motivating idea behind the arches,” he shares.
Keith Haring's Julia
Julia
The simple, graphic style Keith Haring used in his two-dimensional pieces often translated into his sculpture throughout his career. His three-dimensional forms primarily focus on balance and the energetic movement of shapes. As the only portrait sculpture Haring ever created, this piece was named after Julia Gruen, a friend of the artist. A dancer, Julia seems to capture the energy and excitement of 1980s New York.
Richard Hunt's Colum of the Free Spirit
Column of the Free Spirit
Richard Hunt lives and works in Chicago. Hunt is inspired by science, history, literature, music, and African art. Column of the Free Spirit was commissioned for Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park in 1999 and installed in 2000. The columnar form references architectural monuments in Western art. The flame-like finial alludes to notions of freedom, inspiration and unlimited boundaries. 
Fred and Lena Meijer
Fred and Lena Meijer
Fred Meijer discovered the work of Joseph Kinkel in his travels and commissioned this portrait sculpture and several variations. The earliest version featured only Fred, but Lena Meijer was added by the artist. This charming duo is a favorite at Meijer Gardens and has been recorded countless times in photographs. Kinkel designed the sculpture so visitors could join the Meijer seated on the bench while the site was developed to allow groups to gather around.
Deitrich Klinge's Grosser Trefree
Grosser Trefree
Dietrich Klinge is a highly respected German artist who received training in drawing, printmaking, and sculpture. Much of Klinge’s early imagery references woodland spirits from tales of German folklore and legends. This sculpture was originally carved in wood and then cast in bronze to preserve the characteristics of the wood. The bold form and textured surface reflect early 20th century expressionism and non-western traditions.
Alexander Liberman's Aria
Aria
Concurrent with a distinguished career in publishing, Alexander Liberman was actively engaged as an artist, finding critical and popular acclaim for his paintings, photographs and sculpture. Standing more than 42 feet, enabling viewers to walk around and through the work, Aria clearly references the artist’s admiration for architecture. An “aria” is an elaborate melody sung by one voice. The organic shaped elements of Aria seem to suggest music notes, while linear elements seem to reference a music staff or interlocking sounds, with red color unifying the composition. 
Aristede Maillol's Torso of Summer
Torso of Summer
The early 20th century French master Aristide Maillol is viewed as the most influential sculptor in the generation following Auguste Rodin. However, unlike the expressive forms of the latter, Maillol achieved a new classicism inspired by the pose and attitude of Greco-Roman sculpture and, innovatively,  the sensuality of Indian sculpture. Many of his works utilize the female nude in symbolic or allegorical ways.
Torso of Summer is part of a series which celebrates the four seasons. Specifically, the rounded forms of the figure reference the fullness of summer.
Joan Miro's Woman and Bird
Woman and Bird
The imaginative nature of Joan Miro’s repertoire is widely admired. Although associated with 20th century Surrealism, his long career was highly individualized. Unlike his paintings and prints, most of Miro’s sculptures began with simple found objects transformed nearly beyond recognition to create another form or figure. In Woman and Bird for example, the body of the figure derives from an old milk stool and the head from the lid of a can. Shared with his two-dimensional works, his sculptures are frequently brightly painted vibrant colors contributing to the visual energy, even playfulness, of the work.
Henry Moore's Bronze Form 5 of 6
Bronze Form
Henry Moore is recognized as the single most important figure in the history of British art during the last century and his work has been of critical importance internationally for more than sixty years. Moore’s sculpture was initially highly representational, but he gradually moved toward a vocabulary of organic, simplified forms, frequently drawn from nature — including rocks and bones. In this piece, Moore has abstracted the human form and the shape of the sculpture changes greatly as the viewer moves around it.
Juan Munoz's Broken Nose Carrying a Bottle
Broken Nose Carrying Bottle Number One
Juan Muñoz was born and raised in Madrid, Spain but went on to study art in London and New York. Before his untimely death, he was an important figure in contemporary sculpture and held exhibitions internationally and was collected worldwide. He is known for his unexpected placement of figures which create tension between works and viewer. Muñoz was also a writer and was interested in other creative fields such as music, literature, history, and architecture.
Claes Oldenburg's Plantior
Plantoir
Claes Oldenburg gained initial acclaim as one of the leaders of Pop Art movement recreating ordinary objects from consumer or popular culture. Beginning in the late 1970’s, he began to work with Coosje van Bruggen as a husband and wife team on a series of large-scale public projects. The couple is celebrated internationally for the transformation of objects from everyday life into colossal projects. Plantoir is the first monumental sculpture created specifically for a garden context. It was sited specifically by the artists.
Roxy Paine's Neuron
Neuron
Roxy Paine is one of the most highly regarded Contemporary sculptors. Neuron reflects ideas about nature, industry and artistic processes. It is one of Paine’s most inventive forms, extending out from a central mass. It derives from his critically acclaimed Dendroid series which closely follow the shape and form of trees. Neuron goes beyond this tradition and simultaneously calls to mind a neuron and elevated root ball.
Juame Plensa's I, you, she, or he
I, you, she or he…
Jaume Plensa is primarily a figurative artist, often using ideas about language and communication in his sculptures and installations. This commission for Meijer Gardens includes a composition of three figures seated on boulders, whose shells are made of stainless steel letters. Faces are left unfinished to encourage the universality of the forms and visitors are encouraged to walk among the sculptures. The composition and setting were selected by the artist and he intendeds it to represent a kind of ongoing, silent conversation. Although most well-known In the United States for his Crown Fountain in Chicago’s Millennium Park, Plensa’s is one of the leading international sculptors working today.

 

Rodin's Eve
Eve
Originally created in association with his famed Gates of Hell for the never completed museum of decorative arts in Paris, Eve became one of the artist’s most celebrated descriptions of the female figure. Standing awkwardly in an attempt to cover her body, the figure distorts the classical “controposto” or “weight-shift” position. Additionally, Rodin has forsaken the traditional smooth surfaces and rounded contours apparent in figurative sculpture since the Renaissance in favor of something highly textured and emotive. This is one of twelve known full-scales casts of Eve.
Sophie Ryder's Introspective
Introspective
Sophie Ryder is a figurative artist who focuses on animal imagery, in particular hares, dogs, and minotaurs, to comment on universal human emotions and relationships. She creates drawings, bronze sculptures, collages and prints, but is best known for her wire drawings and sculptures. Wire, which adds a heavy textured surface to the sculptures, is not suitable for outdoors, so some of the pieces are cast in bronze. This piece was created in response to the tragedy of 9/11 and the way in which many mourn.
Kenneth Snelson's B-Tree II
B-Tree II
Sculptor, photographer, and mathematician Kenneth Snelson has commented, “My art is concerned with nature in its most fundamental aspect, the patterns of physical forces in three dimensional space.” B-Tree II is a site-specific commission that while concerned with nature, firmly utilizes geometry, mathematics and engineering in referencing the natural world. Based on patterning systems using the number three and triangles, the colossal structure utilizes the artist’s patented “tensegrity,” wherein the carefully calculated tension of the stainless steel cords locks the tubular elements up and into space. B-Tree II is the largest structure Snelson created.
Bernac Venet's Two Indeterminate Lines
Two Indeterminate Lines
Bernar Venet never made preparatory drawings for this work and described each sculpture in his Indeterminate Lines series as “the result of improvised, intuitive, empirical work.” This sculpture highlights the use of industrial material, bent and twisted, to imitate a drawn line. His presence in public and private collections around the world is well known.
Bill Woodrow's Listening to History
Listening to History
Bill Woodrow is one of the leading contemporary British sculptors. He often addresses issues of humor and irony with his work. In his early pieces, he combined found objects to create new meaning. In Listening to History, the placement of the head on the ground with the book tied against it and blinding the eyes suggests many possible narrative meanings: learning from history, being blind to history, open/closed mindedness, and so on. Note the meticulous concern for detail in this work.

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.

 

Ochestrating Pop Culture

Within a span of five days, Leah and I had occasion to enjoy the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (CSO) and the Grand Rapids Symphony (GRS), but in a nontraditional manner with uncommon overtones.

Dan Akroyd set the scene for our future expectations at the Ravinia Festival in Highland Park IL, the CSO summer residency.

To be sure, it was a carnival atmosphere, with popcorn and green slime for sale. The Windy City Ghostbusters were on board, protecting their ride

GB Caddy

and providing plenty of photo ops…

Windy City Ghostbusters

 with props.

Stay Puft

Meanwhile, the CSO was warming up on stage…

CSO tuning

waiting for dusk and the arrival of their guest conductor, Peter Bernstein, son of legendary composer and Oscar-winner, Elmer Bernstein, who wrote the original score to Ghostbusters.

Happily, the orchestra never missed a beat, synchronizing perfectly with the film. While the band played on and the Ghostbusters faced their ectoplasmic foes, we enjoyed a picnic on the lawn with my niece Rachel and her partner, Kevin. Thanks, guys.

Days later, we traveled to Grand Rapids, MI for “Weird Al” Yankovic’s Strings Attached tour. Unlike last year’s stripped-down tour (see Parody Paradigm), and stripped of shtick, this concert promised to be vintage “Weird Al”–the parodies, the costumes, the MTV videos, and 41 pieces of symphonic punctuation.

The GRS opened the show with 20 minutes of John Williams’ cinema overtures from Raiders of the Lost Ark, Superman, and Star Wars…

GRO tuning

 to set the mood for a sell-out crowd that was every bit as white and nerdy as “Weird Al.”

White and Nerdy

It was the largest collection of ugly Hawaiian shirts I’d ever seen.

twine in MN

And some fans decided to elevate their look with shiny accessories.

Foil

The band was tight; the parodies are clever; the singing was splendid; and the GRS added an extra richness to the event. “Weird Al” showcased a deep catalogue of “funny,” paying homage to Don Pardo,

Don Pardo

a twine ball from Minnesota,

twine ball

weasel stomping,

Weasel Stomping

Devo,

Devo

Nirvana,

Kurt Cobain

and sending up Coolio with an irreverent Amish rap.

Amish Paradise1

The crowd was treated to a crowd-favorite Star Wars encore, á la Don McClean’s American Pie (The Saga Begins),

stars wars saga

and the Kink’s Lola (Yoda).

Wierd Al

The audience was on its feet by the end of the show, and so was the orchestra,

GRO

because their job was done and it was time to leave.

Leah and I caught up with the Associate Concertmaster as she exited the DeVos Performance Hall stage door.

“Great show, tonight,” I offered.

“Thank you. It was lots of fun,” she said.

“Did you have much practice time with the band?” I asked.

“Not really,” she admitted. “Just a couple of sessions.”

“That’s all!? You guys nailed it,” I gushed. “Any after-party plans?”

Crossing the street–“A glass of milk, and bed,” she sighed. “I’m glad you enjoyed it”–and she was gone.

What a nerd!

 

The Evolution of Chicago’s Skyline

While historians continue to debate the impact of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 on the city’s future development, architects continue to reach for the sky along Chicago’s iconic shoreline. Out of the ashes rose a shimmering town of glass and steel and stone whose identity is forever associated with its reputation as a innovation laboratory for American design and engineering.

As home to the Home Insurance Building–the world’s first steel-framed skyscraper, completed in 1885–Chicago is generally regarded as the birthplace of the skyscaper. And while the city’s status has been diminshed since the Petronas Towers overtook the Sears Tower in 1998 as the world’s tallest building, Chicago still retains its title as one of the great architectural cities of the world.

Leah and I started our journey by foot to gaze at the Water Tower landmark,

Water Tower

and its companion Pumping Station–two castellated structures of ornate limestone that miraculously survived the deadly fire, and presently anchor Chicago’s Magnificent Mile.

Water Tower2

We continued to Millennium Park to reflect on Sir Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate (or The Bean as its known to locals),

Millenium Park

and admire Frank Gehry’s twisted bandshell at Pritzker’s Pavilion.

bandstand

From there we spiraled down Gehry’s aluminum-clad BP Bridge…

BP vertical 8

to reach Lake Michigan, where we traipsed over Lawrence Weiner’s Out of Sight installation…

Assuming the Position

on our way to the spray of Grant Park’s Buckingham Fountain.

Buckingham Fountain

Yet, with so much to see along the Chicago Riverwalk, we opted for a guided boat tour through the Chicago River…

Shoreline Sightseeing

to gain a better understanding of Chicago’s architectural history and diversity–

Chicago River

where art deco…

Wrigley Building
Wrigley Building
Merchandise Mart
Merchandise Mart
Tribune Tower
Tribune Tower

intersects with post-modernism…

Sears or Willis Tower
Sears Tower flanked by 311 South Wacker Drive
NBC Tower
NBC Tower

to deliver modernism…

You Are Here
300 South Wacker with a map of Chicago River
Trump Tower
Trump Tower

with a flourish.

Vista Tower
Vista Tower, Chicago’s newest tower

And while each of the buildings in Chicago’s loop is worthy of a traditional photographic portrait,

lift bridge

sometimes it’s necessary to examine the details more closely…

Vasarely balconies

to see things from a different perspective…

face

as it may reflect a new reality.

Chicago Riverwalk

Or sometimes, just looking at things upside-down…

balcony arcs

or sideways…

balcony-waves-1.jpg

forces us to appreciate the beauty of an architect’s play of form and function.

window washer

Public Service Art

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.

Art Institute

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.

Museum Highlights

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…

Face Mask (Ngady Amwaash)
Face Mask (Ngady Amwaash)
Armor for Man and Horse
Armor for Man and Horse
El Greco's The Assumption of the Virgin
El Greco’s The Assumption of the Virgin
Georges Serat's A Sunday on La Grande Jette--1884
Georges Serat’s A Sunday on La Grande Jette–1884
Claude Monet's Stacks of Wheat
Claude Monet’s Stacks of Wheat
Georgia O'Keefe's Sky above Clouds IV
Georgia O’Keefe’s Sky above Clouds IV
Edward Hopper's Nighthawks
Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks
Archibald John Motley Jr.'s Nightlife
Archibald John Motley Jr.’s Nightlife
Grant Wood's American Gothic
Grant Wood’s American Gothic
Pablo Picassa's The Old Gitarist
Pablo Picassa’s The Old Guitarist
Alma Thomas's Starry Night and the Astronauts
Alma Thomas’s Starry Night and the Astronauts
Andy Warhol's Liz #3
Andy Warhol’s Liz #3

You’re welcome.

If Museums Had Wings…

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…

Lake Michigan

to the point that Milkwaukee now incorporates Calatrava’s  brise soleil in it logo.

visit milwaukee

Parallels to Calatrava’s Oculus at NYC–Gound Zero are unmistakable;

Oculus

comparisons are inevitable. 

Oculus reflected

The wings are extended most days until sunset, but stay retracted during nasty weather or high winds. 

wings

Sadly, Leah and I were greeted with high winds, but we were fortunate to tour the museum with so few visitors.

inside the wings

With the exception of a group of mini-pals,

mini-pals (2)

and isolated cases…

Calder dome

here and there…

patron and twigs

we felt like we had the space to ourselves–

Moves

which gave us more time to study some of the special artwork in greater detail without distraction or interruption:

poly capsule

Chihuly

Edge of England

Frank Stella

Glass and mirrors

laveview optics

Michelle Grabner(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…

hallway

to cleanse my palette before indulging in another bite of brain food!

Beer-drinking Cheeseheads That Bobble

We had come to Milwaukee to drink some beer, eat some cheese curds and absorb some culture, and Milwaukee didn’t disappoint us.

Once home to the Big Four: Miller; Pabst; Shlitz and Blatz–Milwaukee was considered the brewing capital of the nation during much of the 20th century. However, after sell-off and consolidation, only MillerCoors remains as Milwaukee’s master brewer.

Nevertheless, there are plenty of reminders of the good ol’ days scattered around town…

For instance, on W. Wisconsin Avenue sits the Pabst Mansion.

Pabst Mansion

In 2015, Pabst returned to the city with a scaled-down version of itself, manufacturing only craft beers, like many of its competitors in the region.

Likewise, the Schlitz Brewery has been converted into an office park.

Schlitz Park

But a new generation of brewers is doubling down on craft beers, with special attention going to Lakefront Brewery for its laid-back vibe and its innovative spirit, which instilled brothers Russ and Jim Klisch to brew Doors County cherry beer and the nation’s first gluten-free beer.

Lakefront Brewery

Leah and I sat in the Beer Hall noshing on fish tacos and award-winning cheese curds while waiting for the brewery’s 4 pm tour.

keg lights

Eleven bucks buys an 8 oz. plastic cup and four wooden tokens good for four pours from start to finish of the humorous, 45-minute tour–very different from other tours I’ve taken (see Supreme Ruler of Beers and Eco-Beer), where beer sampling follows the tour as a time reward. 

fermentation tank.jpg

At the conclusion of the tour, we gathered around the bottle conveyor,

Lakefront bottling (2).jpg

and we sang…


Additionally, the plastic cup can be exchanged for a free beer glass at the gift shop.

beer glass

It was our good intention to attend Gallery Night directly after the beer tour…

Gallery Night

but drinking beer interfered with our plan, so it would have to wait until Gallery Day.

The following day we drove to the Historic Third Ward, and roamed through six floors of the Marshall Building inspecting a variety of syles and mediums of different artists.

Historic 3rd ward

Unfortunately, the clouds rolled in and it rained like there was no tomorrow. We waited out the deluge at a nearby Shake Shack until a break in the weather, and crossed over to Walker’s Point to satisfy our random craving for novelty, humor, and are you kidding me?

Marquis

 

As of February 2019, there’s a new museum in town, and it’s head and shoulders above the rest. It’s also a nerdatorium for dads…

browsing dad

and their kids.

Welcome

The National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum definitely checks the excess box with a collection of 6,500 figurines on display, covering a wide swath of popular culture,

assorted

featuring sports and mascots,

Sports1

fantasy,

Star Wars

and politics.

TrumpObama

The Hall of Fame Bobbleheads line the windowsills.

Shaking my head in disbelief, I asked myself, “Why?”…and patiently waited for a sign to give me guidance!

Why

For the overly curious, the bobblehead production process is explained step by step…

Production process

However, the bobblehead timeline gave insightful commentary and instant credibility to museum founders Brad Novak and Phil Sklar.

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There’s little doubt that I’ll be raising a glass or two of Lakefront’s Riverwest Stein Amber Lager every January 7 to celebrate.

 

Proclamation

 

 

Prairie Stylings

There’s very little to write about Frank Lloyd Wright that scholars haven’t already written.

Frank Lloyd Wright

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.

Taliesin house

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–

T Visitors 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.

tiger lillies

The ride took us past Midway Barn, Uncle John’s farming complex,

family farm

on the way to Hillside, the site of the home school he built for his Aunts Jane and Ellen Lloyd Jones.

School and Studio (2)

Currently, the building is occupied by a time-shared architecture “Fellowship”–funded by the Taliesin Foundation–that occaisionally gathers in the Assembly Hall,

living room1

Grey's Eulogy

and takes meals in the Fellowship Dining Room,

dining room

before returning to the 5,000 sq. ft. “abstract forest” Drafting Studio.

Fellowship

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–

Hillside Theater

and reboarded the bus for a brief blast of air conditioning and quick trip to Wright’s home studio,

studio

where we browsed through a drafting room filled with “Usonian” models, like the Willey House from 1934,

Willey House

and assorted personal artifacts.

typed letter

The house was noticably cooler, thanks to geothermal plumbing installed during the third re-build. We rounded the studio from the outside,

studio exterior (2)

walked across a mound with views of the restored Romeo and Juliet windmill,

Romeo and Juliet

and traversed the gardens,

gardens

before re-entering the house through the expansive living room,

Music room1

filled with wonderful flourishes, like glass-cornered windows (which Wright would ultimately perfect at Fallingwater)…

glass corner

built-in table lamps,

floor lamp

and integration of sculptures that survived the previous two house fires.

built.in horse statue

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.

Frank's bedroom

The terrace offered glorious views of the Wisconsin River and Tower Hill State Park,

Tower Hill State Park.jpg

and Unity Chapel in the distance–

Unity Chapel1

 

the site of Wright’s maternal family’s burial plots, his stone marker, and his empty grave.

family grave

As our driver passed Wright’s man-made falls,

water fall

 

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.