Category Archives: THE ARTS

Road trip to Waterville – Colby college art museum, Lebanese cuisine, Johns ice cream, lost kitchen, driveby, wander around Camden town (not the London one) Long grain/Camden

I am glad it rained this morning because it led us to drive backroads through the wood about an hour west to Waterville where we thoroughly enjoyed the Colby College Art Museum, Maine’s largest art museum with a really nice collection of American art from flat folk art portraits to abstract Jackson Pollack, plus rooms full of giant portraits by Alex Katz (who lives in nearby Lincolnville, I happened to read last week in a New Yorker profile.)

It was fun to ride on narrow winding roads thru the wood past the occasional shingled farmhouse, organic farm stand, brightly painted hippie VW van, charming general store and world famous restaurant (The virtually hidden Lost Kitchen in the out-of-the-way village of Freedom, Me.)

Camden harbor

We also made sure to stop 15 miles south in the little town of Liberty, Me.  at John’s Ice cream, which was as good as we’d heard. Nearby, the fog and mist from the rain was rising above Lake George and the surrounding hills, making the place look like a Hudson River School painting or one like we saw at the Colby museum…

We ate a light lunch earlier at a tiny Lebanese place in downtown Waterville, a town with that quixotic feel of a faded factory town with a fancy private college. Back in Camden, we finally walked around the town which has lots of interesting shops and boutiques in well-tended old buildings. The harbor is full of boats, from small pleasure boats to tall schooners. We learned that our Airbnb hosts used to make their living taking tourists out into Penobscot Bay on their 50 foot sailboat (which they also sailed to the Caribbean). I am so glad we came to Camden in particular and mid coast Maine in general.

Dinner was at a superb Thai place in Camden called Long Grain. Imagine your typical Thai dishes, then think of  those dishes made with the best ingredients possible – the best meat, vegetables, homemade noodles, rice: that was what this place managed to do.

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Filed under maine, museum exhibit, THE ARTS

Shakey Graves @Brenton/Black Cat Ice Cream/Harbinger – DSM

1shake.jpgWe got very lucky with the weather Sunday night — it’s been raining off and on (mostly on, it seems) all weekend but the sky cleared for an outdoor concert by Shakey Graves, an Austin singer/guitarist, at the Brenton Skating Rink in downtown Des Moines. The rink — with stage and standing-room only area — is covered by a tarp but for those of us who needed seats, we had to sit outside the rink in the plein air, which had me nervous at first since I cannot get the cast on my arm wet. (I also couldn’t join the standing crowd, for fear of being jostled, with said cast.)


Anyway, we got lucky (and lucky is not what I have been feeling lately): the weather was perfect. Not rainy, muggy or buggy. We could see surprisingly well from our seats near the stage (if we stood) and the band put on a great show, more psychedelic Pink Floyd-esque than expected but still some good ole knee-stomping guitar playing, which is what first drew me to Shakey. The opening band, Twin Peaks – some very young energetic guys from Chicago – was good too.

During another break in the rain, we finally tried some Black Cat ice cream, served out of a window on the side of the Gaslamp bar downtown, across from the sculpture park. not sure its better than Bauders but darned good. especially liked the very fresh tasting peacch sorbet. mint chocolate chip creamy and good too (although Coneflower in Omaha was more garden mint fresh).

1shake3.jpgMeant to mention a recent visit to Harbinger, the James Beard Foundation-acknowledged  restaurant on ingersoll in Des Moines. We went during restaurant week and enjoyed various small plates – the ribs and zucchini/squash flowers stuffed with cheese were my favorites.

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Filed under Des Moines, DESTINATIONS - Iowa, music

Garden of Eden/Grassroots art – Lucas, Kansas

Here’s a story I wrote about the Grassroots art Capital of Kansas for the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Midwest Traveler: Kansas boasts quirky ‘grass-roots art’ capital

Small-town Lucas attracts artists from way, way off the beaten path.

“Thanks for being interested,” he said. “I’ve got to go to work now.” Off he drove, onto the empty blacktop and into open ranch land.

It was a fitting start to my latest exploration in and around the town of Lucas, pop. about 400, the state’s capital of “grass-roots art.” Also known as “outsider art,” this is the creative outpouring of self-taught artists located far from the mainstream art world (geographically, commercially, aesthetically), using unconventional materials and techniques.

They are often retired farmers, mechanics, newspaper editors, funeral home directors (you name it) making stuff with whatever’s around — car bumpers, light bulbs, barbed wire, gum, horseshoes, tree trunks (you name it). Prolific (some might say compulsive), they might not call themselves artists or even seek viewers for their work, which is typically found on their property.

In Lucas, it all started with Samuel Perry “S.P.” Dinsmoor, an eccentric Civil War veteran, farmer and teacher who in the early 1900s, at age 64, began building a fantastical sculpture garden in the backyard of his cabin home, located on an otherwise ordinary small-town residential block — which is part of its charm and shock value. The sculpture garden took 22 years, 113 tons of cement and many tons of native rust-stained golden limestone.

Now known as the Garden of Eden, and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, it includes the unique cabin — also made by Dinsmoor, out of limestone “logs” — and the garden, with sculptures representing biblical figures (most notably Adam and Eve) and populist themes (most memorably, labor being crucified by the lawyer, doctor, preacher and banker).

A macabre highlight is the 40-foot ziggurat-shaped mausoleum that Dinsmoor built, also with limestone. Inside, as Dinsmoor wished, visitors on a tour can see what remains of his face — he died in 1932 at age 89 — through a glass-lidded coffin. Nearby, unseen, is his first wife. At age 81, Dinsmoor married his second wife — his 20-year-old housekeeper. They had two children.

Since Dinsmoor’s day, locals and transplants — including grass-roots artists and aficionados — have helped cement Lucas’ claim to fame. It now attracts more than 10,000 visitors a year. I’ve visited several times since the late 1980s and each time, I’ve found more to see in an area that still feels refreshingly off-the-beaten-path, making it a perfect outsider art outpost.

Post Rock Country

Returning this spring with my Kansas-born husband, eight years after our last visit, we found more art dotting the highways, near where the art was made, offering fresh views and insights.

In addition to Jim Dickerman’s metal and bones work found along Hwy. 14 (mile markers 181 and 182), California artist and retired dentist Fred Whitman’s facial portraits of local residents are carved into limestone posts along Hwy. 232 (mile markers 12 and 13, east side; 14 and 15, west side; and 16 and 17, east side).

In Lucas, along the sleepy, two-block downtown bordered by a water tower and a grain elevator, we found a spectacular public bathroom/art installation. Opened in 2012, “Bowl Plaza” is shaped like a giant toilet tank with a raised lid and adorned with mosaics made with repurposed bottles, license plates, pottery and more. (Don’t miss the toy cars in the men’s room.)

Joining several others on a guided tour of the Grassroots Art Center, opened in 1995, we marveled at painstaking work of Kansans, including Herman Divers’ full-size car made from vintage soda can pulltabs and John Woods’ elaborate collages made from toys, keys and even handguns found in the muck of a drained lake.

In the outdoor courtyard, an exhibit opened in 2002 showcases the region’s “post rock” limestone masonry. Lucas is Post Rock Country, where stone masons during the turn of the 20th century made fence posts — and many buildings — out of the limestone because the treeless prairie ruled out wooden posts.

As for the Garden of Eden, it looks better than ever, thanks to a major 2012 restoration of the garden and cabin supported by the Wisconsin-based Kohler Foundation. Sculptures once darkened by age are now cement-colored, with dabs of pink that even some tour guides didn’t know were there.

Getting there

From the Twin Cities, Lucas, Kan., is 672 miles southwest, via Interstates 35 and 70 to Exit 206 and Kansas Hwy. 232.

Other attractions

Florence Deeble Rock Garden/The Garden of Isis: The rock garden is the handiwork of a Lucas teacher, inspired by S.P. Dinsmoor to create her own backyard masterwork in the 1930s, using colored concrete to fashion “postcard scenes” from her travels. In 2002, Lucas artist Mri-Pilar transformed the 1906 Deeble House into a recycled art installation, lining the walls with foil, salvaged dolls and toy slinkys.

Roy and Clara Miller’s Park: Relocated beside the Garden of Eden, this mid-1900s creation is a miniature town built with rocks, minerals and shells by a local couple in their yard.

World’s Largest Collection of the World’s Smallest Versions of the World’s Largest Things: Artist Erika Nelson’s tiny versions of giant things — including Minnesota’s big lutefisk and ball of twine — are on view, by appointment, at 214 S. Main St. Text ahead of arrival (1-785-760-0826; worldslargest­things.com).

Post Rock Scenic Byway: This 18-mile stretch of Kansas Hwy. 232 connects the towns of Lucas and Wilson, running past Wilson Lake and Wilson State Park, with hiking and mountain bike trails, swimming beaches, boating and camping. Also drive Hwy. 18 east from Lucas to Lincoln and Hwy. 14 south from Lincoln to I-70. Take time to admire the imposing limestone buildings in windswept Lincoln and Wilson.

Where to eat and sleep

Brant’s Market on Main Street in Lucas has made bologna and sausages since 1922.

Garden View Lodge (1-785-658-6607; airbnb.com), across from the Garden of Eden, is run by a Garden tour guide and Dinsmoor descendant.

Midland Railroad Hotel (1-785-658-2284; midlandrailroadhotel.com) in Wilson was a film set for the 1973 movie “Paper Moon.” Open for dinner, the 1899 hotel’s Sample Room Tavern serves regional fare including chicken-fried steak.

More information

Garden of Eden: 1-785-525-6395; garden-of-eden-lucas-kansas.com.

Grassroots Art Center1-785-525-6118; grassrootsart.net.

Betsy Rubiner, a Des Moines-based travel writer, writes the travel blog TakeBetsyWithYou.

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Filed under arts festival, Kansas, Uncategorized

Saarinen House/Cranbrook academy of art – Bloomfield hills 

We got lucky and at the last minute were able to join a previously sold out walking tour of the Art Deco Saarinen house at cranbrook. The 70-minute tour was a great introduction to the entire cranbrook campus but then we got to enter the house that eliel Saarinen designed and lived in with his family in 1930. When I was a high school student at Kingswood/Cranbrook, the House was still the residence of the art academy president (the father of a school friend) but in the 1990s it underwent a major renovation and was opened for tours. There were only 12 of us and an excellent guide. It was my second tour but I still loved it, especially after seeing Saarinen’s train station in Helsinki. (I must return so I can visit Saarinen ‘s summer Home outside Helsinki.)

In the art museum, I found a catalogue of a retrospective of work by ceramicist John Glick, whose work my parents sold at their gallery. Sadly we missed the show which was in 2017 shortly before he died. I was particularly thrilled to find a page about the dinnerware that we recently inherited from my dad and now treasure.

in Bloomfield Hills, must remember to visit Smith House, a flwright House now owned by Cranbrook and open occasionally for tours.

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Filed under architecture, Detroit, Michigan, museum exhibit

My Mount Horeb story in Minneapolis Star Tribune

If you are looking for a Wisconsin road trip….Read this: http://www.startribune.com/midwest-traveler-small-town-museum-in-southwest-wisconsin-has-big-vision/489923471/

Midwest Traveler: Small-town museum in southwest Wisconsin has big vision

The Driftless Historium in Mount Horeb, Wis., is an impressive tribute.

Most small-town history museums I’ve visited have been cramped and cluttered places with haphazard displays of local castoffs. Wandering through them reminded me of rummaging through my grandparents’ attic as a kid.

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Filed under museum exhibit, THE ARTS, Wisconsin

Chicago history museum/noninna/riverwalk — Chicago 

 

Back on the megabus/windstar bus and so far so good despite some initial chaos at the bus stop when crowds of riders were trying to figure out which of several buses were theirs.

74ED114A-14D5-4B30-B5F7-0C03587F05444B5D59C8-9CB8-4045-B541-1A0B329805CBWe ended up at the Chicago history museum yesterday- we were eager to beat the heat and opted against the Singer Sargent  show at the Art Institute for fear it would be too crowded and close to the lollapalooza throngs. The museum had some cool things including a temporary exhibit on Chicago blues with fun interactive elements. We made our own record covers, sang karaoke on stage with Koko Taylor (who I saw live several times) and worked a sound engineer booth.  I learned that Crate and Barrel started in Chicago and had an early partnership with Marimekko, the Finnish textile design company that I learned more about in Helsinki.

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Riverwalk

14D3C01D-F8FC-43E6-B109-B3AC2FC7527EDinner at Nonnina was enjoyed by all, which was a relief since ours can be a discerning crowd. Surprised by how packed it was at 6 pm on Saturday night. Excellent Italian. We walked along the new-ish river walk and were impressed by all the hubbub, people everywhere on and off the water,  at cafes, restaurants and  public spaces, hanging out on docked or moving boats. The city was all lit up at night and looked great. The one potential issue is all the private boat traffic. The river is pretty narrow and there seemed to be a lot of traffic from kayakers  to boat tours and public water taxis to fancy cruisers and little dinghies. Very democratic but chaotic.

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Blackstone District, Bemis Center, Hotel Deco – Omaha

Our Blackstone District “art nest”

We have passed through Omaha many times, sneaking in a quick visit to the Indian restaurant in the Old Market, but we have never stayed overnight to explore. So here we are, staying in a spacious 1920s era apartment (thank you Airbnb) in the recently revived Blackstone District on Farnam Street, about 2 Miles west of the old market area. It consists mainly of about 4 blocks of interesting restaurants, bars and a few shops in older brick buildings in what was not long ago, we’ve heard, a rundown area. So basically, our kind of place.

We stopped at Blackstone Meatball because we’d never been to a meatballery before and sure enough they had quite the selection including a meatball flight (a variety of 5) and the meatball of the day (chorizo). We split a small meatball slider – pork with peppers, ricotta, Parmesan, garlic. Very moist and flavorful. Almost light.

we also chanced upon an artist’s in residence open house at the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts, located in a big red brick former warehouse near the old warehouse district. It’s been around for decades but we’d never heard of it. Our Airbnb hosts suggested it. Walking around the studios that double as living spaces on the second floor, we met an artist from Dublin and another from Riga, Latvia. Word has it there are 10 artists in residence who get a three month live/work studio here — as part of one of the top international residency programs. The work was pretty avant-garde. The main floor is a huge gallery, which was devoted to a one -woman show of “Hot Mess Formalism” by nyc artist Sheila Pepe, with giant fiber macrame installations, as well as ceramics and other mediums. To mark the show, free “hot mess” ice cream (a strange mix of vanilla ice cream and chocolate chips and bits of red licorice was served in little Chinese takeaway cartons. We were advised by some of the artists not to try the other option — avocado ice cream

we also dropped by the Hotel Deco downtown which has a tiny intact original Art Deco lobby and some interesting little bar spaces. Omaha is looking good!

Dinner was at a good small plates place, Strinella, a short walk from our Airbnb, well-recommended by our host. We were too full for ice cream nearby at Coneflower, which is just as well since there was a long line, maybe 50 people, waiting to get into the little place.

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Filed under museum exhibit, Nebraska, Omaha, THE ARTS