Monday, October 31, 2016

BENICIA, CA: Art, History, and Small Town Charm on the Carquinez Strait

Benicia, California. Former Rail Ferry Depot
Recently, on a sunny afternoon in late August, I drove with friends from our house in Oakland for an afternoon visit to the small town of Benicia, California, located on the Carquinez Strait at the north end of San Francisco Bay. Once a military outpost, and for a brief time the capitol of California, the town is now known for its arts community and for its restaurants and antique shops.
Looking east from the parking area toward Mount Diablo (elevation 3948 feet)
The motivation for our trip was an event called “Paint Out”, a community art celebration and competition for plein air (open air) painters.
Plein Air painting by Susan Street
During the day the artists spread out around town with their paints and easels and set themselves at work depicting various local scenes. We spotted one artist painting a floral scene after we parked our car near the bayside park and later saw others painting views of the water and bridge. Then at 3:00 all the artists brought their work to a central gallery, where the art was exhibited, judges awarded prizes and refreshments were available to everybody.
Blown glass vase at Lindsay Art Glass
While we waited for the exhibit to open, we wandered along First Street, browsing in some of the many antique and gift shops and visiting an amazing blown glass gallery, Lindsay Art Glass.
Looking west from Benicia toward the 101 Bridge and San Francisco Bay
Although I had passed the exit for Benicia from the 101 Freeway many times, this was my first visit. I remember reading about the Carquinez Strait (which connects San Francisco Bay with the Sacramento River delta) in 1985, when a young grey whale swam into San Francisco Bay on his annual migration up the coast, and mistakenly headed inland instead of back out to sea. Dubbed “Humphrey the Wrong-Way Whale” his journey was watched by millions both in person and on television until he finally turned around and safely made it back to the Pacific.
The Arsenal
For many years Benicia was a U.S. Army post. The beautiful Arsenal building from the former Army Base is now offices and art galleries. Benicia also still has some elegant Victorian homes from its early days. A trip to Benicia is a pleasant day's outing from Oakland or San Francisco and a nice escape from the hurly burly of city life. I plan to go back!

Monday, October 24, 2016

RARE BOOKS, PRINTS AND DRAWINGS and More at the Philadelphia Free Library

Entrance to the Free Library of Philadelphia
It may seem like a bus-man's holiday, but as I often do when I travel, I like to visit the local library. On a recent visit to Philadelphia, I stopped by the children’s room in the Central branch of the  Free Library of Philadelphia. I had a delightful visit with the head of the department, who pointed out the series of beautiful N.C. Wyeth paintings that decorate the walls of the room.

The paintings are part of the library's extensive Children’s Literature Research Collection. I was pleased to discover that the research collection also includes quite a few of my books. I returned two days later to meet the curator of the collection and sign some of my books.

Later that afternoon I visited the Rare Book Department of the library, featuring a temporary exhibit called Or Else: Cautionary Tales for Children, where I saw the dummy of one of my all time favorite books, Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig. Historic books were on display as well examples from more modern illustrators including Munro Leaf ("Watchbirds" cartoons in the Ladies Home Journal and Ferdinand the Bull), Robert Lawson, Maurice Sendak, Tomi Ungerer and Barry Moser. The Or Else exhibit is now closed but the permanent exhibits are well worth a visit.
The permanent exhibits in the Rare Books Department include examples of ancient cuniform writing  (done with sticks on clay), a number of original works by Beatrix Potter, a display of Grip, the pet raven of Charles Dickens and inspiration for Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven", the entire collection of William McIntire Elkins, a Philadelphia philanthropist, and much more. As it turned out, a staff member was giving tours of the Elkins library, and invited me to come along. The Elkins library reproduces the actual library of its donor (chairs, curtains, carpets, shelves, etc.) exactly as it was in his home, along with his huge Dickens collection and other books.
Grand main staircase of the Philadelphia Free Library
I also stopped by a temporary exhibit from the library's Print and Picture Collection. It is called Fur and Feathers: A Cautious Pairing of Cats and Birds and features intriguing prints, drawings, and photographs by Audubon, Dali, Muybridge and others.
For more about my visit to the Children's Collection, see my post for 6/8/16 at my Art and Books Blog.

Monday, October 17, 2016

RUNNYMEDE SCULPTURE FARM, Spreckels Estate in Woodside, California

Horse Head for Runnymede by Ilan Averbuch
Imagine a farm that instead of growing corn, wheat, or watermelons, sprouts giant sculptures in its fields. Runnymede Farm, in the hills of Woodside, California, just north of Palo Alto, is a sculpture farm–120 acres of rolling hills dotted with more than 160 sculptures installed along paths, in fields, and under the trees.
Steel sculptures by Charles Ginnever
Two weeks ago I attended an event held there and  had the chance to enjoy both the beautiful scenery and view some of the many sculptures. I am one of the lucky ones to see the art up close because, except for rare occasions, the farm is not open to the public.
Lenape by Harry Gordon
Runnymede Farm was originally bought in 1930 by Alma Spreckels Rosekrans, one of the heirs to the famous sugar magnate, Claus Spreckels, as a home for her jumper horses. It was named for her father's prized stallion. The property was turned into a Sculpture Farm by her son John and his wife Dodie Rosekrans in the mid-1980s. They had a passion for modern three-dimensional art and traveled throughout the United States and Europe meeting artists and collecting pieces for their outdoor art museum.  No new pieces have been added since John passed away in 2001.
Hand Like Tree by Magdalena Abakanowicz
Sculptures were around us from the moment we pulled through the gate. In the parking area a row of what resembled giant tree trunks stood like silent sentries along the edge of the creek bed. Behind us in open sheds were the collection of another family member, pieces of antique farm equipment--looking almost like sculptures themselves.

Walking Cairn by Celeste Roberge
Near the building that was once a dairy barn stood the figure of a woman walking, created from large stones wrapped in wire. We then proceeded up the path toward the top of the hill, passing a large field dotted with abstract metal shapes. Around the bend a giant horsehead greeted us, the blocks of stone catching the afternoon sunlight. And at the top of the hill, were more pieces--near the water tank, in the field and among the trees.
Sculpture by Ilan Averbuch
These are just a few of the sculptures I saw. Click HERE for a sampling of some of the many other sculptures at Runnymede Farm.
Runnymede farm lies just west of the 280 Freeway. As you speed by in your car you may get a glimpse of one or two pieces. Or, you may have the good fortune, as I did, to attend a special event there and see the sculptures up close.

Monday, October 10, 2016

FOWLER MUSEUM, UCLA, Three Exciting New Exhibits: Prints, Fiber Art, and Yarn Paintings; Los Angeles, CA

Huichol Yarn Painting, on exhibit at the Fowler Museum, Los Angeles, CA
One of my favorite places to take visitors to Los Angeles is the Fowler Museum, located at UCLA near the bottom of the Janss Steps, not far from central campus. It is dedicated to exploring world arts and cultures, especially Africa, Asia and the Pacific. Last weekend I visited to see three recently opened shows: Nkame: A Retrospective of Cuban Printmaker Belkis Ayon; Uncommon Threads: The Box Project; and The Spun Universe: Huichol Yarn Paintings from Mexico. All were amazing.

Prints by Cuban artist Belkis Ayon
The prints of Belkis Ayon are huge–actually assemblages of multiple plates to make mural size pieces. Most are black and white, which increases the dramatic effect and emphasizes the many textures that make up the design. The subjects of many of the prints are from stories connected to the Afro-Cuban fraternal society Abakua. Belkis Ayon (1967-1999) used a technique called collography, which fastens a variety of materials onto cardboard to make a printing plate which is then put through a press. You can see her at work in a video that is part of the exhibition. Nkame (a word synonymous with “greeting” and “praise” in the language of Abakuá) is on exhibit October 2, 2016 to February 12, 2017.

The Uncommon Threads Box Project
For the Uncommon Threads Box Project a number of international fiber artists were invited to create works that could be fit in a standard size box. The results are displayed along with larger works by the artists. The amazing part of this exhibit is both the variety of materials and the range of interpretation of what it means to fit into a box.

Fabric covered blocks by James Bassler
In some cases, the finished fabric was folded or rolled into a box while other artists turned the fabric into a box or, in one case, blocks. The exhibit will be on view September 11, 2016 to January 15, 2017.

Detail of Huichol Yarn Painting
The Huichol Yarn paintings in The Spun Universe exhibit can by seen in a small gallery within the larger Intersections gallery. Colored yarn is the “paint” used to produce the radiant colors and intricate designs in these traditional works created by the Wixarika people of Western Mexico. The yarn is turned and twisted and affixed to a wooden board with beeswax. The designs, inspired by mythology and shamanic visions, feature animals, human figures, plants and other ritual objects. The “paintings” are stunning viewed both close-up to see the intricate details, and at a distance where they have a poster-like boldness. The exhibit will be on view August 14, 2016 to December 4, 2016.
Large Huichol Yarn Painting--our favorite in the exhibit
Selected items from the Fowler’s huge collection are in an ongoing exhibit called  Intersections: World Arts, Local Lives. Another gallery has a permanent display of the Francis E. Fowler, Jr. Collection of Silver. So there is always much to see at the museum.
And, a must when you visit the Fowler, is a stop at the excellent gift shop with its changing selection of merchandise that is coordinated with current exhibitions.
Six paneled print by Belkis Ayon

The Fowler Museum is open Wednesday through Sunday noon to 5 pm and 8 pm on Wednesday.
Admission is FREE.
For directions and parking, click HERE.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Muenster, Germany: A Tour of the Historic Center at Night

Muenster's Historic Town Hall, viewed at night
Earlier this year, my husband Art visited Muenster, Germany, for a scientific conference. While most of his time was spent in meetings, one evening he went on a bus tour of the historic city center. Muenster, a medium sized city located in northwestern Germany, has a long history going back to the Middle Ages. It was the site of the signing of the Treaty of Westphalia, which ended the Thirty Years War in 1648.  During World War II the city was heavily bombed and the historic center was largely destroyed. After the war, the decision was made to rebuild the old city to match its prewar state. So, when you visit today, the heart of Muenster looks very much like it would have hundreds of years ago, except, of course, that the shops along Prinzipalmarkt Street bear the familiar logos of today’s brands.

The tour included a stop at the town hall, or rathaus, Muenster's landmark, where the Peace of Westphalia was announced. Portraits of the delegates to the peace negotiations can be seen in the Hall of Peace.
Prinzipalmarkt, the main shopping street of Muenster, with shopping arcades located under the tall gabled houses.
Art always enjoys the chance to eat typical German foods (which remind him of the year he spent in Germany as a high school student.) On his first night in Muenster he treated himself to schnitzel and pilsener. His souvenirs of the trip were also food–fresh whole grain bread from a local bakery, a jar of raps honig (honey made from rapeseed blossoms) and a box of Lubecker marzipan (a perennial favorite of ours.) While it is possible to buy German marzipan in specialty stores in the United States, it always tastes better fresh from the source! We wondered if the muenster cheese available in American supermarkets had its origin in Germany, but, it turns out to be a version of a cheese named after the Alsatian abbey of Munster in the Vosgian Mountains of France.

To get to Muenster, Art flew from LAX to London, from there to Dusseldorf, Germany, and from Dusseldorf to Muenster by train. I thank Art for sharing his photos of his night tour of Muenster with The Intrepid Tourist.