Everyday Life in the Northeast Kingdom

In need of a salve for your soul in these depressing times?  Zip, zip, take a trip to the Northeast Kingdom. Fellow New Englanders know this means heading up to the tip top of Vermont to hug the Canadian border (which will feel good in and of itself). You’ll feel FAR, FAR away from urban madness and start to wonder just why it is that you MUST live in a city.

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My son and I pondered the reason why  eggs would be cheaper on Wednesday. We spent the better part of an hour discussing the possibilities.

 

OK, I said zip, zip, but if you’re reading this soon after I’ve posted it, in November, Vermont’s “bleak season” wait til summer or fall, which is when these trips were made.

I had the good fortune of being called up to the Northeast Kingdom this summer to mount an exhibition at Catamount Arts in St. Johnsbury. I packed my car and drove up there on the most auspicious of dates: the solar eclipse. After  a seamless day of installation (interrupted by a dash up the hill to the Fairbanks Museum for the eclipse viewing party), Catamount gallery director extraordinaire, Katherine French said, “Come let’s have dinner and then I’m going to take you to a little museum I  think you’ll like.” Given that we were finishing up as the sun was setting, I was a little doubtful that she could make good on her enticing promise. What museum would be open after 7PM? “You’ll see”, she said.  I was still worried as our lovely, leisurely dinner pushed past the hour that ANY museum would still be open. “Ok, let’s go!” And off into the starry night we drove further north and west to Glover. We pulled off the road onto a pitch black driveway. Ha! We had arrived at The Museum of Everyday Life.

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I knew right then and there I was going to have to return the next day to photograph in daylight. Here’s what I hadn’t been able to see as we approached at night:

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Katherine fumbled for the lights just inside the entrance

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and we found ourselves in the Raymond Roussel Vestibule

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where there was a nice little introductory assemblage of quotidian objects which set the stage for what lay ahead.

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Even though I have made a career of celebrating the cast away  stuff of our over stuffed world I was unprepared for the depths that are plumbed in the six or so exhibits in the Museum of Everyday Life. The museum is the brainchild of Intensive Care RN and Crankie enthusiast, Clare Dolan, who I had the pleasure of meeting the next morning when I came back for my daylight photos. She was racing around her yard mowing at a faster pace than I’ve ever witnessed.

“Let me go ahead'” Katherine French said as she opened the (beautifully adorned) door that lead from the vestibule to the museum and found the next set of lights.

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We were greeted by a curious and pleasing little tinkle of bells which continued tinkling  for our entire visit,  a sonic version of the starry night outside.

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You can’t be a reader of this blog and not know that I was utterly enthralled.

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Pencils to toothbrushes

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If you’re going to feature toothbrushes, you gotta throw in Toothpaste.

Toothbrushes to safety pins

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Safety pins to matches

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Violin, made by a musical prisoner,  entirely out of wooden matchsticks

Matchsticks to—wait for it—DUST! By far my favorite exhibit! I thought I had intimate knowledge of dust. (I can practically name the individual dust bunnies that live under my bed). But, no, apparently until now I had only the barest sprinkling of knowledge. Here is a bit of the  stupendous Dust display with accompanying label information:

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“Hanging for 10 years directly above the kitchen stove in the Chicken Hut in Brooklyn, This ornament is crusted in layers of grease-adhered dusts of all kinds. On loan courtesy of Gregory Henderson”

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“Cosmic dust from NASA’s ultra clean Cosmic Dust Laboratory, established in 1981 to handle particles one tenth the diameter of a human hair. The Laboratory curates thousands of cosmic dust particles… Cosmic dust grains…contain material in the same condition as when the solar system began to form…” And being NASA, the explanatory label went on for another three paragraphs.

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I was clever enough to photograph the label, so you can read it yourself.

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same ilk as the Chicken Hut grease/dust encrusted kitchen ornament above, this is a single paddle from a fan blade.

After seeing this exhibit your response will either be to vacuum the minute you get home, or never vacuum again! I just checked under the bed. The bunnies have multiplied, well, like rabbits. I am feeding them and they are happy.

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I reached the back of the museum and finally discovered the source of the tinkling bells. This were the very last display in the Bells and Whistles exhibit:

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I was too enchanted to remember the video function on my cell phone, and I really think it would be a spoiler to explain how this tinkling at the back of the museum was precipitated by turning on the lights at the front. I am sure by now you are clicking on your calendars and mapping out your visit. You’ll see for yourself.

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Stay here if you go: Rodgers Family Farm, Glover

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And get up just before sunrise to walk to  the beaver pond just a quarter mile down the road. I don’t like getting up that early either, but it was worth it!

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PS I foolishly thought I would cover every magical thing I saw during my three visits this summer and fall to Glover and environs, but I’ve barely scratched the surface. Stay tuned for Bread and Puppet, Red Sky, and other marvels in the Northeast Kingdom.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hubcap Ranch

This post ends with a story of how a good deed turned into an art environment. If you’re impatient to find out how this could be, skip to the end, but you’ll be missing some pretty cool art along the way.

A recent trip to California to visit family and  to tour the fabulous new San Francisco Museum of Modern Art turned into a glorious road-trip. In just three days the Bay area and surrounding countryside offered  up the most glorious array of artistic diversity.

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The undulating SFMOMA is now my favorite renovation of the myriad of museum upgrades that have swept the country in the last decade (shout out to Deputy Director Ruth Berson,  for her incredible leadership in this project).

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I really loved the little display of idea “sketches” for the museum renovation presented by the architectural firm, Snohetta:

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Across the street from the SFMOMA is the wonderful Yerba Buena Art Center which–jackpot!– was showcasing at the time of my visit one of my very favorite artists, Tom Sachs.

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Whacking together unbelievably complex and massive sculptures with little more than packing tape, cardboard and soda bottles, Sachs has constructed his visionary “Europa”, as part of his ongoing fixation with NASA’s space program. He has thought of “everything the astronauts will need to successfully complete their mission to Jupiter’s icy moon” including the all important outhouse which bears an uncanny and satisfying resemblance to a jet plane’s lavatory.

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Ruth Berson also introduced us to her beloved “Creativity Explored”, a studio workshop  and gallery for artists with intellectual disabilities.

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We loved it so much we went back for a second visit on Monday and saw the studio buzzing with productivity.img_4887

I doubt you’ll find another group of artists anywhere more intent on their work than here.

With the couple extra days I had  to tool around in California I headed up to Napa Valley. The drive through Napa Valley vineyards

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is a visual feast in and of itself. But we went to drink in a couple other sites. Our first stop: the Di Rosa Museum. A San Francisco friend had brought me there a couple years ago and I wanted to revisit with my son, who has inherited my penchant for all things quirky.

Situated on the shore of Winery Lake, the Di Rosa Museum houses the estate collection of the vineyard owning,  art collecting, bon vivants Veronica and Rene Di Rosa.img_20160923_121014687

One has the feeling as one tours the estate (and one can only see the DiRosa collection as part of a museum tour–don’t just show up there unannounced), that collecting art served as a great excuse to the Di Rosas for non-stop partying. It’s a wild ride following the twists and turns of the DiRosa’s art tastes.

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Art car master, David Best retooled this Cadillac for Veronica Di Rosa.

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And Rene jumped into the act of art making with this one creation of his own:

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Well, his hanging car may  not be great art, but just about everything else in his collection is top notch–some of my favorite  artists and so many great artists new to me, all hailing from  northern California.:

Viola Frey :

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These next two are Sandow Birk’s. Though created many years ago, they were apt viewing during our miserable campaign and election season.

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And this is Chester Arnold. Where have you been all my life, Chester?

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And Mildred Howard’s luminescent Bottle House:

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OK, finally! The real destination of this trip through Napa Valley (you will now be rewarded for slogging through this post to get to the bait tangled on the hook of the first sentence).  Litto’s Hubcap Ranch!  

img_4774 Located just one hour’s drive north of San Francisco, in Pope Valley, Hubcap Ranch was the retirement home of Emanuele “Litto” Damonte.  Litto,  came to California from Genoa, Italy in the early 1900’s. His father passed on his stone mason trade to him which provided Litto  with lucrative work, including marble carving for the William Randolf Hearst mansion.

A smooth ribbon of a road now passes by the ranch but at the time that Litto settled in Pope Valley the rough and winding dirt road was pitted with potholes which tended to pop the hubcaps off  passing automobiles. Litto thought he’d do a good turn by collecting the hubcaps and affixing them to his property fence.

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He assumed that folks who had lost them would pick them up the next time they drove by. Apparently nobody came to reclaim their hubcaps and soon the collection grew to the point where passers by thought Litto just LOVED hubcaps, so they started dropping off contributions for his “collection”. These too, he affixed to the front fence til that was full. He then extended the collection to the barbed wired that looped around the ranch.

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Before Litto knew it he had become a hubcap connoisseur. He singled out the most select examples for special placement on his out buildings and his home.

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No one’s got an exact count, but it’s said there may be as many as 5,000 hubcaps catching the rays on Hubcap Ranch.

Two years after Litto’s death, Hubcap Ranch received the official designation of  California Historic Landmark.

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Hubcap Ranch is currently the residence of Litto’s grandson, Mike Damonte, who does his best to maintain the property

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in all its quirky glory.

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To Hell in a Handbasket

2016:  It’s 500th anniversary of the death Hieronymus Bosch, and his little home town of ‘s-Hertogenbosch called all of his paintings and drawings to come on home.

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(Travel partner, Hannah Verlin, of Ossuary trip fame, drinking in the fact that we have arrived in Bosch’s hometown!)

You’re not the only one who can’t pronounce ‘s-Hertogenbosch–and hey, is it really allowed in Dutch to spell a name starting with an apostrophe? Even the Dutch prefer not to have to say ‘s-Hertogenbosch out loud. They just call this town by its nickname: Den Bosch, which means simply, the forest. And no, it’s not a coincidence that Hieronymus Bosch’s last name is his hometown–Bosch was named after his town, and not vice versa. We’re talking the 1500’s, when they didn’t have the same convention of last names that we do–you could just tack your hometown onto your first name and that was sufficient. (That would make  Facebook searches for your old high school classmates very challenging.)

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I can tell you the little town of Den Bosch has gone totally Bosch bonkers:

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It was impressive how gracefully the good citizens of Den Bosch handled ten times  the number of visitors to their normally low-keyed town, proving once again that the Dutch are just nice, nice people!  Capitalizing on the throngs of Bosch pilgrims, every nook and cranny of Den Bosch was turned into a tourist opportunity with a Bosch twist. Scaffolding was erected up the side and around the perimeter of the roof of St John’s Cathedral (vertigo!) to enable gargoyle viewing. IMG_20160504_114753304_HDR

These figures, which aren’t really gargoyles, were being sculpted as Bosch worked away in his nearby studio.  One could see remarkable similarities between these figures and Bosch’s painted characters.

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I don’t understand why, but I could not convince Hannah to try on, let alone buy this outfit.

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OK, enough of the merchandise–let’s go see Bosch!

The director of the local museum in Den Bosch has been fixated on this 500th anniversary for the last decade and worked like a devil, appropriately enough, to get the world’s most prestigious museums (the only museums that own Bosches) to loan their prized paintings which never , ever get loaned to anyone, let alone to a little museum like the  Noordbrabants Museum.

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(shown here, the Prado’s, “Cure of Folly”. This painting is a play on the expression, in Bosch’s time, to “have stones in the head”- saying someone was crazy.)

The fact that the likes of the Prado, the Louvre, the Metropolitan Museum, and Washington’s National Gallery of Art agreed to loan their most treasured holdings  was described by London’s Daily Telegraph as  “a feat of stamina and silver-tongued curatorial cunning.” Though Bosch was a prolific painter, only about 25 of his paintings remain in existence today and of these, 20 were loaned to the Noordbrabants Museum along with almost his entire oeuvre of existing drawings–about 20 of the existing 25 drawings. In exchange for the privilege of borrowing these works the lending institutions benefited from  extensive new  research conducted by the Noordbrabants team . Well, benefited might be too strong a word. The poor Prado,  owner of more Bosches than any other museum had to swallow the bitter pill that two of its Bosches were pronounced [ahem] NOT  Bosches after all. Thanks, Noorbrabants!

(Pictured here: the Prado’s downgraded “St. Anthony” –still pretty nice!)

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This might be a nice time to point out that this forger took note of Bosch’s  penchant for funnels in his imagery. He snuck them in everywhere. Search through the other images–you’ll find several more.

On the flip side, the Nelson Atkins Museum, humble in comparison to the Prado, learned that one of its “school of” Bosches that had been relegated to their museum storage since its acquisition was done by the great master himself–SCORE! I wouldn’t be surprised if they hold a ticker tape parade to welcome their St. Anthony home.

Well, let’s not quibble. The fact is, the homecoming of Hieronymus Bosch has been  a glorious, once-in-forever event.  And even though I’m usually allergic to block buster events I was happy to join the ga-zillions of people who descended upon Den Bosch to be able to present their own flesh to the master painter of heaven and hell (with an undeniable emphasis on hell).

 

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Hieronymus Bosch is surely one of the most widely recognized and revered painters of all times. I first became keenly aware of him in high school, in the drug-infused 60’s when Bosch was elevated to cult status for his psychedelic interpretations of the human condition. He is one of the handful of artists that the “man of the street” will nod in recognition to when his name is pronounced. Case in point, the cab driver who took me to Logan airport on the first, and arguably most dangerous leg of my pilgrimage to Den Bosch, became suddenly very animated on the subject of Hieronymus Bosch. When I responded to the cab driver’s inquiry as to why I was going to the Netherlands,  the driver torqued his rear view mirror to a 45 degree angle to be able to have eye contact with me in the back seat rather than with the road as he expounded on Bosch, all the while telling me that he didn’t care a hoot about art. Believe me, Bosch’s popularity did not start in the 1960’s. By 1560, a mere 45 years after Bosch’s death there were ten to fifteen times as many forgeries of Bosch paintings as there were genuine Bosches. Thus the difficulty figuring out in present day which paintings were actually done by the master himself. These fakes were often done by the most accomplished artists of their era. One imitator  went on to have a  magnificent career of his own: Peter Bruegel the Elder–yup–that’s how he earned his chops in his student days!

As obsessed as Bosch was with phantasmagorical images of the underworld

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his depictions of paradise would make today’s fundamentalists throw a snit fit:

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We have all heard descriptions of the tunnel of light cited in near death experiences. Bosch’s  “Assent of the Blessed” is the first known reference to this tunnel of light.Is it possible that Bosch was the inventor of this notion?

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And what’s going on here, Hieronymus? This is one hell of an album cover! Heavy mental!

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A couple more excellent uses for funnels:

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If you have read all this and are now saying to yourself, “Why didn’t I know? Why didn’t I go?”  There may still be a tunnel of light for you to follow: The Prado in Madrid will be having its own 500th anniversary of Bosch celebration with the “most extensive exhibition of Hieronymus Bosch ever organized” from May 31 to September 11, 2016. And they may well be able to claim this as they own the most famous of all Bosches, the Garden of Earthly Delights that they did not loan to the Noordbrabants Museum. A word to the wise, if you’re thinking of going; reserve your tickets long in advance. The exhibition at Noordbrabants sold out very hastily and surely there will be great demand for the Prado’s quincentennial Bosch extravaganza.

 

 

 

Dr. Guislain Museum

A museum whose mission is “to  question the distinction between normal and abnormal”?  You know I’ve got to write a post about that! Just the name itself, the Dr. Guislain Museum, intrigues. Never mind the fact that the guidebooks don’t mention this museum as one of the reasons one might consider visiting picturesque Ghent, Belgium. It is this unique museum that put Belgium on my itinerary a couple years ago.

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I had noticed that several of the European outsider artists I follow had work in the collection of the Dr. Guislain Museum, and curious about the museum’s name in relationship to its collection I looked it up. Turns out, not only was Dr. Guislain a real doctor, he was an early proponent of humane care for psychiatric patients. He headed up the first insane asylum in Belgium which became known later, as the Dr. Guislain Hospital.

1-28-2013 565 Following in the enlightened footsteps of the hospital’s founder, the modern day (and current) director, Dr. Rene Stockman, pursued the provocative idea of converting a large part of the hospital into a museum. At the heart of this vision was the belief that light needed to be shed onto the dark history of psychiatry in order to normalize society’s relationship to the mentally ill. Rather than hiding away the array of objects and photographs that the hospital had in its possession, the director put them on display.

 So that’s one part of the museum: the history of psychiatry. There are two other components to the museum: temporary exhibits (mainly contemporary art) that relate in some way to the theme of mental health (There was a great show up when I visited entitled “Nervous Women”, which examined  illnesses historically and culturally  linked to women, such as hysteria and anorexia). The third section of the museum–the section that drew me to Ghent in the first place– is their major collection of art made by artists with mental illness or intellectual disability.
The Dr. Guislain Museum has the largest holdings of Netherlands’s most celebrated outsider artist (one of my all time favorites): Willem Van Genk.
Van Genk, who died fairly recently, (2005) drew, painted and sculpted the subject matter he was obsessed with: urban landscapes with a particular emphasis on transportation systems, and most with references to his other obsession–Russian communism.
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At the end of his life, Van Genk turned almost exclusively to sculpture. The Dr. Guislain Museum has  installed his work as it had been set up in Van Genk’s own home:
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The raincoats, by the way, were a major part of Van Genk’s oeuvre, as is the library of books upon which his massive train station sits.
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Another extraordinary room-sized installation of the little known outsider, Hans Langner, is testament in and of itself what an unusual institution the Dr. Guislain Museum is.
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Can you think of any other venue that has given such a difficult, idiosyncratic work this amount of space and this level of respect?
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A similarly sprawling cityscape (I neglected to take a note of the artist’s name) occupies another room. Ah! a little edit here: Dutch outsider art logger extraordinaire, Henk Van Es just emailed me to identify this artist–fellow Dutchman, Bertus Jonkers. Read Henk’s very interesting post here.
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And then there’s many, many stellar works by both well known and obscure outsider artists.
Oh, I wish I had taken note of this artist’s name. If by chance you know, tell me and I’ll  gratefully add in the info.
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 Henk Van Es to the rescue again! He helped me identify the maker of this submarine: another Dutchman, Gerard van Lankveld
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 The incredibly knitted work of: Marie-Rose Lortet:
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The dense collaged figures of Simone le Carre:
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Austrian artist, August Walla:
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This gem by Adolf Wolfli:
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Well, I could go on–I probably photographed the whole collection. Hopefully I’ve enticed you enough that should you find yourself in Brussels, you’ll hop on the train for the hour-long ride to Ghent. And drink in this treasure for yourself!
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Hat’s off (er, I mean–on!) to my fabulous travel partner, and coincidentally my husband, who was thoughtful enough to wear clothing that matched this very photogenic facade.
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Should none of this interest you, I am certain, that at the very least you will find solace in Ghent chocolate (It is Belgium, after all!) served to you by this chocolatier:
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I get the sense he was put off by the leopard skin coat of this customer. I know you will not wear a similar coat–so do not worry–he will be more friendly to you.
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Pollock’s Toy Museum

I love museums of all kinds: art, science, ethnology, history. And while I truly appreciate the big famous venues, I have a special place in my heart for small unheralded museums. Most of all I love a museum which perfectly reflects the gestalt of the collection. Rather than the traditional neutral role that most museums play in relationship to  their collections, these little anachronistic gems become works of art themselves. Their very beings are so intertwined with their holdings that collection and museum become one.

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Just such a gem is the Pollock’s Toy Museum in the heart of London. Currently under the directorship of the grandson of the museum founder, Marguerite Fawdry, Pollock’s began its life not as a museum, but as the workshop and store for Benjamin Pollock’s Toy Theaters. Mr. Pollock hand painted and constructed these popular Victorian  paper entertainments. The museum, which was founded in 1956 on the premises of the toy theater shop ( at a  different location than where the Pollock Toy Museum is today), has many of the original paper theaters in its holdings.  The collection has been augmented  with  Victorian through 1950’s era toys.

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Stepping into the museum I wanted to pinch myself to see if I had fallen asleep on the couch reading Dickens and was dreaming up my surroundings. The deeply satisfying, thickly layered paint of the red and green walls, doors and stairwell drew me into the space with a magnetic, slow motion kind of pull. After paying my 6 pounds to the ticket taker, who beckoned forward,  I found myself pleasingly alone in this twisty-turny multi-roomed museum.

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Up the steps, slowly, slowly, every inch another treasure to admire:

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And then the individual rooms! Oh! Categorized and organized, but not too organized.

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Stuffed with playthings, some just so barely brushing up against my own childhood that I wondered if my siblings would rush in and snatch the vision away and say these were their toys.

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But, no, we’d been taught to share, so all was well. I could relax and drink it in.

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And send myself backwards and forwards in time, at the same instant.

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and marvel over how certain it once had been that some toys were for BOYS ONLY. I was happy that my brother’s Meccano set, a favorite of all of us kids, had not had this definitive labeling by the time it was manufactured for my era.

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One of the things I love about the Pollock collection is how used the objects are. Chosen for being loved rather than for being in pristine condition.

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The doll room showed this most of all.

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And yes, the doll creep factor is in full swing in the doll room. This doll and the next could easily be responsible for the invention of the night light.

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Not hard to come up with a story for this pair, Constance and Geraldine, siblings trapped together for eternity, their individual personalities becoming sharper over the decades. Geraldine, always the  confident one, has become insufferable, and Constance, well, poor thing, by now she’s just a shell of her former self.

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Chastity could never go outside to play because she could not risk getting grass stains on her outfit.

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And no wonder she dressed this way. This was her mother–no fun at all!

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Here’s the look on Tildy’s face after her brother told her she most definitely could NOT play with his Meccano set.

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It was embarrassing going out with Gertrude. She didn’t seem to understand she was making a spectacle of herself. She never seemed to notice that folks were pointing at her and whispering to each other.

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Ah, that Lucinda! She’s been caught stuffing sugar cubes in her cheeks again.

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Mary Ella is the perfect child when her parents are at home. But as soon as they leave for the evening she throws wild parties that start with Spin the Bottle and then proceed to much, much worse activities.

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And these two kids, there’s a reason why they look, well, so disturbed…

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All their furniture is made with BONES!

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Time to go! Back down the stairs, past all those games there was never enough time for. (Yes, I CAN end on a preposition if I want to!)

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Not Garbage!

It’s safe to say that Forevertron (last post) will be around for a long, long while with its 300 tons of iron and steel–who on earth would want to dismantle that? Likewise Fred Smith’s Concrete Park, the Dickeyville Grotto and the Wegner Grotto are not only built in concrete they all both protected sites (more on that later), now iconic parts of the Wisconsin landscape.

But as is the case with many outsider art sites, two I visited were less securely bound to this earth and sadly no longer exist.

One of these was Tony’s Fan Fair,

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tucked quietly away in Anton Flatoff‘s  yard in the town of Steven’s Point, Wisconsin. Tony started this project in the 70’s with one fan he rescued from the trash heap from the hotel where he worked. Gradually, over the next decade or two he added more and more discarded fans, around 80 in all. When we arrived at his home we were greeted by his lovely wife, Elaine, and middle-aged daughter, who informed us that Tony was home, but very ill, and we would sadly not be able to meet him. They encouraged us to poke around the yard, assuring us that Tony loved admirers.

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Flying about  the fantastic Fan Fair, were several of Tony’s airplanes:IMG_3603

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“When you’re done with the Fan Fair, do come in”, Elaine urged us, and so we did. After showing off Tony’s indoor work (a flotilla of beer can ships and more planes), Elaine asked us shyly if we had any interest in HER hobby.

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YES! OF COURSE!, so she led us to the back of the house and flung open the door to a room jam-packed with dolls.

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Elaine explained that they were her “children”. By calling them her children, Elaine was clearly signifying that they were more than just a collection. Elaine had been one of 15 (!) children herself, and growing up she had always dreamed of having a doll. Her family was too poor to buy one for her. One day shortly after she and Tony were married  elaine spotted a naked , dirty doll on the roadside which had been put out for the trash. She took it home, cleaned it up and sewed it an outfit. The next doll she bought at a yard sale with a spare quarter. And on it went. She showed us how she lovingly cared for them, , sewing clothing for each.  And then, impishly, Elaine asked if we wanted to see her most special dolls, her “mixed up” dolls, she called them. You know we said yes! And up came the skirts of a few of the gals to reveal little male genitalia. “They came like that from the factory”, she marveled. Well, it made our day. I wonder, wonder, wonder what happened to all of Elaine’s dolls, and Tony’s oeuvre–all I see on the web when I look up Tony’s Fan Fair is “non-extant”.  Sad!

The raucous yard art which both delighted and disgruntled Paul Hefti‘s neighbors in La Crosse has also disappeared. His property, once a beautiful example of the  very human impulse to create has been restored to a state of ordinariness. Sigh. So I will treasure these images I have  and share with you what got us to slam on our breaks as we were moseying through La Crosse on our way to visit Dobberstein Grotto (earlier post) in neighboring St Joseph.

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Strewn across an expansive yard long was Mr. Hefti’s impressive collection of reclaimed and  reformatted detritus from our plastic, disposable world.

Here’s a couple screech-on-the-brakes pictures:

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Paul, who lived to be a hundred, worked for 45 years at the La Cross Paper and Box Company. According to his obituary he was a “gifted musician who played piano, accordion, drums, the zither and the mouth organ, [and ]  was a leader of a one liter pop bottle band.” He rode a bicycle his whole life , which, like his yard,  he decorated. He enjoyed the attention that his decorations brought him. I could easily feel his friendliness and warmth sprinkled throughout the site:

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I doubt there was any non-perishable trash that Mr. Hefti couldn’t have found a use for.

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Adieu, Paul Hefti, you funny, nice man!

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Long Live Bernard Langlais!

One more Mid Coast Maine post (It’s summer in New England, after all–no reason to travel any further than Maine).

Years ago (actually, eons ago) I turned off Rte 1 from Thomaston, Maine and was heading down the Cushing peninsula in search of the home and studio of Bernard Langlais. I was just starting my own career as a sculptor and my parents had recommended I have a look at Langlais’s “roadside attraction”. I had no idea where exactly I would find this ( pre cell phone, pre google map days). But still, I knew Cushing was just a speck on the map , so how hard would the Langlais property be to find? Turns out–not hard at all! The road dipped and inclined and suddenly the Trojan Horse my parents had described rose up on the side of the road.We screeched to a halt and tumbled out of the car.

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This magnificent sculpture is the first work that Bernard Langlais built when he moved back to his home state of Maine (he was born in Old Town in 1921). He had recently moved (in the 1960’s) from New York and was leaving behind a very successful big city career (exhibiting at Leo Castelli Gallery, no less). For the next 25 years or so Langlais worked on populating his 90 acre property with all manner of animals and figures: whimsical, poignant, monumental and even political. I could just feel the boundless joy in his making of these pieces, up in Maine, as he pleased, away from the rat race and roller coaster of the NY art world. Walking through these works was a revelation to me. Since then I have sought out and visited many artists’ built environments, but this was my first, and well, you know how that goes–the first blush of love…

For this post I’ve scanned my old slides, thus the quality of the images is a wee compromised. Still the images are worth sharing as at the time when I photographed these sculptures (in 1978, the year after Bernard Langlais died) the paint was still fresh and the wood still sound. Have a look at these images and then read the exciting news about the Langlais estate…

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Excellent reuse of an old bathtub!

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Finest rendition of Tricky Dick I’ve ever seen. Langlais made this piece shortly after Nixon’s resignation. It is, of course, based the image on the infamous scene of Nixon’s last “salute” as he boarded the helicopter for his departure from the White House. I love that the bottom half of the figure is submerged in this murky farm pond.

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My favorite piece of Langlais’s, a depiction of Christina Olson, (of Andrew Wyeth’s “Christina’s World” fame). Turned out that the Langlais property is more or less across the street from the Olson property where Wyeth painted the iconic image of Christina sitting in her family field. Finally, with Bernard Langlais’s sculpture, we can see Christina’s face! And, yes, she IS a beauty!

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Another beauty–this one a mermaid.

And animals of all kinds everywhere:

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Oh, another glance of Christina to the left of the elephant.

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The real live horse in this bottom image helps give you an idea of the scale of Langlais’s work!

I’ve worried about these sculptures over the past 35+ years. Maine winters are tough on wooden sculptures, and I wondered what would happen to his property after Langlais’s wife died? Suddenly one day there was news–GOOD news!

In 2010 Bernard Langlais’s widow, Helen, gifted 3000 of Langlais’s artwork plus the 90 acre property to Colby College Museum of ArtHannah Blunt, Colby College Museum assistant curator took up residence at the Langlais estate for a couple of years (lucky her!) to undertake the enormous task of inventorying and assessing the collection. Here’s a wonderful video interview with Blunt describing this work: https://vimeo.com/86360086.

Blunt contacted the Kohler Foundation in Wisconsin to see if they might be interested in partnering with Colby College in preserving the legacy of Langlais as they have done with a large number of other (mainly Wisconsin  outsider/folk) artists’ environments. And following the model of care-taking that Kohler has established for themselves, once restoration was completed they partnered with a local organization –in this case, George’s River Land Trust, who has taken over the ownership and stewardship of the property.  Of the 3000 Langlais artworks , approximately10 of the most monumental sculptures, including the Trojan Horse, will remain on the Langlais property, open to the public beginning the fall of 2015. Hurray!

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Also of note: the rest of the nearly 3000 Langlais pieces gifted to Colby College have been placed in over 50 non-profit institutions throughout the state of Maine. One can access this information and visit the works using the map provided in the Langlais Art Trial website.

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As long as I’ve got you focused on midcoast Maine (see my last post on Davistown Museum and Liberty Tool Company), I wanted to give you a tour of the studio one of my most inspiring artist colleagues, Abbie Read, who lives in the little town of Appleton, Maine–just inland from Belfast.

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She also happens to be the person who first introduced me to Liberty Tool Company and Skip Brack. Like myself, Abbie always has her eye out for quirky beauty. She is a gardener, a collector, and above all else an artist. You will see from these images of her home and studio that these three pursuits are all rolled together into one seamless existence. Rather than using too many words I’ll let you stroll with me through Abbie’s gardens and studio and you’ll see what I mean.

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Roadside view of Abbie’s studio, surrounded by her remarkable garden.

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I was paddling with Abbie in the great northern woods of Maine when she spotted this fish-shaped driftwood on the shore. It could not be left behind!

I’ll get back to her gardens before this post wraps up–but time to poke around inside Abbie’s studio:

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Here and there I recognize some great finds from Liberty Tool Company.

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What I love about visiting Abbie’s studio is that you can’t quite  tell where the collections leave off and the artwork begins.

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The arrangements are shape shifters, social gatherings, little galaxies of starlets.

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The found objects become installations become artworks, but even so, at any moment a comfortably bedded down little object might be plucked up, manipulated,  and given a whole new context:

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So much more to see, but I promised to get back to the gardens:

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Trellises                          (no problem for Abbie who can whip out willow chairs)

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And the gardens are great homes for her collection of whirlygigs:

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The real show stoppers are the flower beds, raised bed vegetable gardens and containers spilling blooms everywhere…

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Ah!

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Curio Museum: Davistown in Liberty Maine

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It’s not every day that you get a handwritten note scratched onto the back of an envelope inviting you to hang your work in one of your favorite little museums. When that happens, say, YES! And so I did when I saw a penned note to me on the museum newsletter faithfully sent out by the Davistown Museum every year. Very fitting communication method from the Davistown founder and director, salvage meister, and champion of the hand-hewn, Skip Brack.

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(Skip in his natural habitat. Excellent suspenders!)

As soon as I got Skip’s invitation to install work I knew what I wanted to bring: I happened to have made a series I call “Special Collections”, an ode to the basement workshop and obsessive collector.

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I became acquainted with Skip years ago when I started frequenting his extraordinary “Liberty Tool Company

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in Liberty, Maine, a favorite shopping destination for craftsmen and women and artists seeking tools

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(and do-dads) of yore which stand the test of time and often surpass today’s depressingly low standards. Need a saw vice that swivels on an axle and can’t find it in Depot Cheapo? Head to Liberty Tool! A Yankee screw driver? Head to Liberty Tool!

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How ’bout a spork?

Oh, but I digress–this posting is about The Davistown Museum,

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which is directly across the street from Liberty Tool Company. This crammed packed museum is the repository for Skip Brack’s best finds in his salvage business.  This is the stuff you cannot buy from him no matter how much money you offer because these finds belong in a permanent collection where they will be preserved in perpetuity for us tool and do-dad lovers to admire and covet forever. You cannot believe what Skip has acquired over all his years of buying up old manufacturing inventories.

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Lord knows where he has stumbled on these treasures that span American history.

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And to heck with millennial museum practices: if you like it, find a spot for it and settle it in. It’s going to feel at home at the Davistown, because, indeed home is where the heart is!

Skip’s primary focus at the Davistown  is the history of American tools, but really this crammed full museum showcases just about anything that Skip truly loves and so a visit to the Davistown is a window onto Skip’s soul.

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Here’s a great little video made by Andrew David Watson that will give you a great flavor for Skip Brack and his noble pursuit in life.

As if the visit weren’t sweet enough there were two lovely, and darned good bluegrass musicians jamming on the porch.

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Their music accompanied us as we strolled through “downtown” Liberty:

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Is it possible that Liberty has the only hexagonal post office in the USA?

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Bye, bye, Liberty! I’ll be back…

It’s All in How it’s Packaged

Those of you who know my sculpture Jessica working on Torpedo--Xiaolu photo IMG_4933                                                know that I’ve been a bit label-obsessed for the last couple of years. Well, actually make that for the last 30 years, when I started collecting sardine and olive oils cans: IMG_3241   IMG_3242 IMG_20140407_100300849 (close up of my kitchen wall) So how incredibly great that I got to visit two label-intensive museums in a row during my recent travels to Germany. Heidelberg houses the very quirky yet tidy Museum of Packaging, IMG_0857 (I ask you: does this ad make you want to run out and buy a Frigidaire?) a private collection of ads and brand labeling, mostly from the past hundred years. All kinds of commercially packaged products are on display, from soda to cigarettes to dish detergent. The best aspect of the presentation is the social commentary that one can deduce by seeing the evolution of labeling styles of a particular product ( such as Nivea hand cream–and darn–I was so enthralled by the evolution of Nivea that I forgot to pull out my camera) since its inception to current times.

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Much, much older labeling and packaging can be seen at the Heidelberg Apothecary (and Alchemy) Museum. IMG_0809  IMG_20150403_070946157_HDR

Magnificent cabinets of tinctures, brightly and ornately painted hand blown bottles, majolica-glazed ceramics vessels to hold the various ingredients for medicines, room after room devoted to the magical, mystical art of healing. You’d start to feel better just LOOKING at these pill bottles…

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And, this may be off topic, but the Alchemy room!  Every manner of metal and glass stills, each one a sculpture in its own right, and en masse–oh, swoon! IMG_0824 IMG_0826 IMG_0835 Before closing out–I want to circle back to product labels. A wonderful visit to Seligmann Bauer’s House in the Jewish Museum in Trebic, Czech Republic had the unexpected bonus of a beautiful display of 1940’s packaging in the poignantly preserved general store of Mr. Bauer. IMG_1130  IMG_1131 IMG_1137

I would definitely buy bobbins even if i didn’t need them if they came in this box!

Is there a wee bit of irony that this post comes from someone who is known to rant against the current obsession with marketing and “branding”? Ah! But this is different!