Archives for category: Art

When I told people I was heading north to Des Moines, Iowa, there was always a moment where you knew they were going to ask “Why?” I’m kind of used to this coming from Tulsa, Oklahoma, but I did have a specific reason. My junior high friend and her husband were celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary with a weekend of parties and I was happy to be included. A mutual friend, who has lived in New York City for the past 50 years, was joining me so I knew it would be a fun adventure. Actually, almost everything I do these days is an adventure.

On the way north, we stopped in Joplin, MO due to a tire incident and made a stop at the Joplin City Hall. We had been talking about Thomas Hart Benton’s work and I said there is a mural there. If you go to Joplin’s City Hall, you can see his last signed large work, a mural of Joplin around 1900. Benton used to live and work in Joplin, so he knew the area well. As you can see, it’s not his largest work and you should go to the Missouri State Capitol in Jefferson City to see the murals there.IMG_8604The interesting thing about this mural is the extra display that shows all the drawings, plans, letters, and models that went into making a mural. It’s a very complicated process. Here is a clay model Benton used.IMG_8601The Joplin City Hall is an interesting building to see and it was a nice stop along the way.

I always enjoy driving through Missouri with its rich green trees and hills. July is a great month for the drive if you can stand the heat. I don’t care what you say about dry heat or humidity – 100 degrees is hot! I’ve been in the heat for the last month from Texas to Iowa and it’s all hot! Other than that, it was a beautiful drive and I should thank all the people who invented air conditioning every day of my life!

At a beautiful Iowa information center, we learned our first new history fact about Iowa. Who knew?IMG_3333We sped towards Des Moines so we wouldn’t miss the first party of the weekend and were awed by the beautiful site for the event, the World Food Prize building. This was an old Beaux Arts library that was scheduled for demolition before wise Des Moines benefactors saved it and spent millions renovating it for the headquarters of this organization which gives an annual prize to the individual who has done the most to stop hunger in the world. It’s quite impressive!IMG_3336The inside is stunning. My favorite part was the sculptures of different grains adorning columns in the Rotunda.IMG_3340Every detail of the building was gorgeous.IMG_3355IMG_3341I was getting more impressed with Iowa and the Iowans who planned this city. Here was a view from the second floor towards the Des Moines River that runs through the city. The state capitol is in the background, as is our hotel, peeking out from behind the hotel in front.IMG_3361On Saturday, we were invited to brunch, so we walked across the river, along the river walk and into the incredible Farmer’s Market with over 300 booths along the way to the Des Moines City Government building at the end.IMG_3607IMG_3377IMG_3380IMG_3400After shopping our way down the street, buying food, clothes, Amish woven ware, and other trinkets, we arrived at the historic Kirkwood Hotel with its wonderful Art Deco lobby. Here is the desk.IMG_3605

And the row of phone booths that take you back. I expected Clark Kent to be in one of them.IMG_3389In the afternoon, we drove to the Capitol building, one of two in the country with five domes (the other is in Rhode Island). I had to admire the gumption of these Iowans who built this city in the middle of the country with such great aspirations.DSC_0110I guess they are re-gilding the dome. We visited the monuments on the capitol grounds, including the Soldiers and Sailors Monument honoring Civil War heroes. It was very impressive with large sculptures all around honoring the men and women of Iowa. I’m standing by it for scale – it’s 135′ high.IMG_3603One of the things my friend, Edie, and I both loved about Des Moines was the whimsical art everywhere we looked. It is a clean, vibrant, fun city with lots to do. There were unique shops, restaurants, bars and entertainment everywhere we were downtown. Paul McCartney was playing and there was a Broadway play, both within blocks of us Friday night. People were walking and having a wonderful time.DSC_0138IMG_3618IMG_3409IMG_3637IMG_4632IMG_3632IMG_3723Our hosts captured the spirit of Iowa with a photo stop at the big party Saturday night. In fact, we drove by lush fields of corn from Oklahoma through Iowa. What a rich, abundant country we live in!ScanAfter the party, we spotted an outdoor concert on the river and stopped to watch. Phillip Phillips was playing to the paying crowd and the audience along the bridge.IMG_3595Before leaving Iowa, we had to stop at some of the Bridges of Madison County, just south of Des Moines. We managed to see two of them and they were worth the visit. The first was the Holliwell Bridge, built in 1880, and the longest of the wooden bridges still standing.DSC_0149DSC_0147IMG_3719IMG_3720IMG_3644The second bridge we visited was the much smaller Imes Bridge, built in 1870. It was a cutie and a good comparison with the other one.IMG_3667IMG_4672Part of the fun was seeing all the graffiti left by visitors, which they must paint over periodically, just as they do the wall at Graceland.IMG_3673We left the rolling hills and lush cornfields of Iowa, headed back to Tulsa.DSC_0150I didn’t mention the beautiful fields of wildflowers that waved at us as we drove. I love this old gated road.DSC_0153On the way north, we had seen the sign for Peculiar, Missouri, and felt we had to stop and explore this town on our way home. You can look up the origin of the name, but we had fun using it as we drove into town along Peculiar Way and Peculiar Road. Actually, the town has grown and has a lot of new homes. We saw the high school and stadium where the Peculiar Panthers play. I wanted to hear their cheers.

The old Main Street is almost gone, but the three-legged water tower remains.DSC_0158There were a few buildings left and a hint of civic pride and desire to bring back some of the history.IMG_3680.jpgWe were lucky enough to meet ReGina Edmondson, who has lived in Peculiar since her military father and her mother decided to settle there and raise eleven children. ReGina has lived there since she was three and owns the house, one of the early ones on the main street, where she was raised. She is a writer for the paper and is working to have a museum. She was a delight and a source of information we couldn’t find anywhere else.DSC_0162She steered us around the corner to a Feed Store that is being refurbished for something historic and fun to see.IMG_3682IMG_368420286731_10212203272069629_1670150760645299054_oSuch a fun little piece of America. One can only imagine the jokes they have to put up with.DSC_0165We finished our tour of Peculiar, stopping at the local market to find a magnet, which we didn’t find (they’re missing a marketing opportunity). Edie captured this sign, which kind of summed up our trip. IMG_3717We started out as two old friends who kind of knew each other and discovered a mutual passion for photographing and exploring all the places along the way, catching up on 50 years as we drove. That wasn’t so peculiar, but it was a whole lot of fun!

I’m a picture taker. I hesitate to call myself a photographer because I don’t really take the time to use all the stops and lens and filters I could use. It’s been something I’ve done since I got my first Kodak Brownie camera when I was 12. I took a class when my kids were little and learned to use the darkroom, which I never used again. I took away from that class an understanding of the way you can manipulate photos to make them better after you’ve snapped the shot, an appreciation of light. Today, I do that with a computer, cropping and fixing as I go.

Mostly, I’m capturing my memories, the pictures of my mind. Maybe I think I’ll lose them otherwise, but I do go through my photos all the time, just as I went through my  grandparents’ photos when I was a little girl. Both my maternal grandmother and my paternal grandparents kept all their photos in the top drawer of a dresser. I guess that’s what people did if they didn’t put them in an album. I should have asked them more questions about the people in the pictures. I definitely should have.

Maybe it’s my impatience or my lack of discipline or my trust of the wonder of modern cameras, even on our phones, but I seldom spend too much time using all that I’ve learned in the photography classes I’ve taken. Usually, I have a camera with me and take what I see. And I see pictures all around me. I can’t drive down a street or walk a block without seeing a picture in my mind. I compose all the time, trying to capture the essence of what I’m seeing. That’s impossible sometimes, such as clouds or sunsets, but I can get a little of the wonder of it.

Yesterday, I stepped out my door and was struck by the beauty of the fall leaves in the rain. So, of course, I grabbed my camera and took pictures. For me. Here are a couple so you can see what I’m talking about.DSC_0005DSC_0014I couldn’t let the moment pass. It’s my own memory of that day I walked out my door and saw something so beautiful.

When I travel, I take photos to use in my blog or to remember my trip or to remember where I was. I now take pictures of the restaurants where I eat so I can remember when someone asks me because I would surely forget. I take a lot of photos from the car and it’s amazing what you can get, even through the windshield. It is definitely a problem when I’m the driver because I pull over a lot. A lot. Here’s a photo from Chinatown in San Francisco. I looked up and realized that there were people living lives above the tourists populating their streets. They must be immune to our presence by now.DSC_0508My favorite subjects are the people I love. I’m okay with posed pictures, but I love the candid shots that show me something you can’t see with a pose. My friends are caught in an impromptu dance. She was recently diagnosed with ALS, yet they are marching forward, surrounded by the love of their family and friends. This moment will stay with me for a long time.DSC_1052Here’s a long ago photo of my Daddy, relaxing with his paper on a Sunday morning. Most people knew him as elegant, athletic, handsome and he was. He was also Daddy with his tan line from his golf shoes, his rumpled curly hair, and his daily paper. Scan 32My youngest granddaughter is in love with all animals and not afraid to get up close. This bird was so patient to let her see how his feathers work.DSC_0161Last summer, my family got together for a swim party and I watched my grandsons play like little kids. The oldest one was leaving for college in a month and I caught him enjoying his cousins. How many more times will I get to see them all together playing?DSC_0163The boys made up game after game in the water in total joy with the familiarity of brothers and cousins.DSC_0187The boys are all athletic and I caught one of the younger ones (at 15 and 6’5″) showing his intensity in a ball game. He is a pitcher and first baseman, by the way.DSC_0145I catch my youngest granddaughter all the time in moments that remind me she is still a little one, our last for awhile. Oh, the sweetness of a sleeping child. IMG_7637Here’s another older one that I caught on the Christmas before my oldest grandson was born. All my children are gathered together in that moment before the grandchildren began to arrive. By the end of the following year, we would have three boys…but we didn’t know that at this moment. So much happened after this. So much.photoHere’s a picture I took at the OSU Homecoming Parade a few weeks ago, intending to use it in my blog. Little did I know that a horrible tragedy was about to happen about a mile down the street. Little did I know that this would capture the essence of the parade’s innocence and delight before the horror happened.DSC_0082Years ago, I was volunteering with the local domestic violence shelter. We gave a Halloween party for the women and children and I was taking Polaroid pictures for them. We didn’t use film because we wanted to respect their privacy. That event taught me so much about my camera and myself. One woman held a one year old in a body cast, wanting a photo for the father who had caused this pain. I had to stop myself. I lifted the camera to take a photo of one woman and seeing her eyes through a lens made me put the camera down for a moment. There was too much there, too much of her I was seeing. I lifted it back and took the shot, but I’ve never forgotten the power of what you see through a lens, what focusing on something teaches you in that moment.

So I’ll go on taking my camera with me, stopping to capture my family and friends, everything beautiful, interesting, funny or memorable around me. I sometimes feel artsy, as anyone can with the sophisticated equipment we have today, but mostly I do it because I can’t help myself.

You get the picture.

Mark Twain and Laura Ingalls Wilder lived in Missouri.  He was born there, she died there.  They both wrote fiction based on their childhood.  Last week I visited both of their homes and came home with a renewed fascination with these two remarkable people.

I had been to Hannibal 15 years ago with my son.  He was working with an improv comedy group in college and I told him he needed to learn more about one of the greatest stand up comedians, Mark Twain.  We spent an afternoon in Hannibal, listening to Hal Holbrook’s tape on the way back to school, a couple of hours away.

Nothing much had changed at Mark Twain’s boyhood home since I had been there, which is a good thing.  The night we arrived, I sat on a bench at twilight in front of his home and looked down the street at the Mississippi River while I ate huckleberry ice cream.  It seemed like the perfect way to start the visit.  The white picket fence had a bucket with brushes tied to it so you could take your picture while pretending to whitewash the famous fence.  Last time I visited, the fence had extended further, but they’ve built a lovely garden on what was an empty lot.

DSC_0075The house is well preserved.  I saw pictures around town of Mark Twain standing in front of the house on his last visit to Hannibal in 1902.  He’d come a long way from his days as young Sam Clemens.  My favorite picture was of the photographers and reporters taking pictures of him as he visited, while young boys and townspeople looked on.  He was a rock star in his time.mt hannibal visit boyhood home I had strolled up and down the streets and the river, taking it all in once again.  The mighty Mississippi that I first learned about through his books spread out before me.  The hill where Tom and Huck played to my left, the building where young Clemens first worked for a printer in front of me, his father’s courtroom beside me.

In the morning, I took the tour of the house again, picking out the window he climbed out, as described in Tom Sawyer.  Before you go through the house, there is a nice interpretive center that gives a timeline of his life and gives the background on what in his books is taken from his life, which people he used for the characters.

We visited the other museum downtown with its nice interactive area that would appeal to children and its collection of first editions and copies of Twain’s books in many languages.  My favorite is the collection of the Norman Rockwell paintings that were the illustrations for one of the reprints of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn.  What a match of two great artists with their sense of humor and small town living.  I only wish they also had some of the originals of another Missouri artist who illustrated the books at another time, Thomas Hart Benton.IMG_4969

This trip, I took the riverboat cruise to get the feel of being on the Mississippi.  It’s a strong, wide body of water and there is a peace about floating along its waters.  I must admit that I was thinking of kids on rafts being in the middle of this current.  I shook my head at the dangers.  Later, I captured a photo of this little town on the river from Lovers Leap bluff with the riverboat coming in and a train rolling by. I could live easily with the sound of the boats and the trains.  DSC_0133Before I left town, I looked up the street towards the statue of Tom and Huck, the first statue dedicated to fictional characters in the United States, and the hill where Sam Clemens played.  Even with the hardships his family endured, his childhood was idyllic in his memory.  I took a graduate level class on Twain in college, but my travels through the places he wrote about, Hannibal, Virginia City, San Francisco, and more, bring him to life just as he brought those places to life for all those who delight in his writing.DSC_0144

On my way home from this trip to Missouri and Kentucky, I found that we would pass by Mansfield, MO, where the Laura Ingalls Wilder home and museum are located.  I came to her books later in life when my oldest daughter was reading them.  I picked one up, read the whole series and searched for more.  I found a biography of what her real life was like, much harsher than the books in childhood.  Mansfield is where she and her husband, Almanzo, her precious Manley as she called him, and her remarkable daughter, Rose, settled.  Once again, the museum was a delight, filled with so many actual items from their lives along with a timeline of both Laura and Rose’s lives.  DSC_0344The family that got out of the van next to our car in the parking lot looked like they had stepped out of Laura’s time, but they were Amish, a family paying tribute.  Other little girls scampered around the grounds, wearing sunbonnets and long dresses, playing Laura from the books and television series.DSC_0346I was reminded that Laura didn’t start writing the books until she was 65, when the stock market crash had wiped Laura and Almanzo out of their investments in their retirement.  Then she wrote one about every two years, writing into her 80s.  Once again, the museum helped sort out fact from the written memoirs, bringing new dimensions to the stories.  And I gained new knowledge and appreciation for the accomplishments of the remarkable Rose Wilder Lane, Laura and Almanzo’s only surviving child, herself a renowned author, journalist, and political activist.

Our guide through the farm house and the little rock house that Rose built for her parents was a delight, an older woman who had actually known Laura and brought so much life to the tours.  She was all that I love about small towns and Missourians with her openness, friendliness and sense of humor.  I love the fact that Almanzo built the entire farmhouse in stages, using materials from the farm, taking 18 years to complete it.  I love that the counters and cabinets in the kitchen were designed for his small wife, who was only 4’11”.  He was only 5’4″, so everything was to scale.  No wonder she was nicknamed “Half Pint” by her Pa.  He built much of the furniture, including chairs that were low to the ground.  I felt I knew Laura after seeing her favorite collections of china and the things she treasured around her, including her beloved library.  I love the fact that she only got a refrigerator a year before she died.  We take such things for granted.  It’s typical that Rose bought the refrigerator, always wanting to bring her parents into the modern world. DSC_0348The little rock house that was a Christmas gift from Rose to her parents was built from a Sears & Roebuck plan using rocks from the property, supervised by Almanzo.  This is the house where Laura actually wrote her first four books in the Little House series, marching up the hill to the farmhouse to discuss them with Rose, who helped with editing and shaping these stories for publication.  DSC_0353I would love to have listened to these two strong willed women argue over the drafts of the books, each fighting for one change or another. And Almanzo, walking with his cane since his stroke early in their marriage, walked down the rock stairs to the field below to milk the goats and carry the milk to the other end of the field to store in the spring house.  I also love that Rose bought them a car in 1923 and they loved it, using it to take trips to California and Minnesota and nearby Springfield whenever they felt like getting out.  Almanzo and Laura were the true story of how our country grew.  Unknown

I hadn’t planned to visit both places when I left home, but they made nice bookends to the trip.  Two of my favorites when I read their works and even more beloved now that I can see them in their homes and know so much more about them as real people who looked back on their childhoods, discarded the worst memories and transformed the best into stories that continue to inspire readers of all ages today, teaching us about the strength of human nature, the joy in relationships, and the humor in mankind.  Classics in every sense of the word.

Tattoos were a topic of discussion with my son from his teen years.  He had the tenacity to end every conversation (well, not EVERY, but it seemed like it) with “Mom, can I get a tattoo?”  The answer was always “No.”  Just a firm “No.”  When his father was in the Navy, he used to amuse me with stories of the strange and stupid tattoos his fellow sailors got while on leave.  I asked him if he was tempted, and he said he thought about it, but thought again.

When I was growing up, tattoos were seen on burly guys who had been in the service or strange people you didn’t want to associate with.  They were not common in Tulsa, Oklahoma in the 50s and 60s.  When they started coming into vogue, my husband and I were on an island resort beach and saw an older couple, maybe 70s, probably from Europe, with tattoos.  It made us laugh because the tattoos were sagging and not so attractive.

At one point in the tattoo discussion years, I gave my son a wonderful tie with tattoos designs, telling him this was the tattoo he had been asking for.  Stupid me.  He loved the tie, but he didn’t give up the idea.

IMG_5049Needless to say, he started getting tattoos as soon as he went to college, starting with his fraternity letters on his ankle.  I excused that as something that at least would last forever.  The next ones were the family crests of my family and his father’s on his shoulders and the celtic design on his lower back, telling me they were to honor his grandfathers.  Really.  There was the penguin he got on his leg when we went to Seattle for his cancer treatment.  I have to say it was at least a work of art.  There was the mad kitten attacking the ball of yarn on his upper arm when he licked cancer the first time, a symbol of his triumph.  And there was some weird wolverine or something on his forearm.  God knows why.163996_1576103763497_1262679120_31377092_8035279_n

He’s gone now and we never finished our conversation on the tattoos because he was going to do what he was going to do.  I never got to tell him how carefully I protected his skin with lotions when he was a baby, how I worried over every blemish, bruise and scar that marred his perfect skin.  He was a work of art from the day he was born.  I didn’t understand why he needed to cover anything, but I did appreciate his love for life and his attempt to experience every bit of it he could.  I loved him for that and tried not to grimace at the tattoos.

I’m trying to understand the body art I see everywhere and not relating to the addiction that people have to it.  I’m not criticizing, just trying to understand.  I’m getting older by the moment and I can only visualize what a tattoo would look like on the parts of my body that change (I won’t mention droop) from year to year.  On the other hand, I have seen photos of gorgeous tattoos covering women who have had double mastectomies and understand the beauty of that.

It’s also amusing to know that this too shall pass and the next generation or the next one will look at their parents and grandparents and see the tattoos and do something different, whatever that may be.  Maybe they’ll just choose to go with what they have.  I watch my grandkids and wonder if they’ll leave home and head for the tattoo parlor because it’s legal and everywhere.  Their mothers must be cringing as much as I was.

In my wisdom of the ages, I know that the only thing I could have done to stop my son was to sacrifice and get tattooed myself so it wouldn’t be so cool.  But he would have thought of something else, so I’m glad I saved my own skin to let it age naturally, age spots and all.   I tend to look beyond the skin these days anyway.

Driving trips are my favorite, but sometimes you must fly.  I’m fascinated by the landscapes below and the patterns from above.  I click shots, trying to place what I’m seeing from a high perspective.  Flying west in America is a constant study of geology, geography, and art.  What cataclysmic events caused this upheaval of the planet, what up thrusts of rock, what cutting by glaciers left such jagged marks, which change so abruptly?

From Denver to Burbank, I was crossing territory I had driven several times. The beauty that mesmerized me on the ground created artistic designs from an airplane window.  My iPhone and iPad clicked away.

The snow covered Rocky Mountains in April…

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The change from mountains to flatter, dryer lands with canyons carved through eons…image

And more ore canyons, winding in such tight twists that they form circles from above…

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The projections of Lake Powell…

imageEdges of canyons…the Grand Canyon was on the other side of the plane…

imageEerie lights somewhere near Las Vegas and agricultural patterns are signs of people below

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So many patterns through deserts and then the San Bernadino Mountains…image

And I end our bird’s eye view with patterns of civilization.  From wide open spaces to masses of people.

imageMy feet are back on the ground.

All the arts cause us to feel something, anything.  You can love it or hate it, but you do feel something when you hear music, read a poem or passage, or view a performance.  Visual art is all around us, whether in a museum or on the street.  A couple of weeks ago, I was in Bentonville, Arkansas, visiting Crystal Bridges Museum, an always fabulous place. Two of my friends said not to miss seeing 21C, a museum hotel in the old downtown area, so we went there for a late lunch.  We missed the lunch hours, but had a fabulous hamburger in the bar and got to experience what they were talking about.  I hear the rooms are terrific, too.

There are 3 of these hotels out there now, Louisville, Cincinnati, and Bentonville, with new ones planned in Kansas City and Oklahoma City. These hotels boast their own museums within the hotels, basically everywhere you look.  If the restaurants are all as great as the one in Bentonville, they are double winners.  My daughter and I walked around the outside and the lobby, enjoying or discussing everything we saw. Here are some examples, although I didn’t take photos of some of my favorites inside.  Those are for you to discover.

We first saw the basketball tower as we approached the museum.  One of these would keep my grandkids busy for hours.

DSC_0044The footed car outside reminded me of a Flintstones car.  Whatever, it made us laugh.

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The bench by the front door was perfect for a hotel.  Loved the creativity of this one.

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Inside, there were some incredible pieces to discover.  This one caught our eye, because how could you miss this huge chandelier hanging low in the corner.  Definitely a conversation piece.

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These bodies inflated and deflated as you watched, making an eerie statement of some kind.  We interpreted it in different ways, but we didn’t ignore it.

DSC_0049There was an incredibly intricate drawing of a haunted dollhouse with details to keep you looking for more and more weird things while you marveled at the skill of the artist.  There were beautiful beaded items, and paintings and other sculptures scattered around the lobby and beyond. They even give tours each day.

One of the fun things about the hotels is that there are penguins all around, even on the outside of the building.  They use them as stanchions and for overall whimsy.  The hotel in Bentonville has green penguins, the one in Louisville has red penguins, and the one in Cincinnati has yellow penguins.  I love penguins, so this was just a fun bonus.  Who doesn’t love penguins.

DSC_0047If you’re near a 21C Museum Hotel, I suggest you stop in.  It’s worth the trip.  I’m planning to return to Bentonville for a girls’ weekend to see the rooms.  I want the whole 21C experience!

Happy Travels!

 

 

 

On my morning walk today, I plugged my earphones into a compilation of oldies, very oldies. The music of my youth always puts a beat in my walk. And the memories…oh, the memories. This one started with Rock Around the Clock, a hit when I was in grade school. I got a pink clock radio for Christmas when I was in about 5th grade, the coolest thing ever, next to my record player that played 45s. I could listen to all this music in the peace of my room. That doesn’t sound like much to generations who grew up with their personal music everywhere they went, but all we had were radios and car radios and records. Real records. I lived in some prehistoric age obviously.

Anyway, today I was rockin’ and walkin’ to Bo Diddley and the Moonglows singing “Sincerely” and the Spaniels crooning “Goodnight Sweetheart” along with Big Joe Turner’s “Shake, Rattle & Roll.” I was definitely in a different place because these took me back to my days as a silly jr. high girl, full of shyness and insecurities and curiosity about everything. Way way back…

As much as I loved going back, I decided to switch my tunes and my era, so I put on a little J.T. I have to admit having an old lady crush on him…so cute, such talent, such humor. So this old one rocked home to music that holds no memories, but makes me smile. I’m sure parents are worrying about the music their kids listen to just as our parents worried about us. We all turned out just fine, still rockin’ along…

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All travel is enhanced by the people you meet along the way. You can look at photos, read books, study history, but it’s the people who bring it to life and give you a real sense of a region or country. I could write about the waitresses and waiters I’ve met along the way or the tour guides and just the people I’ve encountered through the years. Some of my favorites, some of the people who have made my trips the most memorable are the artists…performers, musicians, actors, painters, sculptors, photographers, and writers…the ones who stick in my mind because they bring places to life.

In Memphis, I met David Bowen while he was singing at the King’s Palace Cafe on Beale Street. He’s been playing there, or elsewhere in the area, for years, a backup player, whatever it took to keep playing the music. These guys are everywhere, playing for the love of the music whether they get rich or mildly successful or not. He just has Memphis written all over him and his playing.

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I watched plein air artists in Great Smoky Mountain National Park, but they weren’t selling.

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When you’re in Charleston, you see the ladies (and gentlemen) with their sweetgrass baskets everywhere. Our tour guide warned us that the prices sound expensive, but not so much when you know how much work goes into the weaving and sewing of this traditional art, brought from Africa and seen in the Carolinas since the 17th century. I stopped by the tables of this sweet lady, Neantha Ford, just off the corner of Broad and Meeting to admire her work. She was all smiles, which made her a winner. She signed my basket, as all artists should…

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I don’t blame the ones who were so solemn because I’ve worked a booth and it’s not always fun to sit all day waiting for some tourist to purchase your work. I love the basket I purchased, which is a nice usable size or easy to hang on a wall. I stuck the sweetgrass flowers, called Confederate Roses, that I purchased in the handle for this picture. I bought several from a vendor in the market and then bought one from a young man standing in an alley making them and another from an elderly man who approached me in Savannah. Making these roses must be one of the first things learned in this area.

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Fairhope, Alabama is an artists’ haven, fueled by the creativity encouraged in the Organic School (similar to Montessori) that flourished there in the 20th century and still is active. I met several artists and it seemed they had all emerged from that background. It is a charming place to live along the Gulf across the bay from Mobile. I was enchanted with these bricks made by a local potter, John Rezek, that made up a walk in front of the Organic School and another one by the Fairhope Museum of History, a delightful small, well run and interesting museum of the area.

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John was working on one of the walks when I met him and I asked our hostess to take me to his studio, where I purchased a coffee mug…

Karen with John Rezner, potter - Version 2

She then took me to the studio of Tom Jones, a studio made of bricks from the area, known as Clay City.

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He had a kiln from Clay City that most of my potter friends would covet…

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Karen with Tom Jones, potter - Version 2

Tom was another product of the Organic School. He was off to Italy so I was lucky to meet him…such a genuinely nice person. I would love to have one of his Halloween jack-o-lanterns, but they are sold out for the year. I’ll need to get an order in early. I did purchase one of his platters, which also celebrates Jubilee, an event that takes place annually or more often when shrimp, crabs and other fish swarm into Mobile Bay. When the call goes out, “Jubilee!,” people rush to harvest a seafood feast. Sounds crazy and fun!

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No surprise that New Orleans is teeming with artists. There are musicians on the streets from the man who plays for Jesus outside of Cafe DuMonde and starts your morning off with a smile…

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…to the three kids who looked like they were skipping school to play…and could they ever play!
That little girl on guitar was incredible…

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There are always performance artists by Jackson Square. I saw this guy change positions once during the day and saw several wannabes nearby who couldn’t begin to freeze in position like he did.

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Street Performer - NOLA

Of all the street painters, Sean Friloux was the best on that particular day. I walked by and came back, loving his images. He was working on a painting of the corner by Cafe DuMonde and I loved it. I came back to get it and he kind of posed for me. He was a quiet guy. Love my painting…

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You can find Sean’s work at https://www.facebook.com/sean.friloux. Enjoy!

You can see why I always stop for artists. I thank my mother who taught me to buy art when I traveled. Way back, you didn’t have to pay duty on it, so it was a good deal, another bonus for her. I’ve met artists all around the world, including in my own hometown, and love supporting them. They are entwined with my memories wherever I’ve been. I encourage you to make it a habit yourself to bring any trip to life!

OK – I can’t be the only person who brings home a carload of souvenirs from a road trip…can I? It’s not like I can’t remember the place or person, but I do tend to forget after a time and the things I pick up along the trails of my life make me smile as I walk by them or dust them and shake up a memory from a wonderful experience. My home is packed with such memories and I’m old enough to know I’ll never be a minimalist in any way. So, here’s what I brought home from my travels through the South this past two weeks…think what you will.

First are the general, sometimes tacky, souvenirs: hats, t-shirts, magnets, lapel/hat pins and a few books, including a Cajun Little Red Riding Hood, “Petite Rouge,” because I have other Cajun children’s stories and love to read them out loud. You can’t help but sound a little Cajun…DSC_1059

 

I’ve collected the pins since I was in Vienna way back in the 1970s and saw a man with pins on his hat in European fashion. I used to be somewhat casual about it, but ended up with quite a few and now always look for them. I have them on a little bulletin board in my laundry room that I pass by every day.DSC_0001

 

The refrigerator magnets are a new deal and I have to promise to stop…DSC_0002

 

I just bought a hat and t-shirt in the town where my father was born because that’s all they had. I bought a ball cap in Savannah to wear out on the water and a cute painted t-shirt in Charleston because I liked the artist.

Then there’s the food category, which really can get out of hand in the South…

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After all, I can’t get boiled peanuts and okra chips at home and who could pass up the Peach or Cherry cider and the Sweet Potato anything? And I wanted to see what was in red rice, so I bought a package, and then we went to Avery Island where they make Tabasco sauce and had to buy some of the new flavors. This is nothing compared to the souvenirs that didn’t make it home because they were eaten along the way…another blog. I did buy a cookbook from one restaurant to get the recipe for the best sweet potato soufflé I’ve ever eaten.

And we had to have things from the nature part of the trip, so I have seashells from the Katrina-wrecked beaches of the Gulf and puppets of animals from the National Parks we visited, Mammoth Cave and the Great Smokey Mountains.DSC_1067

 

Finally, there were the antiques and art I had to have. I’ve always liked to support local artists, especially when they have pieces that represent what I’ve come to love in their home. So that is why I came home with a ceramic mug and platter from potters in Fairhope, Alabama, a painting from the streets of the French Quarter in New Orleans, and antique tobacco basket from Thomasville, Georgia (what am I going to do with this huge piece even though I love it and got quite a deal on it) and an antique framed book plate by a well known artist of the Charleston Renaissance period (I learned about that). Each piece of art came with a story to make it even more special.DSC_1068

 

Maybe because I’ve owned a gift shop and know what it’s like to have people wander in and not buy anything, maybe because I’ve worked with artists for years and want them to be appreciated, maybe it’s the things my mother taught me, but I never, NEVER come home empty handed. The end result is that my home is a warehouse for some pretty exciting travels that I love to remember. I can only hope my children will smile and laugh a bit when they have to clean this stuff out when I’m gone! I can feel their eyes rolling…

A friend once told me to watch for the “Magic Moments” when I traveled, meaning the treasures you stumble onto while you’re winding along your planned route. Here’s a little one I had near Broken Bow, OK.

Having worked in a big museum for over seven years, until I retired last fall, I’m well aware of what goes on behind the scenes of exhibitions and collections. I also have a great appreciation for the little museums that are sometimes passed by without a second thought, the ones that you never think you “have to see” while you’re in the area. Outside of Broken Bow, in southeastern Oklahoma near the Mountain Fork River, is the Gardner Mansion Museum. I saw the signs, read about it in the tourist websites, but almost missed it and that would have been a shame. What drew me in was the sign about the 2,000 year old Cypress tree on the grounds. I’ve seen lots of old houses and mansions, so I might have skipped it but for the tree.

I called first and got no answer, but saw the gate open while passing by. You can’t see the house from the highway so you go through the farm gates and up the road. When you reach the house, you see a sign to honk for help. I’m sure we had been seen because there was a truck headed our way as we parked the car.

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An elderly man and a younger man, probably his grandson, got out of the truck and we paid our admission fee. This was definitely a smaller staff than the museum where I had worked.

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We walked to the house…

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and he unlocked the door, walking to a chair where he sat down on the glassed in porch. There was a display of dinosaur bones and beautiful huge hunks of quartz. The information by each one said it was found in the area. When we started asking questions, our guide opened up and told us his history as well as shared his knowledge of the treasures we were seeing.

The Gardner Mansion was the home of Jefferson Gardner, a much beloved chief of the Choctaw Nation. He had built his home on this site in 1881, completing it in 1884, on this site that was part of the Trail of Tears for his nation. In 1922, the Stiles family had purchased the property and have maintained and preserved it for three generations. We were visiting with Mr. Stiles himself, the current curator of this museum. He told us stories of the Choctaw and of the dinosaur bones he had found as a child on the property. One had been found just recently. He explained to me how you get the quartz out of the ground, showing off a piece about a foot or more across that a long time friend had found and given him right before he died.

After a bit, I guess we passed muster, so we were taken into the main house. I’m not sure if you get past the porch if he doesn’t trust you. He unlocked the door and we entered the main areas where there were more artifacts to see. In the kitchen, I found lots of old utensils and dishes of the era. In the living room, he showed us a model of the house and photos of Chief Gardner and others, telling stories of the indians as we looked around. Here’s Mr. Stiles showing us some items, including the hand-carved staircase and other Choctaw craftsmanship used in the home…

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Once again, I guess we asked the right questions, because we were taken upstairs. There was a treasure trove of indian artifacts including ancient tools, arrowheads, and natural items from the land. I stupidly didn’t see the signs in front of me saying no pictures, so I took a few. Later, I apologized to him, but he said it was ok. He didn’t want too many getting out because the items are quite valuable. Not like he has a security force there, so I understood and won’t pass those along. Here’s some of the hornet nests he’s collected during his life (he’s been on the property since he was 5)…

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He showed us some ancient tools he’d recently found. The cows kick up the ground and these kinds of antiquities rise to the surface. Really a remarkable collection.

After we left the house, we drove to see the 2,000 year old Cypress. He showed us a picture of it with a man dwarfed by the trunk, much like the Sequoias in California. Unfortunately, the tree had fallen last year. Trees die, as Mr. Stiles said. We went to see it anyway, although it turned out there wasn’t much left. Nature was reclaiming its own.

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The area had other large Cypress and you could picture the Choctaw trudging through the land, searching for the place where they could stop and live their lives in peace. Very ethereal back in the woods, along the water.

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On the way back to the house, we stopped to snap a picture of the cemetery. Mr. Stiles and his grandson had chores to do, so we didn’t want to keep them. Wouldn’t you love to know the stories of those buried here?

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If you’re ever in this remote area, stop and visit the Stiles family. Or find another magic moment along the way, wherever you’re traveling. It makes your trip so much richer…

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