Iowa Weekend – Art, Nature and Food

 

“Old” Capital Building, Iowa City

Iowa City was originally the capital of the State of Iowa. The government was there for ten years until it was decided to move the state capital to Des Moines, a more central location. The “Old” Capital building became the first permanent building owned by the University of Iowa. It is now a museum.

I met my friend, Liz, over thirty years ago in Minneapolis. When I was living in Russia she was living in Finland so I went to visit her there a couple of times. Now we were reunited at her home near Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

The first day we spent the entire morning at the Lasansky Gallery in Iowa City, Iowa, learning about Mauricio Lasansky, his life, his art and his family. My son had written a paper on one of Mauricio Lasansky’s prints for an Art History class and wanted to learn more about him. It was fascinating. Lasansky was not only a great printmaker and graphic artist but he taught at the University of Iowa for many years producing several generations of art educators and printmakers. He is known as one of the fathers of 20th Century American Printmaking. We also had the opportunity to see his grandson, Diego, at work in his studio. So we learned a little about the process as well.

From there we had lunch and then made a mad dash to Cedar Rapids to get to the Czech Museum before it closed. They currently have an exhibit of Dale Chihuly’s, Venetians from the George R. Stroemple Collection. The series was inspired by a trip to Venice where he was exposed to Art Deco vases. He invited Lino Tagliapietra to work with him on this series. The exhibit does include vases but highly decorated, bright, asymmetrical vases that are more art than function. Apparently Chihuly is Jewish and his family originally came to the USA from a region of Austria later known as Czechoslovakia. As an aside, I found out he lost his eye in a car accident.

That night we met up with some African emerging leaders who were on an exchange program visiting the USA. My friend and her husband had hosted them in their home and were now saying good-bye. We all went to Devotay, a tapas restaurant in Iowa City where we drank wine and enjoyed plates of chorizo, pulpo a la Gallega, Spanish olives, market cheeses, chewy bread, potato basil soufflé, chicken salad and salt crusted potatoes. All delicious.

Next morning we headed out after breakfast for a two hour drive north along the river to the Effigy Mounds National Monument. The monument contains 200 plus Native American mounds considered sacred to the 20 tribes associated with them. Many of the mounds were constructed in the shapes of animals. The effigies in this area are mainly bears and eagles. These date back to 1400-750 B.P., which I interpret to be about 600 AD to 1300 AD. There had been some flooding recently so some of the trails were closed. We chose a two mile hike up into the lower region of the park where there was a line of marching bears and several eagles.

The hike was uphill all the way in with an overlook and a mound on the way. Prairie grasses, flowers and raspberries were abundant. And it wasn’t too buggy, which was nice. We came across a friendly toad who stopped to be photographed but otherwise no wildlife. Once we reached the top, we understood why they had chosen this spot to build the mounds. It was a beautiful setting with a view of the river.

Back down at the river, we drove north to Lansing. It was the last day of Ragbrai and it just happened to end at Lansing so we spent a lot of time passing cyclists. Ragbrai is an annual event that started in 1973 with a few friends riding their bicycles across Iowa and was known as The Great Six-Day Bicycle Ride. Because it was the brainchild of two DesMoines Register’s writers, the ride is now called the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa (Ragbrai). Approximately 10,000 people do the ride every year, some participating in one or two days of the ride.

From Lansing we crossed over over the Mississippi on the Black Hawk Bridge, named after Chief Black Hawk. It is a large scale cantilever truss bridge. Because of its size and age, it is one of the most unusual bridges of its kind in the country. It is definitely very cool.

The bridge took us into Wisconsin and we drove north up to La Crosse. In La Crosse we stayed at the Charmant hotel downtown. It is a new boutique hotel in a renovated candy factory that was originally built in 1898. They made a premium line of chocolates known by the name Charmant. Upon arrival we were offered a sample of the hotel’s own version of Charmant chocolate. The building features exposed brick, wood beams and wood flooring. Our room was comfortable with nice amenities and a spacious bathroom.

Interesting light fixtures at the Charmant in La Crosse

There is a rooftop bar that was nice but small and completely packed on a Saturday night. The dining room bills itself as “rustic French-inspired”. We had delicious steak frites for dinner. On Sunday mornings they sponsor Yoga in the Park and have a full brunch on offer. We enjoyed french toast and eggs for breakfast. 

Across the street from the hotel is a lovely park along the Mississippi River where you can watch the barges and boats, and people, of course.

 

Five Hundredth Anniversary of Martin Luther Protest

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Luther’s table

Five hundred years ago, on October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed his Thesis 95 to the door of the Catholic Church in Wittenberg. This document encouraged people to question the teachings of the Catholic church and started the Protestant Reformation. In celebration of the 500th anniversary of this event, there will be exhibits and activities across Germany and the USA. One exhibit is currently showing at the Minneapolis Institute of Art in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Martin Luther was born in Germany in 1483 and died in 1546. He originally studied law but decided to become a monk in 1505. In 1507 he became a priest and in 1510 he walked 1,000 miles to Rome. By 1512 he earned a doctorate in theology and became a professor at Wittenberg. In 1517 he preached against the Catholic Church’s sale of indulgences and nailed his Thesis 95 to the church doors.  This declaration spread quickly across Europe. He was charged with heresy and excommunicated in 1521. That year he came under the protection of Frederick the Wise and translated the New Testament into German. On December 25, 1525, he married an ex-nun and they had six children.

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The exhibit at the Minneapolis Art Institute is showing through January 15, 2017. It takes you through this life and the times he lived in. There are a couple of beautiful prints by Albrecht Durer, paintings by Lucas Cranach the Elder of Luther and his wife, the last pulpit Luther preached from, original manuscripts, a table Luther worked on, and much more.

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Among the artifacts is an indulgence chest where gold and other precious items were stored. Any of the faithful could purchase an indulgence in order to reduce the punishment for their sins and shorten the time they had to spend in Purgatory. The way it worked was rich men would lend money to a Cardinal or somebody who oversaw several dioceses. Then the Pope would authorize that person to sell indulgences. The priests would preach several times a day and grant indulgences. With the money collected from the faithful, the debt would be paid off. This is how St Peter’s in Rome was funded.

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One of the highlights for me was the Gotha Panel Altar from Heinrigh Fullmaurer’s workshop. It has 14 folding panels with a fixed central piece. It is basically a big illustrated bible.

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Another item I found interesting was a hood worn by plague doctors. These were not real doctors but people who would go in and help the sick and dying as best they could. Most of these doctors died as well. Martin Luther had two brothers who died of the plague as it spread through Wittenberg in 1527. The hood covered the whole head and shoulders, had round glass eye holes and a pointed beak. The beak was stuffed with herbs and oils that helped the doctor tolerate the stench. It was a very eerie looking thing.

More information on the exhibits and on Martin Luther can be found here.

 

Windmills, Pipes and Petroglyphs – PART TWO

PART TWO – Pipestone National Monument

Pipestone

Pipestone National Monument was created by an act of Congress in 1937 on 300 acres just outside the city of Pipestone, in southwestern Minnesota. Its main purpose is to preserve the pipestone quarries unique to the area. It is a sacred area to Native Americans and is home to spiritual and cultural activities throughout the year. Our first stop was at the site of the Three Maidens, considered to be the guardian spirits of the pipestone quarries. They are very different from other rock in the area. They are granite and came from far away, deposited by the glacier when it melted thousands of years ago.

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The Three Maidens

We arrived at the visitor center soon after it opened and were in time to see the beginning of a 20 minute film about the site. The color red is sacred to the Native Americans and the red stone found at Pipestone has been quarried for over 2,000 years. This was the preferred location for the Plains tribes to quarry the stone since it is of a high quality. All tribes, even enemies, would work here in peace. The pipes made from this stone were used to mark rituals, ceremonies, prepare for war and trade agreements. The smoke from the pipes is thought to carry prayers up to the spirits.

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Native Americans in this area did not originally have tobacco so they would smoke something called Kinnikinnick which means “that which is mixed”. It is still in use and available today. It is a mixture of herbs often unique to the pipe owner. It can contain red willow bark, bearberry leaves, dogwood, sumac and tobacco among others.

You could tell this was a spiritual place from all the colored cloth prayers tied to trees along the path. A three-quarter mile Circle Path takes you through the area around active quarries, a quartzite cliff, native grassland and Winnewissa Falls. If you follow the creek from the waterfall you will see Lake Hiawatha, home to many turtles. Unfortunately we didn’t see any.

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Today only Native Americans of federally-recognized tribes can get a permit to quarry at Pipestone and there are currently only about 30 to 40 permits issued. The majority of the people who quarry here come from the Dakotas, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Nebraska and other central areas of the US.

All the work is done by hand. The particular pipestone found at this location is known as catlinite. It is found in veins inside the Sioux Quartzite rock predominant in the area. The rock is one of the hardest on earth. In order to get to the pipestone it is necessary to work your way through the Sioux Quartzite with hammer and chisel until you reach a pipestone vein. This can take weeks. The pipestone is sandwiched in-between the quartzite and can be10-15 feet down into the rock.

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It had just rained so many of the quarries were flooded.

Another interesting thing about the 300 acre monument is the tall grass prairie covering it. It is native prairie that has never been plowed. Less than 1% of the prairie that once covered 200 million acres of North America exists today and some of it is here. It contains over 70 types of grasses and hundreds of plants and wildflowers. The Minnesota DNR Scientific and Natural Areas Program and The Nature Conservancy have established programs to protect and expand the native prairie.

There is a small museum with artifacts, carvings and tools on display at the Visitor Center. The Pipestone Indian Shrine Association has a small shop within the Visitor Center. They are a non-profit cooperating association established in 1955 to preserve the art of pipemaking and help with the programs at Pipestone National Monument. There are a couple of stations where you can watch artisans at work. If you are interested in history, art, nature – this is a great place to spend an afternoon.

As we were leaving we saw a man pushing a wheelbarrow full of tools and a large cooler accompanied by his two children make his way down the path to his quarry. We agreed it was a good thing he had a large cooler since it was going to be a very hot day.

From there we headed to Jeffers Petroglyphs, about an hour and a half away. Stay tuned for part three!

Expat Gertrude Stein

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I discovered Gertrude Stein my senior year in high school when I was taking an Art History class. I was told to write a paper on something to do with art and I couldn’t think of anything so my teacher gave me a book called “Matisse, Picasso and Gertrude Stein with Two Shorter Stories” by Gertrude Stein. I think I wrote my paper on Picasso but what grabbed my interest was Gertrude. I was hooked. I had never read anything like it. I asked my teacher why they didn’t tell us about her in English class. I was informed not everybody appreciated Gertrude.

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Pablo Picasso, Portrait of Gertrude Stein, 1906, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. When someone commented that Stein didn’t look like her portrait, Picasso replied, “She will.” Stein wrote “If I Told Him: A Completed Portrait of Picasso” in response to the painting.

Gertrude was born 140 years ago on February 3, in Allegheny, Pennsylvania. Her father and her uncle owned a textile business with stores in Pittsburgh and Baltimore, Maryland. The brothers did not get along so in 1875 her father took the family to live in Vienna, Austria. Thus began Gertrude’s travels. Three years later they moved to Paris and lived there for five years. They spent 1879 with relatives in Baltimore where Gertrude learned English after speaking first German and then French.

The family moved to Oakland, California in 1880. Gertrude’s mother, Amelia died eight years later of cancer. Gertrude was 14. Two years later her father died and she returned to Baltimore to live with an aunt. She went on to study philosophy and English at Radcliff College and ended up back in Baltimore studying medicine at Johns Hopkins. She spent her summers traveling around Europe with her brother, Leo. By 1903, she was failing her classes and her scandalous lesbian love affair ended badly. She moved to Paris and did not return to America for 30 years.

Gertrude and Leo collected art and became friends with many artists of the day. Leo started to paint and Gertrude wrote. They held Saturday night salons in their home to meet and promote artists and writers. In 1906 Picasso painted her portrait and gave it to her. Her portrait of Picasso was published about twenty years later.

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She wrote The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas in 1933. This was her first “mainstream” piece and it was a bestseller. She was fifty-nine years old. Enjoying her new-found fame, she embarked on a lecture series across America, her first time back since moving to France.

“When I was in America for the first time travelled pretty much all the time in an airplane and when I looked at the earth I saw all the lines of cubism made at a time when not any painter had ever gone up in an airplane. I saw there on the earth the mingling lines of Picasso, coming and going, developing and destroying themselves. I saw the simple solution of Braque, I saw the wandering lines of Masson, yes I saw and once more I knew that a creator is contemporary, he understands what is contemporary when the contemporaries do not yet know it…” –Picasso

I admit it can be difficult to read some of her work. She writes long sentences without any punctuation and repeats herself endlessly. In Lectures in America she writes:

I began to get enormously interested in hearing how everybody said the same thing over and over again with infinite variations but over and over again until finally if you listened with great intensity you could hear it rise and fall and tell all that there was inside them, not so much by the actual words they said or the thoughts they had but the movement of their thoughts and words endlessly the same and endlessly different.  – Lectures in America

She returned to France and moved to the country during World War II living a low profile simple life. In 1946 she was diagnosed with colon cancer and died on the operating table. She left her writings to Yale University, her Picasso portrait to the New York Metropolitan Museum, and everything else to her lifelong companion, Alice B Toklas. She was buried at Pere Lachaise cemetery in Paris with a tombstone designed by Francis Rose. Her birthplace was misspelled “Allfghany” and her date of death was two days off.

I think her writings are wonderful pieces of art and I enjoy reading them albeit in short bursts. She had a wonderful sense of humor, said what she thought and lived life to the fullest.

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In an essay for Life Magazine in 1945 she wrote:

When General Osborne came to see me just after the victory, he asked me what I thought should be done to educate the Germans. I said there is only one thing to be done and that is to teach them disobedience, as long as they are obedient so long sooner or later they will be ordered about by a bad man and there will be trouble. Teach them disobedience, I said, make every German child know that it is its duty at least once a day to do its good deed and not believe something its father or its teacher tells them, confuse their minds, get their minds confused and perhaps then they will be disobedient and the world will be at peace. The obedient peoples go to war, disobedient people like peace, that is the reason that Italy did not really become a good Axis, the people were not obedient enough, …

General Osborn shook his head sadly, you’ll never make the heads of an army understand that.

– Off We All Went to See Germany

You can listen to Gertrude Stein reading from her work online.

 

– Original post at: Baltimore Post Examiner

Berlin: East Side Gallery

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Berlin’s East Side Gallery has been in the news lately.

At 1.3 kilometers long, it is the longest piece of the Berlin Wall still standing.  Soon after the wall came down in 1990, 118 artists from 21 countries each painted a segment of this portion of the wall and it was named East Side Gallery.  It is one of the largest outside galleries in the world.  Thousands of tourists walk the wall every year.  In 2009 the murals were renovated at a cost of 2 million Euros.

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It not only has artistic importance but obviously is of historic importance as well.  This particular segment was known as the death strip as several people were found dead after trying to escape to the West.

On March 1, 2013, a 23 meter section of the East Side Gallery was scheduled to be removed to make way for luxury apartments. None of the artists whose work was to be destroyed was informed of these plans. To date, the developers have removed one section of the wall, however, demonstrators and petitioners took immediate action and have managed to delay further demolition…. For now….  Demonstrators continue to be vigilant…

The majority of the wall was to be destroyed when it was dismantled in 1990.  However, much of it ended up in various parts of the world in courtyards and office buildings, museum, hotels, and universities…..   as…. Art….  (?)

There is one panel in the courtyard of the John Hopkins University SAIS Center for Transatlantic Relations, in Washington DC.  There are two more segments in DC, one in the lobby of the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trace Center, and eight sections are on exhibit at the Newseum.

But none are as lovely and interesting as the East Side Gallery.

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Quadracci Pavilion

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The Quadracci Pavilion, designed by Santiago Calatrava, was added to the Milwaukee Art Museum in 2001.  It sits right on Lake Michigan and has a moveable sunscreen with a 217-foot wingspan that opens and closes twice daily.  The museum collection includes 25,000 works from antiquity to the present covering a wide range of art.

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