Category Archives: United States

Guillermo del Toro: At Home with Monsters–Not Your Average Home Decor

And now for something completely different…  a few pics from the Guillermo del Toro exhibit at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, called “At Home with Monsters.” It’s a show of art and other “collectibles” from the home of the director of movies such as Hellboy and Pan’s Labyrinth–not your average home decor.  The show tells about his childhood and career and his fascinations with the comics and the macabre “from the his creative process through a collection of paintings, drawings, maquettes, artifacts, and concept film art, all culled from Bleak House, his creative haven and cherished home base located in Los Angeles.”   The tall man with a book is a wax rendition of H.P. Lovecraft, the classic horror writer.

Just imagine what it would be like to be an overnight guest in his home–don’t wander around  in the middle of the night.

A Visit to the National World War I Museum and Memorial in Kansas City

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The National World War I Museum and Memorial is an iconic landmark in Kansas City.

The United States entered World War I in 1917 and that 100-year anniversary makes this a perfect time to visit the National World War I Museum and Memorial in Kansas City, Missouri.  No one is left who lived through it to talk about the “War to End All Wars.” For many the war seems so remote, it’s hard to understand the magnitude of what happened, how it led to World War II and its importance today.  That’s a job this museum does well with a gripping array of exhibits, artifacts and art that explains the complex occurrences that led to the war, the unbelievable carnage.

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Displays explain the complex chain reaction that brought so many countries into World War I.

The memorial was built in 1926, but the museum opened in 2006.  Visitors enter by walking on plexiglass floor over a field of poppies.  You could spend hours here partly because exhibits cover not only the U.S. involvement but that of the many countries involved across the whole world. There’s something to interest everyone from weaponry, to the uniforms and equipment of soldiers and nurses, medical techniques developed during the war and more.

Not familiar with World War I history?  Even if you’re not visiting this museum soon, there are several terrific books I recommend:  The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman is a non-fiction classic and you can’t beat the classic fiction books All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque, A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway, Regeneration by Pat Barker and Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks (one of my all-time favorites.) Also suggested, a new book The Last of the Doughboys by Richard Rubin.

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The World War I Museum has a Renault FT17 tank, one of five left in the world that saw combat.  
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Posters from World War I encouraged citizens to buy war bonds, enlist in the military and also served in influence public opinion.
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From atop the memorial’s tower, visitors get a perfect view downtown Kansas City, Missouri.

KiMo Theater, Albuquerque, New Mexico

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KiMo Theater in Albuquerque, New Mexico

The KiMo Theater opened on what was then Route 66 (now Central Avenue) in Albuquerque in 1927.   The big new theater was a source of civic pride and boosters held a contest to name the theater. The governor of Isleta Pueblo,  Pablo Abeita, won a prize of $50, a huge sum for the time, for the KiMo name. According to theater history, “it is a combination of  two Tiwa words meaning “mountain lion” but liberally interpreted as ‘king of its kind’.”

It certainly is king of its kind, built in the the “pueblo deco” architectural style. If you think the outside is interesting, you should see the decor on the inside.  Understated it is not. Here are a few scenes from the interior.

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Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation—The 500th Anniversary

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I’ve had a couple of opportunities to see the new exhibit, “Martin Luther: Art and the Reformation,” at the  Minneapolis Institute of Art (Mia), once with the exhibit’s curator, Tom Rassieur. Now I feel enlightened.

If you’re like me and haven’t been keeping track, 2017 marks the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s “Disputation on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences,” also known as the “Ninety-Five Theses.”  On October 31, 1517 he nailed the documents (as legend has it) to the doors of a church in Wittenberg, Germany.

Indulgences in Luther’s day were payments made to the Catholic church, something like Get Out of Jail Free cards in Monopoly, as a way to reduce the amount of punishment one had to undergo for sins. Luther criticized the practice as a corruption of faith and questioned the limits of the Pope’s authority. Though he intended them as a point of debate, the theses set off a revolution in thinking about man’s relationship to God —the Protestant Reformation—and a new chapter in religious and world history. As Rassieur says, “The theses hit the fan.”

The followers of Luther became known as Lutherans and Minnesota has more Lutherans than you can shake your protestant hymnal at. That’s one reason this impressive exhibit landed in Minneapolis–along with the fact that Mia is a terrific museum. Martin Luther has already sold more tickets than any other Mia exhibit.

unknownI have to “confess” my knowledge of this era in history is a bit shaky, so as usual, I sought out a few books on Luther and the Reformation. Hefty and dense tomes abound, but I recommend Martin Luther by the aptly named author Martin Marty. (With a name like that, who else could he write about?) It’s short and well done.

Also, I couldn’t resist picking up Garrison Keillor’s Life Among the Lutherans, a collection of monologues from his radio show, Prairie Home Companion. This is, of course, a more modern look at Lutheran life in rural Minnesota and includes a new set of Theses by a Lake Wobegon resident including thesis #2,9780806670614_p0_v1_s192x300

Every Advent, we entered the purgatory of lutefisk, a repulsive gelatinous fishlike dish that tasted of soap and gave off an odor that would gag a goat. We did this in honor of Norwegian ancestors, much as if the survivors of a famine might celebrate their deliverance by feasting on elm bark. I always felt the cold creeps as Advent approached, knowing that this dread delicacy would be put before me and I’d be told, “Just have a little.” Eating “a little” was, like vomiting “a little,” as bad as “a lot.”

But I digress…The exhibition offers more than art; it’s an astounding collection of Luther “memorabilia.” It includes paintings, sculpture, golden relics, textiles, and works on paper—as well as Luther’s personal possessions and recent archaeological finds, particularly from the house he grew up in, that shed new light on the man and his era. You’ll even see original manuscripts with Luther’s notes in the margins and the pulpit from which he gave his last sermon. Luther’s words spread far and wide because of a recent technological invention, the printing press, the social media of the time. Most of these artworks and historical objects are traveling outside Germany for the first time and the exhibit will only be here in the U.S. until January 15, 2017. Then the art and objects return to their places in Germany as the country celebrates the Reformation anniversary.

The people in the Saxony-Anhalt region of central Germany would like you to come see Luther on his home turf , the “Luther Trail,” and hope that the exhibit and the anniversary of the Reformation will inspire travel to their region. While religious history makes a great jumping off point for a trip, Luther Country offers an array of travel ideas to appeal to lovers of food, music, art, nature and biking and hiking adventures that will nurture your soul in every way. For books on planning your trip to Germany, see Longitude Books reading list. 

Curves of Chihuly Glass

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Butterfly and Chihuly at Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens in Columbus, Ohio.

This is a lucky butterfly, settling in the midst of the curves of a work by renowned glass artist Dale Chihuly.  I spotted her at the Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens in Columbus Ohio.

With blooms busting’ out all over, this botanical garden is beautiful from the start.  Then add a butterfly garden with installations of Chihuly Glass.  The curving, colorful forms of glass serve to draw attention to the curves and colors of nature that surround them, heightening  our awareness of nature’s amazing artistry.

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This is the artwork in its entirety.

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The Humor and Home of James Thurber

Cartoons and funny articles in a style that is spare and gentle.IMG_1604

James Thurber was one of the most beloved humorists of the last century and his cartoons were regularly featured in The New Yorker for over 30 years.  I recently visited his boyhood home in Columbus, Ohio, where the stories about Thurber’s childhood explained a lot about his gentle and quirky humor, particularly the tales about his delightfully cooky mother and his love of dogs.

Thurber’s drawings are spare, simple black lines and experts speculate that it may be due in part to an eye injury he received as a child. If your knowledge of Thurber’s work is limited to “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” and its recent FullSizeRendermovie incarnation, I suggest reading The Thurber Carnival, a collection of his short stories and drawings for a better look at the author/illustrator. For example, one of my favorite of Thurber’s canine characters is Muggs, in “The Dog That Bit People.” Muggs, a really crabby Airedale, was one of the family dogs (Thurber owned 53 during his life). Muggs bit everyone except Mrs. Thurber who always defended him.  Thurber writes, “Mother used to send a box of candy every Christmas to the people the Airedale bit. The list finally contained forty or more names.”  Like most authors’ homes, Thurber’s house offers a view of life in a slower, though with Muggs around, not necessarily a safer era.

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James Thurber’s home in Columbus, Ohio.

Apart from the stories and drawings, one of Thurber’s most important legacies is the Thurber Prize for American Humor that is now awarded in his name from the non-profit that runs the house and the many Thurber House programs for writers. Winners have included Jon Stewart, David Sedaris,Calvin Trillin and most recently Minnesotan Julie Schumaker for her hilarious book Dear Committee Members.  See my article in the Minnesota Women’s Press on Julie Schumacher.

A Little Swedish Utopia on the Illinois Prairie

The warm yeasty smell of Swedish rye bread fills the bakery where Tom Campbell and his crew are baking bread, Swedish Tea Rings and rhubarb pies. Down the street Lou Hanson is throwing clay to make colorful mugs and dishes at the Hantverk Galleri, and kids are playing ball in the town park. An energetic group of volunteers dressed as Pippi Longstocking, bright orange pigtails and all, greets visiting school children learning about the beloved Astrid Lindgren character and Swedish history. Entering Bishop Hill, Ill. seems like driving back to another, more idyllic, time.

“It’s like Brigadoon,” says Deni Menken, one of the Pippis who recently moved to Bishop Hill, “like the village in the musical that appears one day every 100 years.” Yet, charming Bishop Hill, a National Historic Landmark about 150 miles southwest of Chicago, has been solidly here since Swedish settlers founded this utopian community in 1846.

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Swedish baked goods are on display in the Bishop Hill Bakery.

A Swedish Promised Land
Those intrepid Swedes, like so many immigrants who settled this country, came for religious freedom. After being jailed for his beliefs, the group’s charismatic leader, Eric Janson, predicted a fiery doom for Sweden and fled to America with 1000 of his followers. After sailing the Atlantic, they made their way west through the Erie Canal, crossed the Great Lakes, and walked the final 150 miles from Chicago.

Eventually, Janson and his followers erected twenty communal buildings, amassed 15,000 acres of farmland, and made Bishop Hill an important industrial and farming center for the entire area. Founded on the principles of shared property, hard work, and simple living, the colony thrived and traded heavily with the surrounding communities. Despite Janson’s murder in 1850, they prospered until the Civil War drained away both men and commerce. The community was eventually dissolved, the land divided among its inhabitants and, like Brigadoon, Bishop Hill essentially went to sleep for a hundred years. Its buildings and population gradually declined until the 1960’s when, with help from the State of Illinois, the Swedish royal family and many others, preservationists formed the Bishop Hill Heritage Association to restore and preserve the colony.

Town Tour

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Swedish simplicity in architecture–Bishop Hill.

Bishop Hill architecture is a study in Scandinavian simplicity—solid and serious like its builders—and a refreshing change from the elaborate Victorian construction so prominent in communities of the era. Start your tour with the Steeple Building which houses the Bishop Hill Heritage museum featuring exhibits, archives, furniture and tools from the colony. Visit the Colony Church, the village’s first building, lovingly restored with its original walnut pews and a divider down the middle to separate the sexes.

Stop for treats at the Colony Store, a general store in operation since the colony’s inception, and at Annie’s Primitives which offers a bit of heaven for lovers of primitive antiques and folk art. For an amazing trove of folk art, don’t miss the Bishop Hill Museum, home to the world’s largest collection of paintings by the famed folk artist Olaf Krans that document life in the colony as he saw it growing up there. Even if you’re only a bit Swedish, stop by the VASA National Archives Museum for immigration and genealogy research to discover your own heritage.

Let Your Swede Flag Fly

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An elaborate needlework project.
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Women of the Bishop Hill area gather for a rug-hooking workshop and plenty of camaraderie.

Whether or not you’re Swedish, Bishop Hill’s appeal lies not as much with the historic buildings as with the people who live there today. Unlike most historic villages where the “residents” are employees who dress in period costume and leave town at day’s end, Bishop Hill folk really live here and many are descendants of the original colonists. They stroll to the geranium-filled post office to collect their mail, work in the shops and on local farms, and gather for rug-hooking workshops. They enthusiastically volunteer for the many projects that keep Bishop Hill’s buildings maintained, its history vital and alive and that foster their own sense of community. For visitors, that translates to a surprisingly light-hearted “valkommen” given the stern faces of their relatives in the museum photos.

They’re an artsy bunch, too, who turn out an amazing array of art, handcrafts, music and musical instruments. Be sure to stop in at Prairie Arts Center where weavers, potters and broom makers demonstrate their crafts.

Bishop Hill especially comes alive from the early spring Valborg Bonfire to “burn away the old and welcome the new” to the sparkling Lucia Nights at Christmas. In between, the colony hosts antiques and quilt shows, a dulcimer and roots music fest, and Agriculture Days in September.

Getting There
Bishop Hill is about 400 miles from the Twin Cities via I-35 and I-80, about an hour southeast of the Quad Cities, and makes a great stop on your way to Chicago.

Checking In
Bishop Hill offers two lodging options. The Gallery Inn is in the old Colony Administration Building overlooking the park.
109 W. Main Street (309) 926-3080 http://www.bishiophillgalleryinn.com
The Twinflower Inn, is the Colony Hospital.
110 Olsen St., 309-696-0833
http://www.twinflowerinn.com

Nearby Kewanee also offers a range of modern motels; or, a little further away, book a room and a gourmet meal at the fantastic Chestnut Street Inn, 301 East Chestnut Street, Sheffield, 800-537-1304, http://www.chestnut-inn.com

Dining Out
Hours vary at Bishop Hill restaurants, but the food is delicious and homemade, no lutefisk

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Read up on utopian communities in the U.S. with books such as Chris Jennings’s “Paradise Now.”

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The Bishop Hill Bakery & Eatery is open Wednesday through Sunday with a full array of baked goods and treats, soups, sandwiches and daily specials.

The Filling Station Restaurant serves breakfast Saturdays & Sundays, including their special Swedish Pancakes with lingonberries, lunch daily and dinner only on Friday nights with a different special each week.

P.L. Johnson’s Dining Room serves lunch every day and dinner on Saturdays from May to August.

For More Information

Bishop Hill Heritage Association http://www.bishophill.com

309-927-3899