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.
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.
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.
I 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,
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.
Snowy or not, one of the best places to go in in Minnesota for some Christmas cheer is the American Swedish Institute in Minneapolis. I just finished reading Michael Booth’s clever and insightful book about the Scandinavians,Almost Nearly Perfect People, so I was particularly motivated for an encounter with a place that offers a chance to rub elbows with so many fair-haired folks in intricately patterned sweaters.
This time of year, the Institute’s gorgeous Turnblad Mansion is festooned with trees, trolls, yule goats, and young women dressed as Lucia, flaming candles in their hair and all.
Six of the mansion’s 33 rooms are decorated each according to the Christmas customs of Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, and this year Minneapolis’s Museum of Russian Art, too. All these countries seem to have a fascination with mischief making trolls or elves, called variously tomte, nisse, jelasvieran, and joulupukki. (According to Booth, 54 percent of Icelanders believe in elves.) Whatever you call them, they’re great fun.
Another draw at ASI any time of year is its terrific restaurant Fika with some of the best meatballs you’ll ever have, and no lutefisk in sight. Gone are the days of tasteless white Scandinavian food. Chefs such as Sweden’s Magnus Nilsson have changed all that. Check him out at his restaurant Faviken in Sweden on Netflix’s “Mind of a Chef.”
Finally, the ASI gift shop will make you want to be a Scandinavian even if you’re not.
Chef Gavin Kaysen has a reputation, not only for his cuisine and his award-winning new restaurant Spoon and Stable in his hometown, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He’s also known for his collection of spoons—and how he obtains them. His collection was the inspiration for the the name of the new restaurant (along with the fact that it’s located in a former horse stable built in 1904), which was a 2015 James Beard Award finalist for Best New Restaurant.
He scours second-hand shops for spoons, others he has received as gifts from friends and from other restaurants because of his spoon-loving reputation. Others he has, well, pocketed. Sterling to to wrought iron, for Kaysen, it’s not just a collection of spoons, it’s “a collection of memories.”
The lure of spoons began for Kaysen when he was a 21-year-old pastry chef in Lausanne, Switzerland, learning to make the perfect quenelle of ice cream. On his days off, he used beef fat to practice making the elegant oval scoops. When he finally mastered the technique he kept the spoon he was using as a memento.
Kaysen continued that habit of spoon pilfering. For him, they offer a tangible memory of an experience whether is was a great meal, outstanding service or a beautiful dining space.
I spent much of yesterday at the Deep Valley Book Festival in Mankato, Minnesota which is part of the Betsy-Tacy Deep Valley Homecoming. I sold a truckload of books—-okay about ten and I swapped one of those with another author for her book. However, I met a lot of local authors working on fascinating topics (fiction and non-fiction), swapped book promotion ideas, and gained lots of inspiration. Best of all, I met one of my favorite local writers, Faith Sullivan, a generous, delightful person and great writer who enthusiastically purchased a copy of my book, Off The Beaten Page. Keep an eye out for her new book, Goodnight, Mr. Wodehouse, coming out this fall from Milkweed Press.
I met a few other authors whose books I have to share with you. Odds are, if you’re not too far away, they’d be happy to stop by your book group to talk about their book. First on my list to read is Nancy Koester’s Harriet Beecher Stowe: A Spiritual Life.
Allen Eskens‘s debut novel, The Life We Bury, is a story of suspense involving a University of Minnesota student, set against the harsh winter of Minnesota. I’ll be settling in for that one this winter.
I also met the bubbly Anne B. Kerr, author of Fujiyama Trays and Oshibori Towels, a memoir of her experiences as a Northwest Orient Airlines stewardess in the 1950s. I pickup of a copy to give to my mother-in-law who was also a flight attendant in that era.
And finally, if you’re a fan of young adult paranormal romance, a very specific category, check out Unclaimed by Laurie Wentzel. Laurie shared book promotion tips and also explained that my college dating life didn’t qualify as paranormal.
Fiction Meets Reality in Maude Hart Lovelace’s “Deep Valley”
It’s hard to believe that a series of novels can still be popular with a heroine who neither Tweets nor Snapchats, a girl who lacks magical powers, a vampire boyfriend, or a fabulous assortment of weaponry. Yet, the beloved Betsy-Tacy series by Mankato, Minnesota, author Maud Hart Lovelace have been in continuous publication since the 1940s and inspire an almost fanatical devotion, even among readers who are used to consuming racier fare such as “Gossip Girl” or “The Vampire Diaries.”
If you need proof, you need only show up in Mankato on a Friday or Saturday afternoon in summer. You’ll find Betsy-Tacy fans who’ve come from around the world to visit the trim little Victorian houses on Center Street, “Betsy’s House” and “Tacy’s House,” where Hart Lovelace and her real best friend, Frances Kenney, grew up right across the street from each other. Little girls and their grandmothers, mother and daughters, and adult “gals on getaways” line up for a tour of the real-life houses that are the setting of the beloved book series. The houses have been lovingly restored and designated as national literary landmarks.
A Calming Oasis
A step into Betsy-Tacy world is a step back into a slower, more peaceful era.The first of the series’ 10 books, Betsy-Tacy, begins in 1897, when Betsy is about to turn five, and the series continues through Betsy’s Wedding during World War I, all based on Hart Lovelace’s own girlhood. The lack of technology, fighting and fast-paced action may be the secret for the books’ enduring appeal. Linda Lee, an adult Betsy-Tacy fan visiting from Claremont, California, says of the books, “I re-read them even now. They’re about family, friendship and fun in doing simple things. Reading them brings a sense of calm to my frenzied life.”
The houses are open on weekends year-round but Betsy-Tacy fans show up en masse each June for the Deep Valley Homecoming—this year from June 26-30— like a children’s book Coachella. (Deep Valley is the name Hart Lovelace gave her hometown in the books.) Activities include Betsy & Tacy home and neighborhood tours, narrated horse-drawn trolley rides, a Victorian Tea, Deep Valley Book Festival*, fashion show, living history actors, speakers and re-enactments, a vintage car show and more.
Inspiration for Modern Girls
Enthusiastic docents regularly lead tours of the houses and point out how the homes and the neighborhood compare to the books’ illustrations by Lois Lenski. From the old-fashioned kitchen, to the lace curtains and fine china, to the books and Maude Hart Lovelace memorabilia, tours furnish a cultural snapshot of the era, a chance to experience what it was like to live in a Midwestern town when the first automobile arrived and homes got their first telephones.
But beyond a nostalgic connection to a fictional world or a look at old houses with creaky floors and Victorian furniture, a visit to the Betsy-Tacy houses offers a look at the lives and friendships children, the aspirations of women at the turn of the last century, and celebrates girls who are, while old-fashioned, strikingly independent and adventurous.
While old telephones may be the highest tech you’ll experience on the tour, Betsy and Tacy aren’t totally off the grid. You’ll find constant discussion about them on Twitter and Pinterest.
*I’ll be at the Deep Valley Book Festival this year, signing copies of Off The Beaten Page: The Best Trips for Lit Lovers, Book Clubs and Girls on Getaways.
If you go:
Mankato is about an hour and a half south of the Twin Cities via I-169. The houses are open this summer on Friday and Saturday from 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. Admission is $5 for adults, $2 for children (under 5 free).