A Diamond in the Rough

Have you ever stumbled across something–a place, an object—something you weren’t expecting to find, that just wowed you–a hidden gem of sorts?  My sweetie and I found one of these gems a few days after we were wed.

We only had a few short days for a mini-honeymoon (we are hoping to make a big trip later this year!) so we drove north, to Red Wing, MN.  The day after we arrived, it was cold and damp (we actually saw snowflakes–in MAY!).  We decided to visit Tower View, an estate built in the early 1900s that now serves as an Artist Residency Program, an alternative high school, an art center, and local meeting space rental. 

The original buildings are amazing… and the sculptures in the garden are wonderful.  The horse above was my favorite; we didn’t walk the entire sculpture garden, as it was just too cold.   Loved this bench, The Courting Bench by Marcia McEachron:

But the true gem?  They have a permanent art collection, which we would not have even seen, if one of the resident artists hadn’t seen us wandering the halls gawking at the photography exhibit that was hanging, and asked “would you like to see our permanent collection, I can go unlock it for you?”  Umm… “yes, please!”  I had no idea…

There were prints by Pablo Picasso, Alexander Calder, Marc Chagall, Willem de Kooning….

Andy Warhol

Man Ray….

and Henri Matisse… just to name a few.

And these are just the pieces I could get a half-way presentable photograph of.  Mostly prints and etching, some sculpture, Calder mobiles… very important works from the 20th century art world.  I have a Master’s Degree in Art History and Museum Studies, so naturally, I was thrilled with this discovery.  My sweetie doesn’t share the same knowledge of these artists, but he was equally blown away that these were just there for the viewing in the basement of this art center in semi-rural Minnesota.  Let this be a lesson to all who scoff at the Midwest and make fun of Minnesota and Iowa (and places like our’s)…you should never judge a book by its cover, or a place by it’s geographic location.   

I leave you with two of my favorite finds of the day, Marc Chagall’s Psalm I

and his beautiful Green Bird

I felt very inspired to go home and create after this discovery…


Super *what* Sunday?!?

Sunday was a great day. The temperature was above freezing for the first time in weeks, I had a free day to spend with my sweetie, and no obligations. What did we do?

We went here…
To see this…
And watch this…The Des Moines Art Center is a beautiful museum, the building itself is a masterpiece, designed in three stages by architecture GiantsEliel Saarinen, I.M. Pei, and Richard Meier. On Friday, a new exhibit opened featuring American Regionalist artists from the Depression era, most notably, Iowa native, Grant Wood. His most recognized work of art, American Gothic, has returned home to Iowa for a limited engagement. There are works by Thomas Hart Benton, Margaret Bourke-White, and other early 20th Century geniuses…the exhibit is wonderfully done and incredibly thorough. Best of all, other than the $10 we spent in the Gift Shop, the day was entirely FREE!

In the evening, we chilled out by watching Sense & Sensibility on Iowa Public Telelvision. I love that my sweetie would rather go to an Art Museum and watch artsy films with me than sit and watch a silly ol’ football game. Ahhhhh….life is good.

Seriously, if you are anywhere near Des Moines in the next three months, you really should visit the Art Center and take in this exhibit.

P.S. I have one more happy bit to note: since January 1, 2009, I have lost 9.6 pounds (and I do not intend to look for OR find them again!)


Artists talk a lot about what inspires them to create. The musician/songwriter often has a muse of some sort, or a heartbreak that inspires a great ballad. The visual artist takes inspiration from nature, the environment, society…just about anything around them might inspire them to create a visual expression of the mood or feelings evoked.

I was a Art & Design major as an undergrad, and an Art History major in graduate school. My studies focused alot on inspiration, my own as well as that of the artists I studied. I’m not sure I could always pinpoint just what my own inspiration was (nor can I always put my finger on it now), but I was always curious about what truly inspired some of the great works we studied.

My favorite artist, hands down, has always been John Singer Sargent (1856-1925), an amazing portrait painter and watercolorist. He was an American, born in Florence, Italy. This one, Madame X, was exhibited at the Paris Salon in 1884, and caused such as scandalous uproar (a woman’s bare shoulders?!? Heavens!) that he was forced to move to London to get away from the gossip. I believe he sold it to the MET a few years after this. This was the artist’s personal favorite of his works.
My personal favorite is this one, which I forget the name of right now, but I so wish I was the woman in this picture, she’s outside, in the sun, enjoying the perfect day with her companion, painting casually on her canvas, next to a fountain. The brushstrokes that make up this image are fascinating, I’ve had the pleasure of seeing it in person…it is amazing.

I have a small copy of this one hanging in my home, it is named Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose, and was his first major success at the Royal Academy (in England) in 1887. It is a large piece, painted on site, of two young girls lighting lanterns in an English garden. The painting was immediately purchased by the Tate Gallery in London, where I had the pleasure of viewing it in the 1990s. The colors are breathtaking.

During the greater part of Sargent’s career, he created roughly 900 oil paintings and more than 2,000 watercolours, as well as countless sketches and charcoal drawings. Now that is impressive. It makes me want to go get my paints out and start painting. It makes me want to start creating more “art quilts”, painting in fabric. It inspires me to find more time, to create something, anything…just for the sake of creating…

What inspires you?