Chicago-Nation at Night

Chicago-Nation at Night

We’re back from Chicago-land. It was a mini-vacation within our much longer winter break. It lasted just 48 hours, but we managed to pack a lot in to it. We did four museums, the observation deck of the John Hancock building, plus other attractions. The photo was taken from the observation deck of the John Hancock building, it is from our last night there. Here is a list of the attractions that we hit:

  • Magnificent Mile
  • Millennial Park
  • Art Institute of Chicago
  • Chicago Cultural Center
  • Field Museum
  • Museum of Science and Industry
  • Museum of Contemporary Art
  • John Hancock Building

It was just cra-cra-crazy cold up there. Some sort of polar vortex must have blown into town just after we arrived. Walking into the wind on Michigan Ave. felt like enhanced interrogation. I barely had the skill set, let alone the clothes, to hack it. One nice thing about the Windy City is that it is also a foodie paradise. The takeaway being we ate too much. I picked up some swag at the Contemporary Art Museum; they curate a great gift shop there. I got a 2015 wall calendar made from bubble wrap. I can almost hardly wait to get back to work so that I can start popping off the days. We all tried to get Dave to accompany us, but to no avail. I’ll have to be doing some friend-raising there in 2015. The important thing though is that BAE* Anne had a good time on this little trip to Chicago-nation.

* Before Anyone Else – one of the banned words or phrases on the 2015 Lake Superior State University list of banned words. Using them is almost better than swearing.


The Dreamer, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, 1879

The Dreamer, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, 1879

“The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” is James Thurber’s classic short story of a day-dreamer who escapes his anonymous life by disappearing into a world of fantasies filled with heroism, romance and action. Last year, Ben Stiller took the conceit of Thurber’s story and adapted that into a two plus hour movie, which he directed and starred in. With great anticipation I streamed it last weekend.

Stiller’s version of this story is set in current day NYC. His Mitty works for Life Magazine and is a self-described ‘Negative Assets Manager’. He manages the magazine’s library of photographic negatives, which is a rather anachronistic occupation in this now digital world. His employment situation becomes increasingly more precarious when he first learns that Life will be halting publication of its print magazine and going all-digital. This bad news is made worse by Mitty making one bad impression after another on the obnoxious new corporate transition manager (Adam Scott). Things come to a head when word arrives that Life’s ace photographer (Sean Penn) has submitted Negative #25 for consideration as the cover photo for the last issue. The problem is that this negative is not on the roll and Mitty can’t find it. With the coaxing of a coworker, Cheryl (Kristen Wiig), whom Mitty has a crush on, Mitty summons up the courage to go out and find this photographer and his missing negative.

Stiller’s “Mitty” was purported to have been in production for twenty years and Life ceased regular publications a decade ago. This bit of history may explain some of the stiltedness that imbues the first half of the movie. Some of Walter’s day-dream sequence work well, while others just seemed spaced out. The movie definitely picks up after Mitty departs New York, but this is also where Stiller leaves his source material behind too. Still, the back half of the movie makes for a fine travelogue, with many enjoyable supporting characters introduced. In a voyage of self discovery, our little negative assets manager manages to discover himself and develop some real self-esteem. It makes for a fine story and all, but it is just not “Walter Mitty”, ta-pocketa-pocketa-pocketa …

Mother and Child

We visited the Chicago Art Institute earlier this year and they were celebrating the centennial of the Armory Show with a huge Picasso exposition. This exposition was pure big shoulder hubris as the Institute took the opportunity of this anniversary to once more lord it over their Big Apple brethren. Way back in 1913 Picasso made his first trip to America. He wanted to show off his artwork in New York, but none of the museum there were willing to host this then upstart artist. He had to display his art in the NYC Armory. Conversely, the Chicago Art Institute welcomed Picasso with open arms extending from broad shoulders. This began a life long embrace between city and artist and Chicago has been lording it over New York ever since. Here is the museum’s description:

During Picasso’s 1917 trip to Rome with the Ballets Russes, the artist became deeply impressed by the city’s ancient and Renaissance treasures. The subject of this antiquity-inspired painting is a monumental mother and child, which commemorates the birth of Picasso’s son Paulo in February 1921. The robust baby reaches his hand upward, while his mother, dressed in a classically, inspired gown, gazes down at him, in an elemental scene set against a simplified backdrop of sand, water and sky.

In 1968 William Hartmann, an architect at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill and a trustee of the Art Institute, visited the artist after the debut of his large sculpture in the Richard J. Daley Center plaza. Hartmann gave the artist a copy of a museum publication that featured a reproduction of Mother and Child, delighting the artist. Picasso then located among his studio possessions a fragment of the painting that he had removed from the larger canvas in 1921 and made it a gift to the museum. The presence of the man in the fragment suggests that Picasso may well have first had in mind the mythological subject of Danae and Perseus, Jupiter’s lover and child who were abandoned in a box at sea and rescued by a fisherman.

I’ve attempted to recreate the museum’s staging in the gallery above. It seems more likely that mother and father were originally painted back-to-back. Perseus aside, I have to believe that Picasso’s Spanish Catholic upbringing would have held more sway than any ‘weekend’ in Rome. Especially tonight, these two paintings speak to me of the Nativity. In them I see the baby Jesus, mother Mary and Joseph off to the side. Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!

A Thousand Flowers

Honey Bee Swarm with Flowers and Fruit, 2012, Paul Stankard

Honey Bee Swarm with Flowers and Fruit, 2012, Paul Stankard

It feels like we are falling ever faster towards winter solstice, towards darkness. There is also a chill in the air to match this darkness. The annual cycle of the sun seems upon us so much more quickly this year that even the trees with their expected set of fall colors appear to have fallen a step or two behind the times. What better excuse do I need, in these darkening days then to post a little color, a bit of sunshine, one last gasp of summer?

“A thousand flowers” is the literal translation of millefiori, a term coined in 1849 to denote the technique whereby glass canes enclosing flower like patterns are cut into cross sections and used as a decorative motif. These canes are made by assembling colored glass rods of varying thickness to create a pattern, heating the rods until they fuse, and then stretching them out like taffy in order to miniaturize the design. Once a variety of patterned canes have been made, they may be bundled together , reheated, and pulled again to form all manner of geometric or floral designs when cut. Infinite variations of cane sections may be assembled, producing a kaleidoscopic final effect. These canes are manipulated using techniques called lampworking. Glass rods of various colors are worked with shears or other tools to create small, three-dimensional sculptures.

The paperweight pictured above was specially made for the Art Institute of Chicago in honor of the reopening of its expanded paperweight galleries in 2012. The millefiori beads below were a gift from my mother to Anne. Mom bought this necklace in Venice.

Anne's Millefiori Beads

Anne’s Millefiori Beads