Sunday, January 29, 2012

ArtTrail #5 - Fire & Ice at the MOG

"Great sculpture is like music;
all you have to do is feel it."
Martin Blank

Among my goals for this new year, is to see and experience more of our "local" area - that being the greater Puget Sound. On a cool, gray, January day we visited the Tacoma Museum of Glass (MOG), which is the only glass museum west of the Mississippi devoted expressly to the medium of glass. The focus of the Collection is to showcase exemplary works of art created during the 20th and 21st centuries by artists from around the world.

True to the lumber legacy of this area, the signature design of the museum is a 90-foot-high cone, shaped like the smokestack of a wood-burning sawmill. The cone's workshop is used for advanced glassmaking and, even from a distance, you can tell it's something quite out of the ordinary...

The 70,000-square-foot building is linked to downtown by the 500-foot-long Chihuly Bridge of Glass, a pedestrian walkway that spans Interstate 705 and a rail line. Dale Chihuly, a Tacoma native world renowned for his glass art, designed the glass and polymer artwork that decorates the bridge.

"We wanted something unique in the world,
something that is full of color
and offers a joyous experience
to passersby both night and day." 
Dale Chihuly

Here you enter a seemingly underwater world of glass shapes and forms - the Seaform Pavilion. This colorful ceiling is made of 2,364 objects from Chihuly's Seaform and Persian series. Placed on top of a fifty-by-twenty-foot plate-glass ceiling, the forms are suspended in midair and make dramatic use of natural light - very welcome on a gray Northwest day!

The turquoise Crystal Towers, rising forty feet above the deck, mark the center of the bridge and resemble giant swizzle sticks. The 63 large crystals in each tower are made from Polyvitro, a polyurethane material developed to withstand the elements. Illuminated from below, these magnificent forms glow at night, appearing as if chiseled from mountain peaks or frozen alpine lakes.

Approaching the front of the museum, Fluent Steps spans the entire length of the 210-foot-long Main Plaza reflecting pool.

This poetry in glass rises from water level to fifteen feet in height and consists of 754 individually hand-sculpted pieces.

Celebrating the many moods of water, this phenomenal sculpture was mostly created in the Museum’s Hot Shop during Martin Blank’s 45-day visiting artist residency in 2008.

The sculpture includes four individual islands of glass which capture the fluidity, light, motion, and transparency of water in clear glass. This project required the invention of new tools to handle the massive amounts of glass and a team of 41 artists, architects, and engineers to create and install the work.

"Water can be placid, sublime, and—in an instant—uncompromisingly raw and powerful.
It’s the vehicle for capturing light, motion, fluidity,
and transparency.
It’s the vehicle for life."
Martin Blank

The Hot Shop Amphitheater, housed in the 90-foot-tall stainless steel cone, includes a hot glass studio, cold glass studio, and accommodates over 200 visitors. The cone itself is 100 feet in diameter at its base and narrows to a 15-foot opening, all of which is necessary for the glass art being created in 2,400-degree ovens.

You are welcome to watch as long as you want as the Hot Shop team of artists demonstrate the fascinating process of creating works of art from molten glass. We were able to see close-ups of the artists' work, informative videos on the big screen overhead, learn as an interpreter explained the process, art, science and history of making glass. Questions were welcomed and readily answered.

As if this were not enough, the Museum offers excellent temporary exhibitions, permanent collections, a small cafe, and a gift shop with wonderful works of glass art in all price ranges. Except for the Hot Shop, photography is not allowed inside the Museum.

As we left this mesmerizing place, we once more passed through the Chihuly Bridge of Glass. This time we paused to admire the Venetian Wall, an eighty-foot installation displaying a collection of some of the largest blown-glass works executed in the history of the medium. Here are 109 sculptures from three of Chihuly's series: Venetians, Ikebana, and Putti.

The Venetians are exuberant sculptures with origins in Venetian Art Deco glass. Ikebana are quiet pieces, created in the spirit of traditional Japanese floral arrangements.

Putti were popular figures in European art of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and represent Cupid, the Roman god of love.

But, WAIT - we weren't quite finished! At the end of the bridge, the Union Passenger Station called to us. Opened in 1911 as a railroad station, this magnificent building gained a listing on the National Register of Historic Buildings in 1974. It currently serves as a courthouse of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington.

Tacoma Union Station was built in the Beaux-Arts style of architecture and designed by architectural firm Reed & Stem, who also designed famous Grand Central Terminal in New York City. The large rotunda inside the building is capped with a soaring 90-foot-high dome topped with a skylight, many walls are made of marble, and the floors are terrazzo. All of that is lovely, but we came to see more Chihuly glass art!

As soon as we walked in we noticed a large chandelier hanging from the center of the dome. This amazing work of art, called End of the Day, is made of hundreds of long tubes of glass... 

Monarch Window, another of the Persians Installations, is made up of orange discs mounted against a huge window.  As the light streams in, these are guaranteed to warm any day - even a gray one.

The Lackawana Ikebana is formed of a large metal gridded circle with hundreds of twisted glass pieces attached.

Another huge window frames the brilliant red Water Reeds which are a perfect match for the brick building across the street.

The fourth large alcove is a drawing wall filled with the Basket Mural.

What a perfect way to spend a gray, wintry day. I highly recommend you look around your own area for things you might not yet have seen or done. And when in doubt, be sure to ask the "locals" - they can surely point the way!

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Friday, January 20, 2012

Baring the Soul

There they stood - stark naked. All their lush, emerald green branches splayed outward, leaving bare centers totally exposed. In the nearly 30 years we’ve lived here, we’d never seen this. Not with these. But three times in as many years, these lovely tall shrubs that grace the entrance to our front driveway have “bared their souls”. Could be they weren’t big enough until now; perhaps these snows were heavier than usual. Whatever the reason, there they stood for all to see.

These were once small pyramids, only about a foot high. The previous owners planted them in the grass next to an old barn. We knew them to be Arborvitae or “trees of life”. Although we gave them no special attention they slowly grew and, true to their name, they did thrive. In time, the barn was torn down, a gravel drive surrounded them, and their little plot of ground became a flower bed. Not ones to easily give up on any plant, we dug and moved them - one on either side of the driveway out next to the street. As I guess they have been from the start, they were on their own. They continued to inch upward and now stand about eight feet tall. They maintain their pyramidal shape without pruning, are bright green year round, and produce small cones each year. They are beautiful and I judiciously snip their cone-bearing branches to use in Christmas arrangements.

As a new year dawns, I’m reminded that time and events, in human terms, can seem to move slowly. Life progresses as it will and brings its share of joy and fulfillment as well as pain, suffering, and sorrow. Failure, disability, poverty, estrangement, illness, disease, separation, death - it can be easy to dwell on the negatives. The storms of life may bend and break us, and they certainly bare our centers. For it is when we are most down and out, most discouraged and beaten, most at our wits’ end, that our true selves are revealed. We, too, are totally exposed - and just what lies at our core, for all to see?

I have discovered a truth I was not looking for. The center of the Arborvitae is not at all attractive, in the normal sense of that word. It is not lush nor green nor would I describe it as beautiful. It has no leaves nor cones and I certainly would not decorate anything with it. I might say it is flat-out ugly, but I would be wrong. For I am thinking only of the outer, decorative aspects of this tree. All of its height, strength, and support comes from that “ugly” center - and there, where it really counts, it is healthy and very much alive.

In the greater scheme of things, time and events that we experience are but a flash in the pan. The Arborvitae’s branches are again upright and dense, hiding that inner core. But I’ve now seen it and I wonder - how healthy and alive is my center, my very soul? And yours?

Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight.
Everything is uncovered and laid bare
before the eyes of him
to whom we must give account.
Hebrews 4:13

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Glimpses of Glory - and Grace

Driving down a hill into town there is one particular spot where - if the sky is clear, if you are aware and think to look and if there are no clouds around it - you can catch a glimpse of Mt. Rainier. The chances are not great that you will see it, for the "window of opportunity", as the catch phrase goes, is quite small. In our part of the world the sky is often cloudy and even when it is clear, more often than not there is a veil of clouds surrounding the top of the mountain. Often as I drive into town my mind is on other things, so I miss my chance. But every so often I do think to look when all conditions are favorable and am struck, yet again, by the splendor of that ancient peak.

Several summers ago, we gathered in the evening for our traditional talent show at camp. We had quite a lineup: little kids performing simple tumbling acts, older kids presenting silly skits, a few teens and adults willing to sing in a group or solo, one or two kids on unicycles. One young man, probably 12 or 13 years of age, had brought along an electric keyboard for his part. When his turn came, he calmly stood and began to play, the cast on his arm impeding him little, if at all. Then he began to sing, a slow, mournful song which he had composed, and the crowd went silent. There in the quiet night, his music stood alone; his young voice, clear and pure and unaffected, drifting out into the surrounding woods and over the lake, transfixing all.

She flew to be with her aged parents as soon as she heard. Her mother, hospitalized with pneumonia that was complicated by asthma and a weakened heart. Her father, though still lucid, in the beginning stages of age-related dementia. There were ten days of calming her mother's fears, making sure her father understood what the doctors said, sleeping in the hospital room, cooking meals during the few hours that she and her dad were home. Near the end, when her mother asked if she was going to die, the room went silent; she told her mother the difficult truth. And on the final day, with life ebbing away, she asked her mother to hold on, that the last daughter was on her way and needed to be able to say good bye. In the end, all good-byes were said.

"We don't go to any trouble. You'll just get some water, in a plastic cup with your name written on it. And the candy, of course. At our age, if we made it too complicated, we'd never do it!" Well, in their late eighties/early nineties, I guess she's right about that. We were captivated as soon as we walked in the front door, for their home reflected pure love - for their individual interests and each other. Together, they made candy - boiled pure sugar syrup and peanuts, both shipped in from their beloved Georgia. They had lived many places in their long life together, but it was obvious their hearts still belonged to their native state. This evening of visiting, getting to know each other a little better, is one that we will never forget. The water tasted fine from a plastic cup, the candy was delicious, but the company was beyond compare...

The mountain is truly grand, and acts of grace exist all around us. It's reassuring to know that these are always out there somewhere, even though we may only catch small glimpses every now and then.

He has made everything beautiful in its time...
Ecclesiastes 3:11

But by the grace of God I am what I am,
and his grace to me was not without effect.
1 Corinthians 15:10

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Island of Three

The stomping of feet in the entry
Coat, hat, and boots removed
Hands rubbing together, Dad enters
"It's thirty below out there!"

Soup's on the stove bubbling away
Table's set - bread and leftover roast
Warms his hands over the radiator
"We need a Chinook."

At the big bay window
Mom talks to the bird
Gives him fresh seed
Waters plants, removes dead leaves

Wind beats at the window
Driving hard grains of snow
The stove is our center
Full of warmth and good smells

She scoops out the soup
With an old chipped cup
"Soup's on - come and get it..."
Our noon meal begins

There's talk of the greenhouse
The orders they've filled
Whose funeral's this weekend
What wedding's next week

After lunch there's deliveries
Do I want to ride along?
"Maybe..." for I know the layers
It takes just to walk out the door

"Go on, it'll do you good
Blow the stink off ..."
Mom's face is dead serious
Twinkling eyes give her away

I help clear the dishes
While Dad has his nap
Mom answers the phone
Writes out the orders

She pulls on her coat
Heads over to the store
Dad warms up the VW
Carries out the bouquets

Grab my mittens from the radiator
Step into my boots
Push open the storm door
Walk the shoveled path

Mom minds the business
While we make the rounds
A stop for pie and coffee
Hot cocoa for me

Darkness comes early
Lights twinkle on
As we drive down the alley
Through the drifts in the yard

"I need to lock up"
Dad says, "You go on."
I stomp my boots as he did
Hang my coat by the door

Mom's started our dinner
Kitchen's cheery and warm
I set the table and chatter
Telling all that I'd seen

The stomping of feet in the entry
"The boiler's holdin' its own"
Heating houses of glass isn't easy
When it's thirty below out there

Conversation and meals
Always went hand in hand
The household and business a blend
That I still contemplate

We three were an island
I realize now
In the midst of the cold
Montana winter