The Roads of North America, Part Three

A Drive South from the Berkshires to Georgia – 2013

By: - Sep 07, 2013

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We think it’s the best way of seeing America! It was our third long road trip through various States. Our first loop started in Las Vegas, where we rented a very expensive car: From there to Lake Powell, Grand Canyon, the Sedona area, Painted Desert, Petrified Forest and miles of wide open skies. Then we visited with friends near Albuquerque, off to Santa Fe and Taos. We drove through a stretch of snow in May, continued through the Utah Mountains, and a long drive back to Las Vegas, so that we could hop on a Jet Blue plane back home.

We definitely had caught the ‘See America – Travel by Car’ bug!  In 2010 we drove through 20 plus States, some of them twice, starting out in North Adams, Massachusetts, in our own vehicle, and returned after four weeks.  Our adventures have been chronicled in the following reports on Berkshire Fine Arts: The Roads of North America, Part One and Two, and The Carlsbad Caverns.

This time we took a winter’s drive south from Massachusetts to Georgia and back. Here are my daily diary entries, sketches from our first three locations:

Monday, February 11, 2013 - It is Olivia’s birthday (she’s my daughter) and the beginning of our 3 weeks long trip south, into the sunshine! And hopefully 50 – 70 degree F weather!

I woke up with ‘floaters’ in my left eye and experienced ‘light strips’ from time to time, mostly in the evening or in darkness. I have had these disturbances since Saturday, discussed it with Charles, and we decided to have it checked before starting our trip. Luckily I was given an 11:30 am appointment, not to worry so much, it will stop within a month. We did not leave today.

Tuesday, February 12 - We were fully packed since Sunday evening; so last minute fixings, breakfast, and we were off at 10:30 am.  I remembered the roads today without checking my notes: From North Adams Rt. 2W to Williamstown – 20 W – 41 – 22 S – 90W – 87S – 95 - 287 – 206 (a short cut I decided and saved 45 minutes.) – 95 and hello Sheraton in Philly! (Near the Convention Center, which is just enormous.)

We did not eat at the Chinese restaurant on recommendation at the hotel, an empty place with uninterested staff. Instead we found a fabulous restaurant across from a fire station, where Chinese guests crowded the place! We did not order well, what a pity!

Wednesday, February 13 – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Because of our late start we lost a day in Philly, since we had many hotel reservations already booked. We made up with a full day’s museum walk. First, we walked to The Barnes Foundation. There we learned that one has to make reservations in advance. Fortunately, as members of the Press we were let in without delay. We saw the first floor with 100 (or more) paintings by Renoir as well as by Cezanne, Degas, Van Gough, Seurat and more.  Dr. Barnes liked buying nudes, and oh too many impressionist’s paintings! The rooms, arranged exactly as in the first foundation location in Marion, PA, outside of Philadelphia, are hung salon style, just as we do. A curator told Charles that everything is hung to 1/16th of an inch as originally. The move of the collection to Philadelphia was prohibited in Dr. Barnes will. The scandal and forced relocation of the collection is documented in articles, books and films.

Barnes added hinges, key-hole ornaments, door knockers, long brass spoons and other fine metals throughout the paintings' arrangements; chests and chairs were paired with certain works and color schemes. Dr. Barnes set out to educate the public and so a large hall does accommodate lectures and other programs. He forged a friendship with Henri Matisse, who came to visit, and so commissioned a large multi-canvas work ‘The Dance,’ which is installed around and below windows below the ceiling. There are a few Medieval European works, yet the exhibitions on the first floor are dominated by Impressionists.

We had assumed that the collection was installed on one floor. Wrong! The second floor holds a Matisse triptych, an absolutely magnificent work. Then we experienced stylistic advances past Impressionism to Cubism. And to illustrate the influence of African Art on cubist painters like Picasso and Braque, there is an extensive African sculpture collection. Dr. Barnes also purchased works from African American painters. A few valuable American Indian rugs round out the collection. – I mostly find the Matisse works still lingering with me. What an idiosyncratic collection!

Dr. Barnes disliked American Museums and curators with a passion, and so he followed his own path. The new building’s architecture is contemporary, sleek, and quite beautiful. From The Barnes Foundation we walked to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, up all 100 stairs! We did not realize that an opposite entrance requires no effort to enter.

The museum has a 30.000 photo collection and the first works we saw were by: Alfred Stieglitz, Dorothy Norman (student and lover!) Man Ray, Shomei Tomatsu, Japan, and others; exquisite photographs.

American Painters: Thomas Eakins,Winslow Homer, John Singer Sargeant, Mary Cassat, etc. We came to see the Marcel Duchamp collection. A special exhibition had just closed, yet there were 3 rooms installed with: ‘Etant Donnes,’ which - discovered only after his death - consists of a Water Fall, Illuminating Gas and includes a female body with legs open, her vagina exposed.  One looks at the three dimensional work through two peep holes, so that the viewer becomes a ‘Peeping Tom.’

The Large Glass work is titled: ‘The Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors, Even.’ It was exhibited only once, the glass panels broke during the return transfer. Duchamp decided to glue the 2 large panes back together, a pain-staking exercise, which made the work more intriguing. Other works of artists of the Duchamp family were exhibited: Raymond Duchamp-Villon, who died on the front in WWI, in 1918, where he volunteered for medical services. He was very talented and so was brother Jaques Villon.

The museum holds an impressive wing of modern and contemporary works by: Jasper Johns (some paintings and early style I had never known before!), a  Brancusi room, Georges Braque, Pablo Picasso, Andre  Masson, Henri Matisse, Paul Klee, Wasilly Kandinsky, Juan Gris, Piet Mondrian, Fernand Leger, Piero Manzoni, Cy Twombly, Willem de Kooning, Sam Francis, Hans Hoffman (a large, great abstract painting!), Sean Scully, Ellsworth Kelly. All beautifully installed.

We walked to the museums – now took a taxi back to the hotel. We’ve had a mediocre dinner during our first evening at the Chinese restaurant. Since the Sheraton Hotel is also located near China Town, we decided to have a great Chinese Feast and did! Fresh shrimps in shells; the biggest and meatiest oysters one can imagine, spiced and steamed; peapod greens and deliciously fried soy pieces, an $ 80 dinner for two. We feasted in the same restaurant, across from the fire station. Tomorrow we are off to Baltimore!

Thursday, February 14 - Valentine’s Day

From Philadelphia to Baltimore all the way: # 95 South to the Ft. McHenry Tunnel to Rt. 395 North, exit 53 to Sheraton Hotel, 101W Fayette Street, Baltimore, MD, 21201

45 minutes on our way to Baltimore I realized that I had not opened the safe. We rushed back! The manager, alerted by my iPhone call, took everything from the safe in room 305; keys and all was at the front desk, thankfully! I left a $ 20-note for the staff, they decided to have a pizza party, a thank you to them. –

In the evening we had a wonderful dinner at an Indian restaurant. There we were watching young Valentine’s Day couples on their dates, how lovely. We were surrounded by helium-heart-balloons. Happy Valentine’s Day!

Friday, February 15 - Breakfast at Sheraton with a group of fencers and sable fighters sitting behind us. They were High School boys and the best in their sport and were preparing for a competition.

BMA - Baltimore Museum of Art  - We came to Baltimore to see the ‘Cone Collection’ of  Dr. Claribel Cone and Etta Cone, two sisters. Dr. Cone never practiced medicine after receiving her degree. She had met Gertrude Stein in Medical School, who did not finish her studies and instead moved to live in Paris. Through Stein the sisters met many artists in France, among them Henri Matisse.

The Cone Collection is extensive, well curated and well hung. The sisters traveled in Europe, lived in Paris and collected Claude Monet, Edgar Degas (1st room dancer sculpture), Paul Cezanne, Mary Cassat, Paul Gauguin, Henri Rousseau, Pierre  Bonnard, Marie Laurencin, Pablo Picasso, Gustav Klimt, Max Ernst, Ernst Barlach, Max Beckmann, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner. They befriended Matisse and collected his work extensively.

There are two rooms with Matisse drawings of ‘The Dancers,’ magnificent strokes! Also two rooms of smaller Matisse paintings; then in a specially designed round space there is the ‘Blue Nude.’ (The first owner of Blue Nude was Leo Stein.)  It is ‘The Painting’ one comes to Baltimore to see! The Blue Nude, 1907, caused a scandal at the Paris Salon! At the Armory Show in New York, 1913, rejection! In Chicago, art students burnt an effigy! Today: A Masterpiece!  

BMA opened recently a modern wing with art work on two large floors, an exquisite collection of Blue Chip artists: Juan Gris, Braque, Leger, Francis Picabia (!) Oskar Schlemmer (Painting and sculpture), Natalia Goncharova, Paul Klee (lovely!) Roberto Matta (who had influence on American expressionists, like Robert Rauschenberg); Alexander Calder, Picasso, Joan Miro and  Ernst.

By invitation of a guard, we sat on and photographed ourselves with Franz West’s ‘Super Worms’ (my title) in pinkish colors.  Then we saw installations of large works by: Serra, Bruce Naumann’s blinking ‘War,’ Sarah Sze (installation; she represents the US in the current Venice Bienale),  Sol LeWitt (early wall structure), Donald Judd and the collection continued on the 3rd floor: Louise Bourgeois, Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline, Arshile Gorky,Mark Rothko (in red and brown), Jackson Pollock, Frank Stella, Sarah Oppenheimer, Robert Motherwell, Louise Nevelson, David and Tony Smith, Andy Warhol, and more. It’s a very well designed building, we liked it.

Still Friday, February 15 - We left Baltimore, artistically fed, and continued south on 95 to D.C. to visit with Olivia, Ed, Nola and Lena! – 95 S to 495 toward Silver Springs, MD, to Hampshire Street for 2 miles, to search for them in the Mt. Pleasant neighborhood. We found the house and entered while everyone was out. Ed and Lena came home first, later (late!) Olivia and Nola returned from a dentist consultation. We had dinner even later.

Saturday, February 16 - Olivia and I took ‘Amber-Dog’ on a long walk in frigid weather. "There may be snow later on," which did not happen. After breakfast, five of us set out to the Hirshhorn Museum to see an important Ai Weiwei exhibition. Ed stayed home and for us and the girls it became a learning experience in many ways. The girls were interested and focused throughout the 2-3 hour experience The ‘Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads’ were installed in the Hirshhorn Courtyard. They were large bronze sculptures on stanchions. Already, the girls and many other visitors had fun photographing each other with their zodiac signs.

All Washington museums are free and so we entered ‘freely.’ The exhibition was mostly installed on the second floor in the round building, and so all spaces followed the architectural foot print without large-white-box-rooms. The first piece consisted of a list of more than 5000 names of children and young adults, who died in the Sichuan earthquake in 2008. Weiwei and assistants had collected all names and birthdates of the children and memorialized them in this installation.

During a 3 hour taping all names are being continually read and children’s backpacks were installed in the form of a winding Chinese dragon on the ceiling. (I remember that children’s backpacks in an earlier installation in Frankfurt, Germany, were hung on the outside walls of the museum.)

The Chinese government attempted to suppress knowledge of the deaths of more than 5000 * children, who died, while school was in session. The construction of the schools was shoddy!  -- (* In fact, 5196 names were collected and believed to be approximately 80 % of the children, who died. More than 68.000 people died in the earthquake in the region with still 18.000 missing.)

Workers straightened tons of bent rebars after the earthquake in Sichuan Province. They were taken from the destroyed homes and schools. A worker would hit a rebar approximately 200 times to straighten one! Videos were documenting the long process, and the rebars at the museum where there in memory of the disaster.

Nola and Lena were also impressed by two vats of pearls, real Chinese pearls. A guard was watching the basins full of pearls (or just filled on the surface?). We saw a photo-triptych, where Weiwei is dropping and breaking an ancient Chinese vase.  The exhibition includes a transformed, age old vase, which was painted with a Coca Cola emblem, to signify the need to transform old to new. Life has to continually evolve! Charles spoke to the girls about the meaning and Lena’s response was: “Change is hard.” There was a platform with approximately 10-15 vases, painted over. Paint was dripping from the vases. (I question the authenticity of the vases: Old? new? copies? Yet it matters not, the point is made.)

Large photo installations on floor and walls documented Weiwei’s 10 years in New York. He was constantly photographing his bohemian life in NYC and we became acquainted with his American and Chinese friends and compatriots; among them Alan Ginsberg and Xu Bing, who is currently showing an exhibition ‘Phoenix’ at Mass MoCA in North Adams, MA. Bing has a year long exhibition at Mass MoCA, where the center pieces are two huge metal birds, which were constructed by migrant workers in Beijing from debris of destruction sites in the city. (Complete neighborhoods have been destroyed in Beijing to make room for an endless number of skyscrapers.)

7 of 81 large wooden boxes are on exhibition and are constructed in a manner, when fully installed, they would show all 81 ‘moon slivers’ positions that we can see from earth during a cycle from new moon to full moon. (I photographed Lena and Nola as they are looking into the opening of a sculptural box.)

A big floor space with thousands of crabs made from clay signified the evening before Weiwei’s brand new studio in Shanghai was destroyed by Shanghai’s Communist Party Administration. Shanghai had invited Ai to work in Shanghai and build a studio in the city. Later he was informed that he had built there without proper permits and hence, the studio would be taken down as soon as it was finished. It was a beautiful large complex and supporters of Ai celebrated one evening with a crab fest! Crabs have several meanings in Chinese: Tough exterior, vulnerable interior; protective nature; emblem of good luck and more.  The artist was meanwhile under house arrest in Beijing and could not participate. He had fallen out of party favor, the reason why Shanghai withdrew the invitation to work in the city. Well, that’s another story. ~ Our girls loved the crabs, so life like, yet formed from clay!

On the third floor the artist shows hundreds of slides of his exhibitions in many locations, animals, and Ai clowning and making funny faces. Apparently, he’s enjoying making fun of himself. – Weiwei has been injured, jailed and placed under house arrest by the Chinese Communist Party and police for his overtly political actions and criticism of the system and corruptions.

Our girls were interested, engaged and absorbed by much of what Olivia and I discussed with them. It was a wonderful experience for us as well - seeing art through the eyes of Nola and Lena! (And I much enjoyed watching Charles communicating with them about art, buying and serving food and drinks to all.)

On Saturday evening Olivia and Ed went to see ‘Metamorphoses’ at Arena Stage with a couple of friends. We stayed home with the girls and had fun, playing an updated Monopoly game, buying and selling properties, winning or loosing. The girls went to sleep by 9 pm. We were up when O + E returned from an engaging experience at the theatre.

Sunday, February 17 – Charles had brought Panetone for a French toast breakfast and Olivia made it on her griddle, the middle flame of her commercial grade super stove. What’s the name again? We would love to have the quality of her kitchen! “They did not forget anything possible for the kitchen,” Charles remarked. (Prior owners had fully renovated the house approximately ten years ago.)

Anyhow, we had a great breakfast, I enjoyed my rice-bread-French-toast. -  Ed and the girls went to Nola’s soccer practice and game: “The girls beat the boys 4 to 1!” they proclaimed after returning. Charles went into town to the Washington Mall to see the American Indian Museum, which he thought was too much of a history museum. Then, off to the National Gallery, the Impressionist Collection, where every work is a master piece. He was astonished and the museums closed before he could venture further.

Olivia and I took care of a few errands, returned some purchased items and went food shopping – Target is her store. We were glad to spend time with each other. Ed actually went to work late afternoon; we had a pesto-pasta dinner and I shared my quinoa-pasta with anyone, who wanted to try it. It was a shower and hair washing evening for the girls and for us quiet time. We were all pooped from the day’s activities.

Monday, February 18 - President’s Day, a Holiday, and Ed went to work at some time during the day. We took the girls to visit the National Cathedral, which they had not seen from the inside. There, we joined a small group with a docent, who explained specific details. I was surprised to learn that the Cathedral was only finished in 1990. Work began in 1907 and the first service in a chapel, below in the nave was held in 1909 or 1912. Since then, services were held every day until the earth quake in 2009. The Cathedral was closed for 89 days, until it was declared structurally sound. Some high stones had toppled down and others were taken down for safety reasons.

Scaffolding around the Cathedral (the church of a bishop) is expected to last for the next 20 years until all repairs will be finished. The gothic church is majestic, stone work and pulpits done by master craftsmen from the US and in Europe. Color glass windows were designed and installed in stages. So a 2003 lead-glass window contains a moon-rock and moon exploration imagery. Truly, a 20th and 21st Century visual tale!

We went into the nave, where Helen Keller and her teacher Anne Sullivan are buried. A bright spot from all the touching on the brass plaque contains their information in Braille. Of course, the girls had fun in the very large and wonderful shop, ready to buy many items. The shop is well stocked with tasteful things and obviously a good source of income during tourist season. We just punched out three pennies, one for me, with a Cathedral image. The girls did the hard work, moving the wheels and turn sty. (It’s now replacing my Sylt-Pfennig-Image, which I have kept for more than 25 years.)

After the Cathedral visit atop, with window views of the tower, we went to the ‘Beauvoir School’ playground. There are a couple of private schools near the church grounds and the new playground is just fantastic. I photographed the girls on several unique play-structures: A tepee that ends in a slide, first hidden. Two wood and mesh tepees, connected by a long, mesh covered walkway. A monorail, self propelling, that required some finesse. The girls did beautifully! And the air was filled with sounds from a large  size xylophone.

Dinner was fun! We ate greens, which Olivia had prepared a day before. Tasty! The long weekend had come to an end. We had a great visit with them!

Tuesday, February 19 - Ed took the girls to school; Olivia also left at 8 am and we went on our way by 11:30 am. We had to orient ourselves, found the Beltway South on second try, Rt. 95 S and off we went to Virginia.

It was 4 pm when we reached Richmond, VA. My, it was difficult to get out of the DC- beltway! By 6 pm we stopped in Rocky Mount, North Carolina, for the night. I had decided on a Best Western Hotel after consulting the iPhone map-app. We were quite satisfied with our choice, but the bar-b-que place on recommendation was a bust! (Rt. 95 S)

Part Four will soon chronicle Myrtle Beach and Charleston, SC, Savannah, Tybee Island, and Atlanta, GA. The Atlanta air was cold; a reminder that we were returning to winter landscapes on our drive home!