Cascading fullness of ginkgo leaves

Cascading fullness of ginkgo leaves

The sidewalks of New York’s East Village are lined with ginkgo trees which add a bright and welcome yellow to the street scenes there.  I’d never seen such large, mature ginkgo trees.  The ones I’ve seen in the parking strips of Seattle streets are spindly in comparison.  A label on a tree near Gramercy Park identified these ginkgos as “Maidenhair” trees.  I guess the cascading leaves do put me in mind of curly locks and tresses of fairy tale maidens.

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It was uncanny how I kept encountering ginkgo trees and leaves on this visit to NYC.  I saw ginkgo leaves carved into a pillar at the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens . . .

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. . . and a miniature, groomed ginkgo in the bonsai exhibit there.

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And then when I wandered through the “Beyond Love: The Robert Indiana Retrospective” at the Whitney Museum of American Art, I saw that he created a piece of ginkgo art:

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So it’s probably no wonder that all of these encounters inspired me to render my own watercolor sketch of some ginkgo leaves.

My watercolor sketch of gingko leaves from the trees in the East Village

My watercolor sketch of ginkgo leaves from the trees in the East Village

South fields at Storm King Art Center

South fields at Storm King Art Center

On one of my days in New York, I arranged to take an all-day bus tour to Storm King Art Center, a sculpture and land art mecca about an hour north of NYC in the Hudson Valley.  I learned about Storm King when I was researching where I could see Andy Goldsworthy’s art.  He built two walls at Storm King, which I will write about in tomorrow’s post.

As I waited for my bus to depart from the Port Authority Bus Terminal, I saw a non-stop stream of people line up and fill buses destined for an outlet mall.  The Storm King stop was a few miles beyond the outlet mall, and just three or four buses from the dozens departing would make a special stop there each day.  The bus company rep told me that after the regular passengers got on my bus, the remaining seats would be filled with shoppers.  I wondered if I was going to be the only person getting off at Storm King, because shoppers certainly trumped art aficionados from what I could see.

When the bus stopped at Storm King, I was relieved to see that five other intrepid souls got off at the remote stop.  As we headed toward the gate, the security guard emerged from the shack waving his arms and shouting, “We’re closed, we’re closed!”  Meanwhile, the bus had turned around and was departing up the road.  Now what?  A sign posted by the gate stated that the art center was open on this day of the week, as did the website.  Each of us had bought admission tickets as part of our bus tour package.  Clearly there was a mix up.  The guard called to the administration building to see what could be done.

An administrator, S, drove down to the gate to figure out some arrangements for us.  She said that we would be allowed to enter the grounds and could wander around to see the sculptures.  The good news was that we would have the place to ourselves.  (Pretty neat.)  The bad news was that the cafe and gift shop and plumbed bathrooms were closed. (There were port-a-potties).  S asked if any of us had brought food or water, and then she volunteered to provide us lunches.  We arranged to meet back at a picnic area in an hour.  She gave us her phone number in case of an emergency, and we all dispersed to encounter art in a bucolic, expansive landscape.

Our trip was salvaged, and we had four hours before the bus would arrive to take us back to the city.  Amazingly, this was not enough time to see everything.  The grounds were vast.  The art was extraordinary.  The beautiful landscape itself was as worthy as the sculptures.  It was an immensely satisfying experience.  These photos give you a sense of what Storm King has to offer:

Alexander Calder, Five Swords, 1976

Alexander Calder, Five Swords, 1976

Tal Streeter, Endless Column, 1968

Tal Streeter, Endless Column, 1968

Endless Column with Alexander Calder's Arch, 1875

Endless Column with Alexander Calder’s Arch, 1975

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Menashe Kadishman, Suspended, 1977

Menashe Kadishman, Suspended, 1977

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Zhang Huan, Three Legged Buddha, 2007

Zhang Huan, Three Legged Buddha, 2007

Grace Knowlton, Spheres, 1973/1985

Grace Knowlton, Spheres, 1973/1985

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Queen Anne's lace

Queen Anne’s lace

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Forrest Myers, Four Corners

Maya Lin, Storm King Wavefields, 2007-08

Maya Lin, Storm King Wavefields, 2007-08

Alexander Calder, The Arch, 1975 (manipulated photo)

Alexander Calder, The Arch, 1975 (manipulated photo)

Meadow grasses with Calder's Arch

Meadow grasses with Calder’s Arch

Sometimes I feel like this man in Norman Rockwell's The Connoisseur, 1962

Sometimes I feel like this man in Norman Rockwell’s The Connoisseur, 1962

“Long looking at paintings is equivalent to being dropped into a foreign city, where gradually, out of desire and despair, a few key words, then a little syntax make a clearing in the silence.  Art, all art, not just painting, is a foreign city, and we deceive ourselves when we think it familiar.”
— Jeanette Winterson, Art [Objects]:  Essays on Ecstasy and Effrontery

NYC's Museum of Modern Art (MOMA)

NYC’s Museum of Modern Art (MOMA)

One of New York City’s great attractions for me is its trove of art.  I am, however, guilty of what Winterson calls “art at a trot,” attempting to see too much in my limited time there.  One of these days, I will take up her challenge to give a single picture my full attention for one hour.  That did not happen on my inaugural visit to MOMA, where I wandered the galleries at a leisurely, but steady pace.  There was so much to see, some appealing, some intriguing, some indecipherable (to me).  At times I had to keep in mind Winterson’s observation that “it is not essential to like a thing in order to recognise its worth . . .”

I knew that MOMA allowed free admission to its outdoor sculpture garden from 9:00 – 10:15 a.m. before the museum doors opened.  So I made an early start to take advantage of this access to some sculptures by famous artists.  This whet the eye for the treasures inside.

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Matisse sculptures with shadow and chairs

Matisse sculptures with shadow and chairs

Picasso's goat

Picasso’s goat

Pencil sketch of Picasso's goat

Pencil sketch of Picasso’s goat

Room with Monet's water lily paintings

Room with Monet’s water lily paintings

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I liked this IN-EI Mendon lamp by Issey Miyake, 2012.  IN-EI means "shadow," and the lamp was constructed from a single sheet

I liked this IN-EI Mendon lamp by Issey Miyake, 2012. IN-EI means “shadow,” and the lamp was constructed from a single sheet

Family Romance by Charles Ray, 1993

Family Romance by Charles Ray, 1993

Contemplating Jackson Pollack; echoing Norman Rockwell's painting of The Connoisseur

Contemplating Jackson Pollack; echoing Norman Rockwell’s painting of The Connoisseur

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Brooklyn Botanical Garden

The Brooklyn Botanical Garden

New York’s train/subway system makes it so easy to get around.  I took the No. 2 train to the stop at the Brooklyn Museum Station, which was just a few yards from the Eastern Parkway entrance to the Brooklyn Botanical Garden.  The garden was a green oasis of quiet on a November day, such a contrast to the busy city streets.  Some trees still held on to their colorful fall foliage, and I couldn’t help but tuck away a few fallen leaves to take back to the apartment and use as models for more watercolor sketches.  I swear I am like a squirrel driven to forage before winter!  (I had to make sure I removed my stash of leaves and acorns from the apartment before I left, or my niece would have wondered if a squirrel had come in through the windows while she was away.)

The well-ordered gardens and paths, conservatories, pools, and arbors provided restful vistas for the eyes.  Lots of photo opportunities here.

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Cut-leaf beech

Cut-leaf beech

London plane tree

London plane tree

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In the Steinhardt Conservatory

In the Steinhardt Conservatory

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From the special bonsai exhibit

From the special bonsai exhibit

“When I design each individual tree, I try to communicate the spirit of that tree and, hopefully, evoke the imagery of a special, natural environment.”
–Curator of the Bonsai Exhibit, Julian Velasco

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Watercolor sketch of scarlet oak and ginkgo leaves

Watercolor sketch of scarlet oak and ginkgo leaves

Watercolor sketch of front and back of fallen leaf

Watercolor sketch of front and back of fallen leaf

Watercolor sketch of oak leaves of NYC

Watercolor sketch of oak leaves of NYC

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

NYC Vignettes: The Cloisters

November 27, 2013

Effigies in the Gothic Chapel Glass Gallery, The Cloisters

Effigies in the Gothic Chapel Glass Gallery, The Cloisters

The first time I visited NYC with my husband, we simply ran out of time before we had a chance to trek north to The Cloisters, a part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  This time one of my top priorities was to remedy that oversight.   I took the subway train to the 190th Street Station and disembarked to face a lovely 10- or 15-minute walk through the grounds, which overlook the Hudson River, to the Cloisters Museum entrance.

The Cloisters' grounds

The Cloisters’ grounds

The Cloisters Museum entrance

The Cloisters Museum entrance

The  Cloisters is a collection of medieval art and architecture.  The various cloister walks make you feel as if you were back in a medieval monastery or nunnery.  I loved the stained glass windows and their reflections, the massive and somber stone walls, the unicorn tapestries and madonna statues.

One of the pillared cloisters

One of the pillared cloisters

Langon Chapel

Langon Chapel

Stained glass reflections

Stained glass reflections

Another of the cloisters

Another of the cloisters

And as stunning as the art and architecture was, the most impressive part of my visit was a sound installation in the Fuentiduena Chapel.  This celebration of sacred music, called The Forty Part Motet by Janet Cardiff, featured the Choir of England’s Salisbury Cathedral.  Each voice was recorded separately and then played back through 40 speakers placed in a oval-shape.  The music, a blend of sounds, resounded and resonated in the small chapel.  I had first read about this special sound exhibition in Gwarlingo, a blog I follow.  The way she describes her experience listening to Cardiff’s work inspired me to make a special effort to include The Cloisters on my NYC itinerary.  That post also includes a link to the music, and I urge you to take 10 minutes or so to listen to the full cycle.  The music is the best part of today’s post, I assure you!

Janet Cardiff's The Forty Part Motet

Janet Cardiff’s The Forty Part Motet

I did manage to do a little sketching on this trip, and here is my work from The Cloisters:

Kneeling Virgin, The Cloisters

Kneeling Virgin, The Cloisters

On-site pencil sketch, The Cloisters

On-site pencil sketch, The Cloisters

Watercolor sketch of the Kneeling Virgin

Watercolor sketch of the Kneeling Virgin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New York City Impressions

November 25, 2013

Flatiron Building

Flatiron Building

No one is really a stranger to New York City.  Its iconic buildings and neighborhoods feel familiar even to visitors whose only previous experience of the city is through images in movies, magazines, and photographs.  This was just my second time in NYC, and for me it is a city of multi-level row houses, water tanks atop tall buildings, fire escapes, piles of garbage accumulating relentlessly, and of course, people.  Crowded streets and subways, yellow taxis, and blue Citibikes.  Jaywalkers. Long lines.

I spent one morning on a loop walk that took me down some streets that Frommer’s identified as “The Best Walks” in New York City.  From my niece’s apartment in the East Village, I walked south to Prince Street.  There I stopped in the original Dean and Deluca’s, wandered up Sullivan to Greenwich Village, and then strolled down West 4th Street to Gansevoort.  From there I walked the High Line to West 28th Street, then east past the flower district to Broadway.  Heading south, I passed the Flatiron Building and then walked east again to Irving Place where I had a clear view of the Chrysler Building and enjoyed the squirrels frolicking in Gramercy Park.  The walk confirmed my impressions of this great city.  Here are some photos:

East Village apartment

East Village apartment

Fire escapes

Fire escapes

Water tank atop building near Cooper Square

Water tank atop building near Cooper Square

Row houses of West 4th St in Greenwich Village

Row houses off West 4th St in Greenwich Village

Row house off West 4th St

Row house off West 4th St

One of many docking station for NY's Citibikes seen from the High Line

One of many docking stations for NY’s Citibikes seen from the High Line

More Citibikes in Chelsea

More Citibikes in Chelsea

Edward Steichen's famous photo of the Flatiron Building, 1904

Edward Steichen’s famous photo of the Flatiron Building, 1904

(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Steichen_flatiron.jpg)

My photo of the Flatiron Building, manipulated with special effects

My photo of the Flatiron Building, manipulated with special effects

Clear view of Chrysler Building from Irving Place

Clear view of Chrysler Building from Irving Place

These images seemed to repeat themselves regardless of where I walked.

Water tank amidst skyscrapers near MoMa

Water tank amidst skyscrapers near MOMA

Row houses in Brooklyn

Row houses in Brooklyn

Surprisingly, I was not discomfited by the crowds.  They made me feel safe walking by myself, as I knew there were always people nearby to help with directions or in the event of a problem.  I was alone, but never alone.  The movement of so many people around this city is impressive.

Looking into the next subway (train) car

Looking into the next subway (train) car

Grand Central Station

Grand Central Station

Reading room at the New York Public Library

Reading room at the New York Public Library

And finally, a word of thanks to Starbucks, whose ubiquitous coffee shops were always welcome beacons when I was seeking a clean bathroom or wi-fi connections.

Watercolor sketch of Starbucks' red holiday cup

Watercolor sketch of Starbucks’ red holiday cup

“No place can be real emotionally unless we’ve imagined the life there, and our imagining is not likely to be very substantive if not informed.”
— William Kittredge, Southwest Homelands

The Statue of Liberty

The Statue of Liberty

New York City architecture

New York City architecture

Flag refection in revolving doors, Times Square

Flag reflection in revolving doors, Times Square

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.”
— Mark Twain

“Travel is not altogether an indulgence.  Going out, seeking psychic and physical adventures, can reawaken love of the shifting presence of the sacred Zen ‘ten thousand things’ we find in the wiggling world.  Travel, then, is a technique for staying in touch, a wake-up call, not a diversion, but a responsibility.”
— William Kittredge, Southwest Homelands

I’m back home again after my first trip to New York City.  Now, when I read a novel set in NYC, or see a movie that takes place there, or hear news of the big city, I will have a better sense of the geography of the place and my responses will be more grounded.  I know now how walkable the city is, and that despite its size and population, NYC is manageable because it feels like a collection of small villages.

I do feel that tourist travel is an indulgence, but for me, it is a necessary one.  Any travel is mind-broadening.  And it’s good for the spirit to feast on new sights and experiences.  The challenge is to hold on to that sense of wonder and adventure as I transition back to the familiar geography of my home and workplace.

I can see that traveling on vacation is, on some levels, an escape from my “real” life.  I do partly agree with this comment:  “Looking, consuming with the eye and producing nothing, can never be a genuine life.”  (Lynne Sharon Schwartz, Not Now Voyager)  Schwartz goes on to reflect on the risk of traveling as an escape from the struggles of making a meaningful life at home:  “Nonetheless, when we’re gripped by uncertainty, travel feels like a ready solution to the problem of What next?  What to do, what to think, what to be? . . . On a trip, there’s always another monument, another excursion, another natural wonder to visit, to prove to ourselves that we’re doing something.”

My time in New York City felt like that — always another sight to see.  I couldn’t have sustained that level of sightseeing for too many more days.  After four days in the city, I felt full, and glad to return home to digest and make sense of all that filled my mind.  New York offers such richness, and I can see that it is easy to overdose.

And now it is time to learn once again how to be at home:

” . . . the world cannot be discovered by a journey of miles, no matter how long, but only by a spiritual journey, a journey of one inch, very arduous and humbling and joyful, by which we arrive a the ground at our feet and learn to be at home.”
— Wendell Berry

“Any work of architecture which does not express serenity is a mistake.”
— Luis Barragan (1902 – 1988), from The Architect Says:  Quotes, Quips and Words of Wisdom, ed. Laura S. Dushkes

St. Malachy's Actor's Chapel

St. Malachy’s Actor’s Chapel

You can find respite from the bustle of New York City in numerous places, for example, by stepping inside any of its churches and places of worship.  They were always an oasis of calm.  We checked out St. Malachy’s Actors’ Chapel while we were waiting for the lottery for Book of Mormon tickets.  The low-lit interior was a refreshing contrast to the glaringly insistent neon of Times Square, just a couple of blocks away.

Interior with angels, St. Malachy's Actors' Chapel

Interior with angels, St. Malachy’s Actors’ Chapel

Another very special retreat in Midtown Manhattan is the Chapel of the Good Shepherd at Saint Peter’s Church.  This space and its wall sculptures and furnishings were designed by sculptor Louise Nevelson.  It brought to mind the chapel Matisse designed in Vence, France — such an all-embracing work of art.  (Thank you, Linda, for the suggestion to see this.)

Chapel of the Good Shepherd

Chapel of the Good Shepherd

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Of course, wherever I travel, I know I can find a contemplative place in its libraries.

“The library is often the place where you can find the spirit of the monk:  in silence, the lustre of old woodwork, the smell of ageing paper, reading, retreat from the world, rules and authorities, tradition, volumes of wisdom, catalogues for contemplation.”
— Thomas Moore, Meditations

I loved the traditional look and quiet rooms of the Morgan Library and Museum.  I regret that we did not take the time to enjoy the Beatrix Potter exhibit there, but you can see an online version of the exhibit, which featured some of her letters with pictures, here.

The Morgan Library

The Morgan Library

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We walked from the Morgan Library to the New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue.  Even before we got there, I knew this would be a special experience because the street leading up to the front doors is called “Library Walk,” and it is lined with plaques embedded in the sidewalk that feature literary quotes.

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Plaques celebrating reading and good books

An example of a plaque with a bookish quote

An example of a plaque with a bookish quote

This library has a beautiful reading room and grand spaces.

NYPL on Fifth Avenue

NYPL on Fifth Avenue

Busy foyer

Busy foyer

Busy, but quiet, Reading Room

Busy, but quiet, Reading Room

A quiet nook at the main entrance

A quiet nook at the main entrance

“I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.”
— Jorge Luis Borges

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Manhattan: City of Bridges

February 5, 2013

“Along the iron veins that traverse the frame of our country, beat and flow the fiery pulses of its exertion, hotter and faster every hour.  All vitality is concentrated through those throbbing arteries into the central cities . . .”
— John Ruskin

Traffic on the Queensboro Bridge

Traffic on the Queensboro Bridge

I don’t know if Ruskin was referring to bridges or railroad tracks, but his images of “iron veins” and “throbbing arteries” certainly fit the bridges of Manhattan Island and their flow of traffic.

We walked across the Brooklyn Bridge and under the Manhattan Bridge, but we saw the Queensboro Bridge from the air when we rode the Roosevelt Island tram across the East River.  The tram runs parallel to the bridge.  The tram fare is covered with your Metro pass.

Roosevelt Island tram

Roosevelt Island tram

Queensboro Bridge viewed from the tram

Queensboro Bridge viewed from the tram

Brooklyn Bridge across the East River

Brooklyn Bridge across the East River

Brooklyn Bridge with Freedom Tower

Brooklyn Bridge with Freedom Tower

Manhattan Bridge (posterized photo)

Manhattan Bridge (posterized photo)

View of Manhattan Bridge from Dumbo neighborhood of Brooklyn

View of Manhattan Bridge from Dumbo neighborhood of Brooklyn

 

“We used to build temples, and museums are about as close as secular society dares to go in facing up to the idea that a good building can change your life (and a bad one ruin it).”
— Alain de Botton

Inside the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Inside the Metropolitan Museum of Art

“The facade and walls of a house, church, or palace, no matter how beautiful they may be, are only the container, the box formed by the walls; the content is the internal space.”
— Bruno Zevi, (1918 – 2000), from The Architect Says:  Quotes, Quips and Words of Wisdom, ed. Laura S. Dushkes

What I loved best about the Metropolitan Museum of Art was the mood experience of the spaces, which were majestic, spiritual, uplifting, vast.  There was such a sense of spaciousness housing the innumerable art treasures.  This seemed such a contrast to the cramped private space in my niece’s 4th floor walk-up apartment in the East Village.  Maybe New Yorkers go to museums like the Met in part to escape the close confines of their personal living situations.

We did not have any particular pieces in mind to see at the Met, but rather wandered the maze of rooms, stopping whenever something in the collection caught our hearts and eyes.  My husband actually asked if we could return a second day to this museum, which we did the morning before we departed the city.

Here are some impressions:

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(At this point in our trip, my digital SLR camera broke, so all of these images were taken on my iPad 2.)