Monthly Archives: September 2017

No Blurring at TAM

Art Historian Natasha Schlesinger advises travelers to limit the number of galleries they visit.   She warns that more than TEN in one day will lead to blurring.  I’m blurred after one but do believe that important art galleries should be included in travel itineraries.  One gallery in the Northwest that I really like is TAM, the Tacoma Art Museum, and USA Today agrees with me.  It has called it one of the top places to see art in the  United States’ smaller cities.

TAM is expanding thanks to Rebecca Benaroya.  Becky and her husband Jack amassed a fine collection of art glass, paintings and sculptures during their 70-year marriage, and she has given it to TAM along with funds to help build a new gallery to show it.  TAM has already had a since-closed preview that included about 60 of the pieces.  The Benaroya gift includes 225 works, and the new gallery will open in the fall of 2018 if all goes well.

In the meantime, stop in if you’re in Tacoma because already opened and staying until January 7, 2018, is an excellent show Ruth & I saw in Houston a couple of days before the exciting 2017 Superbowl.  “Two Centuries of American Still-Life Painting” sounds kind of dull but isn’t.  I didn’t blur one time.

Also check out the rooms devoted to TAM’s permanent collection.  Founded almost 80 years ago, TAM has grown to 4,500 works; 3,000 of them are by Northwest artists like Dale Chihuly.  Always on view in TAM is the largest collection of his art glass on continuous display in any museum.  I also like TAM’s western, Native American, and regular American art that is relatively permanent.  I also like the fine view of Mount Rainier from a few of its windows on a clear day.


A Foxy Fur Trade Museum

There are two 5 Compass museums in the western United States devoted to the fur trade, the 1st fortune-creating business in North America with a huge St. Louis connection and generator of America’s 1st multi-millionaire.  One museum is in Pinedale, Wyoming, the Museum of the Mountain Man.  The other, the Museum of the Fur Trade, is in Chadron, Nebraska.  The Wyoming museum is excellent but the Nebraska one is far more comprehensive and, well, exhausting.  It’s the kind of attraction, like Walt Disney World, that one leaves feeling frustrated that he or she didn’t see enough.

The Museum of the Mountain Man’s strength is its focus on the first men who explored The West.  I say men because Ruth isn’t here right now and I’ve never heard of a Mountain Woman who was engaged in the fur trade.  These rough guys are the early explorers who are celebrated in the Academy Award winning movie The Revenant.    The Museum of the Fur Trade is far more comprehensive because it attempts to tell the entire tale of the development of the fur trade in North America.  I was not surprised to learn that a historian/author named Jim Hanson is using its research library to craft a 6 volume encyclopedia of the fur trade.  He’s half way through this project.  Hanson has also written a book called When Skins Were Money that has been adapted into a film.  We saw it before exploring The Museum of the Fur Trade.

Another difference between these 2 museums is that modern Mountain Man sits atop a hill overlooking Pinedale while Fur Trade is 3 miles east of Chadron.  It’s outside the town because it’s on the site of the Bordeaux Trading Post.  This trading house was built in 1837 by a Missourian named James Bordeaux, who ran it for the Sioux successfully while marrying 2 Sioux sisters.  He finally moved on to Fort Laramie.

He was not, however, America’s first multi-millionaire.  The fur trade king was John Jacob Astor who established the American Fur Company and looks pretty self-satisfied in his portrait below.  It does not surprise me that Astoria, Oregon, exists but it does surprise me that neither man has been the subject of a big movie.   The Revenant, Part 2?

The Museum of the Fur Trade’s logo is a clever fox in a circle.  It was invented as an inspector’s mark on guns made exclusively for the Native American trade.  Indian customers knew to look for the fox on the lock and the barrel to know that the gun had quality.  This museum contains room after room of weapons, costumes, beads, feathers, etc.  I liked the masks, especially the Cherokee Rattlesnake one.  Ruth doted on the historic textiles and blankets, and she often came to get me to see her favorites.

If you think that Canada, Russia, the Arctic, etc. have been left out of the story of the fur trade, head for Chadron and be astounded.





Smaller Tacoma Pleasures

For now, the best restaurant in Tacoma is Wild Fin American Grill.  It’s in the new and very popular condo, entertainment, and shopping area off of Ruston Way at 5115 Grand Loop.  There’s a free parking garage practically across the street from it.  Wild Fin has 2 other locations in the Seattle area.  Both are southeast of Lake Washington in the satellite communities of Renton and Issaquah.  Don’t go without a reservation.

The Grand Cinema is not as grand is its name but a community supported, non-cineplex movie theater that offers less-than-superhero films, a classic film series, sing-alongs, etc.

Don’s Ruston Market is a classic soda fountain that has survived its era.  The Olson family ran it for 3 generations beginning in 1906, but now Don and Beth Torbet are in charge.  It’s fun to stop there on your way to Point Defiance Park, which is near.  Ruth always gets an old-fashioned chocolate soda.  It’s on the corner of North 51st and Winnifred.

It’s not hard to find Dale Chihuly glass creations in Tacoma, especially when you’re downtown. Ask about their Chihuly Glass Walking Tour at TAM (Tacoma Art Museum) if you’re a fan.  The tour has 19 stops at 5 locations.  Tacoma has a Bridge of Glass, a Museum of Glass, etc.

The elegant Hotel Murano on Broadway not too far from the theater district is the best place to stay in Tacoma but not the only choice.  There are La Quintas, Holiday Inn Expresses, etc.  Many who like to combine leisure time with gambling stay at the 2-part Emerald Queen Hotel & Casino.

The Karpeles Manuscript Library at 407 South G Street can be interesting but it’s hours are limited and parking can be difficult.  Run by a dedicated couple, it was closed the last time we tried to visit.    It’s across from Wright Park and dedicated to the letters and documents of great human beings who have shaped history and been influential during their lifetimes.

War Memorial Park is a small gem not found by most visitors.  We tracked it down the last time we were in Tacoma because it has good views of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge.  The USS Tacoma ran aground and broke up near Veracruz, Mexico, in 1924.  Its bell was saved and is in this narrow park.

It’s fun to take the ferry over to Vashon but its a largely residential island and, unlike Bainbridge, there’s not much for tourists to do except drive around and admire its, for now, quiet lifestyle.

Fort Nisqually calls itself a living history museum and it is.  Built in 1833, Nisqually was the 1st settlement on Puget Sound because of the fur trade, which came to the Northwest long before wagon trains and European-American settlers.

Typical of the Northwest, you’ll see lots of beautiful flowers in Tacoma.

Because of its nickname, The Biggest Little City in the World, some compare Tacoma to Reno.  Reno has its charms, but there’s more to do in Tacoma.


ps  I’m sad to report that Don’s Ruston Market mentioned above has closed.  If anyone knows where to get an old-fashioned ice cream soda in the Tacoma area, please let me know.



Surprising Tacoma

Tacoma used to be a place I passed on I-5 while going to Seattle, but then my brother Jim moved there.  Over time I have come to like this rough diamond of a city and think of it as a place with several 5 Compass attractions in and around it as are many smaller lures some of which are in the “guilty pleasure” category and fun to repeat.   There are also five attractive-sounding attractions I’ve yet to see.  Five years ago I wouldn’t have said about Tacoma “I plan to go back” but I do now.

The #1 thing that makes Tacoma terrific is its closeness to Mount Rainier National Park.  The highest peak in the Cascades at 14,410 feet, Mount Rainier is seen from many vantage points in this city.  I can be on it in a little over an hour when I’m in Tacoma since its only about 40 miles away.  By the way, I’ve blogged about all of these Top Tacoma enticements except for TAM and Vashon Island over the years.

#2 for me would have to be Point Defiance.  In my experience, the only urban park that compares to it is Stanley in Vancouver, BC.  Stanley is a bit more that 1,000 acres; Defiance is 760.  Both have roads through old growth Northwest forests, stunning water views, public beaches, big bridge views, and aquariums.  But Point Defiance has a stellar historical museum, Fort Nisqually, where the past comes alive.   I can hop on a ferry to Vashon Island from Point Defiance Park too.

LeMay, America’s Car Museum, is 5-years-old in 2017.  There are regularly 300 cars on view here.  Many were owned by a man who once had the largest vehicle collection in the world, more than 3,000 of them according to Guinness.  Next to the Tacoma Dome, which can be seen from I-5, LeMay is one of those attractions that scream “once is not enough!”

As Carmel is to Monterey, Gig Harbor, an affluent, picturesque fishing village, is to Tacoma.  The latter is, by comparison, a far more working class, blue collar kind of town.

TAM, Tacoma Art Museum, is the kind of attraction that you would usually find in a much larger city.   It was recently given the Benaroya collection and is building a more-than 7,000-square-feet facility to show it.  Dale Chihuly, America’s premier glass creator, was born in Tacoma and his works are all over this town.

Ruston Way used to be an environmental nightmare (ever heard of ASARCO’S copper smelter?) but it’s now this city’s new and burgeoning evening entertainment magnet.

More about the Tacoma Narrows Bridge later (ever heard of “Galloping Gertie?).

Most state museums are in capital cities, but Washington’s is in Tacoma, not Olympia. And it’s especially fine.

An outstanding Bonsai collection is just up the road from Tacoma near the town of Federal Way as is wonderful, expensive, traffic-choked Seattle.  Tacoma is hilly like San Francisco and alive with theaters like LA but, for now it’s still far easier to get around in because it’s only home to about 211,000 people.

One of the places I want to return to see is a high school called Stadium.  A French chateau that was originally meant to be a hotel, Stadium has been a movie set (10 Things I Hate About You).   About 20 movies have been filmed in Tacoma.






Talented Herbert Bayer

Travel often becomes an opportunity to learn about people who were important during their lifetimes but are now relatively unknown.  Everyone alive probably still recognizes these names:  Mark Twain, Cosimo de’ Medici, and Leonardo da Vinci.  Their celebrity didn’t die when they did.  But what about Mari Sandoz, Bradford Brinton and Herbert Bayer?  During their lifetimes they were important.  Mari became a celebrated writer, Bradford was a business tycoon and collector, and Herbert became a legendary  Renaissance Man, but most people today, like me, would ask “Who?” if their names came up.  I learned about each of them for the first time on our summer trip, and all deserve not to be forgotten.

Herbert Bayer was born in Austria in 1900.   He moved to Germany as a young man and became an architect when he was accepted at the still-influential Bauhaus school.  Because he also mastered graphic design, advertising, photography, etc. he became an art director for Vogue Magazine in Berlin, designed a brochure for the 1936 Olympic games, and came to the attention of Adolph Hitler.  The Bauhaus, which judged function to be more important than appearance, had gone out of business in 1933.   Bayer’s work was eventually declared degenerate by Hitler, so he moved to Italy and then New York to work in advertising.  He met Walter Paepcke, who became his de’ Medici, there and a life-long association began.  Paepcke and his wife had discovered a decaying mining town in Colorado named Aspen and were trying to save it.  Bayer moved to Aspen in 1945.  Apparently good at everything but self-promotion, Bayer was free to experiment with Paepcke’s backing and began re-doing the town.  He became a pioneer of landscape design, oversaw the construction of buildings, helped establish the Aspen Institute by creating the master plan for its campus, restored the Wheeler Opera House, and designed annual posters to promote the new skiing industry.  That’s his Marble Garden above.  He wanted people to be immersed in nature, which was easy to accomplish in Aspen, and he often applied the principles he learned at the Bauhaus in his designs.  He moved to California where he continued to work, especially for ARCO, and he died there at age 85.  By then he was the last living member of the Bauhaus School.

I learned all about Bayer and saw many of his designs because Ruth & I took a one-hour walking tour of the Aspen campus sponsored by the Aspen Institute.   It was called “The Legacy of Herbert Bayer”.  Later we saw an exhibit of his ski posters in Paepcke Auditorium.  The walk included the works of other artists like John Robinson.  I like his triangle inside triangles “Intuition” sculpture.

Once you take this tour you clearly see how Herbert Bayer’s talent  influenced the development of both Aspen and its Institute.