Monthly Archives: July 2019

A 5 Compass WAM

WAM, one of 4 major art museums in arts-loving Minneapolis, is an acronym for Weisman Art Museum.  I’ve been in it twice and Ruth one time.  It’s a 1993 design by Frank Gehry who oversaw a remodel of it in 2011.  Being one of his early buildings, it’s less flamboyant than, say, his Walt Disney Concert Hall in LA.  It’s a teaching museum near downtown and across the Mississippi River from the main campus of the University of Minnesota.

Mostly brick and stainless steel, WAM can be viewed from certain vantage points on the campus and can look like a traditional brick building.  Up close, however, it’s often compared to a crumpled can and looks like more recent, unmistakable Gehry designs like his museum in Bilbao, Spain.  One of its features that’s appropriate for a museum in a city with long winters is skylights and more windows than are usual.  Gehry was one of the first architects to use software developed by aerospace technicians while designing buildings.  The only area of WAM without skylights is the Edith Carlson Gallery that specializes in light-sensitive works on paper.  They represent more than half of WAM’s total collection.  I also appreciated the Korea Foundation Gallery that contained some Korean furniture and art works.

This museum’s collection is certainly diverse!  It features early 20th century American artists like Marsden Hartley and Arthur Dove, Georgia O’Keeffe’s mentor, and more contemporary, more international art creators.  Because it’s in Minnesota, several of WAM’s art works show fish, wood, and boats on water, like Dove’s “Gale”.  Ruth was especially enchanted to see a Georgia O’Keeffe painting called “Oriental Poppies” because she had bought a poster of it many years ago without knowing its source, and it’s hanging in a hallway in her home.

WAM almost always has a temporary show.  The current one unfortunately closes on September 8, 2019.  I mention it because it reveals a little known fact about the Twin Cities.  They were important during the Civil Rights Movement, and WAM honors this fact every year.   This show shows the collection of Hudson and Ione Walker, once residents of St Paul’s Rondo neighborhood.  Rondo was founded by former slaves, became ethnically diverse, and was destroyed to make way for a new Interstate highway.  Dave Winfield, Gordon Parks, and Roy Wilkins grew up in Rondo, which was named for French Voyageur Joseph Rondeau.


Most Beautiful State Capitol?

Looking back, I’m glad our tour of the Nebraska State Capitol was only 45 minutes long and restricted to the Great Hall.  Had I seen more, I may have lost my mind.  As I left, I judged it the most impressive and perhaps most beautiful state capitol building.   After I had time to think about it, however, it shrank somewhat in significance.  Oh, it impressed me, no doubt about that, but it’s something of a mess.  Later, a man in another capitol, Wyoming’s, called it art deco.  It’s not.

Its architect, Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue, called his design classical.  It was constructed during the art deco period and the building does have some deco details, but it also has details from every period and movement before Art Deco and after it.  Bert was born in Connecticut.  When he began to study design, he doted on Gothic.  By the time he had his own firm in 1914, he was finding the Gothic style confining and was looking to Europe for something new and classical.  He believed that viewers of his designs should be inspired and enriched but not feel enclosed.  This might explain the Nebraska State Capitol’s over-the-topness.  Many consider this building the best of Goodhue’s career.

Goodhue was the winner of a design competition to build the 3rd Nebraska state capitol building.  The first was a rather ordinary looking brick building.  According to Wikipedia, the 2nd had “structural issues, especially in its foundation.”  Oops!  This led to the competition to build a third, which turned out to be unusual because it was a tower that looked rather art decoish.   One guide to this New-York-style skyscraper said that its eventual detailing came from many styles and periods–Assyrian, Egyptian, Roman, Greek and Gothic.  Indeed and Amen.

The design team included Thomas Rogers Kimball, the only true Nebraskan involved.  A Professor of Philosophy, Kimball was called this building’s thematic consultant for capitol symbolism.  He moved on from the University of Nebraska to Cripps College in Claremont, CA, where he remained until he died.

The Nebraska State Capitol building team had an official sculptor, Lee Lawrie.  One of his creations is the 19-foot sower atop its dome.  “Neither Native American nor Pioneer” according to one capitol guide, the sower is an “ancient figure representing agriculture as the source for all civilization”.   I was glad to see a few farmers among the mosaics, murals and eclectic artworks in the Great Hall.  The Roman-looking mosaics in its floor were designed by Hildreth Meiere, considered an important artist and art deco muralist.   It was no surprise to me that one of her commissions was Radio City Music Hall.

The mural below was inspired by the great Nebraska blizzard of 1888.  Our guide told us that the person emerging from the glittery snow is a teacher guided by a Native American Spirit.  See them?








Five Points and Dearfield

I first read about its Five Points Historic District in Denver’s Official Visitors Guide.  It was on the “Celebrate Diversity” page and made me aware of the Black American West Museum there.   I vowed to visit it and found a very unique attraction that celebrates the lives of 3 relatively unknown African Americans who settled in Colorado and made history.

As an adult, Paul Stewart met an African American cowboy who had led cattle drives.  Stewart was born in Iowa.  He became a cowboy who had a ranch outside Denver.  Totally engrossed in cowboy lore and dressed like a cowboy, Stewart began to search all over The West for something not in traditional history books–the story of the black cowboy.  While Stewart learned, he collected memorabilia.  His collection became the basis for this museum.  It’s displayed on the 2nd floor in a house that was moved to the Five Points neighborhood in the 1980s.  Scheduled to be bulldozed, this house was moved instead and become a community center as vivid as The Rossonian, a jazz hot spot and music club in Five Points that hosted Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, and other early greats who performed for mixed audiences.

This house once belonged to Dr. Justina L. Ford.  Ford was Denver’s only female doctor and an African American.  She was born in Illinois, came to Denver from St. Louis, and applied for a medical license.  This Colorado pioneer was refused a license until 1902 and was denied membership in the Colorado Medical Society (CMS).  This made it impossible for her to practice medicine in hospitals, so she established a medical office in her home, which is now this museum and a busy community asset that does a lot of outreach.  Until her death in 1952, Ford cured illnesses and delivered over 7,000 babies.  According to our host at the Black American West Museum, a lifelong Five Point resident who knows a lot about her subject, this volunteer was busy greeting a steady stream of visitors, including a couple from Germany, the whole time Ruth and I were there.  She told me that Dr. Justina Ford learned to speak 36 languages to provide medical care for Denver’s large immigrant community and scores of Native Americans.  Despite no CMS membership, Ford was given access to Denver Medical Hospital in the late 1930s.  A re-creation of her medical office is downstairs in this museum.

The 3rd person honored here is Oliver T. Jackson, founder of the town of Dearfield near Greeley.   He is portrayed by an actor in a 25 minute film that is available to museum visitors and is definitely worth watching.   There is also a room entirely devoted to Dearfield on the 2nd floor.  There were more than 25 Black settlements in Colorado, but Dearfield was the only incorporated one.  This farming community once had a population of 700 and 5,000 acres under cultivation.  Booker T. Washington visited.  By 1940 there were only 12 people still living in Dearfield.

One Black American West Museum handout contained 3 little known facts.  Thanks to real estate investments, some African-Americans were among The West’s earliest millionaires, a Black mine owner named Henry Parker made one of Colorado’s 1st gold discoveries, and 1 of 3 cowboys in The West were African American.


Paint Mines Interpretive Park

Almost everyone on the trails with Ruth and me wanted to chat.  The Paint Mines Interpretive Park in Colorado is that kind of place.  People consider themselves lucky to find it and really enjoy the sights as they hike around.  One girl who was visiting Colorado Springs, the closest populated area to it, was glad she came here to see some unusual geological formations in gullies.  Another hiker told us that the 2nd parking area was much closer to the colorful hoodoos and spires that both surprised and fascinated us.  This 2nd hiker was clearly tired from walking around this park’s 750 acres.  She told us that there were 8 miles of trails instead of the actual 4.  We were also told there were 2 parking areas but found a third.

Native Americans began coming to this area around 9,000 years ago to collect clay and hunt buffalo.  The pioneers who followed them used this clay to make bricks.  With this gathered material from bright colored bands of oxidized iron and selenite clay, the tribal people made war paint to decorate themselves and their horses and create pottery.   These reachable deposits are one mile south of Calhan, CO, in a free dawn to dusk park administered by the National Park Service and the El Paso County Parks Department.

Expect no amenities.  There is a busy toilet at the 1st of 3 relatively small parking areas.  That’s about it for creature comforts.  There is no visitor center, no gift shop.   The formations are fragile and the trails to them are easy but often lengthy, which delighted dedicated hikers.  Visitors are told not to bring pets into the park and not to climb on the formations, but there was no one around to prevent climbing.

This is a wide-open-spaces kind of place surrounded by mixed-grass prairie with very few trees.  I really enjoyed finding many seasonal wild flowers hidden behind the buffalo grass.  Calhan is a small town with one motel called the Calhan Inn.  As I passed it, I thought it would be the ideal spot for someone planing an early morning Paint Mines Interpretive Park hike.  It looked fine, but then when I got home and checked it out I found it rated only 2½ out of 5 circles.  Colorado Springs is only 25 miles west of Calhan.




Ruth & I did 3 industrial tours on our just completed trip.  The most fun was the SPAM Museum in Austin, MN, which opened in 2016.  SPAM has promoted its products in a museum since 1991.

George Hormel was a gambler.  He often played cards for money and lost, but his fortunes turned around when he landed in Austin and went into the meat-packing business.  He produced hams, sausages, bacon, and a son named Jay.  A World War I vet, Jay followed his father into the meat business and introduced Hormel’s most successful product, not ox joints in gravy but SPAM.  SPAM made its first appearance in 1937, and Jay served as Hormel’s President until 1954.  In 1944, more than 90% of the canned foods produced by Hormel were bought by the U. S. Government to feed to its armies in Europe and the Pacific.  Jay was a master of promotion.  When he introduced chili in a can in 1935, he sent a 20-piece Mexican song and dance troupe called the Hormel Clili Beaners around the country to play music and offer free samples of Hormel’s new canned product.

Hawaii consumes more SPAM than any other state, about 8 million cans per year.  Former President Obama, who spent a lot of his youth there, is an enthusiastic SPAM fan.  The country that eats the most SPAM is Guam.  Panama is the biggest consumer of this meat product in Latin America.  There are now 15 varieties of SPAM marketed throughout the world. We sampled 4 of them on the tour.  The Tocino variety was specifically created for the Philippines.  SPAM was introduced in China 10 years ago.  Today, 2 Chinese factories produce it and a 3rd manufactures Skippy Peanut Butter, another of Hormel’s successful products.   A new SPAM factory is in the works for this country where people praise SPAM’s “meaty, juicy satisfaction”.  SPAM is also wildly popular in South Korea, where sales of it are the 2nd largest in the world.

Stopping at this SPAM Museum taught me something about Ruth that I did not know.   During the tour, she reminisced about her father Bill, an avid fan of SPAM.  He got a taste for it while in the military and continued to eat a lot of it in civilian life.  SPAM, according to Ruth, was one of the 1st true convenience foods, and no family fishing trip commenced without it.