gooollysandra

Thoughts on thoughts and images of beautiful things

“A Museum for Everyone”

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The Williams College Museum of Art (WCMA) recently got a new director and she has a spot in the Williams College Magazine to introduce herself to the college and alumni. Reading about her art journey was interesting to me because one might assume that the director of an art museum would have art flowing through her veins since before she was born while still in the womb. But not so for Pamela Franks, which is actually inspiring because it means that one can find an interest in and a passion for art at any age and stage of one’s life. Franks discovered art in college by taking an art history class on a whim.

“The joy of prolonged observation, of seeing ever more detail over time and becoming fluent in the visual language of art, was transformative. Knowing that someone, somewhere, made these remarkable objects felt like a direct connection across time and place.”

I have grown up around art ever since I can remember because both of my parents are art historians, and while I love art now, this was not always true. Growing up around something doesn’t necessarily constitute an affinity for it. I definitely went through a period of time when I was so sick of being dragged to art museums as a kid. But now I greatly appreciate the exposure my parents facilitated towards art appreciation.

Franks is setting forth to make her new museum a place for learning and engagement not only for Williams students, but for anyone who walks through the door that might have a similar eye-opening experience she had in college when she took that art history class on a whim. We never know what we might discover that could change the course of our lives.

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“Great Wide Open” – Brennan Kilbane

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I went to Williamstown, MA a couple weeks ago (one of my favorite places on earth). On my way there, during the 14 hour Amtrak train ride, I was flipping through Allure magazine and came across an article by Brennan Kilbane entitled “Great Wide Open” about the great outdoors and how we should be spending more time out in it. How fitting considering I was on my way to the beautiful Berkshires. I love being surrounded by inspiring landscape and I feel happiest when there is space to breathe around me, rather than crowded by a city. There’s definitely something therapeutic about the freedom to listen to the birds, smell the manure (call me crazy, I don’t care!), and look up at the sky and admire the stars.

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Kilbane brings to light the staggering statistic that more than half of us spend less than five hours a week outside. He points out the incongruity between how drawn we are to natural products and the aura of the outdoors, and the effort we make to actually spend time outside, which is very little. Research shows that being outside is good for us in every way, from our skin to our brain and our emotional well-being. I guess this explains why I love the Berkshires so much. So let’s get outside!

“If the Great Outdoors had a LinkedIn account, it would be highly connected (happy to introduce you to the most epic sunsets and hiking trails), it would get ringing endorsements from the world’s top scientists (lifts mood! lowers cortisol!), and its stunning profile would be viewed my millions.” – Brennan Kilbane 

Mind-Body Connection

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I’ve never given much thought to the mind-body connection, but after watching the Heal documentary on Netflix, I feel a sense of rebirth; kind of like in I Feel Pretty or Isn’t It Romantic when Renee (Amy Schumer) and Natalie (Rebel Wilson) wake up with a completely changed outlook on their bodies and their beauty, and have a newfound confidence. After watching this documentary I’m thinking and feeling differently about my health, which is particularly empowering because I have a chronic, progressive disease. When you have such a thing it seems like giving in to the fear of the unknown and how it might play out in the future is an instinctual reaction, something I have definitely been struggling with over the past year and a half since I was diagnosed. Thinking about the mind-body connection and how our mental state can have a direct effect (positive or negative) on our physical state is mind-blowing and eye opening to me. Not that I have been feeling depressed or hopeless, but I have definitely been giving in to my disease. This documentary has taught me to take charge of my health and mind and body, and that I can make a positive impact on my body by nurturing my mind. I can’t say that I believe every vignette in the documentary, but I highly recommend it if this topic interests you.

 

Feelings reign supreme

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I am 90% guided by my feelings (let’s be real, more like 100%). When trying to evaluate something and make a decision about it I do weigh the pros and cons and at least try to think about it rationally, but ultimately it is the feeling part of me more than the thought part of me that guides my decisions and paths in life. I think this is because I am swayed by the feeling that something, anything, evokes in me and I attach a lot of significance to that feeling.

I was thinking about this the other night while in an Uber ride in Chicago. As I zipped through different neighborhoods I thought about the feeling that each one of those neighborhoods elicits in me and why that matters so much to me. As I’ve spent the past year trying to find an apartment in Chicago I’ve cared a lot about its placement within a neighborhood; because there are some neighborhoods that I really like the feeling of, and others that just don’t speak to me, and even give me an uneasy feeling (having nothing to do with safety or lack thereof)…just an uneasy feeling of not belonging, or a feeling opposite of home. But the neighborhoods that I do like, and feel at home in, I really like. What explains the affinity that I feel towards some neighborhoods and not others? I’m sure familiarity has something to do with it, and memories associated with that place. And the inexplicable feeling of home and being in just the right place at just the right time 🙂

Sharon Van Etten // Thalia Hall, Feb. 14, 2019

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I went to my first solo concert on Valentine’s Day, and never again will I question going to a concert by myself! I was worried I would feel awkward or stared at, but it was actually quite nice and there were definitely other people there by themselves too. Apparently going to concerts by yourself is a thing?? I saw Sharon Van Etten at Thalia Hall in Pilsen, and she was just a babe. She came out in a red velvet jumper/pant suit thing and it really worked for her.

She played a mix of her older soulful, folk-y stuff, and newer more upbeat rock jams. It’s hard to choose a favorite, but her new one, “Seventeen”, was great. I was also happy to see “Jupiter 4”, “Every Time the Sun Comes Up”, “One Day”, and “Your Shadow”.

Charleston, SC

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On our recent trip to Savannah, GA, we also went to Charleston, SC for a couple days. Initially I was equally excited to see both Charleston and Savannah, but I loved Savannah so much that I was sad to leave it to go to Charleston. So I think that alone clouded my impression of Charleston a bit because I compared it to Savannah rather than approaching it with an open mind.The first thing we did there was walk down King Street, which was perhaps not the best introduction because it felt very commercial and touristy. Our hotel was also not in the best location and it was a bit of a hike to the older more historic part of the city.

Drayton Hall

On our way into Charleston we stopped at Drayton Hall located along the Ashley River. We had an excellent tour guide who was well-versed in researched plantation history, and it was interesting to see it more of a raw shape than other houses we visited on our trip, which have been more heavily restored. The goal at Drayton Hall is geared towards preservation rather than restoration; that is, preserving it the way it was found, not restoring it to a certain historical time period. The grounds at Drayton Hall are beautiful and littered with big old oak trees, one of my favorite things about the south. We walked down to the river and tried to imagine what it was for the Draytons to take in that view everyday when they lived there in the 1700’s. Oddly enough there is an armadillo problem there and they had traps set out around the house. I have never seen an armadillo and I certainly wasn’t eager to see one in the wild while we were there! Apparently they try to burrow into the house at night. We wanted to go to Magnolia Plantation, which is nearby, but didn’t have enough time.

Calhoun Mansion 

In Charleston we saw several house museums, as we did in Savannah. First up was Calhoun Mansion, which is featured in the movie adaption of Nicholas Sparks‘s The Notebook. It serves as Allie’s parents’ home. It is now a private residence after having been condemned and heavily restored, and it’s filled with exotic antiques from all over the world. The owner of the house lives on the top floor and can apparently be seen walking around town with his two whippets (I think?). Our tour guide was very knowledgeable and poised, and after the tour we found out that she’s a only college student! Very impressive.

Walking around all the narrow streets lined with gorgeous houses in the historic district along Battery Park was everything I pictured Charleston to be. And seeing them decorated for the holidays was magical. My mom and I definitely got some inspiration for decorating our house for Christmas since my parents live in an older Georgian style home. Along our walks we saw a flock of guinea fowl waltzing down someone’s driveway (beautiful birds by the way), a couple in a horse-drawn carriage who had just gotten engaged, and beautiful historic house after historic house. We did go past Rainbow Row, but it was different than I had pictured it. It’s a somewhat congested area, and obviously very touristy, but for some reason I thought it was closer to the water.

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View from Battery Park 

Rainbow Row

Nathaniel Russell House

We also toured the Nathaniel Russell House, which was perhaps my favorite, the Aiken-Rhett House, and the Edmondston-Alston House (another favorite). The Nathaniel Russell House has a beautiful staircase and music room, and once again, our tour guide was extremely knowledgeable. She spoke in depth about the restoration of the master bedroom, down to the colors, drapery, and bedding. The Aiken-Rhett House is a self-guided tour, which was informative and it was kind of nice to go through the house at your own pace, but I prefer having a tour guide who can interject little anecdotes here and there. This one really highlights the slave quarters, which was definitely hard to swallow. It is also preserved rather than restored, so it felt a bit like walking through a ruin, which was a cool experience. The Edmondston-Alston House is right on the water and has a beautiful  multi-level side porch, which is a very common architectural feature in Charleston. Our tour guide at this one was a very sweet woman who is a transplant to Charleston from the northeast. Not a bad way to spend your retirement…

Aiken-Rhett House

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Edmondston-Alston House

Finding a place to eat dinner that wasn’t $50 for an entree and a two hour wait was a challenge. Apparently the holidays are one of the busiest times for Charleston in terms of tourism, and places were expensive and booked. We did have the best meal of the whole trip in Charleston though, at a place called Tradd’s on Bay Street. It offers a modern American cuisine and I had an amazing gnocchi dish with lobster as my entree. We also got a liver pate to start with and ended with some kind of interesting fruity pastry dessert. The atmosphere felt southern and bougie and I loved it.

Tradd’s

Of course we walked through the City Market in search of sweetgrass baskets, a tradition that has been passed down through generations. There are so many artisans selling their sweetgrass creations and they’re all very sweet. You get to watch them as they weave the baskets, and it’s hard to choose who to buy from! My parents bought a basket and I bought a floral cross (I am not religious but it was so cute I couldn’t resist). It’s also signed by the artisan. There were kids selling sweetgrass flowers on the street, and we bought some of those. Sweet sweet kids. One thing that struck me about Charleston was how foggy it was! It was dramatic at night and we saw several ghost tours around the city around 10 PM one night.

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City Market

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We also spent a morning in Beaufort, SC, which is a super cute little historic town. The waterfront area downtown has a nice walkway with oyster shells embedded in the sidewalk! I was so taken aback because it was the first time I had seen something like that. There are also oyster shells stacked up against the seawall, which was a cool sight. There are some restaurants and cafes along this walkway as well. We ate lunch outside in January! Definitely a first for me…We walked around a neighborhood that had a lot of cute bungalows and we walked through a church cemetery where a mass had just gotten out. It was nice to see locals leaving church. It seems like a tight-knit community. We also walked through a military cemetery that had beautiful uniform grey tombstones with crosses and they were each decked with a wreath for the holidays.

Beaufort 

After Beaufort we went to Hilton Head, SC and we drove for what felt like forever to get to the coast to see the ocean. I pictured Hilton Head as a small quaint island, but it’s actually very suburban and exclusive with gated communities. We definitely weren’t crazy about it, but it was worth the drive once we got to see the ocean. It is spectacular! And it just goes on as far as you can see. Standing on a beach looking out onto the ocean in January was also a first for me…and something I would definitely like to repeat.

Hilton Head 

Savannah by night

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Throughout our trip I struggled with wanting to take pictures with my digital SLR camera, but not wanting to carry it around with me all the time, and not wanting to give up the convenience of my phone, which takes pretty good pictures. Somehow pictures are just more easily organized on my phone, especially with the GPS capability that labels where the pictures were taken.

The night we got back to Savannah after going to Charleston for a couple days we took a walk around Savannah’s squares at dusk, which was so pleasant and relaxing. I took this opportunity to get my big camera out and I got a few good shots. I’m definitely missing Savannah’s warmth and charm right about now as I look out my window at a snowstorm in chilly Chicago.

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Savannah, GA

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I went to Savannah, GA on a family trip for the holidays this year and I absolutely loved it. I’m really beginning to like the south, at least what I’ve seen of it. It seems that every time I go there I like it more and more. Savannah felt historic and charming, and touristy, but not too touristy. The beautiful squares are quiet retreats amid the touristy spots. The weather in late December/early January was amazing, but I think it was unseasonably warm. It was 70s during the day and 50s-60s at night. I will say it was definitely humid and my hair was big the entire time we were there. It never adjusted. It was 77 degrees in Savannah on the day we left and 27 degrees when we landed in Chicago, which felt absolutely devastating. Seeing the planes get de-iced at O’Hare was not the sight I wanted to come home to after a lovely warm vacation.

We did a lot of house museums while we were there, eight in six days! Not all in Savannah, also some in Charleston, SC. My family loves our art and history. I love hearing about the families who built these mansions and the lives they lived in them, not to mention just getting to look at the stunning architecture. Hearing about the slave history was definitely tough though. We did, of course, go to the Mercer Williams House, the setting of John Berendt‘s Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, and we stood in the dining room where the murder took place.

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Mercer Williams House 

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Statue represented on the cover of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, now at the Telfair Academy 

We also went to Owens-Thomas House, Andrew Low House, Telfair Academy, and the Jepson Center. The Jepson Center, designed by Moshe Safdie, is a beautifully light and airy space, inspiring for looking at art. They had a very nice exhibition on Monet to Matisse and an interesting exhibition on Savannah artist Bertha Husband.

Jepson Center

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Andrew Low House 

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Owens-Thomas House

Telfair Academy 

River Street feels a bit touristy, but there are definitely good restaurants to be found there, like Huey’s and Olympia Cafe. We heard Vic’s on the River is supposed to be really good, but we couldn’t get it. And we celebrated New Year’s Eve at Boar’s Head.

Cathedral of John the Baptist 

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City Market 

The city market is a cute area if you’re looking for a place to grab a drink and sit outside and just enjoy your surroundings. SCAD‘s presence around town is sprinkled all over, and they have a cool shop where they sell things made by their students. You can find great gifts there or a souvenir for yourself to remember your trip!

The squares were my favorite part of Savannah. I can just picture walking my dog through the squares if I lived there, and reading a book on a bench while taking in the warmth and greenery. It was amazing to see so much greenery and even flowers in December/January!

Walking down Oglethorpe Avenue I felt like I was in New Orleans. The big old oak trees create a canopy over the street, as they do over the squares too, and the architecture lining the street is just magnificent. The median in the middle makes it feel like the most important street in town. The sense of history and southern pride is definitely well-preserved and you can feel it all around you. The architecture is a mix of Federalist, Italianate, and Neoclassical.

Gucci Director, Alessandro Michele, on creating ourselves

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“It’s like a laboratory, you know?” he says. “Your life can be like a laboratory. In the past, the idea of being human was what the earth and nature gave to you.” That’s not so anymore. He calls this era “post-human”, explaining that “you can really manipulate everything. It’s pretty scary, but it’s also pretty interesting. You can lead different lives. You can decide to be different things.” 

I’ve always been drawn to the existential idea that our lives are what we make of them and that it’s up to us to define ourselves. I think this point brought up by Gucci Director Alessandro Michele in The New York Times Style Magazine is a poignant testament of how true this is particularly in our day and age. It has never been easier to create and recreate ourselves with ever-changing fashion trends, the re-emergence of old fashion trends, the urge to be individuals, the ability to present a curated version of ourselves on social media and present a different side of ourselves over and over again through these social media outlets. I think there is something interesting and exciting about this prospect, but it’s definitely also unnerving because not only does it make it hard for others to know who we really are, we can become completely unaware of who we are as well. It can even allow one to not truly be anything because it’s so easy to be a multitude of things.

Design vs. Art

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I subscribe to Chicago Gallery News, and since I am a lover of both art and design, this interview with Helen Maria Nugent peaked my interest. Nugent teaches architecture and design at SAIC (School of the Art Institute Chicago), so she is well equipped to discuss this topic. The distinction she makes between art and design in that design is directed towards a purpose and a function for an end user, and art holds more of an aesthetic value not necessarily intended for a purpose, is spot on.

We are constantly talking about this. One of the ways I think design is different from art is that designers are typically thinking about how their work will fit into the life of another person; most design work is not complete until it has a life beyond the designer. Even if the work is self-initiated, the goal is often for it to be able to function in the world. It’s not that artists don’t think that way too, but it’s not as common.

The design of objects also plays into the way that we define ourselves. We look to collect objects that are both of functional value to us, but also aesthetically pleasing and in some way particular to us that help us define our persona to present to the world.

Objects play a big part in how people want to be seen—they express themselves through objects, like with clothing. When looking for objects or furniture, many people now demand that the design meet their functional needs, but they also want it to have aesthetic appeal, be smart, and be made of good materials…