Thursday, December 29, 2011

National Museum of the American Indian

One of the main draws for me when John and I decided to visit Washington, DC last October was the chance to visit the newest Smithsonian Museum on the Mall, the National Museum of the American Indian, opened in 2004.
How appropriate that the landscaping surrounding the curving, sand-coloured, building, should include a planting of the "Three Sisters" -- corn, beans and squash. These are the basics of Native American diet and horticulture. The beans grow up the corn, the broad-leafed squash discourages weeds, and they compliment each other nutritionally.
George Gustav Heye collected most of the material that now comprises the permanent collection. Display of the artworks and artifacts has been directed by inspired input from the American First Nations people. Who can help but be amazed by the design skills of the Plains Indians on display above.
John loved this gorgeous Buffalo drum
and this Painted Rawhide storage envelope.
Besides displays of Native American history and culture before the arrival of the White Man, the museum displays artifacts that inspired the greed of Europe. For instance, It was Aztec gold like the display above that  led the Spanish conquistadors to subjugate the original inhabitants of South America. 
The fascinating permanent exhibits include displays of the lives of Native People in the Modern world, like this funky Metis ice-fishing vehicle from Northern Saskatchewan.
We love the work of contemporary First Nations artists who make traditional objects out of  modern manufactured utensils. Here we see an Inuit mask, Tunghak Inua, by Lawrence Beck, a Seattle, Washington artist with Native Alaskan blood. Love the spatulas and steamer! Reminds us of Canada's Brian Jungen.
When we were about to leave the museum, I was approached by museum staff for an survey of visitor opinions about the collection and my opinions of plans for an upcoming temporary exhibition of Hawaiian Native culture. It was easy to be enthusiastic.
Just as we were about to leave this spectacular building and collection, John and I noticed a visitor being photographed in a prism of light and decided that we wanted to have our portraits taken in the magical puddle.
The National Museum of the American Indian will bring out the Shaman in you!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Freer Gallery of Art

We are going to try to finish posting our visit to Washington, D.C. last October before 2011 ends. And so here we are at the Italian Renaissance-style structure that houses the Asian and American Art collection of railroad car manufacturer, Charles Lang Freer which opened in 1923 as part of the Smithsonian Collection.
The galleries surround the courtyard. Here John is examining John Singer Sargent's gorgeous painting, Breakfast in the Loggia, 1910.
Of course, John zooms in for a detail of Sargent's light-filled image.
Mr. Freer was a big fan of the work of James Abbot McNeil Whistler. We loved this watercolour, Resting in Bed, 1883.
So loosely painted and yet evocative of a quiet, private moment with a good book.
One can imagine how much Mr. Freer, an ardent collector of Asian art, enjoyed Whistler's Caprice in Purple and Gold: The Golden Screen, 1889.
So lovely in its gilt frame.
Freer collected Chinese, Japanese and South Asian art. I loved this ink drawing, Flowers, Insects and Bamboo, painted in the 16th century by Huang Quan (Ming dynasty). Such details and colour!
John loves this detail with its fabulous demons from the Indian illumination An Emperor Visits the Poet Tusidas (circa 1710). 
And this wonderful spread from a manuscript from Iran, The Qazi of Hamadan in a Drunken State (ca. 1645).
We both loved this tranquil sculpture of a Seated Buddha,
and this 10th century Indian figure of Queen Sembiyan as the goddess Parvati.
I love the composition of John's photo of the dancing Child Saint Sambandar. The Indian boy-saint was sculpted in bronze in the 12th century. Yes, that's me in the background.
Let's finish our visit to the Freer Gallery with one of its most famous treasures, The Peacock Room. This dining room was originally designed and painted by Whistler for London shipping magnate, F.R. Leyland, but was later bought by Mr Freer and added to his collection. I hope you can see why the Freer is one of our favourite Washington galleries.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas with Reta

When John and I arrived at my mother's home in St.Catharines last Monday for our traditional Christmas visit we found the dining room table festively arranged for three.
Our Christmas visit with Reta is always a highpoint of the Season for John and I. When John tucked his red napkin into his blue shirt and Reta remarked how well the combo worked, I suggest that they pose together. Definitely my two all-time favourite people.
Reta always has a lovely, light lunch ready for our arrival. We started with a toast to the Season and to the New Year.
Lunch started with minestrone soup and was followed by grilled cheese sandwiches and a dessert of blueberries, raspberries and bananas on frozen yogurt. Perfect!
After lunch we settled into exchanging gifts. Reta had a great time unwrapping her bag of little Christmas treats.
Afterwards we relaxed with wine and snacks while we watched Mike Mills' delightful movie, Beginners. It perfectly suited our mood. That's Mélanie Laurent, Ewan McGregor's romantic interest on the screen.
Later we took Reta out for our Christmas dinner at our favourite, local, Italian restaurant. John caught this snap of a small but ardent guard-dog on Rodman Street when we walked Reta back to her home.
To top off our great visit with the divine Reta, John caught this delightful Seasonal display on George Street as we walked to the bus station to return to Toronto.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Corcoran Gallery of Art

Let's return to Washington, DC to visit another great museum. The Corcoran is a privately funded museum of art with some great European pieces like the 18th century panelled room, the Salon Doré (1714), above, but specializes in American artists.
John and I loved John Singer Sargent's portrait of Marie Buloz Pailleron (1879) in a room of American impressionists.
I caught a napping guard near Albert Bierstadt's Last of the Buffalo (1888) in the 19th century American rooms.
John unflinchingly faces a band of lilliputian cowpokes riding into town in Frederick Remington's 1903 bronze, Off the Range.
I caught a sporty young visitor reading the label for George Bellows' Forty-two Kids (1907).
The same visitor looked like he would fit right in on board the sailboat in Edward Hopper's Groundswell (1926) in the 20th century American rooms.
I loved this lovely, young docent checking her cell phone in the upper American galleries. That's local artist, Gene Davis' Black Popcorn (1965) to her left.
We've seen some great examples of Abstract Expressionist, Joan Mitchell's work in Washington. John is absorbing one of her largest canvases, Salut Tom (1979), painted at her residence outside Paris, France.
We weren't allowed to photograph the special exhibition of contemporary Black artists, 30 Americans, on the second floor but I did get this shot of the double-atrium of the Beaux-Arts building. That's the Muse Café at the bottom.
In fact, the museum cafeteria is where we headed next. We highly recommend it!
John caught this portrait of the charming receptionist for the Muse Café. The restaurant specializes in fresh, sustainable, local produce and a menu designed by chef, Todd Gray. We chose the soup and sandwich combo.
John added a local brew and I had local, hot cider.
John takes great food shots. This is our Curried Cauliflower soup
and this was our Wild Card sandwich of local veggies paired with local cheese. Don't miss the Muse Café! It's a special way to end a visit to the Corcoran.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Nancy's Christmas Tree-Trimming

Welcome to Nancy's Christmas tree-trimming party on Queen's Quay! Have a Poinsettia -- her signature cocktail. Delightfully dangerous!
Nancy has a sensational collection of vintage Christmas Tree ornaments.
This is her fourth annual tree-trimming party. It is a high point of Bill and my year.
 We love decorating her tree!
 Christmas tree ornaments are so photogenic!
Rebecca brought some napkins that said, "Be Naughty -- Save Santa a Trip!"
I downed a delicious Poinsettia. Then I stuck to beer. You know where you are with a beer.
Stephen asked me if I knew where he could get a Rockabilly haircut. "I'm ready to leave the sixties." I advised a visit the Crow's Nest Barber Shop in Kensington Market. He said, "I was just reading about them."
I mentioned the pan of the new P.D James Pemberley murder mystery that I'd read in the Globe that morning. Nancy said, "Wait a minute -- the Star loved it. They said it didn't last long enough."
"The Globe said Mr. Darcey came off as thick as a plank."
She said, "I don't care. I know I'm going to enjoy it!"
Is it my imagination or are the guests subtly circling in on the last deviled egg? Thanks again for a great Christmas get-together, Nancy!