Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Hopper Tales


I love art museums. Sometimes the art that I see inspires me to write. Here are some stories that were inspired by three paintings created by Edward Hopper that I found at Yale Art Gallery.  

Inspired by Sunlight in a Cafeteria

She loved her table. In a corner by the window, she had lunch here every day. At noon, the sun came in at the perfect angle, and it kept her warm all winter long.

It was a place to escape. She could sit, without being cat-called by construction workers. She was away from the men in the office, who could be too free with there words and their hands. No papers to file or letters to type. Just tume to sit and think.

She thought about her dad, who was living back in Indiana. He was alone on the farm since her mother died last year. He wrote a letter every week, “checking in.” But the subtext was always “when are you moving back home?” He couldn’t accept that the city was now her home. A place where she could be herself, and be by herself. Nobody was in her business, unless she invited them in. He couldn’t accept that she was not going to leave. So every day she came to the cafeteria, sat in her seat and enjoyed the sun and her freedom.

He saw here every day. He loved watching her, lost in her thoughts, enjoying the sun. Where was she from? She didn’t carry herself like someone born in the city. She looked outward, and didn’t seem guarded at all.

At 12:45, like clockwork, she arrived. She always orders the special, and then had a coffee. She watched people passing on the street, but never looked at him. The cafeteria had been an escape for him. Somewhere he could spend his time thinking about his world. Since she started coming, all he could think about was her. Now what could he do?


Inspired by Western Motel

It was a long ride. Driving from Chicago to Los Angeles, back in the days before the Interstate. We took Route 66, you know, like that song by Nat King Cole. But really, that song was a lot more interesting than the actual drive. And much shorter.

The thing is, it was hot. I mean, once you got past Oklahoma, it was all desert, so it was HOT! Mom piled us into the car, three kids and no father. She put a couple of buckets of ice on the floor of the back seat and wrapped them blankets. Eating the ice kept us cool, and as it melted we had water to drink. One less thing to buy as we drove.

We trekked across the deserts of the southwest, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona. Finally we got to the California line. One last night in a motel, one last day in the hot, hot car. Then we would finally arrive in LA, well Pasadena, okay. All I could think about was hitting that beach. I had a lot to learn.


Inspired by Rooms for Tourists

They had never been more than twenty miles away from town, well not since they got marries. He had served in the army after the war ended, but that is a different tale. The point is, they had never been tourists.

When he retired, she was surprised by his plan. “We have this huge house, and no children to visit us,” he said. “We have never wanted to see the world, but I would love to meet it at my front door.” He carried his share of the burden. He got up early to get the breakfast pastries, and did the shopping for dinner. She cleaned the rooms, but he washed the linens.

Together, they invited the world into their home. True, it was mostly people from the city. They came to get back to nature, especially in the fall, when the leaves were changing. They were nice enough. Always polite. Curious about country life, but often condescending to the people who lived in a small town. They acted as if their hosts were “less then.” More importantly, these visitors rarely brought anything interesting to the table. Nothing new to share over breakfast.
About once every month or so, the world would open up to them. Sometimes it was France at their doorstep. Then he would search out croissants for breakfast, and they would get stories about Paris, or vineyards, or Arles. If England showed up she would call the butcher and ask for “whole bacon” for breakfast. Their guests would spend breakfast telling them tales of The Tube, Stonehenge, or Jane Austin’s house. Italians, Germans, even the occasional Japanese, all visited, and they brought the world with them.

Their breakfast table took them further than their wallets ever could. And every night they left the light on. “You never know who might be driving by, looking for a place to spend lay their head.”

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

PEZ Visitors Center

Small quirky museums and roadside attractions are some of my favorite places to visit. Yes, The Met and the Louvre have the big-name art pieces, but I love stopping to see the ways that ordinary people have devised to entertain themselves and each other. Driving back to New York from New Haven gave me the chance to explore such a place.

Everyone remembers PEZ candy and their wonderful dispensers. What you might not know is that they are manufactured in the town of Orange CT, just west of New Haven. They are still producing those little pills and keeping their selection of characters up to date.

Early Pez Dispensers

PEZ were first manufactured and sold in Austria by Eduard Haas III, and the HAAS family still controls 67% of the company today. The name PEZ came from the word PfeffErminZ, German for peppermint, which was the original flavor. The mints were sold in tins, similar to the way Altoids are today. In the 1930’s the HAAS company began to sell dispensers that were similar in size and shape to cigarette lighters. In 1955 HAAS started selling new dispensers with the head of cartoon characters on top, and a collectable fad was started. Santa Claus and Mickey Mouse have been among the first available, and they are the best-selling characters of all time. Since the 1950’s over 1500 different characters have been produced and sold, and they remain up to date, with the newest offereings from Star Wars and Marvel, including the new Captain Marvel.     

Wall of PEZ

The first character PEZ dispensers

Baseball Dispensers

Cartoon Dispensers

Thanos and Captain Marvel
The PEZ Visitor Center is located at its Orange CT factory. The walls are lined with all things PEZ. In the lobby you are greeted with a wall displaying one copy of every PEZ dispenser ever created. As you walk through the center you will find a collection that takes you through the history of the candy. In one case are the many iterations of the Santa Claus dispensers, in another all of the Disney princesses. Keep looking and you will find every Batman, Joker and Catwoman. You will even find a fully working PEZ motorcycle created by the guys at Orange County Choppers, known for their custom bikes and Discovery TV show. You can also take some time to look in one the factory floor, and on some days even have the opportunity to make some candies yourself.

Factory Floor

PEZ Girl Costume

PEZ vending machines

So, stop by the PEZ Visitors Center. It is a trip down memory lane. Find your favorite classic dispenser, and maybe a new one for you to take home.

Admission (price includes a $2 credit in the gift shop):
Adults $5
Children and seniors $4

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Yale University is home to two excellent museums

Most major universities have art galleries. Yale has two, The Yale Art Gallery and the Yale Center for British Art. Together, they present an amazing collection of work and are worth a trip to New Haven. Best of all, they are free.

The Yale Art Gallery is the oldest university art museum in the Americas. It was founded in 1832 when John Trumbull, an artist and soldier in the Revolutionary War, gave 100 of his paintings to Yale college. He also designed the gallery that was built to house his donation. That building was torn down in 1901. It was replaced by Street Hall, a building that opened in 1861 at the corner of High Street and Chapel Street, as the Yale School of the Arts. In 1928 the gallery expanded into what was called the Yale Gallery of Fine Arts (today the Old Yale Art Gallery Building) across High Street from Street Hall. Finally the Louis Kahn Building was opened in 1953 on the north side of Old Gallery. Today these three buildings together house the collection.
High Street Bridge
The Yale Art Gallery has an encyclopedic collection of work from around the world. It includes pieces from Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Americas. To me, the most interesting part of the collection is its collection of paintings from the impressionist, modern and contemporary eras. This includes some wonderful pieces by Picasso, Van Gogh, Hopper and Stella. There are also some great contemporary pieces by African-American artists such as Kerry James Marshall.
Javanese axe heads and figure

Kenyan shields

Drinnen und Draussen by Geroge Grosz

Untitled by Kerry James Marshall

Niagara Falls by Joachim Ferdinand Richardt

The Ballet Rehursal by Edgar degas

The Night Cafe by Vincent Van Gogh

On the other side of Chapel Street is the Add captionYale Center for British Art. This is the largest collection of British art work outside of the United Kingdom. It was established in 1966 by Paul Mellon, grandson of Thomas Mellon, founder the Mellon Bank in Pittsburgh. The Center was started with a gift of works, along with the fund to build a home for the collection and an endowment to finance operations. Today it houses around 2000 paintings and 200 sculptures along with several thousand drawings and prints.
I suggest beginning your visit on the 4th floor of the Center. Here you will start with earliest works of the collection, dating back to the 1650’s. As you walk through the galleries on this floor, you will observe the changes in styles of British and European art over next three centuries. Portraits of royalty,  landscapes, conversation pieces are given a prominent position along with works showing scenes and characters from Shakespeare’s plays, the bible, and British history. Don’t miss the “Long Gallery” where works are presented as they were in art museums for much of the 19th and 20th centuries. As you move down to the 3rd and 2nd floors you will find many modern and contemporary works.
The Long Gallery

The Dancing Girl by Tillie Kettle

Landlord and Tenant by George John Pinwell

Mrs. Pincus reflected in Her Majesty

Together these two museums present a wonderful trip through the history of art. Their collections are both extensive and of a high quality. They are a great reason to come and visit New Haven.

Harkness Tower

Livonia Court

Phelps Gate

New Haven notes:
Theses two museums are on Chapel Street, between York and High streets. This is the edge of Yale’s “Old Campus” You can take a walk through along the streets and quads and take in some of the buildings that have served the university for the past 150+ years. There are a lot of eating options nearby. I recommend the Atticus Bookstore CafĂ©, where you can get great salads and baked goods, and pick up something to read while you wait for your table.

One word of warning, parking in this area is hard to come by. I suggest using one of the large garages four blocks away, along Martin Luther King Jr Boulevard. They are reasonably priced (by NYC standards) and have a high turnover, so there are usually open spots, even if you get there mid-morning.