Category Archives: Museum

Cockrell Butterfly Center

New job has me traveling. And, oh no, I exceeded the WordPress limit on photos! $100 a year for a “premium” plan? I don’t think so. Good thing there is Flickr and now I’ve figured out to make them work together – mostly.

With younger niece coming to visit this summer, I’ve been on the lookout for things a teenage girl might want to do. She’s very active in music so we have some music-based events, like her first time to see Wicked. She’s also into vegetarian cooking and making desserts, so we’ll be off for tour of Houston’s largest farmers market followed by a chef-led cook-then-eat with whatever we buy at the market.

But what else?

Whilst walking about Hermann park during  Japan Festival I made note of this place, the Cockrell Butterfly Center. Its attached to the Houston Museum of Natural Science, which I’ve been to loads of times, but the Butterfly Center just never appealed. Until now. I did a recon visit and I’m glad about that.

Upper floors are more of museum and introduction to butterfly biology; interesting exhibits which probably appeal to the teen and younger crowd. At the end of the “museum” you exit into the butterfly habitat which is loosely a 3-story glass terrarium filled with hundreds of butterflies. Surreal and otherworldly, definitely you feel as though you’ve left the greater Houston area for some serene storybook setting. The giant orange lizard baking under a heat lamp seemed a big lumpy contrast to the other inhabitants.

Check yourself on exiting for stowaways looking to break out.

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Sculpted In Steel

Another month of work interruption but things seem to be returning to somewhat normal.

I did have a chance to sneak away from my computer to see Sculpted In Steel, one of the newer exhibits at Houston’s Museum of Fine Arts. I loved these cars and motorcycles all from the Deco Era, late 1920’s through early 1940’s. Sleek linearity and symmetry of the Deco style were a countermanding force to the ornate detail and asymmetry of the previous style, Art Nouveau. Its a shame Deco fell out of favor at the start of WW2 but at least its quite well preserved here, that is until 30 May when it moves on to another location.

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Miami | Vizcaya

Nope, we don’t have any relatives living in Miami but it turned out to be a convenient place for a makeshift family gathering and given it was winter, much warmer.

Miami reminds me of Las Vegas in the late 90’s; perpetually busy and shiny with high rise condo construction rocketing forward on every corner. If you happen to be in Miami and are looking to escape the maze of impassable streets and a density of cranes blotting out the sun, you’re in luck. A mile or so south in Coconut Grove, there is Vizcaya Museum. Museum might be a strong word, its really the villa and grounds formerly belonging to the Deering family. Despite current renovation of the villa, this is still an extraordinary 2-3 hour stop. You’ll need at least that long to traverse the “Gardens”, which cover 50 bay-side acres and seem similar to gardens I’ve seen in Florence, Italy.

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Mandala

I walk through the Museum District daily. The first year I watched the banners for coming attractions and was at some exhibit every weekend. After a time though they started to fade into the background as the novelty wore off and the day to day details took over. Friends visiting from out of town started to be my source of exhibit information.

But last week I happened to look up at the Asia Society banner and noticed Tibetan Monks from the Drepung Loseling Monastery were coming to Houston to create a mandala live. A must see and definitely noted.

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I don’t know much about Tibetan sand art other than that it typically takes weeks and weeks of effort laying down one grain of sand at a time. And that it is, symbolically, healing and repairing for the surroundings; I suppose it more depends on whether you subscribe to Buddhism or Hinduism. I saw an already assembled mandala once in California. There I watched the closing destruction ceremony which seemed much more important to the monks and the onlookers than the art itself. In the destruction ceremony they removed, in a very specific order, all of the components of the mandala, placed the sand in a jar, wrapped it cloth, then deposited the lot into the Pacific Ocean.

The act was meant to symbolize the ephemeral nature of life. Those kooky monks, they really get it.

Locally I watched the construction. Its fascinating to see if only for the patience these men have to load the sand tubes (chakpur) with one colored sand, scrape the side so the sand comes out almost one grain at a time into an intricate pattern. Then they unload the tube, load up another color then the process repeats until done. Luckily there were 5-6 monks working otherwise it would have taken weeks.

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San Antonio | Picasso Tapestries

Before you ask, no, I don’t have any photos of the tapestries but I did take a few shots of the Museum and grounds. The museum police were quite specific about the photography rules for this exhibit. Even when tried a stealthy phone shot I got the no-no finger wave.

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What’s happened at the San Antonio Museum of Art is amazing. Nelson Rockefeller loved both the modern style of Picasso’s paintings and the more medieval tradition of woven tapestry. Rockefeller commissioned 18 Picasso works including Harlequin, Girl with Mandolin and Three Dancers to be created as tapestries. Picasso himself worked with a French textile artist, Madame Jacqueline de la Baume Dϋrrbach, who wove each tapestry by hand.

A small photograph of the original Picasso is displayed along side each tapestry , the likeness is uncanny. Working with paint and brush is one thing, there is room for fluidity, ad-libbing brush strokes and even circling back when things aren’t quite what you want. But working with wool on a loom seems more restrictive. Also some of the pieces were 10 foot spans which had to be loomed separately then assembled. I tried to find some seam or other tell tale sign that the final product had been pieced together but not a trace.

Most of these pieces are usually hanging in the Rockefeller’s Hudson River Valley estate , Kykuit, and have never been shown to the public. You might wonder how they came be be displayed in San Antonio; a valid question. Nelson Rockefeller was an avid collector of Latin American Art and his estate donated art and resources to create San Antonio’s 30,000 square foot Latin America Art Collection. It is entirely appropriate for a city having 60% of its population with origins in Latin America. This set up a good working relationship between the museum and the Rockefeller estate which, according the the museum, is why the exhibit is hosted in San Antonio.

In any case, if you want to see the collection, visit San Antonio before the pieces go back to Kykuit on 8 March. The Museum grounds are interesting too, make sure to pop around back to see some stone arches from the 1930’s.

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Las Vegas | Mob Museum

Since Zappos CEO landed in downtown Las Vegas, anchoring his business headquarters and home there, its seems the young and trendy are following his lead. I never saw downtown Las Vegas in its previous heyday but I do remember the time when it fell out of favour with conventional tourists and was a haven for the biker set. The bikers are still there but the many multi-million dollar renovations of old hotels, rapid expansion of east Fremont St. with quirky art shoppes and restaurants, tells me they have company now. Juxtaposition of bikers, hipsters, retirees and adventurous suburbanites is making downtown a melting pot. And  very interesting.

The Strip may still be a destination but it is no longer the only destination in Las Vegas.

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I stayed at The Grand (previously Lady Luck) and the Mob Museum’s massive  facade highlighted in purple light definitely caught my eye from the glass catwalk between towers.

Its not an homage to the likes of Gotti and Capone, rather its a detailed and fascinating chronicle of the battle between the law enforcement and organized crime in Las Vegas from the early days, as the gambling industry formed, up to present day. While the focus is on the history of that battle, interspersed are some interesting stories about Las Vegas’s past; Howard Hughes, Atomic testing, Hoover Dam and more. There are small bio’s of the 100 ‘most wanted’ including their origins and ultimate fates.

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Its ironic and somewhat poetic that the museum is hosted inside the building where the feds prosecuted the mafia. Even more ironic is that one exhibit seats you in the wooden seats of the actual courtroom where cases were tried and you watch footage from those cases on three panels behind the judge’s podium. You might not have been alive when those cases went down, but now there’s a way to experience them.

Mob-8-LRESSpread across three floors, most exhibits are equal parts text and video display. Some are more interactive, like the machine gun ‘tester’, which seems to attract college boys like a magnet. The displays are decently spaced and often compartmentalized in separate alcoves to minimize congestion.

You can easily spend 2-3 hours here if you interested in the history and you like to read, otherwise about 1- 1.5 hours should be fine. Fair warning,  this museum is insanely popular and crowds here intensify significantly in the afternoon, causing cloggage at the more interactive displays and making navigation problematic. Best to go as early or as late as possible.

 

 

 

Savannah | Pin Point

Savannah, Georgia may not seem like a tourist destination; its small, its southern, its not a high visibility destination in tourist rags. However, since I’ve been traveling there to see family for several decades, I can tell you there is quite a bit to see if you like history, architecture and art. There is also a quirky version of ‘down-home’ cooking, locally referred to as ‘low-country’.

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This trip I made a point of stopping at the Pin Point Museum after many years of driving right past it with the ‘next time’ thought. Glad about that. Pin Point is a small, active fishing community on your way out of Savannah, over the inter-coastal waterway to Skidaway Island.  Its one of several Gullah communities left in the southeast. The Gullah are a community of African Americans descendent from slaves mostly from Sierra Leone. If you’re looking to relate that to something more current and visible, Judge Clarence Thomas is from the Pin Point community. By the way, Thomas’ Pin Point nickname is ‘Boy’. Apparently if you call him by his nickname he will know you’ve been to Pin Point. I’m not going to do that but let me know how that goes should you give it try.

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The museum is operated by the Gullah still  living in Pin Point. Its located in the original buildings they used to process their fishing hauls. They know everything there is to know about the community and they are extremely enthusiastic and animated in conversation, so the highlight here is to interact with them and ask questions. Besides the interaction, the tour (including a short video) is interesting since its gives you insight into the customs and language (Geeche) of the Gullah people. I found their spiritual beliefs fascinating, much of which seemed to me, derived from animists.

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You’ll need about an hour for the lot and definitely GPS your way there; the turnoff is not very well-marked and comes out of nowhere. Its a long drive to the next turnabout should you miss it, not that I know personally. Nope.