A Quick Art Exhibit Road Trip and an Incredible Gift

January 18, 2013

DevonNoCollar4905Left: Devon, a ceramic squirrel I purchased in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Let's start with the "boring" stuff. 

I drove about 4.5 hours (actually I was riding shot gun so it wasn't strenuous on my part at all) so that I could go to a Target in Cedar Rapids, Iowa on pre-Christmas Eve Eve, i.e., the eve before the eve when most stores close early, but since it was the eve before the eve everyone was interested in selling stuff.

I didn't come up with a plan to do this. But it was all actually my fault. Weeks earlier I asked my friend Linda if she would like to drive down to Cedar Rapids (hereafter simply CR) and see the Alphonse Mucha exhibit with me. We both are a little bit Czech, and we both are a whole lot interested in printing, graphics, and line.

Linda is a wonderful travel companion for a host of reasons (some to be explored here) but also because she likes to do all the driving. All I have to do is sit and chat, in fact, before we left her dad asked her if she wanted to take some books on tape for the drive and she told him, "I've got Roz."

I love Linda, she gets me.

So there we were, driving south towards CR, the snow from the previous week's snow storm had been shoveled away (or drifted away) and the roads were mostly clear (some patches of ice. (We did see a lot of abandoned jack-knifed trucks in the ditches and that's never fun.)


Left: The jar of questions Linda had prepared for our trip—each scoll of paper is another question.

We made great time, we zoomed along taking in the scenery. After a couple of hours Linda said something like, "I think now would be a good time for you to check out your jar of questions." She directed me to open the glovebox and there was a bottle filled with little scrolls on which she'd written questions. I laughed and laughed and started unrolling the questions. One was about how my brother was doing (working too much), another asked specifics about projects past and future. (I'd give you more details but the jar was inadvertently left in Linda's glovebox when I unpacked at the end of the trip—I'm getting it back tomorrow; I want to put the questions in my journal.)

We also stopped for lunch at a Culvers where I had a really tasty chicken sandwich. (Just saying.) I didn't have any ice cream though, I'm rather particular about ice cream.

Our destination wasn't the Mucha exhibit. Linda, who researches everything, had learned that there was a Marvin Cone exhibit at the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art. They were open on Sunday (which this was) and the Mucha exhibit was open on Christmas Eve Day (i.e., Monday, the next day) so we would see each in rapid fire, but with plenty of viewing time and rested eyes.

I'm sorry to say I knew nothing about Marvin Cone before this trip. Oh sure, someone may have mentioned him in passing as a friend of Grant Wood, and I may have seen a painting or two—but nothing stuck.

Well this exhibit stuck. If you would like to see more images than were in the exhibit the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art has put up a collection of Marvin Cone images. (I love the image of the little girl reading that comes up on the first row of the first page of the gallery. It was a gem to behold in person.)

The museum also allows you to take photos so I snapped a couple photos to remind myself, and to augment images I might be able to buy in the giftshop on postcards. Linda came over to me and told me to turn off the sound on my camera. While photos were allowed you could hear the bing throughout all 7 galleries. Since the camera is relatively new I didn't have a clue how to do this so she took it and pushed some buttons and instant silence. Now friends are always complaining that they can't hear me take photos—but I love it. Stealth.

The museum closed early and we went off to find our hotel and our destination for the next day. We ended up driving through a flat part of town near the river, where there had obviously been a flood (a couple years ago I think). We went through a neighborhood called NewBo (New Bohemia). I was to learn in one of the tourist magazines why there were so many Czech immigrants in the area—they came to fill positions in an industry that the town was known for, but sadly I don't recall. All I know is that industry morphed into telecommunications or radio stuff and then into something else and now it turns out there is an avionics industry in CR. There are also some really cool factories that have been reclaimed and turned into lofts. (This city girls loves industrial lofts.)

Neither one of us was hungry (OK Culvers also has good french fries) so we continued our explorations. We ended up in an area that was supposed to be a "mall." There was one, but there were also satellite strip malls all around it. Think of the area around the Galleria and South Dale only more industrial.

We tried a number of local stores but finally decided that we would go check into our hotel. After settling in and asking about places to eat (no good answers) we decided we'd return to the Super Target we passed and buy meats and bread and fruit. So off we went.

Of course Linda and I can't go into a Target without looking at "other things." She has some interesting stationery to show me. I was attracted by the bright sparklies of the ornaments section. We found some very cool ornaments with LEDs inside that made them glow. I bought a snowflake that changes color, for my friend Diane (who has THE Tree).


Right: Linda made a collar for Devon.

I also found Devon, the squirrel pictured at the opening of this post. Ten dollars of fun. At first I thought it would be fun to decorate him with graffiti. Then I realized he'd make a great model for working with value transitions.

That evening we ate our improvised smorgasbord and watched a little TV. We didn't have any show listings so we ended up calling Linda's fiancé on iPhone speaker phone to tell us what was on the "national" stations.

Linda also worked on her holiday bracelets. (I got two of them and they are very spiffy indeed. They are the same as Devon's collar, only bigger.) During the commercial breaks we chatted.

We had a wonderful view of a refining plant miles away. I actually did a sketch of it (but haven't scanned it).

The next morning it was off to the Czech bakery to snap up a bunch of goodies and then on to the National Czech and Slovak Museum and Library for the Mucha exhibit.

If you have not seen Mucha posters in life you have never seen a Mucha poster. I had only seen his work reduced in books, reproduced without much care for color. While the exhibit included drawings (oh what a hand with the dip pen), gouache paintings (yummy lessons in painting with gouache waiting to be deconstructed); oil paintings, cartoons for stain glassed windows, and photos, it was the posters that took my breath away.

First they are huge—about 10 feet tall. The people in them, since most of them have Sarah Bernhardt and she was short, are almost life size. But what you can't see well in small reproductions is that much of the ink used to print the posters is metallic.

So there I was leaping from side to side like a hop-scotch pro with a tic, looking at them from every angle. Linda of course walked away, "I'm going to go start at the other end," she said. (I think I love Linda a little more than she loves me.)

On the fourth or fifth jump I almost fell over because that's when the DUH moment hit me. Imagine these posters under the glass frames beneath a marquee, on a gaslit street—or streets lit with Yablochkov candles!

These posters must have glowed. And the printing was exquisite. We spent some time looking through the exhibit, and then went through again together, stopping to savor our favorites. Everything about the exhibit was great, except we both were disappointed in the lighting, which can only be labeled as less than usefully dim.

I've always loved Mucha for his effortless line. Now I love his work for his color sense as well.

I'm glad Linda was driving, because frankly after that experience I couldn't have driven. 

We swung by Grant Wood's "studio" which is the carriage house or some other sort of out building to a rather large mansion in an industrial part of town. (The mansion is for sale, FYI—but it needs a lot of refurbishment. It's on the historic buildings list.) We couldn't go into the studio because it is open only in the summer.

But it's just as well, by then all desire to move to CR and live in one of those lofts had evaporated. There was an overwhelming odor of stale beer and something very bitter, with a bit of something urine-esque thrown in for good measure: the offshoot of some process in the cereal plant or something. (Thank you weather gods for intervening in my dreams of relocation and kicking up a prevailing wind to save me.)

On the drive home Linda was after me to read more of my questions. After about 2 I got one that asked, "Are you ready to unwrap your present now?"


Left: Christmas gift to me from Linda. An antique Faber-Castell tin which enclosed a pencil sharpened by the author of the book she also gave me, and the certificate.

Yep, Linda, she's a planner.

I wanted to wait, but she was insistent.

Imagine my surprise when I opened two conjoined wrappings and discovered a book on sharpening pencils and a professionally sharpened pencil.

Linda's sister had sent her an article on David Rees and Linda had asked if he would sharpen a pencil she sent him. Since he said yes she sent one of my favorite pencils to him. (She didn't know he'd be sending a certificate and only said it was for her friend, so the certificate actually reads "for Linda's Friend." I love it!)

What you don't see until the second photo is that he also sent back the shavings!

Pencilwithshavings4895Left: the expertly sharpened pencil (which I can tell you will never be used) and the shavings from the sharpening process, all neatly and officially labeled.

This is what planning looks like folks. Linda found that pencil tin ages ago on a trip to Duluth. She wrote to this guy, got his book, etc. all to be ready in December.

Linda does amazing stuff like this all the time. I'm awed by her ability to do this. 

What she will probably never fully grasp is that I really needed to get away and that was enough of a gift of friendship. But she just oozes creativity and if you stand next to her long enough some is going to get on you.

And did I mention she always does all the driving?!

We got back to her parents in time for prime rib dinner and a ton of fun conversation with her parents' other guests.

Linda had bought plum pudding to be heated up (found in St. Paul at an "everything is Irish" store). I whipped up some icing concoction that we'd researched on the internet—which Linda had to taste in the final stages because I don't do Bourbon or rum, or whatever it was we put in it. We also brought back a heap of tiny Czech cookies and small cakes. There would have been more macaroons, but…what can I say, just that they were built on a layer of dark chocolate.

Art can fill your mind with wonder, your heart with inspiration. Friendship can having you laughing as you search for an elusive holiday earring in a mega store not unlike the ones you left 5 hours away—where you live.

I'm grateful I have both art and friendship in my life—oh, and that Linda doesn't mind when I read the roadsigns aloud as we buzz past them.

  1. Reply

    I loved this Roz! I am from a town 60 miles south of CR- Washington,IA- my brother lives in CR! What a great story- thanks.

    • Heather
    • January 18, 2013

    You mentioned the Mucha exhibit last weekend too and it’s had me thinking I really need to return to Prague and re-visit the Mucha Museum. I loved it, but cluelessly. I’d like to go back with a more focused eye…

  2. Reply

    Heather, don’t go back too soon, as this exhibit, much of which probably comes from there, is traveling for sometime to other places before pieces go back. Before you go we’ll get out the books I bought with the images and I’ll draw little diagrams for you to look at when you see them (cause you can’t see the cool stuff in reproduction).

  3. Reply

    It is very spiffy!

  4. Reply

    Terry, I’m glad you liked it. Did you get down to CR for the two exhibits? I know you’ve had a lot going on.

    So what causes that smell in CR????? Which facility is it? Years ago Linda and I went to Green Bay on our way to Door Cty. Weird smell when we stayed overnight which I put down to the hotel since we literally just pulled up went in and then left the next morning.

    But the return trip we drove through during the day and stopped to see a museum and there it was again, the overpowering smell of a gas station restroom (that someone has tried to keep clean and doused with chemicals). We realized it was the soap factory there—so Green Bay is out too!

    • Carolyn
    • January 18, 2013

    What an excellent road trip! And wonderful Linda! I can’t think of anything I wouldn’t like about it all. (Well, except for the smell you mentioned to Terry…I’ve never been to CR but I once lived in GB, and when the wind was right the smell from the paper plants was ghastly. Charmin, especially. Scented TP or kitty litter now make me gag.) I haven’t seen a Mucha in real life, just in books, and Marvin Cone is new to me, but love hearing about them, and the Czech and Slovak museum and macaroons.

    Oh, and that pencil, custom-sharpened to sharpness 8! What a beautiful point, and edge between wood & paint! The box, the book… I can’t find the words! Sweet subjects though for a painting or a journal sketch.

  5. Reply

    Thanks Carolyn. I hope some day you get to see some Mucha up close and personal, ditto on the Marvin Cone, though check out the link to the gallery of his work the museum has put up because you can click on the images and blow them up and it’s kind of fun.

    Scented TP and kitty litter, yep, all in there. EEEK. Always visit a town multiple times and weathers to see what the smells are I say.

    I won’t be sketching any of LInda’s gift for me. For items like that that I wan’t an “exact record of I prefer to take a photo and put them in my journal with a long journal entry (written). I don’t think that my sketching would ever do them justice.

    I think that’s the best use of my time in that situation. But perhaps part of that is that I want to move on and get to the next dog.

    Thanks for writing.

    • Amber Wallin
    • January 18, 2013

    Oh Roz, I’m so happy you had a chance to catch the Mucha exhibit! You hit on ALL the things that struck me as well when my best friend and I road tripped down to CR just to see it: the sheer size, the color, the metallic inks, oh my! And that was just the lithos!

    I saw it in August and having loved Mucha for so long I was immediately inspired to get his poster of “Dance” as a tattoo! (My first, just so you know I’m not prone to getting tattoos after every show I visit).

    • Amber Wallin
    • January 18, 2013

    Oh, I forgot to mention: after the show my friend and I visited Czech Town (it’s down the street from the Czech Museum) and had tasty kolaches!

  6. Reply

    I was told that’s the Quaker Oats plant there. No I didn’t make it to those places- was down there in October but that was all family stuff. Stay warm!

  7. Reply

    Amber I’m glad to hear you had a great trip to CR too for Mucha! Mucha is perfect for tattoos! (But I am glad you don’t get a tattoo after every show, though that would be interesting and would a journal of sorts come to think of it!)

    I bought a couple of Mucha books while I was there to read more about him—because I didn’t read much of the signage as I was saving my eyes for the art. Though the bit about being held by the Gestapo at the end of his life did catch my attention and I found that very sad.

    I bought one book just because it had a “proper” reproduction of Medea with the lines reading as navy instead of black. I was simultaneously stunned and delighted to see the navy lines in person.

  8. Reply

    Yes, that’s the bakery we went to, which had the yummy macaroons. Did you go in the basement? There was an odd jumble of stuff for sale, used books and racks and racks of beautifully sewn doll clothing which “fits most 18 inch dolls.” I don’t have an 18 inch doll but the clothes were so well sewn I had to buy a track suit with lovely patterned plush for a jacket. I resisted the shiny, sparkly disco dresses. I thought about getting some of the old baking trays but have nowhere to put them—then on the way home 200 miles away realized I could have hung them on the wall—just as well. I hope to go back and explore more.

  9. Reply

    Terry, someone said that to me too, but also thought Purina was down there. Quaker Oats would explain ALL the smells!

    Trying to stay warm. Caught a cold from my in-laws that came on strong on Thursday and it’s slowing me down. I am croaking like a frog, but I’m going to go ride inside and warm up my core temp!

  10. Reply

    I am burning with envy right now! I had to stop reading the rest of the post after skipping to the Mucha related parts, just to say that. I loooove Mucha.

    The Dallas Museum of Art just had a Posters of Paris exhibit with 4 Mucha posters and they were AMAZING. I can’t imagine an entire Mucha exhibit!

  11. Reply

    Skulleigh, I don’t want to rub it in, but WOW. Not only were there lots of posters, but there was packaging for soaps and gouache studies and man o man it was just too beautiful. Watch out for the exhibit because it is going to travel and it might get close enough to you to justify going to see it!

  12. Reply

    Oh, I hope it does come somewhere near me! I’ll have to go google its itinerary.

    I love seeing studies and sketches from artists like that – it always makes me feel better about my own art to see those little mistakes and things they changed their minds about.

    There was a study at the Posters of Paris exhibit for one of the Bernhardt posters, and I think it was almost my favorite item because of that!

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