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Archive for August 11th, 2004

Day 2 in Chicago

Wednesday, August 11th, 2004

On Tuesday, Sara and I decided to take advantage of the free museum day in Chicago. The Art Institute and a few other places have free admisison on Tuesdays (Regina told me about that, too).

We got up too late to have the bagels offered by the hostel… I got a cup of tea at Standees deli (the place with the cool sign) and ate some food I brought with me, Sara waited until we got to downtown.

Once downtown, we went to Starbucks and she got a Strawberries and Cream (whatever that is) for a sort of unconventional breakfast while I connected to the internet and downloaded my email. I’m so spoiled… in Lansing we can use the internet for free at Beaners, but at Starbucks the wireless connection is provided by a second business and therefore I had to pay $6 for up to an hour. It was worth it to not fall behind too much on my business of selling yarn, but I just am used to the small-city price of nothing that we pay here in Lansing. One more reason to love Beaners!!!

Actually, we went to three Starbucks before we found one that had an internet connection. It was much more hassle to do this than I expected… but it was better than no connection at all.

After the geeky delay, we went to the Art Institute of Chicago and spent some time. The gardens outside the Institute are almost as beautiful as some of the things inside. Here are two photos, one of Sara in the garden just to the north of the building, and one of several planter/containers on the northwest corner. Notice that the closest container to the camera has swiss chard (it’s a vegetable like spinach only much larger) as the main plant in the center of the pot. There were edible plants in many of the plantings I saw throughout the city.

I love the architectural exhibit at the Institute, which specifically talks about the architecture of Chicago and its architects. I love Louis Sullivan, who was very instrumental in many buildings during the rebuilding of Chicago after the big fire. I particularly love the Carson, Pirie Scott building (this is a retail store which still exists). This building has a lot of metal ornament/gratings, but even though it is metal, it is plantlike and organic in its shapes. Another big name of course, is Frank Lloyd Wright, who lived in the Chicago area for a lot of his life.

After we checked out the architecture area, we went to the contemporary area which has, among other things, a huge Mao Tse Tung portrait by Andy Warhol. There were many things there, by many different artists, and some really “got to us” where some did not reach us at all. This is as it should be, and I loved it.

Then Sara decided she wanted to see the Thorne Miniature Rooms. I had never heard of this, although I’ve been in the building many times. On the lower level in the back of the building, there is a large exhibit of period-accurate miniature rooms on a scale of one inch to one foot. These were magnificent. Each room peeked out both left and right as well as in the back. There might be a living room with a hall to the right that had a staircase, and in the back a bedroom and on the left a complete landscaped garden.

What really struck me about these was the textiles. There were sometimes three rugs, all period-specific and clearly woven specifically for the space. Incredible. The european ones were woven, some looked rughooked and bumpy in texture, and the shaker ones were braided. I loved the rugs.

A woman working the information booth was very happy to explain to us about the rooms. She said that some of the upholstery material came from a purchase of a collection of old purses. It sure worked! For example, some of the velvet furniture actually showed wear, and I am guessing that was from a purse that had been used heavily.

The woman who was responsible for putting the rooms together, started collecting miniatures when she was a child. She had an uncle(?) who would travel all over and bring her back miniatures. Then she married into the Montgomery Ward fortune and so she didn’t have to work a job, so she set about making miniature rooms to order. She was able to buy pre-made furniture for historical periods of European history but when she got to the USA, she couldn’t find things such as Shaker style furniture. She started hiring people to make them. She had a group of people employed building these rooms for her, during the depression.

We really enjoyed the rooms. Then we went on to the hallway outside where there were framed collages which had been put together as illustrations for the children’s book “To Be a Drum (Author: Evelyn Coleman, Illustrator/Artist: Aminah Brenda Lynn Robinson.) They were wonderful… a combination of paint, drawing, fabric scraps and buttons, and sometimes stitchwork/embroidery. Very inspiring. The book included some African-American history but also brought the experience into a personal light, very well done. I bought the book in the Museum Store on the way out.

After the Institute, we headed over to the Chicago Cultural Center. This building is a gem, and I am surprised it took me so many years to discover it (I’ve been there twice before). The building was built on land dedicated to honoring war veterans if I have it right, and was the first Chicago Public Library. It’s only a few blocks north of the Art Institute, and across the street. The building embellishments were designed by the Tiffany studio in New York City. There are marble walls with mosaics of abalone shells, mirrored glass, semi-precious stones, and colored glass, everywhere on every surface. It is just wondrous to see, the way they got the different materials to have such depth and light. There are quotations in the mosaics throughout the building, particularly the top floor which has a dome of glass (there is a protective glass “tent” structure invisible but outside that now, to keep the rain out and the elements from damaging the decorative glass). The photo here was taken without enough light, but notice especially the color and detail on the right side, with the circle in the center. This is a special green marble from one place in Ireland. The building used so much of this stone that it exhausted the entire quarry.

The cultural center has an art gallery there, and last time I visited there was a photography exhibit of Chicago in the Year 2000. I really enjoyed that. This time there was a very exhibit of a talented group of comic book artists. Unfortunately, the subject matter was quite upsetting and Sara and I chose not to stay there long.

On the way out of the building we found the Visitor Information Center (where you can get multiple-day passes to ride public transit, and get maps, etc.). Outside that door we found an Art-O-Mat machine. I’d heard of these during my mailart days. It’s a converted old cigarette dispensing machine. Each slot is filled with little boxes filled with artwork, each by a different artist. You buy a $5.00 token at the Cultural Center and put the token in, and pull the knob for the package/artist of your choice. Accessible art, art for almost anyone’s budget! I love this idea a lot. Sara didn’t get it at all. I now regret not buying a token, but I would have had a very hard time choosing which package to buy and so I wimped out and didn’t buy any.

After the Cultural Center, we first went across the street to what is called Millennium Park. This is a new park since I’ve been away from Chicago. It’s huge and beautiful and full of people! It had the exhibit of families I talked about yesterday and also some large sculptures. One (the Crown Fountain by Jaume Plensa) is two large boxes made of glass block, which look like small skyscrapers (they are both 50 feet high) that change colors and sometimes display faces (1000 Chicago residents alternate), and sometimes water cascades down their walls from the top. That sculpture can be seen here on the back right, looking very small because of distance.

Another (Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate), one that is very popular, is a large shiny object sort of like a donut without a hole (from what I could see… I did not go close so maybe it does in fact have a hole). It is a wonderful thing.. people can walk under it, touch it, see the skyline reflected in it. It’s universally appealing.

After resting in the park for a little while, we went to dinner in the touristy area of town. Sara wanted to have a “Fun” dinner, a “Good” dinner. For her, this meant being entertained. There is much entertainment to be had in the tourist area of town (Erie, Ohio and Ontario Streets near State and Rush if I remember right). We found Hard Rock Cafe next door to Rainforest Cafe, both good options for Sara. She chose Hard Rock Cafe.

We were escorted to our table upstairs by a young man we both deemed cute. Later during our meal, they were playing Y.M.C.A and the cute guy jumped up on the bar and started dancing to the song. You can see him making the shape of a “C” in the photo, although it’s not a great shot because the room was so dark when I took it.

Finally, we went to the John Hancock building to see the lights of the city after dark. There is a little place they have set up so you can pose as if you are the window cleaner on the 94th floor of the building. Doesn’t Sara look great cleaning those windows???

We took a Red Line train back to our neighborhood, but it didn’t feel late enough to go to bed just yet. We decided to stop at Standees deli (they are 24 hours, how cool is that?) just to delay the return home. I got a cup of tea and Sara got a piece of apple pie. The place was laid out as many 1960s diners were in cities like this (there used to be a lot of them in Toronto in the mid-1970s). There was a row of booths on one wall and a long counter/bar with stools on the other. This one also had a booth or two in the front of the place. It had a jukebox, though it was modern and had CDs rather than records. There were two waitresses there and I think a cook as well, though we didn’t get any food that needed cooking. The waitresses seemed to be having a bit of a struggle for boundaries in that tiny space, but our waitress was friendly and helpful to us.

It was hard to make the day end, but we did go back eventually. We headed to bed a little early for us (we are both night owls) and we had a very good night’s sleep, thank goodness!!! We were not done with Chicago yet.