Oola and I had more adventures. There was the trip to Galveston with Bob and Kelly Sennhauser. We saw lots of hurricane Ike destruction, and lots of wet phoenixes rising from the flood. We visited Maggie, also a Chicago Art Institute graduate, whose beautiful house had been ankle deep in water, though it sits plenty high off the ground.
We walked along the Gulf of Mexico, trying to see Columbia. Not so good, but we get a couple of good human site-ings.
Good Byes to my gracious hosts. Bob got into his car to lead me out to the correct freeway and the correct direction. They know which way the wind blows!
There were more adventures, but best to close this blog are a few pictures of the trip home.
We made good use of rest stops.
But in the Southwest, if you want toilet seat covers, bring your own.
And so the blue Prius, with Mom’s memorial Chihuahua in the back window, made its happy way home. Great car, great friends and family, great time. Now to sleep and then to get ready for a new semester of Web students.
What is it about Texas cities and me that I always get lost? I simply never see those non-existent street signs. And highway names? Don’t get me started.
After a roundabout, Oola and I finally found the Alamo, which is good because she had her heart set on seeing it and insisted I not give up.
So, like some folk tell that tell me they had a bad art teacher and that’s why they can’t draw, I think that I had less than stellar history teachers, and so never learned to like history very much. But unlike those who refuse to overcome their educational misfortunes and try to learn to see through drawing, I refuse to keep my ignorance when I can find a way out of it.
So, we went to Alamo plaza and looked around. I read everything put before me, and listened intently to the docents. There was lots of glorious praise going on for the heroes who died there. And lots of negativity for that nasty Santa Ana.
And things were starting to feel lopsided. I looked around – and something about Ripley’s Haunted Adventure and Guiness World Record Museum across the plaza, and something about the homeless man I saw being arrested, and the sleaze bar and pawn shop around the corner – these unconnected somethings started nagging at me. I have gone to school long enough to have a good Bull-Oney sensor. And I found my Bull-Oney antennae on high alert. When I saw all those blank face people sitting and listening to the Daughter-of-Texas, the one with the microphone telling “The Story” with well practiced adulation, questions started rising up in the back of my head.
Land. I have a dim memory that the US Government was giving away lots of land to “settlers”. And – if you can accept that land can actually “belong” to anyone – who did the land belong to? Was it the Mexican Government? Maybe it belonged to the Tejanos who wanted to be free of Mexico. Maybe even the indigenous people who had lived on the land for thousands of years had a right to call it home. But it was the promise of land that brought more than one Anglo to the Alamo.
And then, let’s see…1836. Wasn’t slavery an institution in the South at the time? And wasn’t there a political struggle in the Country over a balance of Slave and Free States? And wouldn’t that strife have existed in Texas? And might that have been one of the less than glorious causes, uncited in the Daughter’s recitation, for the battle that took place at the Alamo?
And what about Austin’s land grant from Mexico? Wasn’t he selling tracts of it for growing cotton, and bringing in the slave economy, which was illegal in Mexico at the time?
And that stuff about the defenders gloriously facing certain death – I read later that not all the volunteers knew that they had been branded “pirates” by the Mexican government and that there would be no prisoners of war taken.
Hummmm. slavery, land grabbing, speculation, confusion — The story is a little more complex than I see portrayed here on the Plaza.
But the shade was nice, And the walls you couldn’t touch were impressive. Oh, and the Koi were very nice.
I’m sitting in the Prius at a reststop. It’s dark and I can see that the Highway Patrol is doing a brisk business picking off the speeders on the downhill slope to Van Horn, TX. 80 by day, 65 by night.
A heavily packed SUV just pulled in. The dad got out for a quick visit to the restroom. But the backseat occupants seem to be sedated by the video screen. I remember childhood road trips as time to observe Orion’s changing positions in the sky, or to marvel at the morning’s light show. We fought over who got a window seat. I don’t remember asking about “there” and “yet”. But probably we did.
Wednesday I visited the San Antonio Museum of Art, mostly because I found it first while I was looking for the Alamo. This best thing about this museum is the glass enclosed elevator. You can watch the very clean mechanics in the shaft as they work. Thoroughly Post Modern, Millie!
This museum has an excellent collection of Mexican folk art. There is something strange about seeing these objects in such a formal and “hallowed” space though. They need more air.
At the SAMA I thoroughly enjoyed the Egyptian section, marveling anew at the delicacy and elegance of line combined with monumentality in solid rock, a quality that photographs just don’t seem to be able to capture. There were also some red-figure Greek vessels, and I was entranced anew by the Greek depiction of horses, both delicate and animated. Some nice Roman/Egyptian funeral masks, but I didn’t see anything that struck me as “primal”. Oola slept through the whole thing.
In my thinking “primal” is not used in the sense of Kubler’s “prime object”, the original object of which all others are replications. I am thinking more of that which by passes the thought process and goes directly to the limbic system; Robert Graves calls it the poem of the Great Mother that raises the hairs on the back of the neck.
Seeing the Milky Way for the first time without benefit of city lights is a primal experience. Maybe there are still people who live their whole life as a primal experience; maybe we medicate them. Or maybe we call them “primative” and they live where we haven’t found them yet. Maybe if everything is “primal”, nothing is “primal”.
The first primal art experience I remember was in Misch Kohn’s classroom. One day Misch brought in some example prints, and when I walked in the room I was immediately transported (almost without benefit of my feet) to an image by Kathe Kollwitz from her Peasants’ Revolt series. It was the claustrophobic depiction of the peasant, blind with rage, honing his scythe. It still gives me shivers.
At the Menil in Houston last week I saw several such objects in an exhibit of objects owned by Surrealist artists. Among them was a Navajo hood/mask with a square mouth hole. From the Switzerland/German area was a black leather costume and mask, totally covered in black spikes at about 1″ intervals. Filled with a human being, and in a low-light communal context, this was once a grand primal object. From an Eskimo shaman’s box, a rodent skull attached to a snake skin.
The Menil in Houston has a collection well worth seeking out and experiencing, and it is free.
As I said, I was on my way to see the Alamo. More in the next update.
Gangly, gregarious Loblolly pine and oak woodland, with its rich undergrowth of dogwood, wax myrtle, and American beauty berry, that’s what was here when Sam Houston rode in. During my stay in Houston I saw 5 and 6 lanes of cemented torturous freeways, parkways, tollways, (lots of them), and beltways, not to mention roads. And still it is not enough.
I saw ugly clearcut behind thin facades of forest. I saw unvarnished clearcut, muddy swaths which the land owner devastated without even a plan for a construction project — swaths which my host told me can sit empty for years waiting for a buyer. And still it is not enough.
A whole city called “Woodland”.
Everywhere there are freeway construction, and reconstruction projects and clogged traffic. And still it is not enough because of the uncontrolled growth of sub divisions.
Oola and I made a stop at the Sam Houston statue on I45. Here she is riding at the top of his 76 foot height. He made me think of white shoe polish, the kind we had to layer onto our school shoes to make us look presentable — no matter what scuffs, dirty socks, or pinched toes were beneath the surface. Well we couldn’t help growing and getting dirty. Is it the same for Houston?
Bob Sennhauser is working on a project about the people and buildings involved in the gentrification of Washington Avenue, here in Houston TX, where I am visiting with him and his wife, Kelly. Bob was one of my professors at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He is a photographer, and an artist with a keen ear for a story.
Following on Studs Turkel’s assertion that “History is always written from the top down” Bob, like Studs, is writing history through the stories of the ordinary people experiencing the changes on Washington Avenue — business owners, homeless people, developers. Through interviews and photos Bob is preserving the activities, thoughts, and emotions of people who are almost always forgotten, who are at the tender mercies of the forces of “development” in a land where there is no zoning. The political slant is mine. Bob knows that he can succeed at this project only if he stays neutral and maintains the trust of the participants. His plan is to present images, and written and oral interviews so that the viewers can form their own opinions about what is happening here (and in poor communities all over the country where middle to higher income people are moving in).
He has already photo/documented every bit of real estate on both sides of the street from T. C. Jester to Houston Ave. The portraits show a trust that Bob and the participants share, a trust that has been built over time. These are not strangers. Bob encourages them to choose how and where they will present themselves. The oral interview consists of 6 questions with followups to gain clarification or additional information, but never to elicit a response that will support his personal bias. These are works of true collaboration.
I have found “history” — the list of presidents and wars and national boundaries — to be a subject not dear to my heart. But when you read something like Barbara Tuchman’s “A Distant Mirror” you find the history of the real people and how they effect and are effected by the flow of the big events. In Bob Sennhouser’s project I think we will find Something Real and Fascinating.
The Lawndale Art Center in Houston will show the project “Washington Avenue: Forgotten then Gentrified”, May – June 2009
Hi world. This is Oola. She and I have spent a frozen overnight in a rest stop east of Los Angeles. This is our trip to Texas.
We got a late start for many reasons including the need to turn in grades, (I teach Web Design at Berkeley City College), finish the revamp of the Multimedia Arts Department website, and also due to the fact that I had promised my guitar-maker sweety to inlay pickguard and tail piece for his newest.
The revamp got to publishing stage at the llth hour with much high-fiving and self congratulations. But when I went back to get you the URL, I found a couple of mistakes. Sooo, that is for a later date.
Finally, the inlay. How do you inlay a guitar?
First you think about it but not so long as I did. Then you draw (or adapt) a design. Then you cut out the tiny pieces of mother of pearl.
Up and down, up and down, push the line, march in place to turn a corner. The dark green cloth is to catch the little mothers that try to get away. The jacket is because it is winter and there is no heating in my studio.
Then you route out the reciprocal holes in the ebony. This is the tricky part because — you guessed it — Mother of Pearl is cranky and doesn’t bend. Make everything fit and epoxy it all together. Sand it. (I’ll let my sweety do that while I am gone.)
Finished, Oola and I get on the road. She has never seen a cactus that isn’t in a pot.
If you want to see Oola in the series where she tries on the personas of different women and women artists throughout Western Art History, check out: