Big City Tales

The Forever Benefits of the Cleveland Museum of Art

October 17, 2018
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When the Cleveland Museum of Arts opened in 1916, the lofty vision of its founders was that it would be a place that would forever benefit the people who passed through its doors. Over 100 years later, the founders can rest easy knowing that not only is the museum one of the city’s most cherished landmarks, it is also one of Ohio’s most beloved cultural institutions, and is one of America’s most valuable art collections. Internationally, the museum is renowned for its holdings of Ancient Near Eastern, Greek and Roman art, as well as an array of eclectic modern sculptures, including a cast of Rodin’s The Thinker that is situated outside at the top of the main staircase.

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Wade Park Charm

Along with its gorgeous interior space, the Cleveland Museum of Art’s exterior landscape is sumptuous and pretty as a postcard. Located in the historic Wade Park district in East Cleveland, the sprawling grounds feature a peaceful lagoon and the Fine Arts Garden where many statues are displayed. Two well-known works that can be admired in this area are Night Passing the Earth to Day by Frank Jirouch and Fountain of the Waters by Chester Beach.

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European Elegance

Heading back indoors, the beauty of the Beaux-Arts building continues to dazzle with its white marble floors and walls, and neoclassical stylistic elements. The galleries are elegant and the rotunda corridors are spacious allowing for prime viewing of central displays such as Antonio Canova’s Muse of Lyric Poetry, which the Italian master carved in 1816 and first exhibited at the Royal Academy in London.

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Greek and Roman Treasures

From the torsos of Greek and Roman gods to the heads of political and military leaders, the museum’s collection of bronzes may not be large but what it lacks in quantity, it makes up with high quality pieces. Two of its masterworks are The Emperor as Philosopher (likely an imperial portrait of Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius) and the figure of Apollo the Python-Slayer credited to Praxiteles, the 4th Century BC Greek sculptor who was the first to produce a life-size female nude.

Armor Court Glamour

One of the grandest installments in the Cleveland Museum of Art is the Arms and Armor room that contains tapestries, portraits, weaponry and full battle armor. Armor for Man and Horse with Vols-Colonna Arms is from Northern Italy and dates to the late 1500s. Some of its distinctive features are etched animals and other figures, and a family coat of arms that appears in seven different spots. With hundreds of medieval artifacts on display, the armor court offers a glimpse back in time to the glory days of knights and their mounts waging battle on behalf of their kingdoms and fair maidens.

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Modern Sculpture Whimsy

One of the museum’s most popular works is Standing Mitt with Ball sculpted by Claes Oldenburg that features a massive steel and lead glove holding a ball made of wooden planks. Considering Cleveland is a baseball crazy town, this playful take on America’s favorite pastime is a fitting part of the museum’s permanent collection and proudly sits in the atrium courtyard in front of the main entrance into the galleries.

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A Lasting Gift

In its first century of existence, the Cleveland Museum of Art has definitely made a lasting impression on art patrons and it appears good things are in store for the museum’s next hundred years. Following a successful capital campaign to raise funds for a major renovation and expansion, the museum is poised to continue its vision of existing for the benefit of all the people forever…and ever…and ever….

 

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Carnegie Museums Bring the World to Pittsburgh

October 3, 2018
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After making a name for himself as a shrewd (and VERY rich!) businessman in the late 1800’s, Andrew Carnegie turned his attention from building corporate empires to championing societal causes. Carnegie spent the last 18 years of his life (from 1901 to 1919) passionately engaged in the pursuit of philanthropic efforts that included establishing libraries, universities and cultural institutions around the world, many in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where Carnegie Steel Company was based. The Carnegie Museums were legacy gifts to the citizens of Pittsburgh, the vast majority whom Carnegie knew first-hand would never have the means to experience life outside of the United States, so he endeavored to bring the world to them.

Museum of Art

Located in the historic Oakland district, the Carnegie Museum of Art was the first of its kind in the United States to be focused primarily on exhibiting contemporary works. Carnegie’s vision was to build a modern art collection consisting of the “Old Masters of tomorrow” who were the emerging artists of the day such as Vincent van Gogh, Claude Monet, Thomas Eakins, Henri Matisse, Winslow Homer and others. Today, the museum’s permanent collection consists of some 35,000 works including paintings, decorative arts, sculptures and other installations.

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Plaster Casts

Along with showcasing modern works, Carnegie was keen to expose Pittsburghers to some of the world’s greatest architectural wonders from ancient, classical and medieval times. No easy task, but his quest was made easier in that the making of large scale plaster casts was all the rage during the late Victorian era, including Egyptian, Near Eastern, Greek and Roman sculptures; and building facades such as the Porch of the Maidens and the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus.

The Hall of Sculptures

The balcony area leading into the Hall of Sculptures features numerous full scale plaster cast sculptures, as well as a variety of decorative arts dated between the 18th and 20th centuries. The interior of the hall is based on the Parthenon’s inner sanctum complete with towering columns, a carved frieze and high ceilings.

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Hall of Architecture

The museum’s collection of architectural plaster casts is the largest in the United States, and third largest in the world. Of the 140 pieces, two of the grandest are the West Portal of Saint-Gilles-du-Gard, a Benedictine abbey in France that was built in the Provencal Romanesque style; and the Northern Portal of the Bordeaux Cathedral that features Romanesque and Gothic design elements. In addition to building facades, the Hall of Architecture also contains elaborately carved sarcophagi and Ancient Greek and Roman statues.

Museum of Natural History 

While Carnegie and his team of experts were tending to the acquisition of paintings and sculptures for the new art museum between 1895-1898, archaeologists in the western United States were making some major discoveries of prehistoric dinosaur bones.

Upon hearing the news, Carnegie saw a potential opportunity to now also bring the world of natural history to Pittsburgh. He sent a hand-picked team of scientists to undertake digs in Wyoming where they were successful in finding many fossils, including one named in honor of Carnegie’s patronage, Diplodocus carnegii, that is today nicknamed “Dippy” and is proudly displayed in its natural habitat.

Dinosaur Hall

Dinosaur Hall was constructed in the early 1900s to showcase Dippy and the other finds from the Mesozoic Era such as Apatosaurus louisaeTyrannosaurus rex and Triceratops, among dozens of other original fossils.

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Art + Natural History + Science + Warhol = Lasting Legacy

It’s been over 120 years since Andrew Carnegie first hatched his plan to bring the world to Pittsburgh. Today, the Carnegie Museums include the Carnegie Science Center and the Andy Warhol Museum, and both the Museum of Art and Museum of Natural History have undergone major upgrades and expansions in recent years to accommodate new exhibits and galleries. Without a doubt, Carnegie created a lasting legacy not only for Pittsburghers but also for legions of out-of-town and country visitors who annually descend on the city to soak up its unique heritage.

 

 


Take Time to Think and Ponder at Musee Rodin

September 27, 2018
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As the father of modern sculpture, Auguste Rodin was known for his incredible ability to convey a range of complex human emotions in his stunning works. Be they made of bronze, clay, marble or plaster, Rodin applied a deft touch of hand and showed his in depth understanding of the human psyche in pieces such as The Thinker, The Kiss and The Gates of Hell, to name just a few of his masterpieces on display at Musée Rodin in Paris, France.

From Mythology to Realism

While Rodin was trained in traditional sculpting techniques and had a healthy respect for works demonstrating high quality craftsmanship, where he differed from his contemporaries was in his fervent desire to create works that were not strictly based on myths and allegories. In Rodin’s view, figurative sculpting was too limiting and his preference was to portray the human form in a realistic manner and showcase both physical and emotional aspects that weren’t always “beautiful to behold” in the eyes of his early critics.

From Criticism to Acceptance

Even though Rodin’s unconventional style was not immediately well-received in the arts community, he remained committed to his new vision of sculpting and set about producing a prolific amount of pieces. Good things come to those wait and Rodin eventually found favor with those who had previously offered only harsh critiques. By the turn of the 20th century, Rodin was now being exalted in his native France and, thanks to his World’s Fair exhibit in Paris, his unique aesthetic was now much admired resulting in demand for his services around the globe.

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From Original Clay Models to Finished Works

Rodin’s approach to sculpting began with a mound of clay that he would quickly manipulate with his fingers to obtain an initial form and then set aside. He would tinker with the clay model until he was satisfied with its form and texture and then his assistants would create larger clay versions that would be cast in plaster, cast in bronze, or carved in marble and Rodin would apply the finishing touches. Rodin was known for requesting multiple plasters and using them as raw material for new pieces, such as The Cathedral, which he created by intertwining the right hands made from two different figures. He also had no qualms about pulling individual sculptures from a group of reliefs and turning them into stand-alone pieces such as he did with The Kiss, which was originally part of The Gates of Hell, a monumental work containing some 180 figures.

From Radical Rebel to Genuine Genius

Interestingly, in the later stages of Rodin’s career, many of his “finished” works were in fact “fragments” reused from earlier statues. While many perceived them to be incomplete, such as The Walking Man that shows a partial figure (torso and legs only) in a dynamic pose, Rodin insisted they were as he intended. This new abstract way of sculpting would inspire legions of his students in his workshop and fellow artists who admired his vision.

At the time of Rodin’s death in 1917 he had completed an extraordinary number of sculptures and had rightly earned the right to be called the greatest artist of the modern era. Sheer volume of work notwithstanding, there is no denying that he pushed the boundaries of his craft and left the world with much to look at and consider.

The Musée Rodin is one of the artist’s enduring legacies and contains the largest collection of his sculptures and other paper works. Whether wandering the grounds or exploring the interior galleries, take time to think and ponder as you admire and appreciate Rodin’s immense talent.

 


Yukon History Comes to Life at MacBride Museum

September 19, 2018
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From the early beginnings of its First Nations people to the intrepid explorers who sought to conquer the land and strike gold, the MacBride Museum in Whitehorse pays homage to the Yukon’s bravest and most colourful characters (including its MANY furry critters). Located along the city’s quaint and picturesque Front Street, the museum houses over 30,000 artifacts and Yukon history truly comes to life as you wind your way through the exhibits.

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Passion for the North

As one of the co-founders of the Yukon Historical Society (YHS), W.D. (Bill) MacBride was passionate about his adopted homeland and ardently sought to preserve its heritage be it in the form of writing historical accounts or acquiring cultural artifacts. MacBride donated much of his personal collection of essays, books, photographs and other Northern-themed items to the YHS, which were first put on public display in the 1950s at the Government Telegraph Office. It didn’t take long to outgrow this space and planning began for a larger, permanent location. When the new facility opened in 1967, it was named in honour of MacBride in recognition of his efforts to promote the North and safeguard its treasures.

Earliest People

The Yukon is home to an abundance of First Nations and their stories, customs and handmade items are displayed around the museum. The first tribes to inhabit the land thousands of years ago included the Kutchin, Han, Kaska, Tagish, Tutchone, and Teslin. Today, there are 14 First Nations associated with the Yukon Territory and 25 percent of its residents identify as Indigenous, representing eight languages. While many Indigenous people do not speak the language of their nation, handicrafts have been proudly maintained and passed down to new generations. The intricate beading work applied to moccasins and ceremonial attire is an impressive sight to behold and shows off an amazing attention to detail and high quality of craftsmanship.

Where the Wild Things Are

In the Yukon, furry critters and birds vastly outnumber humans. The museum’s Natural Gallery showcases 35 common mammals and birds that are grouped according to their common habitats. The mighty moose, majestic bald eagle, busy beaver, and bulky buffalo share the Yukon’s diverse and expansive landscape along with some 160,000 caribou; 22,000 mountain sheep; 6,000 grizzly bears; 220 species of birds; and 34,000 humans.

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Klondike Gold Rush

After gold was discovered in the Yukon’s Klondike region in 1896, a mass migration of prospectors ensued for the next three years with some 100,000 people making their way north in search of fortune.

Whitehorse was the primary gateway city to the Klondike where many prospectors stocked up for the long haul to Dawson City. In order to comply with the requirements of Canadian authorities, prospectors had to amass a year’s supply of food before they could embark on the arduous journey to the gold fields.

Such a massive influx of people over a short period of time was both a blessing and a curse for the Yukon. Boom towns cropped up along the route to the Klondike, the largest being Dawson City, and local saloons enjoyed large crowds of drinkers and gamblers; while makeshift inns provided accommodations for the prospectors. The downside of the economic prosperity was that native tribes were pushed off their land and sent to reserves where poor living conditions resulted in many deaths. Dawson City was also riddled with epidemics and suffered many fires due to its largely wood buildings.

Main Street Survives and the Yukon Thrives

When the Klondike Gold Rush ended in 1899, many drowned their sorrows; while others toasted their successes at local watering holes such as the Windsor’s Bar & Saloon and got on with the business of making a living by other means.

Service industries thrived and shippers, seamstresses, barbers, postal workers, printers and others established the new economy at the turn of the 20th Century. At the time of World War II, three major projects were also embarked upon that made a significant impact on the Yukon in terms of transportation, industry and national defense initiatives.

True to the spirit of the wild west and nomadic north, the MacBride Museum celebrates the legendary people and events of days gone and strives to uphold its commitment to dynamically conveying the value, and increasing the understanding and enjoyment of Yukon history.


A Pilgrimage to the Pro Football Hall of Fame

September 12, 2018
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It’s that time of year when summer turns to fall, sweaters and sneakers replace shorts and sandals, and millions of football fans are in a frenzy for the start of the new season. It’s also a time when many embark on a pilgrimage to the Pro Football Hall of Fame (HOF) in Canton, Ohio. So it was in the fall of 2017 that this Canadian fan of the American game paid a visit to the HOF’s hallowed halls and its gallery of bronze busts.

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Game of Inches and Hall of INTEGRITY

Football is a game of inches that requires its participants to possess both physical strength and mental acuity in order to achieve greatness. “Doing right” by teammates, coaches and fans is of utmost importance in evaluating a successful career, as well as demonstrating commitment, courage, respect and excellence on and off the field.

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As one of first HOF inductees in 1963, George Halas embodied the game’s core values and earned his place in the annals of football history for his accomplishments as a player, coach and franchise owner. He was also one of the co-founders of the National Football League (NFL) back in the 1920s, and co-developed the T-formation offensive scheme that revolutionized the game in the late 1930s. Over the course of his storied and celebrated 60-year football career, Halas fittingly earned the nickname “Mr. Everything” and among his many honors he was a two-time NFL Coach of the Year winner. Given his myriad contributions to the game, it is little wonder that the official address of the HOF proudly bears his name.

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Huddle Up, America 

For those familiar with the “take a knee” controversy that plagued the National Football League last season during the playing of the pre-game national anthem, it should be no surprise that the HOF came up with a flag-planting campaign to counter the negativity. Using the flag as a symbol of national unity, the HOF planted 300 of the good ol’ red, white and blue on their front lawn and shared that the goal of its “Huddle Up, America” initiative was to encourage the broader football community to come together and constructively work through issues. The garden of flags certainly made for a striking and colorful visual on the walkway to the main entrance (especially on a cloudy day), and stirred patriotic emotions even within this proud maple-loving Canuck.

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Inside the Hallowed Hall

The NFL will celebrate its centennial anniversary in 2020 and what a first century it has been. From the league’s earliest superstar players such as Jim Thorpe to pioneering teams such as the Canton Bulldogs and the Akron Pros, the HOF pays tribute to days gone by and highlights each decade with incredible artifacts and numerous interactive exhibits.

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Individual and Team Accomplishments

Be it the perfect regular season of the Miami Dolphins in 1972, the career rushing yard mark held by Emmitt Smith, or the winning ways of the league’s great dynasty teams through the decades, The Record Book exhibit celebrates the significant achievements of individual players, coaches and teams.

As a longtime fan of the Dallas Cowboys, I was delighted to see the various displays pertaining to the exploits of the team during the powerhouse 1990s. Troy Aikman was the team’s all-star quarterback and led the Cowboys to an impressive three Super Bowl championships in 1992, 1993 and 1995 with ample support from the likes of Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin.

Aikman, Smith and Irvin are among over 30 Dallas Cowboy Hall of Famers, a group that includes coach Tom Landry, owner Jerry Jones, and players Roger Staubach, Tony Dorsett and Randy White who made their marks in earlier eras during the 1970s and 1980s.

Football Immortality

You know you’ve made it into football glory status when your bust is cast in bronze and mounted in the HOF Gallery alongside fellow inductees.

In addition to the bronze bust, the custom-made gold jacket that inductees wear during the enshrinement ceremony (and can take away with them) is another symbol of their high performance standard.

Many deceased inductees are buried in their treasured jackets and those still living are more than happy to don them for special appearances or when conducting official NFL business matters.

Measured to fit like a glove, the jacket also features custom lining and buttons with the HOF logo, and a special label with the inductee’s name and enshrinement number. Even the toughest “big guys” of the game admit to becoming emotional upon receiving their finished jackets and joining the ranks of HOF immortality…the forever NFL brotherhood.

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The Wild and Wacky Warhol Museum

September 6, 2018
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Located in the quiet and conservative North Shore district of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, there is certainly nothing quiet and conservative about the wild and wacky Andy Warhol Museum.

Indeed, the pink bannered building and pink pylon outlined parking lot that fittingly features a specially themed Brillo Box attendant booth are the first clues that this is not your regular museum. The next clues come inside with exhibits chronicling the artist’s life story beginning on the top floor and winding down into an underground conservation lab.

From his early successes with Campbell’s Soup and other brand name product paintings to his later triumphs with celebrity portraits and experimental films, all aspects of Warhol’s eccentric and exceptional career are on display making for an entertaining and enlightening viewing experience.

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Off to the BIG City

Before he took the New York City art scene by storm in the 1950s and 60s, Andy Warhol was a clean-cut, fresh-faced kid from Pittsburgh who discovered a penchant for drawing during his teenage years. While he originally wanted to study Art Education in university and become a teacher, he ended up changing his mind and pursued training as a commercial artist at the Carnegie Institute of Technology where his first published works appeared in Cano, the student art magazine. After earning his Fine Arts degree, Warhol moved to the Big Apple in 1949 where he found work with magazines and advertising firms.

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Before and After Campbell’s Soup

Along with being a talented illustrator, Warhol was adept with silk-screening techniques and enjoyed making fruit and floral prints that evolved into the more abstract ‘Pop Art’ works that he is famous for such as soup cans and celebrity portraits. Early on, he was known for ink blotting and the use of tracing paper to replicate images and produce variations on the same themes. He also liked to project photographs and transform them using shading and contouring to bring out shadows and other subtleties.

Consumerism and Cult of Celebrity

Warhol started showing his work in the 1950s with some initial success in local galleries but his career really took off in the 1960s when his focus turned to iconic American objects and the cult of celebrity. At the time of his first solo exhibition in the fall of 1962, he was a creative genius to be reckoned with and was now garnering attention across the United States and beyond for his signature pop art pieces such as 100 Soup Cans, 100 Coke Bottles, 100 Dollar Bills and the Marilyn Diptych, which was created following the death of Marilyn Monroe.

Jackie Kennedy 

Along with Marilyn Monroe, Jackie Kennedy was one of Warhol’s favorite celebrity muses in the 1960s. The unfortunate assassination of her husband, President John F. Kennedy in 1963 provided fodder for the series of Jackie silk-screen portraits he produced using a selection of newspaper images of the grieving widow.

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Crazy for Cardboard and Flower Power

Not one to shy away from quirky and bold exhibits, Warhol’s other early pieces included a series of supermarket boxes and and a grouping of hibiscus blooms in a range of bright colors and varying textures.

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Pop Art Portraits

In the 1970s, Warhol’s work was mostly focused on portraits of celebrities and politicians, many of whom he sought out as patrons to support the growth of his artistic enterprise. Warhol was known to frequent the Studio 54 nightclub where he hob-knobbed with the likes of Mick Jagger, Liza Minnelli, Diana Ross and other superstar entertainers of the day.

As much as Warhol loved celebrities, he was also a devoted son and occasionally painted his mother’s portrait. The 5th Floor gallery in the museum shows his mother in good company between British actress Joan Collins and 1970s super-model Cheryl Tiegs.

Warhol’s circle of high-profile acquaintances also included controversial international political figures such as the deposed Shah of Iran and his family, and he famously created a series of Mao Tse-tung images to mark President Richard Nixon’s historic visit to China in 1972.

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Dazzling Digital Design

With new technological advances in the 1980s, Warhol experimented with creating digital art on an early version of the Commodore computer. He used The Birth of Venus by Botticelli as inspiration and succeeded in turning an Early Renaissance masterpiece into a stunning stylized modern design.

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Collector or Pack Rat?

Anyone who had the privilege of visiting Warhol’s townhouse can attest to the fact that Warhol liked to collect eclectic things and display them throughout the four floors of his home. Referred to by Warhol’s friends as “Andy’s Stuff,” his collection of knickknacks was so extensive that overflow items ended up in a nearby storage unit. After his death, the museum took in an astonishing 641 boxes of personal effects that contained items ranging from cookie jars and jugs to airplane menus and supermarket flyers.

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Wild, Wacky…and WONDERFUL!

True to Warhol’s iconic and indelible image, the Andy Warhol Museum showcases all that was wild, wacky and wonderful about him. When in Pittsburgh, be sure to include a visit and check out its glorious oddities.

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Heinz History Center Celebrates More Than Ketchup

August 9, 2018
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If the larger-than-life ketchup bottle perched on the roof of the Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania has you thinking this building only pays homage to the popular condiment, think again. The story of the Heinz family is actually just one small part of what lies inside this six-floor structure, and ketchup is just one of many discoveries and innovations attributed to residents of Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania. This region of the United States is well known for its prolific contributions to the realm of “World’s First” and the Heinz History Center accordingly celebrates more than ketchup in its educational exhibits.

The Warriors

From 1754 to 1763 much of the occupied parts of North America were battlegrounds where British, French and Native American forces were engaged in what is considered to be the world’s first global conflict, the Seven Years’ War. At the time, the population of the British American colonies vastly outnumbered the French colonies in New France, but the French had significant backing from a number of native tribes. Together, the French and their allies initially proved to be formidable foes for the likes of a young George Washington, who was just embarking on his military career as Commander of the Virginia Regiment, but the British eventually prevailed and substantially increased the breadth of their empire on North American soil. One of the most prized regions that the British and French fought over was the Forks of Ohio located at the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers, which is now Point State Park in downtown Pittsburgh. The Clash of Empires exhibit offers life-like models, detailed maps and riveting accounts of warfare from the perspectives of all parties involved.

The Explorers

In the early 1800s, the western frontier of the United States was a mystery waiting to be revealed. President Thomas Jefferson was particularly keen to lay claim to the territory before Britain, France or Spain set their sights on it, so he commissioned the Corps of Discovery Expedition to be jointly led by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark. The expedition was the first of its kind to explore the American West and Pittsburgh is where the epic journey began when Lewis set sail from Mon Wharf at the headwaters of the Ohio River to meet up with Clark in St. Louis. Along with mapping the vast territory, Lewis and Clark were tasked with finding a reliable water route to the Pacific Ocean, making contact/establishing trade with Native Americans, and documenting the wealth of resources they encountered along the way. To mark the 200th anniversary of the expedition, the well known Rooney family of Pittsburgh retraced the famed western adventure and the Rediscovering Lewis & Clark exhibit shares the highlights of their journey.

The Entrepreneurs

Established in 1869, the H.J. Heinz Company started small with the pickling of vegetables grown in the Heinz family garden. The first Heinz product to be sold en masse was actually horseradish but by the 1900s the company had expanded significantly. Thanks to its new slogan “57 varieties,” the company now had a clever marketing tool to brand its ever-growing stable of products such as pickles, tomato ketchup, baked beans, chutney, relish, mustard and other processed foods. Heinz was adamant about using only high quality ingredients and developing innovative packaging, including the classic octagon-shaped ketchup bottle that he patented in 1890. The Heinz exhibit chronicles the company’s evolution into a global powerhouse and features an 11-foot ketchup bottle display comprised of over 400 individual bottles, displays of pickle pins and historical product packaging, as well as other family memorabilia.

Gulf Oil

Along with being a major food processing hub in the early 1900s, Pittsburgh was the birthplace of Gulf Oil that was founded and run by the Mellon family until it was sold in the 1980s to Standard Oil. The first gas station in the United States was built by Gulf Refining Company in Pittsburgh and the pumps started flowing in 1913. Until 1970 the company’s Art Deco-styled head office was the tallest building in the city and it remains one of Pittsburgh’s downtown landmarks with its distinctive step-pyramid structure at the top of the 44-story skyscraper. The Special Collections gallery features old gas pumps, hard hats, signs and other marketing materials.

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The Innovators

Pittsburgh is known as a center of innovation. The exhibit Pittsburgh: A Tradition of Innovation showcases Western Pennsylvania’s significant contributions to the world. Be it Westinghouse Electric’s invention of alternating current, Dr. Jonas Salk’s discovery of the polio vaccine, or the creation of the smiley emoticon at Carnegie Mellon University there are dozens of shining examples of local innovations. Here are a few more:

  • Reporter Nellie Bly circled the globe in 72 days.
  • A Pittsburgh artist created the We Can Do It! poster that subsequently became known as Rosie the Riveter.
  • The Jeep was developed by the American Bantam Company based in Butler, PA.
  • The Pennsylvania Turnpike was America’s first “super highway” and was a model for the development of other interstate highways across the country.

The Sports Heroes

Pittsburgh is a sports town through and through and the city has laid claim to dozens of league championships in football, hockey and baseball. The Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum located on two floors in the Heinz History Center presents some of the city’s  greatest sporting moments.

Football

As the first National Football League franchise to win six Super Bowl championships, the Pittsburgh Steelers have enjoyed tremendous success over the decades. The team’s winning ways inspired the city’s other professional franchises leading to Pittsburgh earning the designation of City of Champions.

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Hockey

In 2017, the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrated 50 years in the National Hockey League capped off with their fifth Stanley Cup win. Back in the 1990s, the team was led by Captain Mario Lemieux, The Magnificent One, who was an integral part of the franchise’s back-to-back league championships in 1991 and 1992. Today, Lemieux is a co-owner and is the only man to have his name on the Stanley Cup as both a player and an owner. 

Baseball

Along with the distinction of being the first National League participant in the first World Series in Major League Baseball, the Pittsburgh Pirates franchise is noteworthy for winning five World Series championships and hosting the first World Series night game back in 1971. While the team has had many all-star players, Roberto Clemente was the first Latin American and Caribbean player to help win a World Series as a starter, to receive a National League MVP Award, to receive the World Series MVP Award, and to be enshrined into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Clemente was also known for his charitable work in the off-season and tragically died in a plane crash en route to delivering aid to earthquake victims in 1972.

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The Educators

When the first community-sponsored educational television station in the United States (WQED) began broadcasting in 1954, little did producers know that it would launch the career of Fred Rogers, aka Mister Rogers, and introduce the world to the familiar refrain of “Won’t you be my neighbor?” Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood first aired in 1968 and would become a children’s television show classic. The Special Collections gallery contains many of the show’s artifacts, as well as some 3,000 other items representing the ethnic diversity of Western Pennsylvania, its various business entities and talented local artisans.

The Firsts

From the first steamboat to sail westward rivers from Pittsburgh to New Orleans to the first city in the United States to host the world’s largest rubber duck, A History of Firsts created by local artist Ron Magnes is a linear representation of some of Pittsburgh’s most notable firsts in the realms of technology, the arts, business, sports, education, medicine, and entertainment. The world as we know it has been changed for the better as a result of many of these accomplishments that are explored in depth and presented with tremendous pride in the Heinz History Center.

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Canada’s National Music Centre Strikes the Right Chord

August 9, 2018
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The story of music in Canada is a long and celebrated tale that encompasses many unique “Made in Canada” technological advances along with a host of amazingly talented artists who have made a mark in their home and native land and around the world. From the trailblazers that introduced a new sound/vibe or instrument to the established artists that have proudly reached the top of the charts time and again, Canada’s National Music Centre (NMC) strikes the right chord in showing off all aspects of the country’s rich musical heritage.

Housed in the stunning Studio Bell building in Calgary, Alberta’s trendy East Village district, the distinctive architecture was inspired by the vast Canadian landscape and the curved intricacy of musical instruments. The entire complex consists of a series of nine towers that interlock and are connected by an inner walkway. The sleek exterior look of the five-storey Studio Bell tower continues inside with 226,000 custom glazed terracotta tiles adorning the walls that gleam in shades of metallic and earthen tones thanks to plenty of windows that let in natural light.

The NMC features both permanent and temporary exhibitions that are displayed in 22 gallery areas fittingly referred to as “stages.” Three of the galleries are Halls of Fame that pay homage to their respective inductees such as the Barenaked Ladies and Steven Page, Randy Newman, Joni Mitchell, Oscar Peterson, k.d. lang, Anne Murray, and many, many others. The Canadian Music Hall of Fame has honoured a total of 52 musical acts (bands and solo artists) since it was established in 1978. In addition to plaques and pictures, the exhibition space contains clothing and instruments donated by inductees.

One of the NMC’s popular temporary exhibitions is the Milestones gallery that is dedicated to the artist/band chosen by the Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences to be inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame. In 2017, Sarah McLachlan was the rightful honouree and many of her other awards, personal quotes and the instruments she plays were part of the display.

Showcase is another temporary exhibition space that attracts a lot of attention. In 2017, the incredible career of Tom Cochrane was recognized in light of the 25th anniversary of his iconic song Life is a Highway being released. The exhibit included some of Cochrane’s concert attire and his guitars, along with numerous awards, and anecdotal video clips.

Be it plugged in or unplugged, sound in all of its variations is a major aspect of the NMC. The Sound Affects gallery includes one of Elton John’s old upright pianos and offers a demo of the famous Kimball Theatre Organ used to accompany silent films in the 1920s. The Unplugged gallery features the drum set used to record the original Hockey Night in Canada theme song, and the Plugged In gallery contains TONTO, the world’s largest analog synthesizer used by the likes of Stevie Wonder to record his albums back in the day.

Highly visual and interactive galleries such as Soundscapes and The Musical Mind provide opportunities for appreciating the connection between sound and sight, and discovering some interesting music/mind facts. Playing/experimenting with instruments in designated areas around the NMC is also very much encouraged!

Canada certainly has a lot to be proud of when it comes to the breadth of stellar musical acts it has generated. The Idols & Icons gallery is a decade by decade overview of some of the country’s most beloved and well known solo artists and bands. It truly is a music fan’s dream to see artifacts collected from the concert performances of the likes of Shania Twain, Avril Lavigne, Jann Arden, Michael Buble, Randy Bachman, and Corey Hart to name but a few.


Strategy is Key to Visiting the Smithsonian Institution

July 31, 2018
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As the world’s largest museum, education and research complex, the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC, includes 17 local museums and galleries, numerous public gardens, and a zoo. The museums are primarily (and conveniently!) located along the National Mall and collectively contain over 150 million artifacts celebrating history, science, art and culture. There’s clearly a lot to see so having a strategy in place is key to making the most of visiting this much lauded and celebrated American treasure. A good place to start is at the Smithsonian Institution Building, referred to as ‘The Castle’.

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The Castle

In addition to housing administrative offices, the Castle is the primary visitor center and provides a full overview of the Smithsonian, including background information about James Smithson, the institute’s founding donor, and highlights from each of the individual museum permanent collections. Even for those planning an extended stay in DC, chances are that seeing all facets of the Smithsonian is not realistic so spending time wandering around the Castle’s mini-exhibits is advisable, as well as consulting with staff to find out if there are any current special exhibitions. Visitors are also welcome to explore the Castle’s unique 19th century architecture and interior design before heading out to other venues.

An interesting tidbit about James Smithson is that he was a British scientist who never actually visited the United States during his lifetime. Faced with the prospect of possibly having no living heirs to pass along his fortune to, in his will Smithson bequeathed his estate to the country with the express instructions “to found in Washington, under the name of the Smithsonian Institution, an establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge among men.” So, thanks to the foresight of a Brit, the “nation’s attic” came to be in 1846 and has amazed and delighted visitors ever since with its vast and eclectic holdings.

American History Museum

For obvious reasons, one of the most popular Smithsonian museums is the National Museum of American History that explores the origins of the country dating back to colonial times. As no trip to the nation’s capital would be complete without a quick history lesson, this museum should be at the top of your “Smithsonian must see” list.

Among the many exhibits visitors can learn about the creation of the U.S. Constitution and read its text, review the main events and figures of the Civil War and other battles fought in the name of national freedom, revel in the glory of the flag and national anthem, admire first lady inauguration gowns, and enjoy some pop culture in the form of various film and television artifacts.

Founding Fathers to Civil War

From the War of Independence to the Wars of Expansion and the Civil War, America’s early existence was marked by some intense military conflicts that served to define its borders and carve out its collective values. The Price of Freedom: Americans at War exhibit contains a plethora of incredible and significant artifacts such as George Washington’s uniform, battlefield relics from Gettysburg, and the chairs that Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant used during the Civil War surrender ceremony.

Star-Spangled Banner

Patriotism abounds in the Star-Spangled Banner exhibit that tells the story of how the iconic red, white and blue color scheme of the American flag came to be, and also delves into the inspiration behind the words of the country’s national anthem, penned by Francis Scott Key.

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The First Ladies

It’s not just the work of the founding fathers on display at the American History Museum, the inaugural fashions of the first ladies are also showcased. Michelle Obama’s gown and shoes from 2009 feature prominently in the exhibit along with those donned by Martha Washington, Jacqueline Kennedy, Nancy Reagan and others. The First Ladies exhibit also highlights the important work undertaken by many of these enterprising wives in support of their respective husbands’ administrations.

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The Joy of Cooking a la Julia Child

Before the rise of the Food Network and proliferation of TV chef personalities like Emeril Lagasse, Bobby Flay, Rachael Ray, Ina Garten and others, Julia Child ruled the small screen for 40 years and dazzled audiences with her command of French cuisine. From crepes to souffles, bouillabaisse to boeuf bourguignon, Julia welcomed viewers directly into her home kitchen based in Cambridge, Massachusetts where she and her guests cooked and laughed in equal measure. Julia definitely made cooking fun and her trademark send-off of ‘Bon Appetit!‘ is fittingly part of the entryway into the Julia Child’s Kitchen exhibit that features her copper pan collection and other kitchenware.

 


You Can’t Miss Seeing The Rooms in St. John’s

July 10, 2018
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Boasting a distinctive ‘fishing room’ exterior design and prime hill-top location on Bonaventure Avenue, it’s easy to spot The Rooms from most vantage points around St. John’s. The building’s creative architecture certainly caught my attention, but it was the interior treasures that really hooked me. The most compelling reason why you can’t miss seeing The Rooms is that the exhibits truly celebrate the unique culture, history and geography of Newfoundland and Labrador. Also, when the sun is shining and the sky is blue, the view of the city skyline and harbour is pretty spectacular!

The Rooms with a View

Even though St. John’s is one of the foggiest major centres in Canada, the spring and summer months are typically quite pleasant with plenty of clear days to peer out of The Rooms’ floor to ceiling windows and admire the view in the city streets and harbour below and further beyond The Narrows channel toward the ocean.

From colourful Jelly Bean row houses, to massive transport ships docked and waiting to be loaded/unloaded, to Cabot Tower atop Signal Hill and the Irving Oil Marine Terminal and fuelling berth located on Pier 23 and Pier 24 there is bound to be something eye-catching and photo-worthy.

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The Luck o’ Irish Roots

Back to the myriad treasures inside of The Rooms, one of the permanent exhibits is Talamh an Éisc: The Fishing Ground. This exhibit explores the province’s Irish roots going back to the late 1600s when intrepid migrants ventured across the Atlantic to participate in the burgeoning fishing trade, build onshore communities and settle into a new life away from the British Isles.

Fertile and Fickle Fishing Ground

After 500 years of reaping the rewards of one of the world’s most fertile fishing grounds, the luck o’ the Irish sadly ran out in the early 1990s when a moratorium was issued on the Northern Cod fishery. The government action was necessitated due to over-fishing in the region during the preceding 40 years that resulted in the drastic decrease of the Northern Cod species to the point of being on the verge of extinction. At present, the cod population is slowly making a recovery and limited fishing is taking place according to carefully established quotas. Hopefully continual monitoring efforts and regulation enforcement will ensure the survival of the species and industry.

Newfoundland and Labrador from A to Z

One of the special exhibits at The Rooms when I visited in 2017 was a series of hanging panels that described characteristics of Newfoundland and Labrador using each letter of the alphabet. Talk about a great way to learn about this highly distinctive region…I would add that A is also for Amazing and Awesome people!

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The Kitschy Kitchen Party

As highlighted in the A to Z panels, the Kitchen Party is a longtime tradition in Newfoundland and Labrador that typically takes the form of a raucous Saturday night gathering complete with food, music, dance, and plenty of fun. Along with family and friends, other special guests may include local “mummers” who come dressed in disguise looking to take a swig, dance a jig and continue on to their next merry party-crashing gig. Impromptu jam sessions are a common occurrence with musicians taking turns at solos or joining together in festive song. No instrument? No problem! Grab a pot and a wooden spoon, find the beat and play the night away.

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World War I Commemoration

During World War I, members of the Newfoundland Regiment bravely ventured across the Atlantic Ocean to join forces with the British Army. After being trained in England and Scotland, troops were deployed to battle fields in Gallipoli, Egypt and along the Western Front. The regiment sustained heavy losses between 1915 and 1918 but many survived to tell their harrowing stories, which are encapsulated in the Beaumont-Hamel and The Trail of the Caribou exhibit. Highlights of the exhibit include the Flower of Remembrance and Victoria Cross displays, as well as the numerous black and white images of young recruits preparing to do their part and serve their country in the Great War.

A Provincial Showcase

No doubt about it, The Rooms shows off the very best of Newfoundland and Labrador and it’s crystal clear how and why the earliest inhabitants and subsequent settlers came to make lasting connections with this special place. When in St. John’s, The Rooms really is a must-see!


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