Archive for the ‘Artwork’ Category

Plant-Based D.C. Landmarks

Sadly, despite having worked in downtown D.C. for the past 30 years, I had never visited the United States Botanic Garden during the Christmas holiday season before this year.  I’ve been there many times but not during the holidays. But a friend who only lived here for a year before moving out of the area knew about the Botanic Garden’s annual holiday display, entitled Season’s Greenings, and the sights, smells, and sounds that accompany it.  When she asked me about this year’s display, it prompted me to go check it out.  And I’m so glad I did.

This year’s display is a multifaceted one that stretches throughout the Botanic Garden.  First, it includes the return of a series of D.C. landmarks made out of plant materials.  The holiday display also includes thousands of blooms throughout the Conservatory, from exotic orchids to a showcase of heirloom and newly developed poinsettia varieties in the seasonal Poinsettia Room.  Lastly, this year’s holiday decorations include a showcase of model trains chugging around, below, through, and above plant-based recreations of iconic sights and roadside attractions from across the United States.

I will be covering the Poinsettia display, and the model train and roadside attractions showcase in the near future.  Today’s blog post focuses on the collection of D.C. landmarks, all made from a myriad of plant and other natural materials, which is displayed in the Garden Court.  There are a dozen local landmarks and memorials on display this year.  The White House swing set, which had been included in previous years, was not present this year because the actual swing set is no longer at the White House.  In it’s place is the Albert Einstein Memorial.  Also new this year is the National Museum of African American History and Culture, which opened a little over a year ago.  All of the landmarks would be incredible in and of themselves.  But knowing that they are made of plants adds to the experience.

For added holiday cheer at the Botanic Garden, there are concerts on Tuesday and Thursday evenings in December, when hours are extended until 8pm.  If you can, I highly recommend going on one of these days for both the music and to see the exhibit and plant collections illuminated by colorful lights.  One of my first thoughts after seeing Seasons Greenings was wishing that I had known about it and gone in previous years.  So do yourself a favor and go so you don’t have the same thought years from now.

 

[Click on the photos above to view the full size versions]

1 – U.S. Capitol Building
2 – The Thomas Jefferson Memorial
3 – Library of Congress, Thomas Jefferson Building
4 – Lincoln Memorial
5 – National Museum of African American History and Culture
6 – National Museum of the American Indian
7 – Smithsonian Institution, The Castle
8 – U.S. Botanic Garden Conservatory
9 – U.S. Supreme Court
10 – Washington Monument
11 – White House
12 – Albert Einstein Memorial

NOTE:  My blog post on “Seasons Greetings: Railroads and Roadside Attractions” will appear next Monday.

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Needle Tower

The destination of today’s lunchtime bike ride was Needle Tower, a public artwork by Kenneth Duane Snelson, an American contemporary sculptor and photographer.  The 60-foot abstract sculpture of steel wires and aluminum tubes is on display outside of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, which is located just off the National Mall at Independence Avenue and 7th Street (MAP) in southwest D.C.’s Downtown neighborhood. 

At first glance it seems improbable that Needle Tower can even remain upright.  But the aluminum tubes of the slim and graceful piece act in compression, and held in tension by the stainless steel cables threaded through in the ends of the aluminum tubes.

Snelson’s works often center around or incorporate geometric shapes.  And this piece is a good example of that.  The tower itself is interesting.  But looking up from the inside of Needle Tower is where it really impresses.  I see Stars of David getting progressively smaller in a seemingly endless procession ascending into the sky, symbolizing the infinite nature of the universe.  According to Snelson, however, six-pointed stars are common, and the piece does not include the Star of David nor is it symbolic.  In Needle Tower the six pointedness comes from the natural geometry of the three compression struts that make up each layer.  Sets of three alternate with left and right helical modules, adding up to six when viewed upwards from the base of the tower.

The structure was built in 1968, and has been on continuous display since the museum’s namesake, Joseph Hirshhorn, donated it in 1974. It remains one of the museum’s most popular works of art.  Needle Tower is so popular, in fact, that it was placed in its central spot outside the museum so that when tourists pass by on their way to and from nearby museums and attractions, it draws their attention to both the piece and the Hirshhorn.

A second Needle Tower, Needle Tower II, was completed in 1968 and was acquired in 1971 by the Kröller-Müller Museum in the Netherlands. That piece resides in the museum’s sculpture garden.  And I look forward to seeing it on my next bike ride to the Netherlands.

         
[Click on the thumbnails above to view the full size photos]

Black Rock Star Superhero

During today’s lunchtime bike ride, as I was riding in the 16th Street Heights neighborhood in northwest D.C., I saw a mural on the side of a building at the corner of 14th and Randolph Streets (MAP).  So I rode over to get a closer look.  The eclectic nature of the things in the mural indicated to me that there might be a good story behind it.  So later I researched the mural.  And I was right about there being a story behind it.  The mural has undergone several distinct phases to become what I saw today.

The mural was originally entitled Washington Pizza, and was located on the side of the Washington Pizza restaurant.  It was created by Alicia Cosnahan, also know professionally as Decoy, a local artist who creates a lot of local graffiti and murals.  In its original incarnation it showed a family eating, what looks like a couple of colorized local rowhouses, and an another person eating something.  It was topped off by a scrawled and odd-looking no parking warning.

For the 2014 release of “Mayor of D.C. Hip Hop” Head-Roc‘s album of the same name (which, by the way, contained a song entitled “Mayor for Life” in tribute to former four-term D.C. mayor, Marion Barry), local muralist Pahel Brunis modified the mural, which was then retitled “Black Rock Star Super Hero.” Some graffiti text reading Head Roc covered the family, and a likeness of Head-Roc, covered up the cool pizza-eating person.  Thankfully, he also covered up the scrawled “Washington Pizza parking only!”

Later that same year, on the morning of November 23, “Mayor-for-Life” Marion Barry died.  That same afternoon, Head-Roc, along with other local rappers, performed an impromptu musical tribute to Barry at the vacant lot in front of the mural.  As the music played Pahel Brunis returned and once again modified the mural, this time with a tribute to Barry.  It wasn’t planned.  He just grabbed what supplies he had at home and showed up.  Three hours later he had painted a large portrait of Barry on top of the rowhouses.  And that’s how the mural looks today, at least for now.

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Christ, The Light of the World”

During this lunchtime bike ride I found myself in the Edgewood neighborhood in northeast D.C., near the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception and The Catholic University of America.  And as I was riding I saw a statue in a garden that to me looked vaguely like a different pose of the statue of Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  So I stopped to get a closer look and find out more about it.

It turns out that the 17-foot-tall, 10-ton brass statue is entitled “Christ, the Light of the World.”  Located 3211 4th Street (MAP), it is in a garden in front of the headquarters for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.  It was originally the idea of a woman named Marjorie Lambert Russell, who lived in Topeka, Kansas.  In 1936 she wrote a letter to Bishop John F. Noll, who was the founder of a publication entitled “Our Sunday Visitor.”  Bishop Noll frequently used the pages of the newspaper to advocate for important Catholic causes in the United States, and she suggested that that the publication begin a drive to erect a statue of Christ in our nation’s capital.  Russell pointed out that since D.C. had many statues of famous people, one should be erected to represent the greatest person who had ever walked the earth.  Along with the letter she enclosed a dollar bill, which was to serve as the first donation to fund the statue.

The idea appealed to Bishop Noll, who published her letter in the newspaper. The idea caught on with its readers, who soon began sending in donations for the project which would eventually total more than $150,000.  Bishop Noll later arranged for the statue, designed and created by University of Notre Dame art professor Eugene Kormendi, to be placed outside the National Catholic Welfare Conference headquarters, which at that time was located at 1312 Massachusetts Avenue in downtown D.C.

Bishop Noll presented the statue to the conference, and was present at its dedication ceremony in April of 1949, where it was dedicated by The Most Reverend Amleto Giovanni Cicognani, Apostolic Delegate to the United States, and accepted by The Most Reverend John T. McNicholas, Chairman of the National Catholic Welfare Conference Administrative Board.  Half a century later, in 1989, the statue was moved to its current home in front of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops offices, where I saw it today.

christlightoftheworld02[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

Droplet and Turning Point

Foon Sham is a Chinese born artist who was educated in the United States and is now a local resident.  For over thirty years he has passionately and meticulously carved and sculpted unique layered works of art.   Many of his works can be found in fine art galleries.  But fortunately for the public examples of his work are also on public display right here in D.C. 

Located due south of the fountain at Dupont Circle, at 19th & L Streets (MAP) in the city’s Downtown neighborhood,  are two outdoor public art pieces entitled Droplet and Turning Point.  Ranging from nine to eleven feet tall, the pieces evoke water-collecting vessels intended to represent the collecting, holding and filtering of excess rain water, and thus symbolizing the function of the rain gardens of which they are a part.

Commissioned by the Golden Triangle Business Improvement District with grant assistance from the District Department of Energy and Environment,  five rain gardens were constructed in 2015, adding nearly 3,000 square feet of green space which can filter tens of thousands of gallons of runoff annually. The gardens also provide a refuge for butterflies and other pollinators with native vegetation and a resting spot for people with the garden’s integrated seating.  Foon Sham’s sculptures are the focal point of two of these gardens, and add another layer of interest and beauty to the area.

         
[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

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Portrait of John J. Crittenden

I have not been writing as often in this blog recently because several weeks ago I fell and broke some ribs.  So I have been unable to ride.  No, I did not fall while riding a bike.  However, it was related to biking.  I wanted to go mountain biking on a section of the Washington-Rochambeau National Historic Trail near Mount Vernon.  However, not being an experienced mountain biker and having never previously ridden on that particular mixed-use trail, I decided to hike it first to scout it out and see if it is within my skill set to try mountain biking there.  It was while I was hiking that my foot got caught under an exposed tree root and I fell on a rocky part of the trail, breaking several ribs.  So I decided that since I could not even walk it without hurting myself, perhaps I should first get a little more experience mountain biking on easier trails before going back there to ride.

Having given my ribs enough time to heal, I now feel much better.  But since I haven’t ridden in almost a month, I decided to transition back into riding and make sure that I don’t overdo it.  So for today’s lunchtime ride, I rode to the nearby National Portrait Gallery, located at 8th and F Streets (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s Chinatown neighborhood, to see a painting of John J. Crittenden. He was a politician from the state of Kentucky, and represented that state in both the U.S. House of Representatives and in the U.S. Senate, and twice served as the U.S. Attorney General.  I went there because tomorrow is the anniversary of Congress’ passage of the Crittenden Resolution, which was named after him.

On July 25th in 1861, just three and a half months after the beginning of the Civil War, the U.S. Congress passed the Crittenden Resolution (also referred to as the Crittenden-Johnson Resolution). The resolution declared that the war was being waged for the reunion of the states and not to interfere with the institutions of the South, including taking any actions against the “peculiar” institution of slavery. The war was fought not for “overthrowing or interfering with the rights or established institutions of those States,” but to “defend and maintain the supremacy of the Constitution and to preserve the Union.” The implication was that war would end when the seceding states returned to the Union, with slavery remaining intact.

This meant that for the first year and a half of the Civil War, reunification of the United States was the official goal of the North.  It was not until President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation of September 1862 that the abolishment of slavery became a goal.  The Crittenden Resolution is sometimes confused with the Corwin Amendment, a proposal to amend the U. S. Constitution adopted by the previous 36th Congress, which attempted to constitutionalize slavery. It was adopted by the necessary two-thirds margin in both houses of Congress and submitted to the states for ratification. It was ratified by three states before the war pre-empted further debate.

Today it is difficult to comprehend American society, as it existed back then, in which the institution of slavery was supported or tolerated by the public, and endorsed by the Federal government. However, as difficult as it is to comprehend, we must try. We must try to understand so we can not only understand our own history, but because slavery still exists in this world.  Currently there are approximately 27 million slaves in the world – people forced to work without pay, under threat of violence and unable to walk away. Since slavery feeds directly into the global economy, it makes sense that we would be concerned by the ways in which slavery flows into our homes through the products we buy and the investments we make. Slaves harvest cocoa in the Ivory Coast, make charcoal used to produce steel in Brazil, weave carpets in India—the list goes on. These products reach our stores and our homes. So think before you buy, because slavery is not just a thing of the past.

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[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

Homeless Jesus

On today’s lunchtime outing I happened upon a sculpture unlike any other public artwork in the city. It is meant to merge with the environment, so it’s not on a pedestal or made with granite. The seven-foot-long sculpture depicts a person shrouded in a blanket and lying on a park bench. The figure is difficult to see because of being covered by the blanket, but upon closer inspection is identifiable by the crucifixion wounds on his feet sticking out from under the blanket. The sculpture, located outside Catholic Charities Headquarters at 924 G Street (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s Chinatown neighborhood, depicts Christianity’s central figure, and is entitled Homeless Jesus.

The work was created by Canadian sculptor Timothy P. Schmalz, who sculpts in the small town of St. Jacobs, outside Toronto. He said the idea to sculpt Jesus as a homeless person came to him while he was walking the streets of Toronto, and witnessed a man or a woman, he wasn’t sure which, covered and on the street.  He was both moved and shocked, and considered that he had just witnessed Jesus.  After creating the piece, which he sees as a visual translation of how Jesus would want us to see him, he initially couldn’t find anyone who wanted it.  So he said at the time, “Jesus has no home, how ironic.”

He estimates that he has made more than thirty of the sculptures, which he sells for about $32,000 apiece. The first was installed at Regis College, University of Toronto, in early 2013.  Since then, the statues have popped up on private property in cities across the country, including Denver, Phoenix and Chicago. The statues are usually financed by an anonymous private donor, as was the case for the sculpture here in D.C., which was subsequently blessed by Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington, to commemorate Ash Wednesday in 2015.

I like a statement the artist made at the time the D.C. sculpture was installed. He said, “Hopefully, people think it’s a real homeless person. I hope that when people encounter the sculpture, it will remind people of the gift that Christianity has given civilization: the idea that all humanity is sacred.” But even more, I particularly like the response of the artist to one of the criticisms he received about the work, which has received mixed reviews.  Someone said to him, “Oh, great, now when I see a homeless person, I’ll think of this sculpture.”  To which the artist responded, “That’s the best compliment I could get.”

         

         
[Click on the thumbnails above to view the full size photos]

(The statue makes me think of the verse in The Bible which can be found at Matthew 25:40. “And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”)

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Reloaded

Murals revitalize neighborhoods with nothing but a little spray paint and imagination.  And an initiative named MuralsDC is spearheading this form of revitalization here in the national capital city.  Sponsored by the D.C. Department of Public Works and conducted in partnership with the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities and the non-profit Words Beats & Life, MuralsDC works with business owners in places that have been affected by illegal graffiti, and replaces the graffiti with free-of-charge artwork.  And that’s is exactly what happened to create the mural that I saw on this lunchtime bike ride.  It is entitled “Reloaded”, and is located on the side of the building located at 312 Florida Avenue (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s Truxton Circle neighborhood.

“Reloaded” was created by one of D.C.’s most active mural artists, Aniekan Udofia, whose other local murals include:  a portrait of Marvin Gaye surrounded by streams of color; one featuring a mermaid-like girl swimming in a sea of color at the William Rumsey Aquatic Center on Capitol Hill, and; a brightly striped mural featuring President Barack Obama and Bill Cosby that up until recently was featured on the side of Ben’s Chili Bowl.

One of D.C.’s most eye-catching murals, “Reloaded” shows a curvy woman pointing a sharp pencil from her hips, almost like a weapon. And the pencil-as-weapon imagery seems to jump out of the wall, much like it jumped to the attention of the public when it was first planned.  The Department of Public Works was cautious about the implication of a weapon, but nonetheless supported the choice of mural at the urging of Nzinga Damali Cathie, who works at Kuumba Kollectibles , the art gallery, gift store, and sweets shop located in the building that is home to the mural.  Damali Cathie asserted, “We want people to focus on the true meaning of the weapon, the pencil, which is knowledge and literacy.  [It’s] not a weapon that destroys at all, but more of a tool for building.”  It has since become a neighborhood landmark, and received only positive feedback from visitors to Kuumba Kollectibles.

The Japanese Pagoda at the Tidal Basin

On this bike ride I rode back to the Tidal Basin (MAP) in West Potomac Park to enjoy the remaining cherry blossoms that haven’t yet been ruined, but soon will be by the rain storms that are being predicted to arrive soon.  And as I was walking around the Tidal Basin and passing by The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial on the southwest bank of the water, I saw a rough-hewn stone structure about the size of a man located just a few feet off the sidewalk that surrounds the water’s edge.  When I went over to get a closer look and find out more about it I learned that it is a pagoda.

A pagoda is a tiered tower with multiple eaves, built in traditions originating as stupa in historic South Asia and further developed in East Asia or with respect to those traditions, common to Nepal, India, China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, and other parts of Asia.

The pagoda at the Tidal Basin is a Japanese one, which is directly derived of the Chinese pagoda, itself an interpretation of the Indian stupa.  Japanese pogodas can be built in many forms.  Some are built out of wood, and are frequently buildings.  But the vast majority of pagodas carved out of stone, like the one at the Tidal Basin.  Stone pagodas are nearly always small, and as a rule offer no usable space. If they have more than one storey, pagodas are called tas.

Like The Japanese Stone Lantern directly across the Tidal Basin, the pagoda was similarly a gift from Japan to the city of Washington.  According to a small plaque on the pagoda, it was presented by the Mayor of Yokohama and dedicated on April 18, 1958, to “symbolize the spirit of friendship between the United States of America manifested in the Treaty of Peace, Amity and Commerce signed at Yokohama on March 31, 1854 .”

[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

Shh!

Riding around the national capital city it’s hard to miss the painted walls that dot D.C. and color each ward.  During this lunchtime bike ride I encountered a large, three-story mural entitled “Shh!” which is located on the northwest exterior wall of the building located 8 Florida Avenue (MAP), at the southwest corner of the intersection of North Capitol Street and Florida Avenue in northwest D.C.’s Truxton Circle neighborhood.

Shh! was created in 2013 by artists James Bullough and Addison Karl.  Through a creative partnership entitled JBAK, which is currently based in Berlin, Germany, each artist brings his unique vision and style to their combined body of work.  Bullough’s main focus is photo-realism, with attention to ambient and deep space, layers, and geometric forms.  He combines contemporary street art techniques and materials with those of realist oil painters, creating pieces of vivid color, as is evidenced by Shh!

In “Shhh,” three playful and lifelike giants mischievously crouch behind a wall.  The models for the painting were students from the neighborhood who collaborated on the artwork’s design.  Through their participation the mural project also taught the young artists the ability to spray paint pieces that are beyond graffiti tagging by providing supplies and pairing youth with artists they admire.  The collaborative effort between the students and artists was coordinated through Words, Beats and Life, a non-profit organization whose aim is to serve as a vehicle to transform individual lives and communities through Hip-Hop.

The mural is part of the MuralsDC Collection, which is a project funded by the D.C. Department of Public Works, in cooperation with the D.C. Commission on the Arts and the Humanities.  The aim of the project is to revitalize neighborhoods, provide permanent graffiti abatement to those properties that have experienced or are at risk of this type of vandalism, and to boost local businesses. 

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[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]