Posts Tagged ‘ Art ’

140 Maiden Lane

On Saturday afternoon, Scott and I wandered into 140 Maiden LaneFrank Lloyd Wright‘s sole contribution to San Francisco architecture.  We were unaware of the building’s cultural significance when we entered it.  We were merely curious if the building’s interior matched its plain yet elegant exterior.  We were surprised to find an architectural marvel inside.

Visiting 140 Maiden Lane was a serendipitous detour.  I had been leading the way to Britex, my favourite fabric store, when beautiful voices beckoned.  We walked along Grant Avenue and turned left onto Maiden Lane, where a tenor and a soprano were performing for passersby.  They stood in the middle of the street.  As they sang, their operatic voices reverberated off the surrounding buildings.  We listened to several arias, and then Scott tipped the buskers as we walked past them towards Britex’s back door.  A century ago, if voices beckoned visitors onto Maiden Lane (which used to be called Morton Street), the voices likely would have belonged to prostitutes, and the visitors likely would have been johns.  The 1906 earthquake destroyed the Morton Street red-light district.  But I digress.

Across the street from Britex, a large “goop MRKT” banner fluttered in the wind above 140 Maiden Lane.  “goop MRKT” is a pop-up curation of Gwyneth Paltrow‘s lifestyle brand.  Scott told me that he had noticed 140 Maiden Lane before but it had always been closed or vacant.  The building’s tall exterior wall of tan brick is relieved by a metal gate hung below a brick arch.

As the gate was open, we walked through the arch into a lovely atrium merchandised with tasteful art, books, and clothing.  The space itself seemed to be the main attraction for many of the visitors I observed.  A large white circular ramp spirals up from the atrium to a mezzanine like a giant nautilus shell.  A drop ceiling features 120 white acrylic domes which conceal the building’s pitched glass roof.  A hanging planter floats over the atrium like a verdant flying saucer.  A small plaque near the door reads “This structure [is] designated by the American Institute of Architects as one of 17 American buildings designed by Frank Lloyd Wright to be retained as an example of his architectural contribution to American Culture – 1960.”  Scott and I peeked behind wooden doors to find hidden offices and a decommissioned dumbwaiter.  We opened drawers full of fancy soaps for sale.  Eventually, we left and went to Britex.

The next day, I returned to 140 Maiden Lane with a prospective client.  We had hit it off while exploring the newly-renovated San Francisco Museum of Modern Art so I was happy to share this discovery with him.  He seemed taken with the black walnut built-in furniture and fixtures, so we sat in silent appreciation of our surroundings.  Before we left, I asked a clerk to tell us about the building’s history.  She told us that gift shop owner V.C. Morris commissioned Frank Lloyd Wright to renovate 140 Maiden Lane in the late 1940’s, and that the circular ramp in the atrium served as a physical proof of concept for the architect’s interior design of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York.  She advised us that “goop MRKT” is open at 140 Maiden Lane only until May 22, so there are a few days left to enjoy the space before it closes.

 

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Stift Melk

We recently celebrated our tenth wedding anniversary by cycling along the Donauradweg (Danube Cycle Path) between Passau, Germany and Vienna, Austria.  At the end of our fourth day on the road, we arrived in Melk after getting a late start in Grein where we had replaced the hard narrow saddles on our rental bikes with wide cushy saddles from a small bike shop located on the Kreuznerstrasse.  The new saddles enabled us to cycle comfortably for long stretches of time and helped cushion the blow of us losing our way in the dark while we were en route to Melk.  We realized that we had taken a wrong turn when the well-maintained bike path gave way to gravel and grass.  Our unintentional detour added a couple of kilometers (about a mile) to our journey.   Thanks to my new bike seat, I cycled this extra distance without complaint – it was worth every penny to me and Scott!  Most cyclists hit the Donauradweg at dawn so that they may arrive at their destinations by mid-afternoon.  Thus, getting lost while pedaling along the Danube River during the day is nearly impossible as the route is well-marked.  Getting lost in the dark is still rather difficult, but we managed to do so.

We were standing on a bridge when I took this photo of the Stift Melk (Melk Abbey).  It was raining, and I was tired after a long day of cycling.  Nearby, a campground full of teenagers partied on despite the rain.  As Scott consulted Google Maps to confirm the route that we would take to our hotel, I did my best to keep my camera dry as I took photos of the abbey.  The Stift Melk was founded in 1089, when Leopold II, Margrave of Austria donated a castle (which was later destroyed by fire) to Benedictine monks.  The abbey’s architecture “went for Baroque” between 1701 and 1736.

We toured the abbey before we cycled from Melk to Traismauer the next day.  The abbey’s Marble Hall, Library, and Church are wonderfully ornate.

Unsafe Safety Pin

Corridor Pin, Blue” is an enormous sculpture of a safety pin by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen. There are several of these sculptures on display in America: one is in New Orleans; the artists’ proof is in Dallas; and the one I saw stands in the Barbro Osher Sculpture Garden at the de Young Museum in San Francisco‘s Golden Gate Park. The sculpture is 21 feet (6.4 meters) tall and it is made of stainless steel and painted aluminum. The pointy end of the pin looks sharp enough to poke out a dinosaur’s eye. Good thing there are no dinosaurs roaming around Golden Gate Park. Or are there? The Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton on display at the California Academy of Sciences next door wasn’t always a skeleton. Perhaps T-Rex had impaled himself on a safety pin sculpture and that’s why his skeleton is now on permanent display!

Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen were not only artistic collaborators but also husband and wife. They must have had so much fun deciding together what to make: “Let’s make a huge clothespin!”…”No, let’s make a big shuttlecock!”…”Why don’t we make a giant trowel today?”…”I feel the urge to make a flashlight for King Kong.”…”You know what the world needs? A massive pair of binoculars!” Their “Binoculars” sculpture anchors the Chiat/Day Building in Los Angeles designed by Canadian architect Frank Gehry. Coosje van Bruggen met Frank Gehry when they both served as adjudicators at Documenta, a contemporary art show in Kassel, Germany. Arne, my first friend in L.A., is from Kassel. In May, Arne gave me and Scott a grand tour of Kassel after we rendezvoused in Helsa. Yes, I share my name with a suburb of Kassel!

I took this photo of “Corridor Pin, Blue” last Sunday, just after a kind stranger had taken a group shot of me, Scott, Mama Chow, my Uncle Jeff, and my Auntie Lynne. We were in S.F. for a short but sweet family reunion: Jeff and Lynne live in Australia; Mama Chow lives in Canada; Scott now lives near Berkeley; and I live in L.A. Earlier that day, I had run 10 miles along the trails of Golden Gate Park while my family had wandered through the park’s Japanese Tea Garden and Conservatory of Flowers. It was a perfect day, really.

Mentors

In bookstores, I pick up books at random and flip them open to see what phrases move me.  A copy of Damn Good Advice (For People with Talent!):  How To Unleash Your Creative Potential by George Lois recently caught my eye.  Lois bills himself as “America’s Master Communicator”.  I was curious yet skeptical.  However, he had me at bon mot 113.  “Extoll your Mentors.”  This post is dedicated to three of my mentors:  Bob Lank, Sandy Thornton-Trump, and Ron Vermette.

In the past four months, I have:  quit a job; traveled with Scott to Italy, Germany, and France; renewed many friendships; visited Mama Chow in Canada; started a new job; and helped Scott move to Berkeley, where he will be working for the coming year.  A major catalyst for this frenetic cycle of good fortune is my mentor, Bob Lank.  When I lacked the confidence to leave my job for the unknown, Bob advised me to take a leap of faith.  He declared, “Helsa, this year is going to be about betting on yourself.”  I heeded his counsel and traveled to Venice, where Scott was attending a conference; I took this photo of the Basilica Cattedrale Patriarcale di San Marco as Scott and I walked to Harry’s Bar for dinner one evening.  Bob was assigned to be my mentor during my second year of business school.  Over the years, Bob has coached me through several professional and personal transitions.  He has become my confidante and my friend.  He and his wife were guests at our Chinese wedding banquet; Scott and I have been guests at their Sunday dinners.  Now that we live 2,200 miles (3,500 km) apart, it’s difficult for us to meet for dinner but Bob always has a few words of wisdom for me each time I contemplate a job offer or move to a new city.

Sandy Thornton-Trump was a Professor of Mechanical Engineering at my alma mater.  I don’t remember how we met.  I do remember the hours we spent talking in his office as I transcribed his lectures on Automotive Design, typed his correspondence, and tidied his desk.  He was visually impaired, so he needed an extra set of eyes to stay organized at work.  Even though he was blind, he could see that I felt a bit lost at the time.  He was generous with his sympathy.  Before and after I graduated from engineering school, we would meet for lunch at the Faculty Club to gossip and puzzle over the small intrigues of our lives.  We shared sorrow and joy:  he and his wife helped me to cope with my father’s death; I had the pleasure of meeting their little grandson; they vetted and approved of Scott.  The final time I saw Sandy was soon after my honeymoon.  Scott’s parents had hosted a reception on their farm to celebrate our marriage but Sandy and his wife had declined to attend.  I paid Sandy a visit and sadly found him in ill-health.  He passed away three months after our visit.

Ron Vermette was my teacher in Grade 3.  Mr. V made learning fun for me.  More importantly, he proved that it’s possible to do great work and remain true to oneself:  his long hair, Chuck Taylors, Winnipeg Jets jersey, convertible, and proficiency at air guitar were incidental to his talent for opening minds to new ideas.  He shook up my eight-year-old reverence for orthodoxy and for that I remain grateful.  He taught me how to tie-dye fabric, tool copper, and mold plaster of Paris.  I still enjoy getting my hands dirty to learn something new.  He used to print math exercises on top of cartoon characters, so that his students could colour in the cartoons as they learned to add and subtract.  I still have a collection of booklets that I wrote and illustrated in his class – he had taught me how to sew the pages together.  A couple of years ago, I wrote Mr. V and asked him if he had continued to play floor hockey, build reading caves, and make art with his students.  He responded to my note and I was happy to learn that after 33 years of teaching, he was still having fun.  He still plays floor hockey once a week and he still has a reading cave in his classroom.  He still has long hair but has “traded in the hot car for a Jeep“.  Mr. V plans to retire next year.  Before he retires, I will send him another note.

Mike’s Cafe

This week, we enjoyed a brief visit from my Australian friend Penny and her younger brother Ian.  Ian had backpacked his way around the world for several months before he visited Penny and her “registered partner NOT husband” Chris in the Bay AreaLos Angeles was Ian’s final pit stop before he flew back to Australia on Wednesday night.

Penny had chauffeured Ian from the Bay Area to Las Vegas for two days of gambling before they arrived on our doorstep Tuesday evening, bearing gifts of 99 Ranch Chinese roast duck, Sun Tropics mango passionfruit juice, and a Cuisinart immersion blender!  Penny and I used to shop at the 99 Ranch in Mountain View on Thursdays after volunteering with Habitat for Humanity Silicon Valley.  Chinese roast duck was and remains a treat, but cartons of Sun Tropics juice were staples in our fridge back then!  We inherited the blender from our German friends Julia and Eberhard, who are moving from Menlo Park to Hamburg next month.  To repay Julia and Eberhard’s kindness, I sent Penny home with a small framed print of Death Valley Desert Gold for them, as they had visited Death Valley over Christmas.  To repay Penny’s kindness, we enjoyed comfort food together at the Nickel Diner in downtown L.A. and Tender Greens in Santa Monica.

Penny’s kindness manifests itself in countless ways.  She pours love into the meals she cooks for her friends and family.  She makes my long commute bearable by Skyping with me once a week as I inch along the freeway.  And despite her occasional tantrums when I’ve taken “too many” photos during a hike or party, she encourages my photography.  She arranged for Ellen and Mike, the proprietors of Mike’s Cafes, to display my work at their Palo Alto restaurant for three months this past summer.  This is a photo of my prints on display at the restaurant.  Scott hung the frames; he did an excellent job.  If you scan the mirrored wall closely, you will see the reflection of Penny chatting with Mike.

Angels Flight

On the final night of Mama Chow’s Christmas visit, we walked to dinner at L.A. Prime atop The Westin Bonaventure where we admired the Los Angeles skyline, had a nice meal, and then fought over the bill as good Asian families do (Mama Chow won).  On our way to the restaurant I took this photo of the Angels Flight railway, which we rode up Bunker Hill from Hill Street to California Plaza.  

This photo was a happy accident.  I had set the shutter speed at 15 seconds as it was dark outside, but then I forgot to turn off the camera’s flash.  The camera captured the train in motion.  The illuminated tower that hovers over the train is Los Angeles City Hall.  City Hall, which was completed in 1928, wasn’t even around when Angels Flight was built.  A plaque mounted onto a boulder next to the train station reads: 

Built in 1901 by Colonel J.W. Eddy, lawyer, engineer, and friend of President Abraham Lincoln, Angels Flight is said to be the world’s shortest incorporated railway.  The counterbalanced cars, controlled by cables, travel a 33 percent grade for 315 feet [96 meters].  It is estimated that Angels Flight has carried more passengers per mile [1.6 km] than any other railway in the world, over a hundred million in its first fifty years.  This incline railway is a public utility operating under a franchise granted by the City of Los Angeles.

Between 1901 and 1969, the railway ran along tracks which connected Hill Street and Olive Street at Third Street.  The railway was dismantled in 1969 to make way for redevelopment and was finally re-constructed in 1996 to operate at its current location until 2001, when its gear train failed.  The railcar at the top of the hill, Sinai, hurtled down the hill and crashed into the other railcar, Olivet.  One man died and seven people were injured in this accident.  Angels Flight re-opened in March 2010 and a one-way ticket to ride now costs 25 cents.   

In the film “500 Days of Summer” (2009), the main character Tom takes his girlfriend Summer to Angels Knoll Park.  The park is his favorite spot in Los Angeles as he can look out over a number of buildings he likes, although the view is spoiled by parking lots.  Seven dots of white light shine from these parking lots in my photo.  The Angels Flight railway runs through Angels Knoll Park.

Malibu Sunset

The sunset in Malibu on Saturday evening was worth searing my retinas for – don’t you think?

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