Taking advantage of the free admission in celebration of MLK, Jr. Day, the children and I headed up to Baltimore to visit the American Visionary Art Museum. It may have just become my favorite museum.
When we first walked in, all of us had flashbacks to the Ripley’s Believe It Or Not Museum. We even saw some toast art. But it didn’t take long for us to be drawn in by the amazing creations we were seeing.
Because I wasn’t sure, I thought you might also appreciate reading the museum brochure description of Visionary Art:
Like love, you know it when you see it. But here’s the longer definition, straight out of our Mission Statement:
“Visionary art as defined for the purposes of the American Visionary Art Museum refers to art produced by self-taught individuals, usually without formal training, whose works arise from an innate personal vision that revels foremost in the creative act itself.”
In short, visionary art begins by listening to the inner voices of the soul, and often may not even be thought of as ‘art’ by its creator.
We walked around for an hour, then decided to take a break for lunch. We hadn’t dressed warmly enough for the day, and the directions we received from various people sent us on a couple wandering journeys, but eventually we found Sorso Cafe. We were so glad to be in out of the warmth, though the food didn’t quite hit the sweet spot for us. I would have been thrilled to try their coffee, but that isn’t on the menu right now.
As luck would have it, we were able watch President Obama being sworn in! Yeah!
My favorite exhibit was Gretchen Feldman: Love Letter to Earth (1934-2008)
In addition to creating beautiful works of art:
the write up on the wall in the exhibit sums up the sort of life I’d like to live:
GRETCHEN FELDMAN: Love Letter to Earth (1934 – 2008)
Master of the Universe / grant me the ability to be alone; / may it be my custom to go outdoors each day among the trees and grasses, / among all growing things, / and there to be alone, and enter into prayer, / to talk to the One to whom I belong.
—Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav
Toward the end of an exceedingly happy, family-filled life, artist Gretchen Feldman declared her garden on Martha’s Vineyard, “My best friend.”
Views of sea, sky, and swaying grasses combined with the play of seasonal color and natural light to flood Gretchen’s island home and art studio with inspiration and peace. Dominating her subsequent artistic explorations that were intensified by a surprise diagnosis of lung cancer in the last year of her life, are Gretchen’s luminous paintings depicting exquisite and eternal themes: where land meets sea, day embraces night, sky kisses earth, and all the color and radiance inherent to that balanced and alchemical, sacred cycle of union and touch.
Born Gretchen Lvov Vogel on February 19, 1934 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to
parents of Romanian and Russian Jewish parentage, Gretchen’s family was of modest means. Gretchen’s father worked in a steel mill and her mother as a seamstress. Raised in Baltimore, Gretchen and her only sibling—older brother Robert—attended on full scholarship the progressive and private, The Park School, where her father, Ned, secured a position teaching English and her strikingly beautiful mother, Vera, was hired as assistant
to the School’s principal. On graduation from Park, Gretchen attended Swarthmore College for two years, changing to Maryland’s Goucher College after she met her future husband, Sam Feldman, on a blind date. Both experienced that great rarity—a lasting “love at first sight.” Married in 1955, Gretchen worked as a textile conservator, while Sam became a successful men’s clothier and retailer. They raised two daughters in Baltimore, Dene and Leigh, sending them, also, to The Park School.
Gretchen sewed her children’s clothes, made their costumes, and loved providing her family nightly home cooking. She and Sam shared many passions—classical music, politics, art and a dedication to community well being. Together, they were among the first to support the establishment of the American Visionary Art Museum.
Gretchen and Sam’s wooded Baltimore garden was filled each spring with many
thousands of daffodils. After their two daughters, Dene and Leigh, were grown, Gretchen light-heartedly declared Baltimore, “a tight shoe,” and carefully scouted a nature-filled site to make a home in Chilmark, on Martha’s Vineyard. There, they nurtured barn owlets in their field, kept sheep, and benefited from indigenous garden expert Wolfgang Oehme’s respectful vision of the land that was wholly harmonious with Gretchen’s goal to replicate a natural meadow. Gretchen’s joy was in finding and collecting nature’s worn, heart-shaped, beach rocks—an ongoing hunt whose delight she passed on to her friends, children and
Quiet, but possessing a lively sense of humor, Gretchen was a voracious reader who clipped New Yorker cartoons for her adult daughters and dinner guests as apropos place settings. She requested the following quote by Woody Allen be read at her funeral:
“In my next life I want to live my life backwards. You start out dead and get that out of the way. Then you wake up in an old people’s home feeling better
every day. You get kicked out for being too healthy, go collect your pension, and then when you start work, you get a gold watch and a party on your first day. You work for 40 years until you’re young enough to enjoy your retirement. You party, drink alcohol, and are generally promiscuous, then you are ready for
high school. You then go to primary school, you become a kid, you play. You
have no responsibilities, you become a baby until you are born. And then you
spend your last 9 months floating in luxurious spa-like conditions with central
heating and room service on tap, larger quarters every day and then Voila! You
finish off as an orgasm!”
Gretchen asked her family to be sure to note in her obituary, à la other dedicated liberals, “In lieu of flowers, please vote Democratic!”
—Exhibition Co-Curators: Dene Feldman and Rebecca Alban Hoffberger
What an amazing, lovely, loving woman.
We also had the joy/sorrow of reading through the Esther Krinitz display. In amazing quilted, embroidered, beautiful texture creations, she tells the story of her life before and after the Nazis took over her village. There was a video to accompany the exhibit, and the big kids spent time watching that, though they didn’t want to talk about it. Monkey took the time to read through the entire display, which had probably 20 different pieces. The Buster read some, turned to me and said, “Mom, are all these stories true?”
Pictures aren’t allowed inside the museum, but I so wanted to take pictures of the children looking at the exhibits they found most intriguing.
Yessa loved looking at the display case filled with Pez dispensers, finding characters she recognized.
We were all fascinated by the rainbow, glass angel rising and falling in the entryway. It wasn’t until we returned from lunch that we realized the life-size angel was moving.
We spent a long time looking at The Fairy Castle and The Fairy Tree House.
All the children mentioned that they thought Dad would love this museum, so I know we will return.
A great start to the new year’s Museum Mondays.