art · culture

Celebrating the Arts

One of the greatest joys of my life was visiting museums. Prior to 2019, I regularly worked in Washington, DC, which meant that I could easily go to a major museum during my lunch break or after work. I loved walking those corridors and taking in art from all around the world, as well as art that documented the history of America. Nothing was as soothing to me as spending time at the Smithsonian and checking out the latest exhibitions.

However, things changed drastically at the end of 2018. I was unable to walk more than a few feet without getting winded, I could only sleep for an hour or so at a time, and the unrelenting body aches that I experienced left me frustrated and frightened. As someone that was used to being far more active, I was terrified of these mysterious symptoms that took away my basic abilities to navigate the world like I’d previously done. As it turns out, I had fibromyalgia, and I immediately started a telework schedule that would allow me to rest as needed throughout the day. Unfortunately, my condition made traveling to DC absolute torture. So, I had to put my museum mini-trips on hold until my health improved.

I still haven’t gone back to visit the museums in DC, though I have spent some time at my local museum earlier this year (I was thrilled to finally be able to walk around a bit without experiencing excruciating pain). However, it’s National Arts and Humanities Month, and I just want to take a moment to share some of the amazing things happening at the Smithsonian in honor of this month-long celebration.

On October 23rd, the Smithsonian will be kicking off its own craft show. The show will occur virtually, and the theme is Celebrating American Artistry. The crafts featured in the show are created by carefully selected artisans that create work that reflects American aesthetics and sensibilities. What better way to celebrate art than to purchase some for yourself? Interested shoppers can securely purchase items through the Smithsonian platform, adding a layer of assurance for both shoppers and the craftspeople that are involved in the exchange. The event ends on October 31st.

The Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, the Asian art museum within the Smithsonian, is the host of the DC Turkish Film Festival. The films that are featured in this festival are all available online for free, so anyone can enjoy from the comfort of their homes. The films will be available through the Sackler Gallery through October 31st.

The companion to the Sackler Gallery is the Freer Gallery. At the Freer Gallery, the Hokusai: Mad About Painting exhibition is a fascinating dive into the art of Katsushika Hokusai, a Japanese artist that is arguably among the country’s most famous painters. The Freer Gallery has an impressive collection of Hokusai’s work, and anyone interested in learning more about this gifted artist would do well to check out this exhibition. But hurry: it will only be at the gallery until January 9, 2022.

The National Museum of African Art (located just one block from the Free and Sackler Galleries) is currently displaying Heroes: Principles of African Greatness, an exhibition that centers on how art is used to tell the stories of heroism and the traits of effective African leaders. This one is definitely worth checking out sooner rather than later, since the end date for this exhibition is still to be announced. Nothing is worse that postponing a visit and finding out that you mistimed your travel and lost the opportunity to do something that you wanted to do (trust me: it’s happened to me, and it was no fun!)

Finally, the Archive of American Art is hosting the exhibition, What is Feminist Art? This exhibition is a continuation of a discussion that was initiated back in 1976, and some of the same artists that participated in the 1970s also participated this time around. This exhibition promises to be an eye-opening discussion on feminism and how it has changed, or remained the same, over the past 45+ years. This exhibition closes on December 31st.

Would you check out any of these exhibitions? Or, do you have other plans to celebrate National Arts and Humanities Month? I’d love to hear all about it in the comments below!

art · culture · music

Giving Gladys Her Flowers

During one of my many jaunts down the Google rabbit hole, I found myself in 1930s-40s-50s Black American music history. I always love looking at the style of clothing, listening to the recordings of the artists, and finding out some of the fascinating backstory that led to their rises to fame and, many times, their untimely and tragic demises.

Every now and then, I find myself in an interesting corner of Black American history. One such corner is the part of history that contains the legacies of LGBTQIA+. In this corner is where I found Gladys Bentley, lesbian icon, trailblazer, and unapologetic star.

Prior to this year, I was completely unfamiliar with Ms. Bentley’s story. However, when I read about her, I made sure to jot her name down so I could write about her when I had the chance. I’m fortunate to be able to discuss her life and legacy now. When I saw a photo of her, I was immediately struck by her impeccably tailored white suit (at least, I think it was a white suit: the photo was in Black and white, after all), her matching cane, and a white top hat worn at a jaunty angle. Everything about her screamed stylish and confident star.

But it was her story that made me want to both cheer and weep. Ms. Bentley was a cross-dressing star during the Harlem Renaissance, a period of time that embrace the avant garde and brilliant creative endeavors of Black performers. During this time, she thrived due to the novelty of her act, but her talent is what kept people hooked on Gladys. She could sing well, play piano, and work a crowd like no other. Her song selections were risque and fit the vibe of the smoky speakeasies where she performed. She didn’t try to pass as a man: she made no attempt to hide her full bust or wide hips. She achieved major success for several years, and she lived luxuriously during this time.

Sadly, her story had a heartbreaking beginning and a tragic end. Ms. Bentley was initially rejected at birth by her mother, who wanted a son. While her mother eventually started to care for her a few months after her birth, the trauma (and, no doubt, toxic messaging that was doled out over time) lingered and was what she believed was the root cause of her sexual orientation. Years later, as her career declined, she tried to live as a heterosexual woman, marrying and divorcing twice. She eventually died at the age of 52 from pneumonia. She claimed to have been “cured” of her homosexuality, with her cure curiously coinciding with the McCarthy Era. This is just my humble opinion, but I suspect that the claim of a “cure” was probably Ms. Bentley’s way of protecting herself from additional harassment and potential abuse. But that’s just a speculation.

I had a chance to check out some of her discography, and I enjoyed listening to Ms. Bentley’s full, resonant voice. Anyone that has listened to recordings from the first half of the 1900s knows how difficult it is to enjoy some of the songs. The recording quality, as well as the style of singing preferred by the public, is quite different from the music preferences of the past 30 years or so. That being said, I found that her voice was closer to being “timeless” than some other artists of that period. If any of her original records could be digitally enhanced, I’m sure that many of her songs would have experience a revival of sorts, becoming popular with a new generation, nearly 100 years after she first sang them.

I wish Gladys Bentley was more well-known today, and I sincerely hope that this post, though simple, honors her memory. Instead of focusing on the tragedy that she experienced, I will share the gift of her music with you all. Here is a YouTube video of one of her songs. Enjoy.

art

A Trip to the Dirty South

After many months of staying inside and avoiding gathering in public places, I finally ventured out and visited my beloved local museum, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA). The museum reopened a while ago but it’s been well over a year since I’ve visited. It was a little eerie to return to the museum: it took me a moment to reacquaint myself with the layout. But once I started walking around a bit, it all came back to me.

For anyone that has not visited VMFA before, let me tell you, it is a gorgeous museum with incredible permanent and visiting exhibitions. If you’re in the area, it’s definitely worth checking out. And, if you’re visiting anytime before September 6, 2021, you can view a very special exhibition that highlights Southern artistry and creativity. The Dirty South: Contemporary Art, Material Culture, and the Sonic Impulse gives visitors a peak into the energy and dynamism of 20th century Southern Black American culture and artistry. According to VMFA’s website, the exhibition, “[…] chronicles the pervasive sonic and visual parallels that have served to shape the contemporary landscape, and looks deeply into the frameworks of landscape, religion, and the Black body—deep meditative repositories of thought and expression.” This fascinating exhibition combines both visual and audio art, to create a truly immerse creative experience.

Naturally, I took pictures while I was at the museum though, for this visit, I focused more on savoring the fact that I was finally visiting this beautiful space after a long year. Here’s a little bit of the Dirty South experience:

Cadillac in the museum atrium that greets visitors
Southern Landscape (1941) by Richmond’s own Eldzier Cortor (1916-2015)
House Sun Tree (Landscape with Sun Setting, SC) (nd) by William H. Johnson (1901-1970)
Saint Expedite I (1971) by Joe Overstreet (1933-2019)
Khemestry (2017) by Sanford Biggers (born 1970)
Gamin (1940) by Augusta Savage (1892-1962)
From Asterisks in Dockery (2012) by Rodney McMillan (born in 1969)

I hope you all enjoyed the photographs! And if you have a chance to visit the exhibition, I highly recommend that you check it out: it’s worth a visit, for sure!

art

The Met Turns 151!

Happy Tuesday, friends! On this day, 151 years ago, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City was granted an Act of Incorporation. This means that today is the Met’s birthday!

Google Doodle commemorating the Met’s 151st birthday

Now, I’ve not been to the Met yet, and, seeing as how I probably won’t be going to New York this year, I can’t say for sure when I will visit. But this impressive museum is on my bucket list, and for good reason. The museum has over 2 million works in its permanent collection and is by far one of the most famous art museums in the United States. As a matter of fact, they have multiple works by my favorite Neoclassicist, Jean-Leon Gerome (you all remember that I wrote about how much I love Gerome’s work in this post and in this one).

However, my admiration of the Met includes a serious criticism. One thing that has made me raise an eyebrow at the Met is the decision in 2018 to start charging $25 for most out-of-state and foreign visitors. The original Act of Incorporation indicates that the Met should be free in perpetuity, but museum president Daniel Weiss decided to break tradition and start charging fees. At first glance, it seems like a shameless money grab (and in many ways, it is), but it’s a little more complicated than that. This decision to charge fees was allowed by the City of New York, in exchange for decreasing the Met’s funding from the city. These funds that are no longer going to the Met have been allocated to increasing “artistic diversity” and will support other facilities that give a platform to more diverse creatives.

However, ever so often, we get to see balanced restored in our world, and what seems like fairness reappears for a brief shining moment (if you know the reference, leave it in the comments!). Yes, the Met collected fees in 2018, 2019, and the early part of 2020. However, COVID-19 reduced the annual visitors from nearly 6.5 million per year to just over 1 million. The loss of revenue has left the museum in the awkward position of deciding whether to deaccession or sell of part of its collection, just to cover their expenses.

I can’t say that I’m not partially amused that greed came back to bite the Met, but my chuckles are tempered by two things. Firstly, this loss of revenue caused 20% of the Met’s staff to lose their jobs (this saddens me tremendously). Secondly, this is even more motivation to keep the admission fees, as the Met will need to build up its cash reserves and avoid becoming insolvent as best it can. Now, I’m sure that the Met will do just fine (I don’t foresee any long-term closures, especially now that there are safe visiting procedures in place). I’m just concerned that COVID-19 may have built a stronger case for admission fees than anything that the museum could have offered in a public statement.

So, today, I’m celebrating the Met, praying that they eliminate the admission fees, and keeping my fingers crossed that I may be able to purchase a Gerome sketch during some sort of auction of the Met’s works. A girl can dream, right?

art · culture

The Scribe – Egyptian Keepers of Culture and Subjects of Timeless Art

I’ve started this post multiple times (and even accidentally posted it once or twice) but I struggled with putting this into words.

Until now.

A couple of years ago, I went to Virginia Museum of Fine Art (VMFA), my favorite local museum. I always try to spend a little more time in the permanent collection, so that I can be really familiar with the contents of the museum. On this particular visit, I focused more of my time on the Egyptian collection. I was struck by one particular piece.

Statue of Seated Scribe, Sema-tawy-tefnakht is more than 2500 years old, and appears just as wise and intuitive today as it probably did when it was first sculpted. The scribe looks toward the horizon, with a soft smile on his face and hands resting comfortably on his thighs as he holds a roll of papyrus. He appears to know a lot but, instead of it filling him with arrogance and an unapproachable energy, his face seems to invite you to ask questions that he will gladly answer. The piece is sculpted from alabaster, and still features the original text at the base, no doubt describing who he is and his role in the kingdom.

I loved, too, the plaque posted next to the Statue of Seated Scribe. The museum notes that being a scribe was often a hereditary role, with fathers preparing their sons for positions as bureaucrats for future pharoahs. It also touches on the significance of Thoth, the patron deity of scribes. Thoth himself was a scribe within Egyptian mythology, recording the judgments of human souls who had entered the afterlife.

What’s significant about this piece to me is the power held by a scribe. In the spiritual realm, it was believed that all information about whether a person would live in peace or eternal torment was captured by the scribe. It’s true, in a sense, that the “scribes” of today – journalists, novelists, memoirists, and the like – function much the same. We as writers keep the records of the actions of others, whether they be good, bad or neutral.

Another thing that really impacted me was the fact that this role was more than a job: it was an inheritance. Being the male child of a scribe meant that you were born into a legacy of being a gatekeeper of the empire’s history and secrets. This made me think of the children being born to us today: how many parents are preparing their children for their legacy? As a mom, I understand how overwhelmed we all are right now, with many schools being closed due to COVID. But what little things are we doing daily to prepare our children for the heavy roles they will have in the future, as responsible citizens, future artists and patrons, the builders and organizers of society, and possibly parents themselves?

It’s a lot to consider. I’ve been toying around with these ideas for years, which is why I knew I had to write this post. I’m just glad I finally got the words for it.

Anyways, that’s it for today. I’m looking forward to tomorrow, when I share with you all my amazing body balm recipe that is great for muscle and nerve pain. Take care, and I’ll talk to you soon.

art · life curation

For The Love of Letters

A couple of weeks ago, I saw a touching appeal posted by Victorian Senior Care, requesting letters to be sent to their elderly residents. I have a soft spot for the elderly, and writing letters has always been something that I wanted to do more often, so I quickly decided to participate. I mean, why wouldn’t I spend some time connecting with someone older that could use a little conversation?

However, before I could write my letters, I saw that Victorian Senior Care was inundated with letters from other well-meaning folks like myself. This got me to thinking, maybe there are other senior facilities looking for pen pals. And, as it turns out, a simple search of “letter writing to seniors” on Facebook pulls up several different senior facilities that have letter writing campaigns currently. However, you don’t have to go to Facebook: you can always reach out to a local nursing home if you want to connect with isolated seniors.

I’m mailing a bundle of letters this week. I’m looking forward to writing to elders that aren’t able to connect with people outside of the facility. Letter writing, as an art, is dying and I am glad that COVID and the subsequent quarantines have brought to light this precious form of communication and how it can connect unlikely groups of people.

In this age of social media, who would have thought that letter writing would bring us together? I could have never seen it coming, but I’m glad that it’s happening. I hope you all join me in writing to the elderly.

art · culture · travel

Throwback Thursday Travel: China, Part 2

Happy Thursday, friends! I first posted about my trip to China several years ago, and then I shared a Throwback Thursday Travel post highlighting my time in Beijing. But my trip to China didn’t end with Beijing: I also traveled to Hangzhou and Shanghai. Today, I’m sharing some pictures from Hangzhou, my favorite city in China. I loved West Lake, and I learned that many Chinese citizens love Hangzhou for weekend getaways. It’s such a picturesque city: I can’t wait to return!

At The Ramada in Hangzhou: such a beautiful lobby!

Touring the Dream Town Incubator

At beautiful West Lake

Shopping at Hefang Old Street

Riding around in Hangzhou

Visit to a tea plantation

art · culture · luxury · travel

Throwback Thursday Travel: Las Vegas

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Sin City. What happens there, stays there. The Entertainment Capital of the World.

Of course, I’m talking about none other than Las Vegas, Nevada. I went there in November 2019, and I loved it! Much like last week’s Throwback Thursday Travel post, I think I’ll have to break this one down into two (or maybe even three!) posts to capture all of the things that I saw and did. However, for today, enjoy these pics from what is sure to be the first of many trips to Las Vegas.

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We’ve arrived!

For this trip, I rode with my friend from San Diego to Las Vegas. On the way there, we saw Seven Magic Mountains, a vibrant art installation that offers a striking contrast of color against the desert backdrop.

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I couldn’t get a good picture of Seven Magic Mountains, but I still loved it

I stayed at the luxurious Bellagio Hotel. However, staying at just one luxury hotel would be a disservice to yourself: there are so many exquisite hotels in Las Vegas, so why limit yourself to one? The next time I go, I’ll definitely try either the Venetian, the Waldorf Astoria (formerly the Mandarin Oriental) or Caesar’s Palace. Here are some pictures as we drove to the hotel, as well as photos of the pool and courtyard area.

Valeting at the Bellagio and views from my hotel window

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The entrance to the courtyard surrounding the pool area

The Bellagio’s pool area

My motto is ABS: Always Be Shopping!

Souvenirs for family members that enjoy novelty shirts

 

That’s all for today’s Throwback Thursday Travel post! Have you ever been to Las Vegas? How did you like it?

art · culture · travel

Throwback Thursday Travel: New Orleans

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Laissez les bons temps rouler! (Let the good times roll!)

I went to New Orleans in 2011, a few weeks after I got married. So, this trip was almost like a honeymoon, though we had an official honeymoon trip several months later.

I fell in love with the Big Easy, and I hope to return within the next year or so. However, I’ll be sure to visit during the cooler months: the summertime is unbearable hot! In any case, here are some of the pictures I snapped during my trip. Enjoy!

I loved seeing the street names in the sidewalk

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A souvenir shop on Canal

Fun in the French Quarter

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I wish I had a chance to go into Harrah’s, but we were having way too much fun taking in all of the sights

 

As I look through my photos, I realize this post really needs a Part 2. So look out for some additional New Orleans pictures soon.

Have you ever been to New Orleans? I’d love to hear all about it. Have a great Thursday!

art · culture · travel

Throwback Thursday Travel: Kenya, Part 1

Nairobi remains one of my favorite places on Earth. I wrote a while ago about my Kenyan adventures. Here are some few more pictures from that trip that I hadn’t shared before. I’m breaking this into two parts, because one day of my trip involved a trip outside of Nairobi (to my friend’s family farm) and there are pics from the Nairobi National Museum that weren’t shared in this post. Today’s post features pics from the farm. Enjoy!

This particular cow was my friend’s favorite on her family’s farm

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Just a turkey, minding his (or her) business

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Adorable piglets and their momma!

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Because the climate in Nairobi and the surrounding areas is favorable for gardening during most of the year, my friend’s family farm basically produced food year round.

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Lush views surrounding the farmland