Saturday, October 27, 2012

Life on the Mississippi - At Least a Long Weekend

Sculpture garden, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis

Last weekend we revisited some favorite places, but in a different way from usual.  We took a short cruise on the upper Mississippi River on the refurbished steam boat, the American Queen.  Actually we had traveled on the American Queen before, on other parts of the Mississippi and on the Ohio River.  But the company that ran the boat before went out of business, and she was stored a few years before being bought, spiffed up, and back into service this past spring.  When we saw that she was once again plying her way on the Big River, we knew we had to book a trip.

This time we invited my husband's sisters to join us, so we had the enjoyment of having people along who had never experienced the pleasures of a steam driven river boat, moving at a leisurely seven miles and hour past towns and power plants, under bridges, and through locks - never had the silly joy of seeing people line the river bank to wave, cars pull over to stare, and folks snapping pictures as if a real queen was passing by.

We went a day early to stay over night in Minneapolis, though the boat departed from St. Paul.  It had been years since we visited there, and the sky line seemed different, filled with more tall buildings than I remembered.  We visited the Walker Art Center, and had a good morning strolling thorugh the sculpture garden and the contemporary art inside.

 The American Queen, moored in Wabasha, Minnesota

When the booked the trip last spring, we imagined that the colors would be close to their peak in mid October, and had no idea that the summer drought would speed up nature's calendar so much.  Most of the leaves along the way had already fallen, though there was still some color, as you can see in this photo.  It was cool, but not cold, pleasant enough to stand or sit in a rocking chair outside and look at the scenery.  

The first stop was at Wabasha, Minnesota.  When we were first married we stayed at an old hotel there, the Anderson House.  Back then there was a good restaurant, and the hotel rooms featured not only antique furniture, but also a cat, if you wanted.  The building is still there, was closed for a while, but has reopened as a bed and breakfast.  We visited the National Eagle Center near the river, a very nicely organized museum staffed with enthusiastic volunteers. 

 The red paddle wheel on this boat actually helps propel the boat, and is not simply for decoration.

The second stop was at Red Wing, Minnesota.  We have visited here many times, sometimes staying at the fine old St. James Hotel.  In the past we have visited the old Red Wing Pottery buildings, climbed up Barn Bluff, and ridden our bicycles on the Cannon River Trail.  This particular day was pretty relaxed, we just wandered up and down the streets downtown, had a beer in a local place, and enjoyed the sunshine.

Grain elevators, the railroad, and Barn Bluff at Red Wing.

I managed to read quite a lot in the comfortable chair on the deck.

The trip was fine - nice people, friendly staff, excellent food.  My only wish was that we had spent more time actually traveling the Mississippi.  The boat moved mostly after dark, and spent more time than I wanted in each town. I realize that I am familiar with the area, and perhaps other people wanted lots of time to explore. Still, the big charm of steam boating is drifting past the scenery, in my opinion.  Both days we left the town at 5:00 p.m.,  which only left a couple hours to watch other boaters, and try to spy eagles.  

The eagle in this tree is small, but if you click on the photo you can see it better.

Another pleasure on the upper Mississippi, is going through the locks and dams.  The last evening it was still light enough to see all the mechanical workings of Lock and Dam #3.

So, our annual fall journey up and down the Mississippi River was not a car trip this year.  It was, instead, a leisurely journey the old fashioned way, from the middle.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Digger - Finished at Last

8x8 inches, acrylic on canvas board

I finally finished this little painting this afternoon, well into autumn, despite the summery theme.  I follow other blogs sporadically, mostly other art-related blogs, but also one called Old Picture of the Day.  A black and white photo of a child holding a pail and shovel came up last summer and I was charmed by the posture of the figure, and curious too.  Is the figure a boy or a girl? What has captured his or her attention out there in the water?  What are the plans for that pail and bucket? 

Anyway, I had the drawing done back in August, and it sat and sat, until I decided I had to either paint it or gesso over the drawing and do something else.  My initial intention was to gild the background, as I had done with a couple other paintings the same size and shape.  But then, as I played with the colored I imagined for the water, I gradually got to like it the way it was. So I have decided this will just sit on my shelf as it is, reminding me that summer will come again.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Virtual Paintout: Croatia

5x7 inches, oil on mat board

I enjoy painting, but sometimes I fall out of the habit.  That happened this summer when the temperatures upstairs in my studio were sauna-like.  I did anything except paint - in particular I got lost in a local history project that kept me researching online, visiting elders to mine for memories and walking cemeteries recording information.  But yesterday I decided to just get back on the art horse that I fell off this past summer.  

I painted this little scene for Bill Guffy's popular challenge blog, The Virtual Paintout.  Each month Guffy invites artists of all skill levels to virtually visit a different country and paint a scene found on Google Street View.  This month Croatia is the country.  I was moved to try this month because just a year ago we visited Croatia on a cruise - even though the visit was only for a morning.  We were both impressed with the beauty of the coast there, the mountains, blue ocean, and mild autumn climate. I was anxious to see more.

Virtually driving a country's roads can be equally fascinating and frustrating.  Sometimes the Google camera car seems to go out of its way to find deserted stretches of highway on dreary days.  I like to look for figures, and it seems to me that most often images of human beings are primarily found in big cities, and are often partially hidden behind cars or trucks.  I lucked out with these girls though.  They were sitting at a restaurant with outside seating, looking up from their conversation into the bright light at the bizarre sight of the Google camera car.  I toyed with the idea of eliminating the young woman with her back to the camera, but decided I liked the contrast of her light hair, and the suggested friendly conversation a group of three suggested.  I also considered giving the central figure a more distinct face, but finally decided to emphasize the larger shapes and play of light and shadow instead.