Archive for the ‘travel’ Category

Washington, DC is a place of monuments and spectacle.  Theatre in politics and theatre on performing stages.  Washington also is a city I called home for eight years and a part of me will always be a bit in love with it — as an American city, as an assemblage of awe-inspiring architecture, as a city chock-full of world-class museums and surprise exhibits.

On a visit earlier this week, I stayed on 7th Street near theatres (including Shakespeare and Woolly Mammoth) and museums (including National Gallery of Art, the Building Museum, and two Smithsonian venues — the National Portrait Gallery, and the American Art Museum) and views of the Capital and the Washington Monument.  At the Building Museum I chanced upon an exhibit about America’s SIX world fairs during the Depression 1930s (from Chicago to New York and four other locations in between).  Another surprise was suggested to me by a new pal by email during my visit.  Be sure to visit the Rockwell show while you’re there, he said.  He had traveled to DC from New York City a few months ago especially for this exhibit.  I was in the midst of moving from Philadelphia to New York City during the middle part of this calendar year when this exhibit opened and hadn’t heard about it, but during that time period I was at the time lucky if I could attend to what was directly in front of my face.  Now that I was alerted to it’s existence, his exhibit by subject matter was one crafted for me, I thought.  And boy oh boy, did I have that right.

“Telling Stories: Norman Rockwell from the Collections of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg”
1st floor West, American Art Museum, Washington DC
July 2, 2010 — January 2, 2011

Steven Spielberg and George Lucas have donated extensive portions of their private collections for a unique exhibit honoring perhaps the most iconic presentational American artists of the early and middle 20th century: Norman Rockwell.  Many millions know Rockwell’s work from decades of crafting magazine cover images for The Saturday Evening Post and other publications.  What Spielberg and Lucas as young men resonated to in the work of this older man is  outlined in a short film created for the exhibition called “George Lucas and Steven Spielberg: Reflections on Rockwell.”  The film runs in a loop in the corner of the display and features the two filmmakers discussing Rockwell and their drive to collect his prints, drawings, and paintings.  To these two collectors, Rockwell’s pieces were cast, scripted, staged to move us through the stories they tell or simply suggest. The artist’s works are intensely cinematic, they tell us.  We don’t always know for sure what has happened in each scenario portrayed in Rockwell’s still pictures, but we can impose a story, just as we always do when we view human tableaux in train stations or in parks or at neighboring tables in restaurants.  These are human stories in snapshots.

  • Rockwell: “A cover should be more than a one-line joke.”
  • Rockwell: “I tell the story through characters.”
  • Rockwell: “Story illustrations shouldn’t give away the plot.”
  • Lucas: Rockwell gives us “little bits of culture, captured like snapshots.”
  • Lucas: “A picture just has to touch the emotional side of a human being.”
  • Lucas on Rockwell constellations: “He cast the painting.”
  • Spielberg on the world Rockwell envisioned: “probably the way we hoped it had been.”


"Little Girl Looking Downstairs at Christmas Party", McCall's December 1964, oil on board, 10 x 101/2 inches, collection of George Lucas


It’s a stunning assemblage.  To remember a childhood, to remember a time that was or a time that never was, to enjoy an exhibit with seniors in their 70s and 80s and kids under 10 who all enjoy the imagery and understand the stories in the paintings — this is one for your short list.  My favorite image is a color oil sketch loaned by George Lucas entitled “Little Girl Looking Downstairs at Christmas Party” (for McCall’s December 1964).  This image evokes my own suburban upbringing, hearing the adults downstairs, wanting to be grown up so I could be part of the laughter and story telling and know what they were talking about, yet happy enough lurking upstairs in my pajamas, observing.  The budding brain of a dramaturg and observer.  For some, it speaks to their inner filmmaker.  Explore what the image and sister images in the gallery rooms evoke for you.

For more information on locations mentioned in this post:

© Martha Wade Steketee (October 13, 2010)


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carolina in the morning

I have shifted from being a day working, frequently traveling court researcher (with suits and briefcases and court appearances and public presentations) to a theatre writer, reviewer, creator, observer.  Let us say I have more flexibility in my schedule these days — you can write on a laptop in any hotel room, I have found, from San Francisco to London.  And my flexibility and husband’s need to be in a beautiful part of the country I have not visited often has led to our making a little driving vacation and work trip from Philadelphia to North Carolina and back over the next few days.  I will drink in life on a fancy estate in Winston-Salem, and then spend a few days in Asheville musing on my adolescent writing crush Thomas Wolfe and the beautiful excesses of Biltmore, the 8000 acre Vanderbilt estate.  I imagine I’ll be blogging a bit about all of these experiences.

So its Carolina in the Morning.  Or better said, I’ll be traveling toward Carolina in the morning.  Which of course puts me in mind of a 1920s tune I grew up hearing as hummed by my standard-loving, goofy adorable mother Cecily.  She would say it was a Jolson tune (or that’s how she first heard it).  I later learned it had words by Gus Kahn (who also wrote the tune Dream a Little Dream of Me that had a 1970s life as sung by Mama Cass Elliott, another singer along with Judy Garland I was turned onto by Mom) and music by Walter Donaldson.  I have heard Carolina in the Morning performed by Judy Garland and each of her daughters and a raft of other singers.  This is a song of romantic observation, of gentle living, of sweet summer sunshine.  And it makes my heart smile, thinking of Mom and all she gave me.  So on to another lovely adventure.

Nothing could be finer than to be in Carolina in the morning,
No one could be sweeter than my sweetie when I meet her in the morning.
Where the morning glories
Twine around the door,
Whispering pretty stories
I long to hear once more.
Strolling with my girlie where the dew is pearly early in the morning,
Butterflies all flutter up and kiss each little buttercup at dawning,
If I had Aladdin’s lamp for only a day,
I’d make a wish and here’s what I’d say:
Nothing could be finer than to be in Carolina in the morning.
© Martha Wade Steketee (June 15, 2010)

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leases and lifetimes

In a few hours, husband and I board a train in our current town and head for a day trip to our new hometown.  Today we expect to sign a lease on an apartment in some new fancy construction on the West Side of Manhattan.  And I am poised between worlds.

I tend to list positives and negatives at these moments of decision (and drive my husband crazy in the process).  I hope the exercise helps me to find calm in the new apartment.  Naming the worst case scenario assists me in finding peace with whatever events could possibly unfold.  This apartment is beautiful and gorgeously appointed in a development in which it is among the more modest layouts and price points (the old “don’t buy the best house on the block” idea).  A massively cool exercise facility and pool on the premises, along with other amenities.  And walking distance for hubby to work in west 50s, as well as walking distance for me to Broadway theatres and major museums.  And then there are the things we don’t know — potential for construction nearby, and dwelling on one of the lower floors of this midrise building.  Will I feel like a “bottom dweller”?

More on the adventures of this kid in the big city as the weeks progress.

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image copyright: m.w. steketee

[Those who are facebook friends of mine may remember a version of this text that appeared as a “note” almost a year ago, when I viewed this installation for the first time.  Bear with me, in the name of getting my posting butt in gear, and as I was newly awed by this installation on a visit to DC just a few days ago, I create a post here today, using my old image and my old text, on the same subject.  New new posts on productions seen in DC and Boston and Philly to follow soon, as well as works in development and reflections on moving my life one more time.  Thrill and exhaustion in equal measure.  In the meantime, art rejuvenates. And note that what began as a temporary installation appears to have an unlimited run … let’s hope this is permanent at this point.]

So, I’ve visited the National Gallery of Art’s East Wing many many many times since it opened in the 1970s. And when I lived in Washington DC from 1997-2005, I would visit frequently, often weekly, to stop by a favorite Picasso or Magritte or Matisse (the cut outs!) or the Calder mobile hanging from the ceiling. Just to gape. I’m sure I looked like a tourist even when I was a local and frankly I didn’t give a damn. Cause I was and am and always will be just agog at the city and the art and all of it.

So I’m here today 4 May 2009 on a visit and I thought I’ve visit my old friends. (And frankly the Phillips Collection isn’t open on Mondays so its to the National Gallery I went .. they’re ALWAYS open.) And I was just gobsmacked by an installation I hadn’t heard about before wandering through (ain’t that the best?) … that just stunned me into staring and standing and smiling and snapping pictures.

Leo Villareal has crafted a light sculpture in the Concourse running underground between the “old” main National Gallery building and the East Wing. The tunnel and the moving walkway remain unchanged. What Villareal has played with is our sense of the space itself. Through light.

It moves. It waves. It almost breathes.


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Harvard Yard 1930.  Time stands still.

Harvard Yard 1930. Time stands still.

I plan next weekend to visit Cambridge for the first time in several years.  I have been back to neighboring Boston a few times since my graduation from Harvard in June 1981, and have even tramped through Cambridge’s Harvard Yard with various friends and acquaintances over the years, remembering dining halls and library stacks and coffee shops and seminar rooms (there I listened to Lillian Hellman or there I heard a lecture on Milton that changed my sense of the possibilities of poetry for life or in that projection room I saw Philadelphia Story five times in three days and cemented a lifetime love for Katharine Hepburn).  This trip with my husband I will be able to show him the theatre (the Loeb Drama Center) where I spend many hours on student productions before the institution was transformed into the American Repertory Theatre, and other points of pleasure.  At a remove of almost 30 years, the shards and mists of memory are varied and differently arrayed than in the past.

At the cross roads of two traditions, two institutions, one an offshoot of the other, twins birthed in separate centuries (Harvard founded in 1642, Radcliffe founded as the “Harvard Annex” in 1879 with instruction of women by Harvard faculty and chartered as Radcliffe in 1894) I attended Harvard-Radcliffe during the years of a merged admissions office and a certain confusion over which school controlled the men and women scholars in attendance.  In the late 1970s-early 1980s there remained a President of Harvard (male) and a President of Radcliffe (female) and both signed the diplomas of the women graduates, who were in the end graduates after 1977 of Harvard College.  It took some 20 plus years more for the corporate and alumni groups to establish a Radcliffe Institute of Advanced Study (so the name still lives) and clarify that women and men were now attending one college and graduating from that one college, holding the same diploma.  And within the past two years for the first time the President of Harvard University is a woman.  Ah, what we’ve witnessed.

I have had faculty in graduate school look at me (in the early 1990s) and tell me to “be proud of my school” when I said I graduated from Harvard, when they presumed for me to think that I was shading my own truth, not acknowledging my own diploma.  Their own ignorance of the morphing identify of Radcliffe and of Harvard led them to presume that I was not proud of my foremothers, and that I claimed an affiliation that I hadn’t earned.  How dare they.  Ah, Harvard.  Ah Radcliffe.  Ah the memories of thrill and fear, of exhilaration and insufficiency, of intellectual splendor and intellectual collapse.

During my final two years as an undergraduate I sang second alto in the Radcliffe Choral Society (see http://www.hcs.harvard.edu/rcs/index.html), an amazing single sex chorus among the single and mixed sex choruses on campus.  One of my cherished memories was singing a capella with these sweet voices the Radcliffe alma mater.  This tune, these lyrics, is a piece of the past, of a world of the Seven Sisters.  The romance of  the Ivy League, and an education I have never ever regretted, for all its pain and pleasures.

So as a daughter of Radcliffe and a graduate of Harvard, I sometimes raise my solo voice in song, in this song.  For the young woman I was and the now aging woman I am, full of hope and promise and a liberal arts brain that skitters hither and thither and sometimes still finds great inspiration.  I hardly know the Harvard alma mater (“Fair Harvard”) but these other sweet words and the accompanying charming tune continue to enchant and entertain.   Pride and solemnity in equal measure — of a bit of sisterly history that was recent history when I occupied student quarters in Harvard Yard, and is further receding into the distant past every day.

Radcliffe, Now We Rise to Greet Thee
Radcliffe, now we rise to greet thee,
Alma Mater, hail to thee!
All our hearts are one in singing
Of our love and loyalty.
We have learn’d to know each other
In thy light, which clearly beams,
Thou hast been a kindly Mother,
Great fulfiller of our dreams.
Radcliffe, now we rise to greet thee,
Alma Mater, hail to thee!
Alma Mater, give thy daughters
Each a spark from Truth’s pure flame;
Let them when they leave thy altars
Kindle others in thy name.
For our strength and joy in living,
Love and praise to thee belong;
Thou whose very life is giving,
From thy daughters take a song.
Radcliffe, now we rise to greet thee,
Alma Mater, hail to thee!
Words by Floretta Elmore, Class of 1909
Music by Emily Coolidge, Class of 1908

For the lyrics of both Radcliffe and Harvard alma maters, see: http://radcliffe61.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=46&Itemid=27

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I have just returned from a week of travels around Phoenix, Arizona and Denver, Colorado.  I and husband spent days walking around several facilities operated by an organization that has built programs for young men and young women who have been committed to “the state” for crimes or behavior, and for whom the programs operate upon positive principles.  “Positive Youth Development” the lingo is.  And the amazing thing is — these organizations appear to be reshaping young lives.  We’re reviewing and synthesizing, and will generate some materials based on our observations and interviews.  Thick observation indeed.  Social research, program research, dramaturgical research come together.

Boys and girls doing three-mile runs, basketball, yoga, community service, academic studies, and vocational training.  Therapy dogs and robotics projects and “The Star Spangled Banner” on a clear, winter brown football stadium field.  The context was to observe and to listen.  And learn.

Buffalo Soldiers, 25th Infantry Regiment, 1890

On one winter brown football field one afternoon, a school assembly involved a demonstration by a group of men on horseback representing Buffalo Soldiers.  Buffalo Soldiers originally were members of the U.S. 10th Calvary of the U.S. Army, formed just after the Civil War (1866) at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.  Some sources say that the name was given to the soldiers by the Native American tribes they fought, and was soon applied (informally) to all African-American regiments formed that year.

Buffalo Soldier enactment 3/1/2010. image copyright: m.w. steketee

On this day in March 2010, five men on horseback demonstrated (to a rapt audience of several hundred young men and staff ) movements and positioning and flag flying. It was a crisp clear winter day and this consultant sent to observe for a future report ended up learning a few things herself.

There is theatre everywhere.  And there is hope everywhere.  Adults focusing on young people, young people achieving and failing and achieving again, sports and activity, encouragement and dreams.  There is something important going on here.

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My life is a seemingly endless (and profoundly enjoyed) series of roadside attractions.  Inspired by basic personality and curiosity about people and books that nudge that “chance encounter wonderment” over the years — Jack Kerouac’s On The Road in all its incarnations including the recently published complete scroll, William Least Heat Moon’s Blue Highways, Tom Robbins’ Another Roadside Attraction.  And books of observational respect such as Let Us Now Praise Famous Men by James Agee and Walker Evans.  Books of small-scale and large-scale decidedly human creations, of personal lives and private devotions, and business enterprises based on individual whim.

During a Phoenix area business trip this past week we visited for dinner a local business that serves up nostalgia and great food and fun images and kids and adults getting jazzed while sipping some of the greatest milk shakes I have ever sipped.  http://www.joesfarmgrill.com/ And I immediately went to the “roadside attraction” part of my brain and library and experience.

Roadside attractions come in many shapes and sizes, and John Margolies seems to love them all.  He spoke at the Grand Rapids Art Museum in 1981, on the occasion of an exhibit of his ‘roadside attraction’ photos and the release of one of his many picture books celebrating the byproducts of American car culture and wanderlust — The End of the Road.  And I realized immediately that I shared this man’s humor about and respect for the instinct to create quirky and individual business establishments.  Observe the theatre, respect it, and seek to know more.

I have gone on to see other exhibits of Margolies’s work, for example at the National Building Museum in Washington DC (See the USA: The Art of the American Travel Brochure) and have collected many of his fine publications over the years.  The End of the Road inspired a late 1980s impish appreciation of one of its featured establishments on one of my cross-country drives — Bob’s Java Jive in Tacoma, Washington.  I have visited or just appreciated through a car or train window tepee motels and orange-shaped concession stands and all the whimsy and individual passion that the wild American character generates and expresses in small businesses that once dotted the highways and byways, the blue highways of Least Heat Moon’s title.  [For more on the wonders of Margolies’s brain, see his web site: http://www.johnmargolies.com/]

This recent work trip provided several reminders that roadside attractions can be inside or outside, images or objects, dreams or reality — “roadside attractions” can be chance encounters along the path of a day or the road of a trip or the journey of a lifetime.  In this vein, at the end of several days of solid work in Arizona, killing time in the Phoenix airport yesterday, I came across a little exhibit in an art gallery space.  An exhibit of the work of illustrator Chuck Jones who created Coyote and Roadrunner, Bugs Bunny, and more images that inform American culture than my feeble brain is able to capture.  There were about 30 hand painted cells, pencil drafts, oils, and filmed tributes in this exhibit.  [For more see http://blog.chuckjones.com/now_hare_this/2010/01/chuck-jones-an-animated-life-exhibit-opens-at-sky-harbor-airport-museum-.html]  At the end of a trip of long productive days, I was reminded to take a moment and reflect, smile, even guffaw.  At this roadside attraction, Bugs and Road Runner and Coyote, jointly and together, inspire awe and admiration.  And a “beep beep”.

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