Nordic Heritage Museum in Seattle

IMG_0036http://www.nordicmuseum.org/exhibitions.aspx#Amundsen

The painting above of Roald Amundsen is by Tore Hansen, one of a collection of paintings on display at The Nordic Heritage Museum in Seattle, Washington.  The museum occupies an old school in Ballard, Seattle’s traditional Scandinavian neighborhood, and features permanent exhibits about Nordic culture in the United States as well as short-term and touring displays.

I enjoyed the fishing and logging wings, both near and dear to my own life and work experience, as well as the cheerful display of 1000 birch board paintings that had me smiling at curator, Lizette Graden’s inspired whimsy. But, it was the touring display of the work inspired by Norwegian polar explorer, Amundsen’s expedition diaries that left the deepest impression.

The image of Amundsen, by Tore Hansen, grabs your eye as you step into the room. As you move from painting to painting the magnitude of Amundsen’s becoming the first explorer reach the South Pole becomes palpable. The three artists Tore Hansen, Ulf Nilsen, and Håvard Vikhagen give you a sense of the desolation of place, and the steadfast and efficient devotion to purpose of the man.

Thank you to Marissa for taking us to the museum.

I hope you will visit this fine museum.

Below is text from the exhibit description.
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Amundsen’s personal diary from the South Pole expedition of 1910–1912 was published for the first time in 2010, shedding new light on this historic expedition. His diary also provided the inspiration for a new exhibition of paintings and graphic works from three prominent Norwegian artists: Tore Hansen, Ulf Nilsen, and Håvard Vikhagen.

The artists were invited by the Fram Museum in Oslo and Norwegian publishing company ART PRO AS to read Amundsen’s diary and create artworks inspired by the experience. The resulting exhibition is a fresh perspective on Amundsen and his amazing expedition.

“Now children, let me tell you about Pablo Picasso.”

Ten years ago I was in the Musée Picasso in Paris, one of many visits to art museums in Europe where there is never a shortage of classic artwork. It was wonderful to spend so many hours immersed in a thousand years of extraordinary work.

In my possession for this trip was my first digital camera. As I wandered museums I began to notice the way the rather stilted way that people view art. Most people in a museum take on a serious, silent, and stiff behavior, an unfortunate response to the austere and formal environment of most museums. People walk slowly with their arms crossed, whispering, studied and reserved. I found myself containing my own exuberance, even while inside I was laughing or screaming in delight when seeing in person work by Rodin, Caravaggio, Picasso, Botticelli, Rembrandt, Ingres, Degas, Renoir. I barely could contain myself.

During this trip when I became acutely tuned into how people view art, I started taking photos and videos of people in museums which actually enhanced my own experience of the work. The most notable of these was when I took the photo below of young French school children receiving a docent’s orientation to Picasso’s work and wondered what the docent would say about the paintings. What followed was a polite talk to the obedient children. Not terrible, but neither was it inspiring or rising to the energy of the work or life of Picasso.

I often imagine what it would be like to visit a museum and express the powerful emotions that great work provokes. Wouldn’t that be fun, to experience and react to art that is screaming and seducing, battering and bruising, soothing and destroying. I long have felt that art is as much about heart and hormones and is best enjoyed when unrestrained by too much intellect, a well restrained head, or two crossed arms and a silent voice.

Reflection on my Father

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Dad with parents.

I write this as only the first reflection about my father, Samuel Emil Blum, who died this morning at the age of 92.  Ninety-two years is a long time to prowl around the Earth.  My only sadness about his death is the hole it leaves in the lives of people who loved him.  In all other ways, today is a celebration of his life!

There are many others who lived closer to him than I did over the decades and they will will miss him for his good nature, kind heart, and joy of being alive.

My Father was a content person.  He loved his work, loved the people around him, and for the most part he didn’t get absorbed by the anxiety and drama that life serves up.

He was born in 1920, which seems like a very long time ago, but he had an insatiable curiosity that kept him young.  He liked books more than television, and though he had great achievement in his work with prestigious recognition, accomplishment and honor, it wasn’t something he ever boasted about.  Though he did pioneering scientific work in lasers, semiconductors, and scores of other projects from his early days as an industrial chemist to his latter days as one of the scientists responsible for LASIK surgery, he was never “Dr. Blum,” but always Sam, to everyone.  He was always a guy from a little immigrant anarchist colony in New Jersey.

There wasn’t a hint of pretension in my Father.  He often said that he was fortunate to have conducted science during what he and his colleagues called the “Halcyon Days.”  By that he meant in an era when research and discovery were not completely tethered to devices and bottom lines, and the possibility to do honest, probing science existed.  He worked for IBM for thirty-one years, and when he retired he did not know how to use a computer. It’s not that he was old school, but rather that he and others “invented” old school.  He taught me to think.

He underwent a humorous transformation when visiting our property.  He became “Sam from the farm,” a rather liberal embellishment of how things were in his Stelton childhood, where his father raised chickens and his parents gardened.  If he stretched some of those earlier experiences a lot…we’ll what’s the harm in that?

He liked taking drives and knew most of the roads in New York State, and certainly all in Westchester, County.  For much of his life he enjoyed getting a malted at an ice cream stand along the way, even better if it was “thin.”  He didn’t like chemical concoctions called “thick shakes.”  He loved finding farm stands and interesting places along the way.  He loved to drive and really really really was appreciative of the freedom of movement a car afforded him.

He loved going to Atlanta to stay with Nayda and Myron.  He had some great stories about adventures exploring in Georgia and felt comfortable and at home while there.

Sam always thought that the way you travel somewhere was to “rent a car” and muck about.  We traveled together a lot and I was lucky to do a lot of mucking with him in and out of the United States.

We visited France, Hungary, Peru, the Czech Republic, and the southeast United States.  We went to the Grand Old Opry in Nashville, Machu Picchu, and Musee D’Orsay in Paris.  We went to the Budapest Opera House.  We went to Dollywood!  We rode in a dugout canoe on a tributary of the Amazon river when he was seventy-nine.  We wanted to visit his parent’s homeland in the Ukraine ten years ago, and as we thought about it Dad said, “Look, we’ll fly to Istanbul, rent a car and drive to Odessa.”  Dad loved that I handled all the details of the trips and that he could just go along for the ride, and when I mentioned that it might be a bit dicey to explore the Ukraine because things were a bit on the lawless side, he asked “How bad could it be?” When I showed him the official Ukrainian Tourism Website advising potential visitors that car companies were not renting private cars at the current time due to high rates of armed theft, he became uneasy.  But it wasn’t until we read that it was possible to hire a private car with an armed driver who would sleep in the car to protect it, that we gave up on the Ukraine.  A few months later we drove through upstate New York in a spectacular ice storm and went to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.  The only other people there that day were two journalists from Japan!  The Hall underwhelmed, but nature did not.  It was an amazing trip.

Sam had a lot of fantasy going on all the time.  Whether wanting a Bayliner boat, a Texas cattle ranch, or a Humvee all terrain vehicle, Walter Mitty had nothing on my father.  I never knew what was coming next in his fantasy world, but I enjoyed the ride.  Not only do I look like my father, I think like him as we’ll.  I’m proud of that.

Anyone who knew my father, knew that he liked to drink.  What most don’t know is that he gave credit to his mother for this affection, saying she introduced him to the occasional need for and enjoyment of a “shot.” (How can you argue with mother’s love, yes?) The last coherent sentence he said to me was four years ago when I tried to get him to eat his dinner, which he was loathe to do because he was quite content in his lounge chair with a tumbler full of Scotch.  Responding to my prompt about dinner, he told me he already had what he needed.  When I said that “Scotch isn’t food,” he simply held the glass aloft in his well recognized pose of “libation,” and said, “No, it’s better!”  Hard to argue with that.

I loved my father.  He was a good friend to me and many others.  His faults were never malicious. He was fair minded, without judgement, and showed up for people when they needed him.

I will miss him terribly, but ninety-two years is a hell of a run, and I celebrate his life.

Pina and Petra: Life Changing.

I discovered two incredible things this week that left me wondering how I had never known about them before.

First, is the work of Pina Bausch, the extraordinary German choreographer who died in 2009. Pina was the powerful creative force for Tanztheater, in Wuppertal, Germany, whose influence and work are featured in the documentary film, Pina, dance, dance, otherwise we are lost, by Wim Wenders. On the opening page of Tanztheater’s official website Wenders is quoted from a eulogy delivered on September 4, 2009, at the memorial ceremony for Pina Bausch.

Pina Bausch was born 1940 in Solingen and died 2009 in Wuppertal. She received her dance training at the Folkwang School in Essen under Kurt Jooss, where she achieved technical excellence. Soon after the director of Wuppertal’s theatres, Arno Wüstenhöfer, engaged her as choreographer, from autumn 1973, she renamed the ensemble the Tanztheater Wuppertal. Under this name, although controversial at the beginning, the company gradually achieved international recognition. Its combination of poetic and everyday elements influenced the international development of dance decisively. Awarded some of the greatest prizes and honours world-wide, Pina Bausch is one of the most significant choreographers of our time.

Tanztheater website: http://www.pina-bausch.de/en/pina_bausch/

Having grown up exposed to the work of Martha Graham, Alvin Ailey, Jose Limon, Robert Joffrey, folk and more classical forms of dance, to stumble upon one of the greatest forces in dance as if she were some obscure figure, is embarrassing. Not so the case for others, including noted Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodovar, who was profoundly influenced by Bausch his film Talk to Her. It’s really worth reading Almodovar’s words about Pina.

Almodovar on Bausch: http://www.sadlerswells.com/more/pina-bausch-almodovar.asp

Pina Bausch’s work is a combination of theater, movement and setting that blows open the possibilities of creative expression. The film features performances by a number of her dancers who share (in a delightful array of languages) memories of how Pina drew out their deepest creative expression. Any one who creates anything will be inspired to expand their boundaries after watching this film. And, the sheer power of the work celebrates the universal language of dance, lending force to Pina’s words that “dance, dance, or we are lost.”

I certainly recommend you watch the film, (It’s on Netflix but I’m buying my own copy) and when you’re hungry for more, you can find her work on YouTube, where I’ve watched most of them, but it only left me ravenous so I’m planning a pilgrimage to the Tanztheater where I can experience Pina’s work live and in the setting where this extraordinary artist worked.
The second revelation came while talking with two artist friends about my oft-asked question, “What would you do if you had 1,000 people to work with you for five years?” Tea Duong, a very talented ceramic artist who grew up in Vietnam, answered without hesitation, “Petra.” When I asked what is Petra, Tea couldn’t believe I knew nothing of the UNESCO World Heritage site in Jordan famous for its rock-cut architecture and water conduit system.

Please take a look: http://www.placesmustseen.com/?p=373

Having spent two months touring India and Nepal in the Fall of 2012, I was often struck by the extraordinary human effort spent on any number of constructions, whether feudal walls and palaces in Jodhpur, ornately carved white-marble Jain temples throughout the state of Rajasthan, or any number of elaborate sandstone structures that are the product of the life’s work of thousands upon thousands of artisans and crafts persons.

My question about the 1000 workers is not so much about reality as it is about the vision of people to create. It’s surprising how few people can actually answer this question.

Thankfully Tea was not challenged at all, and if you haven’t seen Petra, get a ticket and go, right now, or else click the link above and get a taste of what is possible when (slavery and feudalism aside) creativity meets possibility.