Sunday, June 10, 2012

Playing Tourist in Your Hometown

Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.”
-Pablo Picasso
We had to buy gift certificates for a corporate event my husband is hosting in our hometown next week, so we stopped at all the local tourist attractions today. We have never visited half of the places where we stopped. While I have been to the Chihuly Collection once before, my kids have not see it since it first opened two years ago as the glass sculptor’s first permanent collection in the world.
We walked in just as a docent led tour was starting. Thank goodness for volunteers. A little background offers a world of context to just about any anything. I have seen Dale Chihuly’s work at the Bellagio in Las Vegas, Atlantis in Dubai, Atlantis in Nassau and his influence through out Seattle. But I never knew how he produced such massive, elaborate installments or what inspired him.
For example, I didn’t realize he hasn’t actually blown the glass in more than thirties years. A car accident sent him through a wind shield in his mid-thirties, at the beginning of his career. He lost an eye, yet he continued his craft. A few years later, a surfing accident rendered his shoulder incapable of handling the equipment necessary to shape the glass. The physical impairments forced him to take a step back from creating the individual pieces and execute his vision as a conductor rather than the instrument player. If he had not turned to an orchestrated team approach, he never would have produced the size or scope of his collections. 
We visited the nearby hot shop at the Morean Arts Center and watched a glass blowing demonstration. At the hands of a skilled artisan, shattered pieces were transformed into a stunning vase in 30 minutes start to finish. The gift shop had hundreds of similar Chihuly inspired works. All beautiful, but clearly no comparison to Team Chihuly. Was it  the lighting and placement that the 70- year old visionary is so obsessed with? Is it how he ensures that the shadows thrown off his sculptures and the perspective from the mirror below a chandelier are just as surprising and spectacular as the piece itself? Dusted morning and night, is it how meticulously clean his pieces are kept? Or is it simply that you know that when you are looking at his work, you are seeing the product of an original idea? 
I was struck by the childlike approach the artist takes in the creative process. His paintings are created with a spray water bottle. Those concept images used to guide the glass blowers look like they could be hanging in a kindergarten classroom. Not afraid to try something new to achieve a unique look, Chihuly has thrown in everything from coffee grinds to baking soda to the molten hot mix. Even the architecture of the exhibit has curvy walls designed like a giant candy bowl and your wandering amid the pieces of colorful treats.
I was not entirely surprised to learn that his signature flower pieces were inspired from his mother’s garden at his childhood home in Tacoma.
If I think back, I can remember precisely what inspired me to start writing. It was my father’s habit of reading both the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun Times from cover to cover every day. He didn’t talk to me a much as I would have liked as a child, but he often ripped articles out that he thought I would find interesting. Sometimes that would spark a real conversation. I remember him taking me to the Billy Goat Tavern, a Chicago  institution. As the tourists crowd the sidewalks of Michigan Avenue, directly underneath on Lower Wacker Drive, grizzled Chicago Tribune reporters grabbed their cheeseburgers and pepsis for a quick lunch. One of them was kind enough to take us back to the newsroom in the nearby Tribune Tower. He even took us in the dark room. I must have been 5, 6 maybe 7? Even now when I walk into the lobby of that building, it is no less grand. I still become overcome by a sense of idealism.  A sense of greatness. A sense of awe of what can be accomplished.
Unlike so many of my friends in high school, I knew exactly what I wanted to major in. Unlike my college friends,  I didn’t care where I moved or how much money I made after graduation. I simply wanted to be a journalist. My first job took me to Rockford, Illinois. I made more money waitressing on my days off than I did in a full week at the TV station. Rockford by the way, was ranked the worst city to live in by Money Magazine when I lived there. A few years later, I was reporting for a station in Davenport, Iowa. It was the opportunity to report in a bigger metro market that enticed me to move. As luck would have it, Rockford gave up its title as worst place to live to Davenport the year I moved. Still, I found joy. On most days, I believed what I was doing was making a difference in some small way.
Remembering where and when I found my inspiration is easier to pinpoint than where and when I lost it. I suspect it has something to do with changing expectations over time and impatience.
One more thing about Chihuly, it wasn’t just his mother’s garden that inspired his work. It was the stained glass windows on cloudy days in European Cathedrals that he saw as a young emerging artist. It was the simplicity of the Japanese gardens he visited years later. It was the Florida sunsets he witnessed more recently when he began exploring the possibility of a permanent collection in Saint Petersburg.

I found a great website/blog that showcases artists of every kind if your looking for a little inspiration today. Artists Inspire Artists
I leave you with with this question for today. Where do you draw your inspiration from now and what first inspired you when you were young?

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