Tuesday, October 9, 2018

field trip!

 Last Saturday my alarm went off way too early for a Saturday morning.  In fact, any alarm set for a Saturday should be illegal.  But it was field trip day for sculpture so I got up and ran and then drove myself to school to meet the sculpture gang.  We loaded up on the rental van and headed north.  North to McDonalds first because my illustrious and esteemed colleague assured me that in the absence of a real coffee shop, McDonalds "fancy coffees" were actually good.  My hopes were not very high but I reluctantly agreed to get a vanilla mocha while Singletary gassed up the van.  

This "coffee" did not even rise to my low expectations.  It tasted worse than gas station coffee and started what will almost certainly become a coffee feud between Singletary and me forever.

The literal bad taste in my mouth was rinsed away with a nice lunch at Biltmore Village paired with an excellent vanilla mocha from an actual coffee shop.  My mood was restored and the day could go on.


 We arrived at the Biltmore Estate and quickly made ourselves at home on the front lawn.  That's Hannah and my new friend Brianna in one of my many "mcselfies".


 We were there to see the art, specifically the glass sculptures created by Dale Chihuly.  This one greeted guests as they arrived on the front lawn.


 We waited out front for Singletary to park the van and to meet up with some of our other travelers.  These are my sculpture people...Brianna, Hannah, Ashley, Alana, Spencer, Hallie, Molly, Gazelle, Bolt and Victor.


 We were waiting on Singletary because the traffic dudes directed us to drive up to the house to unload the van.  What they meant was, we should drive up to where those vans are parked in the foreground.  But once inside the gate, I convinced Singletary to drive us right up to the front door of the house and let us out there.  I assured her this was what the dude meant and that it was totally fine.  We looked like VIPs rolling out of the van up there at the house.  It was great.  Singletary skidded out of there right as an employee was coming over to tell her she couldn't be there.  It was great.


 This is an example of me not wanting to do something until I'm told not to do it.  


 The Biltmore House is located in Asheville, NC  and it opened in 1895 after taking 6 years to build.  It was the home of George Vanderbilt, his wife and daughter for many years.  The house is nothing short of a work of art.


 The juxtaposition of the old and the new provided a little extra life and energy to the house.


 The juxtaposition of the blue sculptures with Alana's red hair also provided some energy.


 We toured the interior of the home and there was plenty of visual information to take in.


 The wall of Albrecht Dürer prints was one of my favorite things.


 About halfway through the first level, the balcony provided a needed break from the visual overload inside.  It also had a great view of the mountains.  Another mcselfie.


 Victor is a hoot.  He's a freshman this year so I haven't even taught him in a class yet and he's already cracking me up.  He's king of the selfie and master of the dramatic pose.


 Even the stairwell is visual overload.


 Brianna with her new friend Bertha.


 Even the indoor swimming pool in the basement was visual overload.  All the tiles were perfectly placed and beautiful.  The idea of this being built in 1895 boggled the mind.


 It was all too much to see in one day but we had perfect weather to see it.


 Another mcselfie with one of the famous Biltmore lions and the sculpture lions...Brianna, Alana, Spencer, Ashley, Hannah and Gazelle.


 Back to the artwork.  We walked outside and down through the walled garden to the Conservatory past several perfectly placed glass sculptures.


 If you're unfamiliar with Chihuly's work, each sculpture is created by placing many smaller glass forms together on an armature.  Picture a steel shaft with lots of smaller steel rods stemming out in every direction.  Then the glass forms are placed over the armature.


 Everyone in the lion photo plus Victor walked together to the Conservatory.  This group included Spencer who is heavy into plants.  This meant we would spend just as much time in the Conservatory as we did in the house.


 And this tour would be guided by Spencer who knew the names of all the plants and flowers we saw.


 This one looked just like my own Gertrude the Orchid.


 Don't get me wrong, I loved the house and the sculptures but the Conservatory was probably my favorite.


 There's something inspiring about seeing the colors of nature at work in their own design.  There was no wrong tint or shade, no color combination that didn't quite work.  It was perfect.


 Eventually we dragged Spencer out of the plants and back up toward the house.  We were supposed to be back on the van by this time but I needed to run out and get some photos on the terrace.


 And since we were already late, we might as well stop and see more of the glass in the sunlight.


 We had tickets to come back after dark and see the glass exhibition under the lights, but I wanted to see them all in sunlight for comparison.


 The sunlight was kind to the glass and if you looked close enough, you could see small details on the surface.


 We tried to get our jumping photo with almost no success whatsoever.  I'm reasonably sure Victor never left the ground.  Still funny though, every single time.

Then we loaded up on the van again to go get dinner.  We had a few restaurants in mind but when we called to reserve a spot they told us flat out they couldn't take us.  I called several places and got the same answer at all of them.  There was a game on TV and everyone had gathered at the local restaurants to watch.  Do these people not have TVs in their homes?  I don't get it.  Either way, we needed a place to eat, so I found a Mexican restaurant nearby that was rated well and we decided to not call ahead and just show up.


 I think a couple of our students were afraid to eat anything from here, but it wasn't bad.  And how can you not appreciate the Minion on the window?  


 Then we were back at the estate with the lights on.


 And everything looked different.


 Which meant that the visual headaches we all had at this point were not going away any time soon.


 The lights made the glass colors really pop.


 And the details were even easier to see on the surfaces of the glass.


 Some of the installations that were easy to miss in the sunlight were absolutely stunning at night.


 I didn't see these at all during the day.


 But now they were glowing.


 Meanwhile Spencer was still more impressed by the plant life.


 The glass in the water now featured great reflections and giant koi fish.


 This was a different mood for art viewing.  The whole group just stood for a while staring into the pools like you stare at a campfire.  Maybe this had something to do with the level of fatigue we were all feeling.


 Then on the way out of the estate, we saw one last Chihuly sculpture out the window.  Singletary stopped the van and I jumped out to grab a photo.

It was late and we had a drive ahead of us.  But sometimes I need ice cream.  The students had my back but we struggled to find an ice cream shop that was still open.  And then it was suggested by my illustrious and esteemed colleague that McDonalds had ice cream and they were open late.  I gave her the meanest look and may have said some unkind words about McDonalds.  But I was desperate for ice cream so we exited the interstate for the golden arches.  We woke some people up and rolled out of the van and slowly walked across the parking lot.  I pulled on the door.  It was locked.  I probably cursed.


 Lucky for us, God created Cook Out and at least 40 wonderful flavors of milkshakes.  Siri was kind enough to take us to the closest one and we were all immediately happy.  If I never step foot into another McDonalds I'll be happier.

I know I brag about how great our students are a lot but really, if you got to hang out with these students like I do, you'd brag about them too.  They really are stellar.  They're great artists, great students and really great humans.  I genuinely enjoy being around them.  I may even travel with them again one day.  

I made it home just after 3am and was in the bed at 3:30.  I don't even remember my head hitting the pillow.  Worth it.


  Extras:

 H-Dawg was kind enough to take some real photos for us.  This one was of the entire group, adult friends and all.


And this one is of our butts on the balcony.  Thanks H-Dawg!  It reminds me of Maxfield Parrish's "Daybreak" below...


Wednesday, September 26, 2018

how does that work?

I get myself into some unusual situations from time to time.  Sometimes this is because I say or do dumb things, but sometimes the universe just hands me something wonderfully ridiculous and walks away giggling.  For example.....

Back in May we had our second annual sand sculpture trip and took a group of students to Litchfield Beach on the SC coast for a week of sand sculpting.  My students did their thing all week in front of the hotel and tons of people admired their work and talked to them about it.  One particular couple talked to several student artists while admiring their sculptures and later in the week that couple got engaged among the sand sculptures.  

Later in the summer the bride-to-be emailed me and told me that since we were a part of the engagement, they wanted us to be a part of the wedding.  She wanted to know if we could come back to the beach to make sand sculptures for the wedding.  The students they met and a couple more of my choosing would be hired for the weekend.  I couldn't type "yes" fast enough.  

Of course something like this is not a vacation and there would be obstacles to deal with too.  There wasn't money for all the students from the trip to go, which meant the ones who didn't get to go might be ticked off.  And since I'd be choosing the graphic design professor for his noted expertise in script lettering for a specific request, that meant one less spot for a student.  Luckily, this is where my cold blooded nature comes in handy.  I looked through the sculptures from the trip and chose what we needed.  It would have been nice to bring everyone, but the real world isn't nice and we had a paying client to please.  Tough choices had to be made.  

It also didn't make it any easier that this is a very busy time in the fall semester.  All the first studio projects are due right about now and while the students are in panic mode, all the professors are asked to be in 14 different meetings at the same time.  And did you hear there was a massive flood in South Carolina?  The hurricane from a week ago flooded the area to our north and all that water is flowing south, shutting down bridges, threatening entire cities and potentially cutting off access to the coast completely.  If we made it down, we might get trapped.  Or we might be stuck in traffic for hours.  Lions and tigers and bears, oh my.  But last Friday we all walked out of the building and threw our gear in the truck and drove to the beach.  Someone in my car may have even told me they wouldn't mind if we got stuck at the beach for a week.

 We met the bride just as it was getting dark on the beach.  The mosquitos literally almost dragged me away a few times.  But after we discussed what she wanted, we just stood there on the beach marveling at the moon reflecting off the water.  The worries were gone.  We got some late dinner at a good burger joint near the hotel and then we did some sketching and planning before getting some sleep.  


 And because we are who we are, several of us set an early alarm to be ready to run a 5K at 6am.  The only problem was that the days are shorter now than they were in May so when we got out to the beach in our running gear, it was pitch black.  After a couple of trips and near falls, the sky brightened just enough to see a few steps in front of us.  When we were finished running the sun was still not up.  
 These are the crazy runners who joined me.


 One of the finer points of the Litchfield Inn is the ocean front breakfast dining area.  I think you'll agree.


 Then it was time to get started working.  First we moved lots of sand.


 Then we hauled lots of water in buckets from the ocean and poured them on the mounds of sand.


 Then we repeated that process over and over until our arms and legs felt like spaghetti noodles.  And then we used those noodles to pack the sand and began sculpting.  And because we all needed to make at least 2 sculptures each, we took a break, ate some lunch, drank a few gallons of water and we did it all again.


 Our president was so excited about our trip, he made sure he sent us off with matching Lander shirts for good photos.  He's a good guy.


 Jump photos are always funny with uncoordinated people like us.  Every chance we got, we took a jump photo.  This was one of the more successful ones.


 This is a view of the beach where we created the wedding venue from way out on the sand bar at low tide.  


 Slagle spent the morning piling up a huge mound of sand for the bride and groom names.  


 I laid out the plan and piled up sand for people before making a seahorse.


 Singletary started working on her starfish collection.


 BHP overestimated his scale again...and made a huge stingray.


 Grace only works giant, so she made a giant dolphin.


 Jarecki was already at work on her second sculpture, an anchor.  We toyed with the idea of wrapping the chain around the groom's leg but eventually we decided that would be in poor taste.  I think they would have laughed though.


 Gazelle made a great nautilus shell before starting on a school of fish.


 Hannah had one sculpture in the bag and was already starting on her second one at this point.


 Bolt worked with BHP to make a big, flowing tail for the stingray.  Her attention to detail had her collecting shells for the tail and then gathering reeds and washed up grasses to create a cool border to mark the edges of the ceremony space.

After Abby finished her first sculpture, she made a series of abstract wave sculptures for us.


 Sabrina just relaxed in the shade drinking all the water.  Kidding.  But it really was hot and we all went through a lot of water on Saturday.  


 I may not get all these correct, but here are some of the finished sculptures from Saturday.  I think these are Jarecki's


 Gazelle's nautilus


 Abby's starfish?  Maybe?


 Hannah's turtle?


 Sabrina's huge octopus volcano.


 Grace's dolphin


 Bolt's conch shell


 Singletary's starfish


 And my altar for the bride and groom.  It's mandatory for me to make a skull in the sand on each trip.  All day everyone kept looking for opportunities for me to hide a skull in some sculpture.  When I was raking out the altar area, the skull just appeared.  Don't worry, I smoothed it back out.


 Slagle's amazing text took all day.  As the afternoon started slipping away, he called me over for backup.  I carefully sculpted waves across the top of the mound of sand while trying my best to not screw up his hard work.

After about 8 hours, we were ready to drop.  We had too much sun, not enough water and not enough food.  The wedding area looked great, but it was time for us to shower and go get some seafood.


 We rolled up on Russell's and it was packed.  No one seemed to care that I would be eaten alive by mosquitos if we ate outside.  Apparently they like sweet people.  This is not exactly what Sabrina said, but her southern expression was not family friendly either.  But the food was great and I got to sit beside Abby.  Abby is a hoot.

I needed ice cream after dinner so we drove over to Painter's and got a couple of temporary tattoos with our ice cream.  Then we drove out to the beach to check on the sculptures.  With the work being on a public beach, we didn't know what would happen overnight.  Anyone could have smashed them all and we would have had nothing the next day.  All was still good so we went back to the hotel for some rest.

Sunday morning we slept in an extra 15 minutes.  It was still dark when we started running but the sun broke the horizon before we got back to the hotel.  The entire run was beautiful.  


 Jump photos...this is why we call her Gazelle.


And the Slagle.  They were jumping over a channel of water.


 And a jump photo with the bride on the morning of the wedding.  She's the one in the center wearing her new Lander shirt.  She insisted on coming out and taking some photos with us before we left.  We all actually made if off the ground for this one.


 We were all happy because there was only minor curious dog damage to a few of the sculptures.  I credit this to my students using proven sand sculpting techniques and making good quality work.  We brushed off some paw prints and filled in some holes and we were ready to rake the whole space and get everything clean for the ceremony.


 We took a few real, serious photos with the bride but Abby doesn't do serious.  No one is sure what she was doing in this pic.  Not even Abby.


 We washed the sand off, packed our bags and made a touristy stop on the way to lunch.


 The only thing better than Russell's at the beach is The Grilled Cheese & Crabcake Company.  I was so excited to get to eat there again.  Grace is pointing to the ad for the Crab Melt over her head.  Happiness abounded.


 We got Singletary a "best boss" mug for helping us out on this trip.  Ages ago I taught Singletary as a freshman at Winthrop.  I taught her again when she was in grad school.  Now she's chair of the art department at Lander.  Life is weird sometimes.


 I love doing things like this with my students but I have to admit that I miss my family terribly when I'm away.  And going to all the places they love makes them hate me just a little bit.  So like a good husband, I ordered to-go meals and took them home to the family.


 We made it across the bridge and headed back toward home.  Our detour took us back through time and through a tiny old town.  I saw this "before I die" board in a storefront and skidded over into a parking space.  Everyone got the chance to write something before we left.


If you drive past a well lit cotton field and don't stop, are you even a group of art majors?  There were photography projects to do and the cameras were ready to go.  When we passed the right field, I was commanded to stop and everyone got out to take photos.  South Carolina is a pretty cool place.

And my students are pretty cool too.  I've come to expect the excellent behavior and diligent work from them.  But each time I travel with them I learn more about them and I have better, deeper conversations with them.  They're all really wonderful people and very talented artists.

Soon we'll be getting ready to sign up for the next sand sculpture trip.  We'll be gathering another group together and spending another week doing some very difficult but very fun work.  Who knows, maybe we'll get lucky and get hired to do something crazy again.  I'm considering all offers.