Walking Chicago

In many ways, Chicago is like every other city. Generations of people and buildings overlap as reminders of the past, witnesses of the present, and springboards to the future. The city seems to breathe in and out as waves of people and cars navigate its sidewalks and streets. It sings the songs of diesel engines, street musicians, and car horns. Its colors blur in the mirrors of its glass buildings: taxicab yellow, brick red, asphalt black. It has an electricity that gets the pulse racing and can make a person feel charged with life. In this telling Chicago could be any city. Seeing it like this, though, is only a minute of its existence, and this particular city deserves a longer look.

Video by Chris Pritchard from his “Places in Time” series.

It is difficult to nail down just one thing that defines Chicago. Many have tried. They say it’s heart and soul is about architecture, finances, or politics. Chicago is about all of those things, but it is more than that. It is a complex grouping of everything that makes the human race tick, pushes it to thrive, and occasionally causes it to stumble and lose its way. No one thing encompasses this city and holds it still for very long. Therefore, no one visit is enough to completely understand it. Even one visit, though, can be enough to loosen one’s own stale understandings of the world and leave them to feel a little new and green again.

Chicago is a mosaic of history, people, experiences. This public work of art by Marc Chagall is available for all to see in the Chase Tower plaza.

Hubby and I have spent time in Chicago before, but it had been a while since our last visit. It won’t be our last. I went in to this trip thinking I knew what to expect, seeing it as “just another city I had been to before”. I quickly learned how wrong I was. I hadn’t taken into account the vibrancy and inventiveness of the place. Before our four-day visit was over, I was breathless, almost exhausted, by all I had taken in. We did more than just sightsee. We saturated our thoughts into the city, thanks to time spent with a well-informed local. Even then, though, we recognized that it was not enough.

Rolf Achilles

Allow me to introduce you to our well-informed local, Mr. Rolf Achilles. When I spoke with the concierge at the hotel where we stayed, I told her that we wanted to experience as much of the spirit of Chicago as we could in such a short amount of time. She recommended we hire Mr. Achilles as a private tour guide for the city. Her description of him was, “he is like a walking Encyclopedia Britannica on Chicago”. She wasn’t kidding. You can look on his website to see his long list of achievements, projects, and interests. There is also a History of Chicago Timeline on his website, which starts way back in 1673, before any keystone was laid for what is now known as Chicago. It is as impressive as anything else he has done.

When we finally met Mr. Achilles, we discovered that although the concierge’s description was spot-on, there was more to him than just bookly information. He loves his town. His love for it bubbled over in waves until, suddenly, we knew we were in love with his town too.

In the short amount of time we spent traveling around with him, Mr. Achilles quickly became a trusted friend. He is not just an expert on all things Chicago. He is an experiencer of life. He savors rich experiences as well as mundane ones and then he turns to you and offers you a bite.

We were given three bites of Chicago while we explored the city with Mr. Achilles: Public Art and Architecture, the Chicago History Museum and Old Town, and the Art Institute of Chicago.

For these tours, we took cabs to our destinations, with Mr. Achilles indicating to the driver special neighborhoods and spaces we needed to thread our way through so that we could take in the majority of the city along the way.

Public Art and Architecture

Public Art

Chicago is a city packed with public art. On nearly every block there seems to be a famous statue or structure by someone we have all heard of. Mr. Achilles showed us these works of art and spoke about them as if they were offerings of love from their artists and patrons.

The Chicago Picasso is an untitled sculpture, weighing in at 160 tons and standing up to 50 feet tall. It was was unveiled in 1967 and has since become a beloved icon of the city. It was designed by Picasso in France (he never visited Chicago), but it was built by the American Bridge division of U.S. Steel in Gary, Indiana.

At the time, the statue was seen as a bit odd-looking, but then it was Picasso, so it was accepted. In fact, Mayor Daley, who did the unveiling, said in his speech, “We dedicate this celebrated work this morning with the belief that what is strange to us today will be familiar tomorrow.” Not only has this sculpture become so familiar to the people of Chicago that children regularly slide down its base (see photo for evidence!), it is a point of reference for meeting friends, and is a place of celebration and holidays. The Chicago Picasso even gets decked out with hats for different occasions!

The Chicago Picasso is a massive steel sculpture that has, over the years, become both a landmark for the Daley Center and an irresistible jungle gym for kids in the plaza.

Agora is the name of the grouping of 106 cast iron figures wandering the southern side of Grant Park. They are 9-feet tall, headless and armless shells, grouped in clumps, just as crowds seem to group whether they mean to or not. The artist, Magdalena Abakanowicz, hates crowds and described them as “brainless organisms acting on command, worshipping on command and hating on command.” This particular crowd, with its height, texture, and color seems more like a forest of branchless trees, though, and just as harmless.

My take on the grouping was that they were contemplative, as if their arms were folded back behind them, their movement is forward toward better ways of being, and their body shells were waiting to be filled with great ideas. But then, I am an optimist.

“Agora” by Magdalena Abakanowicz is an impressive group of 9-feet tall, headless and armless statues at the south end of Grant Park.

The Four Seasons by Marc Chagall was unveiled in 1974, when the artist was 87 years old. Unlike Picasso, Chagall had visited Chicago many times and fallen in love with it. The Four Seasons is a mosaic, not only of glass, marble, stone, and brick (some of which was from Chicago herself!), it is a mosaic of the seasons, the people, the experiences which make up the life of the city. Like Chicago, The Four Seasons is complex and difficult to take in completely in just one visit. It is, after all, 70 feet long, 10 feet wide and 14 feet high. All four sides are covered in dreamy scenes of life from all the various walks of life which call Chicago home. It’s colors and happy images make this my favorite of all the public art we saw on our tour.

The Four Seasons by Marc Chagall is located in the Chase Tower Plaza. It is a massive rectangular box covered in a mosaic depicting the four seasons which can be found in Chicago.

UIC Skyspace: The University of Illinois Chicago houses a large work of art at the corners of Roosevelt Road and Halstead Street. UIC Skyspace is by James Turrell and was unveiled in 2006. It is a free-standing elliptical work of art meant to be experienced inside and out, taking note of the interplay of light. To go inside it is to walk into a quieter sanctuary of soft light; a place to sit and read, perhaps, or to experience one of my favorite activities, people watching.

James Turrell’s UIC Skyspace. Hubby and Mr. Achilles walked up to it and looked into its elliptical opening on the ceiling. Venturing further inside, it is meant to create a quiet world in the heart of a vibrant city.

Richard Lippold’s Untitled (Radiant I) was locked up tight in the lobby of the Inland Steel Building on the day we visited, but we could still see it by pressing our noses and cameras to the glass. Taut wires of various materials zig zag out from criss-crossing steel rods, giving it the presence of a star radiating out from the dark sky. It was installed in 1957 and was the first abstract work of art to be on permanent display in Chicago.

My photo here does not do justice to Richard Lippold’s Untitled (Radiant I).

We saw many other sculptures on this tour, but I did not get photos of all of them. Below is a list of addresses for everything we saw, including distances from the Four Seasons Chicago hotel, where we stayed, in case you are keeping track of step-counts like we do. More information about each piece can be found by clicking on the links provided.

For even more information about these and other public works of art in Chicago, check out the Public Art Guide put out by the City of Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs.


Stand on almost any corner in Chicago, and you will probably be standing in the shadow of a famous architect. This city has developed a reputation for setting the world on fire with its forward thinking architectural designs and designers. Styles and methods born in Chicago eventually become things we take for granted in other parts of the world.

Chicago is known for its architecture of buildings, as well as the engineering of its drawbridges.

Besides the ground-breaking drawbridges, Chicago developed the modern skyscraper using a steel frame. Windows were made larger, thanks to these frames, so light could enter the whole floor of a building, instead of just the outer offices. These days, all around the world, the windows seen in older skyscrapers are called Chicago Windows because they were developed here. Next time you find yourself walking in a town with buildings dating back to the first of the last century, look for windows with a large, fixed center panel and two operable windows on each end. That is a Chicago Window.  A prime example of this style of window can be see in the Marquette Building at S. Dearborn St. and Adams.

The Marquette Building is 1.6 miles from the hotel, or approximately 3200 steps.

Chicago style windows in the Marquette Building.

Just down the street from the Marquette Building is a whole complex of buildings designed by a man who ushered Chicago and the rest of the world into what is known as the Modernist style. That complex of buildings is the Federal Center Complex and the man is Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. For many years, “Mies”, as so many call him, was the head of the School of Architecture at Chicago’s Armour Institute of Technology (now the Illinois Institute of Technology). Driving around Chicago, one can see many of his designs and many designs created in the likeness of Miesian design. These buildings are free from ornamentation, they are steel and glass structures with plate glass windows, and which reach toward the heavens with all the simplicity modern technology affords it.

This complex of buildings is located at 50 W. Adams Street, the same location as Alexander Calder’s Flamingo. This means that it is 1.6 miles from the hotel, or approximately 3200 steps.

The Kluczynski Federal Building in Chicago designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. (Photo by Local Hero.)

Out of the Miesian school of architecture grew innovative students, such as Bertrand Goldberg, who designed the Marina Towers to be a city within a city. Completed in 1964, the corn-cob towers contained condos and all the amenities one might need to function in life, such as stores, restaurants, a gym, bowling alley, etc. Now the iconic towers house a hotel, a concert hall, and several restaurants.

Marina Towers are located at 300 N. State St., which is 1 mile from the hotel, or approximately 2000 steps.

Marina City located on the river in Chicago was one of the first mix-use buildings meant to lure people back to life in the city.

Chicago History Museum and Old Town

Chicago History Museum

The second tour we took with Mr. Achilles was to the Chicago History Museum. While there, we talked of the fire that destroyed Chicago, of ties to Abraham Lincoln, stained glass windows by Frank Lloyd Wright and Louis Comfort Tiffany, and Magic!

Chicago History Museum. (Photo by AlanScottWalker from Wikipedia.com)

The Chicago History Museum has vivid dioramas which tell the history of the city. Mr. Achilles told us that the dioramas had been there for a long time–well before they went out of style at museums–and they stayed around long enough to come back into style again. They have since been cleaned up and restored, providing excellent visuals for Chicago’s history.

Chicago Fire Diorama. (I could not get a good photo, so I have borrowed from CaZaTo Ma (Tricia J.) from Flicker.com.)

Mr. Achilles is the curator for the Smith Museum of Stained Glass Windows at the Navy Pier in Chicago. He has also helped to curate the windows shown in the Chicago Room at the History Museum, which is flanked on all sides by a gallery of historic windows from names such as Tiffany and Wright.

Tiffany stained glass window from the William Wrigley collection. (Photo by Corey Seeman.)

The Chicago History Museum houses information and artifacts from its complete history. A giant locomotive engine sits on the second floor of the museum next to one of the first rail cars used for city transit (which went on to be what is now called the “L”). Walk through all the halls of the museum to taste every generation’s contribution and inventions, including those from the furniture industry, the brewers, and the meat packers. Even the slaughterhouses contributed to fashion and furniture (leather goods), as well as food preservation methods, such as canning on a large scale.

Pioneer was Chicago’s first locomotive. (Photo by Jeremy A from Wikipedia.com.)
South Side Elevated Car 1 — the first passenger car to operate on the Chicago “L” line.

Chicago has been the site of helping to define human rights and civil liberties. It hasn’t always been pretty, but the struggles which have taken place in Chicago have been felt around the globe. This museum does an excellent job demonstrating with visuals and audio the contributions made and the battles fought.

Some of the quotes found at the Chicago History Museum, with displays providing information about such events as the Haymarket Massacre. (Photo by Aaron Ray.)

While at the History Museum, we were treated to a personal demonstration of magic by Jeanette Andrews, who has been doing magic tricks since the age of six! I thought for sure I would be able to tell how she chose the different cards she did or how she made the rubberbands move in and out from our fingers, but I never got it. I walked away happily mystified.

This video and more from Ms. Andrews can be seen at JeanetteAndrewsMagic.

The Chicago History Museum is located at 1601 N. Clark St., which is 1.1 miles from the hotel. That is approximately 2200 steps.

Old Town

When we had seen everything we had gone to see at the museum, we walked through the tree-lined streets of Old Town, a neighborhood which was settled first by the PotawatomiMiami and Illinois nations before it was settled by German Catholics. We stopped into a Bavarian-styled church in the neighborhood that survived the Great Chicago Fire, St. Michael Redemptorist Catholic Church.

The church has an altar made of silver, gold and onyx, featuring St. Michael the Archangel as, what looks like, a soldier of the Crusades. There are 16 stained glass windows in the church depicting the life of Jesus and Mary, which were designed and built by the Mayer Window Art Institute in Munich, Germany. It is a building quilted with colors and design and well worth a visit. My understanding is that the parish offers tours of the building. Call ahead for information first, though.

St. Michael’s Catholic Church is located at 1633 North Cleveland Avenue. It is 1.6 miles from the hotel (approximately, 3200 steps); or .6 miles from the Chicago History Museum (approximately, 1200 steps).

St. Michael’s Catholic Church in the Old Town neighborhood was part of our tour. It is resplendent.

Old Town is also home to Second City, the world-famous comic improvisational theater which has become known for churning out the world’s greatest comedic actors. Some of their alum include Alan Arkin, Joan Rivers, Dan Aykroyd, Tina Fey, Stephen Colbert, to name just a few.

Second City is located at 1616 N Wells St. which is 1.3 miles from the hotel, or approximately 2600 steps.

The Art Institute of Chicago

Our last stop in Chicago was its world-famous Art Institute of Chicago. We had been there years ago, but not with Mr. Achilles, who opened our eyes to the art surrounding us. We ended up learning so much and getting so much out of our conversation in the Institute that, not only did I forget to take pictures, we ran out of time for Millenium Park! One more reason to return to the Windy City, I think!

The Art Institute is perhaps best known for its collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist artwork. The elite of Chicago were the first to collect these “fuzzy” paintings before they were thought of as anything of value.

Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte by Georges-Pierre Seurat.
Wheatstacks by Claude Monet.

Beyond that, there are some other iconic offerings by Edward Hopper and Van Gogh, as well as one of the most identifiable paintings, American Gothic by Grant Wood.

Self Portrait by Vincent Van Gogh, available to be seen at the AIC.
American Gothic by Grant Wood can be seen at the AIC.

Mixed in with the artwork is art of another kind — furniture and home furnishings, such as tea cups and silverware. They serve to illustrate how the designs of the home can define an era.

In doing research for this article, I discovered a program near and dear to my heart that the Art Institute has started: The Cultural Distance: Half-Mile Tour. The link takes you to a PDF of a tour which walks you a half mile through the AIC, enriching your body as well as your mind! They have other distance tours as well on their website under Mini Tours.

The Art Institute of Chicago is located at 111 South Michigan Avenue, which is 1.3 miles from the hotel, or approximately 2600 steps.


Below you can read where we stayed and how we otherwise fared in this very walkable city. As always in this series, the goal is to demonstrate how we were able to achieve at least 10,000 steps a day while exploring a different North American city. All step calculations were taken from the front door of the hotel to the front door of each destination.

Where we stayed and why

We chose the Four Seasons Chicago for several reasons. First of all, it’s the Four Seasons. It’s hard to bicker with a luxurious choice like that. The Four Seasons has a wide range of advantages, not the least of which is access to their concierge services. Karen, Michelle, and Adelina all worked with me at various times to set up our tours, plus, they gave us a long list of restaurant recommendations, and they made sure we got to and from the airport without problem. Besides that, we were able to request an extra, empty refrigerator so we could keep low-calorie options in the room for breakfast and lunch.

Waiting for us in the hotel room when we checked in were several personal notes from the concierge and front desk staff, along with a plate of gorgeous strawberries, a couple of beautiful plums, a succulent peach, and some bottled water. All healthy choices given to us as a thoughtful gift, after I had told them about Hubby’s weight loss and desire to keep it off. Of course, we couldn’t eat all of it right away, so we stored it in the empty fridge to munch on for the next few days.

Ever thoughtful, this is what the Four Seasons greeted us with in our hotel room!

If that wasn’t enough, the Four Seasons Chicago is located within walking distance to everything we needed access to, such as restaurants, grocery stores, and Walgreens.

The Four Seasons Chicago is located at 120 East Delaware Place.

Groceries and other necessities

Potash Market: This little store had everything we needed during our short stay in Chicago. It is located at 875 North State Street, just .2 miles from the hotel, or approximately 400 steps.

Walgreen’s: Located just up the block from Potash Market was a quieter Walgreen’s. It is located at 933 North State Street, just .2 miles from the hotel, or approximately 400 steps.


Sadly, we did not drink coffee outside of the hotel. This is a big surprise for someone like me who loves her coffee, but I did think to ask Mr. Achilles where was the place for a cuppa Joe. His response was, without a doubt, Intelligentsia.

There are several locations around Chicago (and New York, Pasadena, LA, and Atlanta). To find them go to Intelligentsia’s website.


The order in which I have these restaurants is not the chronological order in which we ate at them, it is the order in which I rate them. I start with L2O for a reason. It was, without a doubt, our favorite. We met a friend there, which only served to enhance the experience, but we all agreed that between the level of food and the level of service, it was bar none. Two other restaurants mentioned below were fantastic and, if we had only eaten at them in Chicago, our experience would have been great. But L2O took everything to the next level and blew us away with flavor, innovation, and service.

L2O: L2O stands for “Lake to Ocean”, so it is a restaurant heavily influenced by seafood. My experience as a vegetarian, though, was no where near second class. In fact, on a couple of fronts, our friend or Hubby mentioned that, in some way, they wished they had my serving–until they tried their own and decided they were over-the-moon happy with what they had ordered.

Reservations are recommended and can be made on OpenTable.com.

L2O is located at 2300 N. Lincoln Park West. It is 2 miles from the hotel, or 4000 steps. Although we did not walk there, we did walk back!

Hubby’s dessert had gold sprinkles on it and they poured more gold sprinkles on it after it was served. (Thank you, Mike R., for the photo!)

Blackbird: Don’t let my gushing about L2O lead you to believe that Blackbird isn’t worth your time. Quite the opposite. Blackbird knocked our socks off too. They just didn’t pick them up, launder them, and put them back on our feet when we were done like L2O did.

But seriously, Blackbird was delicious. The waiter who took our orders was very knowledgeable about what was on their menu and what it tasted like. When I mentioned I was vegetarian, he recommended the salad of endives with crispy potatoes, basil, dijon, and poached egg, minus the pancetta. For my entree, he suggested crispy buckwheat crepes with feta, artichokes, maitake mushrooms and ginger broth. I think I embarrassed Hubby as I slurped everything off the salad plate. I am a sucker for poached eggs in salads and this one was better than most. The crepes were outstanding as well; very fresh, spring green sorts of flavors that were grounded in the earthiness of mushrooms.

For what it’s worth, everyone we spoke to in Chicago about Blackbird–and there were quite a few–said they had been to this restaurant several times and they had loved it.

Reservations are recommended and can be made at OpenTable.com.

Blackbird is located at 619 W Randolph in a skinny building that has a small number of tables. The walk is 2 miles from the hotel, or 4000 steps. Although we cabbed to the restaurant, we walked back to the hotel.

Naha: We met another friend at this fine restaurant–delicious as Blackbird and just as attentive, service-wise. In fact, the waiter was kind enough to realize we were catching up with friends, so he checked in when he sensed a quiet moment, even though we didn’t leave him with many opportunities. We had a lot of catching up to do! The wait staff had the perfect balance between being attentive and letting us enjoy one another’s company. We never felt rushed or interrupted, nor did we wonder where our waiter went, and the food was delightful.

This restaurant was recommended by others we spoke to as well. It got hopping soon after we got there, so it seems like a popular place. Reservations are recommended and can be made at OpenTable.com.

Naha is located at 500 north clark street, which is .9 miles from the hotel, or 1800 steps. We walked to and from this restaurant.

Panera Bread: When we first got to town and just before we left we needed something to eat. Hubby found us a Panera Bread located .6 miles from the hotel, or approximately 1200 steps. We got soup and/or sandwiches and were set for the rest of the afternoon.


At the end of the day, Chicago has everything a person could want in a city–all of the conveniences and luxuries. Still, Chicago is a city set apart by its richness in culture, heritage, and talents. It has given the world gift upon gift but continues to be looked upon as “The Second City”. Maybe that’s what makes it so special, though. It’s the younger brother to The Big Apple. It’s the kid always having to prove himself. And, in doing so, it changes the world in ways no one ever expected.

As for me, I can honestly say my own world was shifted from four days spent learning this city. I can only imagine what it must do for those who live there.

Have you visited Chicago? If so, what did you see that I didn’t mention here? Share your tips and ideas in the Comments Section below to help others who might be planning a visit to Chicago.


This article is dedicated to my friend Gabi who is getting ready to start a new phase of her life in The Windy City. Good luck, Gabi! The world is waiting for you!

Meeting Austin through its art

When people think of Austin, they often think of music:

That’s because Austin is the Live Music Capital of the World. With over 200 live music venues, music is spilling out from everywhere as you walk down the street. That soundtrack of life you’ve always wanted? It can pretty much happen in Austin.

Austin is not just the Live Music Capital of the World, it is the State Capital of Texas, so when people aren’t thinking about music, they might think of Austin in terms of this:

The stunning capitol building in Austin.

Lest I forget, however, football is a religion in Texas. So, it could be that when you think of Austin, this comes to mind:

University of Texas Darrell K. Royal Memorial Stadium, home of the Texas Longhorns. (Photo by surelyitsjohn.)

It seems that everybody associates Austin with either music, sports, or politics, but did you know they have a pretty rocking art scene too? That’s what I went there to discover last week. What I found out was that a week is definitely not long enough to explore all the art that’s created in this very inspirational, innovative town.

Daisy Undercuffler, the highly connected and helpful concierge at the Four Seasons hotel where we stayed, put together a long list of galleries, museums, public art displays, and studios for me to visit during my stay. There was so much, in fact, that I only made it about halfway down her list!

I started my tour at the Blanton Museum of Art located on the University of Texas campus. Although this museum does not specialize in local artists, this was a good jumping off point. The Rapoport Atrium alone was worth going to check out for its Stacked Waters installation by Teresita Fernández.

The Rapoport Atrium with the “Stacked Waters” tile installation wrapping the walls. Notice the tiny heads at the top of the staircase? Those are school children visiting the museum.
There was 3100 square feet of custom-cast acrylic tiles which lined the walls. The stripes went from dark blue to white as they moved up the wall, creating the reflective experience of water.
You can see the stripes and how swirly and reflective they are as you go up the stairs to the second floor.

The Blanton Museum was playing host to two traveling exhibits when I was there. The first, American Scenery: Different Views in Hudson River School Painting has since moved on. As you can imagine from the title, this exhibit focused on the art of men and women who drew inspiration from the landscape, specifically that of the eastern United States, in the Hudson River Valley. I have always been a fan of Thomas Cole, the founder of this school of painting. His work relaxes me and takes me on the spiritual journey he intended, using light, peaceful rivers, and majestic trees to calm my soul. I had never known, however, how important that group of painters was to the environmental movement, as well as how influential they were on the National Parks System.

The second traveling exhibit, Go West! Representations of the American Frontier will be there until September 23, 2012. Like the Hudson River School of painting, painters from this group also demonstrated the changing landscape, people, and events of the West as it was taken over by the settlers.

My next stop on the tour was Gallery Shoal Creek, directed by Judith Taylor, whom I was told, was the person to talk to in order to learn about Austin art. Ms. Taylor was so kind to walk me through her gallery and talk to me about all the local artists her gallery represents. I particularly loved the art of Katie Maratta, who creates long pencil drawings of West Texas landscapes. The drawings are done on ribbons of paper one-inch high and from 12 inches to 51 inches long! The viewer must get up close to the tiny images, almost stepping into them. The result is this feeling of vast expansiveness so common in the flat land of West Texas. It’s like traveling without leaving the ground!

I can’t say enough good about Judy and Gallery Shoal Creek. She really made me feel welcome to Austin and gave me such a wealth of information to carry with me on my journeys around town. Those resources, along with the complete list I was given from Daisy at the Four Seasons, will be available in my next article, Walk Austin. Judy and Daisy work together, by the way, to curate the artwork found in the lobby and reception areas at the Four Seasons. After my tour, it was fun to walk around the lobby again and recognize the names of artists I had encountered throughout the day.

One of those artists was one I discovered at my next stop, the Davis Gallery + Framing. I spoke at length with Lisa Rogers, the Assistant Gallery Director. Like Judy, she was armed with a wealth of information about local art and artists. She took me around the gallery and introduced me to the stories of the people who created the art in front of us. I particularly loved the art by Orna Feinstein who creates 3D images using paper, fabric and acrylic. Although her style was completely different from that of Katie Maratta at the Gallery Shoal Creek, they both draw the viewer into their artwork to get up close and personal with it.

And that artist whose work I stumbled across in the lobby of the Four Seasons? His name is Philip Durst. The Davis Gallery represents him and has a nice collection of his work on view. He is a collagist whose works are unmistakable as he creates whimsical patterns with the pages of old law books and Dum Dum lollipop wrappers, bright cereal boxes, and other fun finds. His wife is an artist in her own right, creating beautiful quilts, and Mr. Durst’s work was inspired by the patterns he sees in his wife’s work. Knowing these things made it all the more fun to discover two of his collages hanging in the lobby of the Four Seasons when I returned from my visit with Lisa.

Judy and Lisa were the two heavy hitters on my tour that day. They were welcoming and fun to talk with about Austin art. When I left their galleries, I had a longing to visit the city more often so I could participate in such things as the West Austin Studio tour, which is this weekend (May 19-20, 2012), and the East Austin Studio tour, which is sometime in the fall.

By the time I left the Davis Gallery, I was filled to the brim with information. It was time to pull back a little and process everything. So, I chose to check out some public art on my list.

The Austin postcard is a mural painted on the side of the Roadhouse Relics store. It measures 10 feet tall and 20 feet wide. Roadhouse Relics specializes in handmade, custom neon signs, by the way. Pretty cool. Check out their website.

This mural was painted on the side of the Roadhouse Relics building.

My next stop was the Stevie Ray Vaughan statue located at Auditorium Shores along Lady Bird Lake. Although he was not originally from Austin, his music and his support of the music community in Austin before he died makes him a treasured son of the city.

Stevie Ray Vaughan statue in Austin along Lady Bird Lake. (Photo by Delaywaves.)

Before the day was over, there was one more place I had to go. I dragged Hubby to the Willie Nelson statue located on Willie Nelson Boulevard (previously known as 2nd Street). Mr. Nelson’s statue was unveiled just about a month ago. It sits proudly in front of the W Hotel, which shares the block with Moody Theater. This live music venue, which seats nearly 3000 people, plays host to the award winning Austin City Limits on PBS. All this is important to know because Willie Nelson was the very first artist to play on Austin City Limits back in 1974 when it went on air for the first time. Mr. Nelson has been a great influence and lent his support to Austin’s music scene throughout the decades.

Willie Nelson statue on the corner of Guadalupe and Willie Nelson Boulevard. (Photo by M. Dryja.)

For grins, this is my favorite Willie Nelson song. I think it must be the theme song for every travel blogger, no?

For more information about art in Austin, take a look at Aether, the online visual arts magazine Judith Taylor puts together in collaboration with other gallery owners and directors.

Art Austin is an online guide to Austin art. It has a comprehensive list, by month, of all the events happening throughout the year. You can also click on different gallery and studio names to learn more about them. It’s a great resource.


My Walking America series continues this weekend with more from Austin! Be sure to subscribe to this blog to receive notification when it comes out!

Embraced by the desert at Frey House II in Palm Springs

You are here.

Frey House II leans into the San Jacinto Mountains on a pedestal of earth-colored brick, like a ship which has run aground. The home’s architect and inhabitant, Albert Frey, had been exact about the color of the brick, wanting it to blend perfectly into the side of the mountain. Even the iron from the surrounding rocks has bled into and discolored the brick, just as it would normally do the soil around it. That was something Frey wanted to happen, something he perhaps delighted in.

The home was built in 1963 as a place for Mr. Frey to live. The original square footage was no more than 800 square feet. We learned he later added on to the home, to make room for his girlfriend, but our focus on this day was the original footprint.

A porte-cochere or portico housed Frey's small car.

One oddity stood out at the bottom of the steps leading up to this very angular house: a chubby, rotund cowbell. It makes more sense, however, knowing that Frey was born and raised in Switzerland and he placed the bell there as a nod to that heritage. In some respects, this house was the ideal Swiss chalet in his adopted “California Alps”.

Earth-colored brick, a glass block (is one missing there in that hole in the wall?), and a cowbell led us up the steps to the home. I like the shadows of the bricks jutting in and out on that corner.
Discoloration of the earth-colored brick by the iron-rich rocks.

Seeing those bricks colored and discolored like the earth and noticing how the roof of the place seems to mimic the sky on one side and the mountain on the other, for the first time I can grasp what is meant by modern architects like Frey who worked to build structures which imitated and “disappeared” into their environments. This house, perched into the walls of this mountain, was embraced by the desert around it. It blended in and molded to the nature surrounding it. Even the pool, so sparkly and blue, seemed to imitate the expansive sky above.

Looking out over the pool.
I liked the little stones embedded into the concrete around the pool. Are those river rocks? Or stones found on the mountain?

Outside, the direct sun pressed hot and heavy with temperatures flirting past 80-degrees Fahrenheit. Inside, the difference in temperature was immediately felt. It had all been planned that way by Mr. Frey to be a home that was cool in the summer and warm in the winter, without the need for piped in heat and air.

Our guide told us how Frey had spent an entire year studying the position of the sun as it hit the ground so he would know how to best place and situate the roof and its overhangs. In the summer months, the sun barely brushes the top step outside the home–never venturing further into the home with its steamy tendrils, thanks to the ribbed aluminium eave hanging over the steps by the pool. Today the winter sun (hot as it was outside) humbly crept along the floor and warmed the carpet inside. With the windows wide open, cool breezes drifted through and made the room quite pleasant and relaxing.

Perforated corrugated aluminum sheets were used on the roof/ceiling of the home. Reminds me of the sky and the cool blue of the pool.
Winter sun comes barely comes in. The rest of the house is shaded and cool.

It was so comfortable in this tiny ship of a house. Everything was built in–the couch, the record player, the drafting table–that it felt as if everything had been thought of and was within arm’s reach. It truly was like living in a ship–one which had been cast up onto high ground and landed perfectly on its anchor, a gorgeous, massive rock.

The rock is at the heart of this small home.

Frey thought around every obstacle as he built this home around the boulder. He did not have access to the kinds of laser-accurate tools we have today which could cut glass to the exact wrinkles and undulations of this rock. So he chipped at it, positioned the glass around it and then filled it back in using the chips he had displaced.

Everything was built in, even the record player.
A stereo console and nightstand/end table connects the bedroom to the main room.
Looking east onto Palm Springs. This photo gives some idea of the length of the living room/bedroom/office space in which Frey lived.

Unlike the Stephens House, I found myself wishing I could be one of the lucky few to live there. It seemed so peaceful, as if inspiration could be born and nurtured inside, while all the little niggling worries of everything else were left outside to melt in the sun.

The large windows opened up and exposed the room from floor to ceiling to welcome, cool breezes. The yellow curtains on one side looked like the yellow flowers dotting the desert floor just outside. The blue drapes on the other side of the home reminded me of the sky visible from the lower level of the living area. It was a dream home–not pretentious, but nonetheless elegant in its simplicity and functionality.

Yellow curtains, the color of bright encilia flowers just outside.
The drafting table with Frey-crafted chairs and blue curtains, the color of the surrounding sky.

In spite of a concrete floor and an aluminum perforated ceiling, this house was richly inviting. Perhaps it is the color of the wood veneer so prominent in the space, used back then for its low-cost availability, and now prized because it is so rare. Woods do tend to soften even the harshest of spaces. Or maybe it was the colors he chose–the blues on the ceiling, curtains, and tabletops. Likely, it is the complete package, a combination of everything, a habitable expression of the desert mountains, which makes it so delightful and draws out feelings of contentment and joy.

The honey-colored wood veneer covered walls and built-in furniture alike. Love that clock.
A view from the open floor-to-ceiling window off the bedroom area.

The hospitality of the home could also simply be owed to its creator, a man who put in his will a special endowment for the house to be maintained and restored as needed. He lived there and loved that house from the time it was built until his death in 1998. It was something special to him and he was happy to share it. He specified that someone should always live in the home because empty houses fall into disrepair and he desired that the home remain “alive” by having someone live there. He also made sure that architecture students and other architects should always have access to the home “for study and inspiration in the future.”

For those of us considered amateur students of architecture, this home is deeply inspiring, a welcome embrace into the simplicity and philosophy of Modernism.

Thank you to the Palm Springs Art Museum and the Architecture and Design Council for making it available to we, your budding students, privileged to walk in the life and steps of people like Albert Frey. This tour has so far been the highlight of Modernism Week for me.

For more photos from our tour of this great house, see the slideshow below.

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Vintage cars and mid-century furnishings rev things up at Palm Springs Modernism Week

Photos from the 50s and 60s might be in black and white, but judging from the colors seen during two of today’s Modernism Week events in Palm Springs, the mid-century was bursting with color and shine.

“They don’t make ’em like they used to.” No where was that more apparent than at the Vintage Car Show located outside the Palm Springs Convention Center. It was a sight of brilliant colors, shiny chrome, and decadent lines and curves. These are the cars of an era long gone, of free-wheeling creativity. They don’t make ’em like that anymore.

Lincoln Continental convertible.

Somewhere inside of me is a prolonged sigh–not for a past that wasn’t as good to some as it was to others–but for that kind of open-ended creativity and an “anything’s possible” attitude that created these kinds of cars.

Looooong daddy-oh. Looks like something Batman would drive.

When I look at cars today, I see only hints of the passion and flair of yesterday’s four-wheeled marvels. Where did it go? Maybe with all the rules and regulations about what a car must be today, there’s not room for that kind of passion in the car industry. Or maybe we’re just waiting for that next generation to come along and burst the seams of what we thought was possible.

All about the chrome, color, and massive hood ornaments.
Vintage Car Show at the Palm Springs Convention Center. Photo by Michael Dryja
Cherry red convertible Studebaker. Photo by Michael Dryja.
Chrysler New Yorker: Long, lean, and shark-like with its gills and fins. Gorgeous.
Inside the Chrysler New Yorker.
1959 Desoto.
Built in a time when kids were seen and not heard, ash trays dominated the back seats instead of video screens.

Outside the Convention Center the cars seduced with their chrome bumpers, curvaceous lines, and statuesque hood ornaments. Inside the Convention Center there was plenty to salivate over as well, thanks to the 12th Annual Palm Springs Modernism Show. All parts of a Modernist home were represented in warm shades of lacquered wood, blue vinyl, polished metals, and sparkly glass. Primary colors danced on metal orbs, rods, and squares. They saturated vinyl couches, were splashed across canvases, and were woven into fabrics.

Love this blue vinyl couch with built-in coffee and end tables. How about those fluffy, furry white pillows?
Large, colorful jacks decorated a glass fireplace surround.
Grouping of Transmission Tower Replicas at Christopher Anthony Ltd. in Palm Springs.
Not sure what material was used to house this radio. Stained wood? Melamine? It is marbled and unique.
Honeycomb bookshelves.
Colorful lamps that look like nuns bowed in prayer.
Simple, colorful, elegant clocks.

For more photos, check out the slideshow from both events:

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Travel back to the mid-century during Modernism Week in Palm Springs

Step back in time to see how designers saw the future in Modernism Week!

Modernism Week in Palm Springs is here! Festivities kicked off yesterday (February 16) with tours, exhibitions, a lighting of mid-century modern architecture, and, of course, a cocktail party. This celebration of mid-century modern design will run through February 26th and every day is packed with activities, many of which are sold out.

Although I couldn’t be there for the kick-off, I’ve got my bags packed and tickets in hand for lots of different programs and tours throughout the coming week. The weather appears to be cooperating, hitting upwards of 70 to 82 for the foreseeable future. It will be perfect weather for walking tours of famous homes (think Frank Sinatra!), double-decker bus tours of modern architecture, and perusing mid-century concept cars. There is enough to see and do that I’m not sure when we’ll have time to eat and sleep! To keep up with it all, I’ve got the Modernism Week App on my iPhone.

Below is a sample video of what’s to come–a tour of Frank Sinatra’s house, complete with juicy tidbits about his life there!

Stay tuned for pictures and updates about Modernism Week in Palm Springs. And, if you’re there too, drop a comment about what you’re seeing and doing this week.
For more information about what Modernism Week is about, check out the video below: