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Monday January 6, 2014: Ringling Art Museum, Sarasota, Florida
We awoke to find a dense fog outside, and when we went for a walk after breakfast, the droplets collected on our glasses and made seeing anything doggone difficult. We went for a morning walk on the beach anyway, and I was surprised to see what I can only describe as a "fogbow" as the sunlight from the sun rising behind us started to burn off the fog. A fogbow is a region of noticeably denser fog shaped in the same arc as a rainbow. I THINK that some of the same optical laws as a rainbow are causing it, but you can't see the colors because the fog washes them out. Puzzling.
We walked South along the beach to the fishing pier along the outlet to the Gulf of Mexico used by the fishing boats, cabin cruisers, and the like. One great blue heron was giving the fishermen the beady eye, clearly hoping to either steal a fish, some bait, or at least end up with some leftovers, and the people walking on the pier gave him and his long, sharp beak a wide berth!
We also passed flocks of other sea birds, different species of sea gulls I would guess, and some of them were clearly raising their chicks. Seeing the chicks almost as large as the parent wriggling their wings, holding open their mouth, and giving that peculiar keening cry always strikes me as funny as the chicks by that point clearly look big enough to fend for themselves and the parents look a bit tired and frazzled by the constant feeding duty.
Since we had heard about the Ringling art museum, we drove North to Sarasota near the airport to take that in, stopping off at McDonalds for coffee along the way. The Ringling Museum, now run by Florida State University, turned out to be much grander than we had expected. There are several pieces to this museum complex scattered about a large campus area, and coincidentally we found out that the admission fee for just the art collection part of the museum was free on Mondays.
The art collection is in a large Italian Renaissance style building, with two huge wings extending back from a broad, massive front entrance section. We were told a tour had just started so we hustled into the first huge, high-ceilinged rooms of the right-hand wing where one tapestry and several really large paintings by Peter Paul Rubens stretched from floor to ceiling. The paintings were used as cartoons to weave the tapestries that were paid by the Catholic church, and were maybe 15 feet high by 10 feet wide.
We trailed after our docent as she wandered down the sequence of rooms in that wing, describing the earliest gilded icons from a church in Portugal, as well as later religious and finally secular paintings from succeeding centuries. At the end we wandered through one room of a modern art exhibit and one room of formed glass sculptures. The modern art exhibit emphasized optical art including regular, abstract designs, but we thought some of Heinke's technical drawings hanging in our guest bedroom were just as good.
The formed glass sculptures were another matter entirely. I was entranced by them not only because they were artistically novel, but also because the sheer technical difficulty of working glass into those forms and structures was incredible. Molten glass is hotter than Hades, and its darn dangerous stuff to poke, prod, shape, or blow into figures. The difficult goes up exponentially as the size of the glass piece increases, and some of these glass pieces were really big. Very interesting.
We retraced our steps to the front, taking pictures of things we had missed whilst following the docent, and then starting working our way back along the left hand wing. Some preserved old rooms from the Astor's mansion left me completely cold as I simply have no interest in the "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous", but the other rooms had very nice paintings from different periods and countries that were fantastic. The painting of St. Mark's square in Venice, Italy, for example, was so accurate and true-to-life that I felt as if I had been transported back there in the days of the Renaissance.
Most of all I enjoyed the "everyday life" paintings, one of a guy playing a violin in a tavern, and several of boat harbors full of sailing ships, fishermen, and typical shoreside activities. Those were realist paintings and done with such painstaking accuracy that I think they could be used as references for how the sails were rigged on those old wooden vessels.
One oddball set of paintings on one wall concerned vignettes all featuring Harlequin, the tragi-comic figure of the Italian Comedia del Arte. The ones that stick in my mind are the one where he is being choked by an obviously enraged woman, and one where he and Mrs. Harlequin are trying to force feed a baby noodles. Dark themes for a painting, but oddly humorous.
At the end of the second wing, we exited into a formal sculpture garden in the center of the basic U-shape of the building. The three high sections of the art building enclose a large collection of bronze statues, but I was dismayed to discovered that a cold front has passed through and the temperature had dropped 15 degrees just in the hours we had been studying the paintings inside. I was in a shorts and T shirt, and the wind was blowing so hard that I started to freeze every time I stopped to admire one of the really fine bronze statues, which was really quite aggravating.
But by then it was after 2 p.m. and we were also getting pretty hungry, so we decided to make a run to the car, change our clothes to the warmer gear in our suitcases, find a place to have lunch, and then try to see the "Whimsical Art" museum we had seen on our drive North that morning. We did all that, but unfortunately that art museum is only open Thursday, Friday, and Saturday afternoons. But some of the stuff we could see as we peeked in the windows really looked interesting. Nuts.
We kept on heading South, finding another museum in a 1926 schoolhouse at the old Spanish Point area, but by then it was after 4 p.m. and they refused to sell us tickets because we would not have enough time to really see all the exhibits. Well double dog darn it!
So in the end we trundled back home, had dinner, walked out on the beach to watch the wind-blown surf lashing against the shore and eroding the beach, a rather dramatic scene and so completely different from yesterday. Then we settled in to finish "Passing Through Paradise", a well-written novel with absolutely believable characters and a compelling plot line. Although I wish we had seen a couple more museums, the Ringling Art Museum was fantastic and good enough for one day. And so to bed.
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