The Tailor and I had completely different reasons for wanting to visit Thomas Edison’s laboratory. For my part, they had me at “National Park”—and it didn’t hurt that there existed a hilarious song about the place (which, let me tell you, played on repeat in my head for a good month afterward).
But the Tailor’s a scientist and a tinkerer at heart, so the century-old chemistry lab spoke to his very soul—
—not to mention all the iconic inventions around every corner.
Most of the machinery, chemicals and gadgets were incomprehensible to me, but I found myself getting sucked in, too. I absolutely fell in love with the sheer clutter of the place. If they say a messy workspace is a sign of genius…
…well, then clearly, we were in the presence of one of the greats.
Last week’s Nature Lab post put me in an “educational” frame of mind this weekend—so I thought I’d devote this week to museum sketches. First up are some brand new ones from just a couple of days ago, when I finally had the chance to see the spectacular exhibit of Peruvian art and artifacts at the Seattle Art Museum. The show covers 3,000 years of Peruvian history, so it’s a lot to take in—but it’s worth every scrap of attention you’ve got. That’s where a sketchbook comes in handy, actually—for me, it helps process all that sensory overload, so I can look back later and remember the experience as more than just an art blur.
(A word to fellow sketchers, if you go: museum rules allow sketching only with a pencil inside the galleries—which are pretty dimly lit. So I had to rough these out quickly, squinting with my nose an inch from the book, and then sprint for the nearest coffee shop afterward to ink and paint while I could still remember any color details.)
My favorite part of the show was the fact that it covered both pre-Columbian cultures and art done during and after the Conquista—so even though the sudden switch in subject matter was jarring, it was easy to see how the cultural influence—surprisingly—went in both directions.
So if you find yourself in Seattle over the holidays, grab a sketchbook and take yourself out on an art date. The show is only up through January 5, but if you make the effort to get there, you won’t be disappointed.
Speaking of taxidermy, Wednesday’s post reminded me of my trip back to Providence a couple of years ago, to show the Tailor around my old city and my alma mater. He was politely interested in my tour of the campus, but I knew he’d completely freak out (and I was right, he did) when I showed him my favorite haunt of all: the Nature Lab.
I can’t tell you how many hours I’ve spent in this place, but needless to say, this building was a second home for three years of my life. Now before you think I’m a total nutcase for spending all that time in a room full of dead things, let me explain. The Nature Lab exists for a very specific purpose: to provide real, no-kidding, three-dimensional reference material for drawing.
RISD feels very strongly (and if you read this blog, you know I do, too) about the importance of drawing from life. When you sketch something tangible, right in front of you, all sorts of sneaky extra knowledge (understanding of anatomy and structure! A real grasp of 3-D space! An interest in science!) takes root in your brain, making you a far better artist than any photograph ever could. In this age of Google image searches and the Inter-tubes’ enabling of half-baked research, this stuff is more important than ever.
The Nature Lab was founded in 1937—and it remains remarkably unchanged today. So the result is a stunning combination of natural history museum and down-home lending library. RISD still operates its specimen collections as if the Internet never existed, and I love that (ask me sometime about the glorious Picture Collection—their circulating library of half a million physical image clippings!).
When I was a student here, I was mostly entranced by sketching the individual objects in the collection. (I mean, how often do you get to touch a baboon skull?) But now it’s the overall effect of the whole that gets me. This place is the ultimate cabinet of curiosities—and proof that you really can get lost in one room.
The Nelson is a small museum—small enough that I thought the short visit we had time for would be plenty, sketching included.
And then I discovered the wall of antique cowboy spurs, just as we were about to leave.
Needless to say, if I had been wearing spurs at the time, the Tailor never would have been able to drag me out of there.
For every alive-and-well Paul Bunyan statue out there, there’s a roadside attraction that’s gone to seed—or given up the ghost entirely. And since you don’t see a lot of vintage kitsch in museums or public trusts, these landmarks are too easily overlooked by community restoration projects.
Not so in Seattle, my friends.
The Hat-n-Boots have been beloved by Seattle’s Georgetown neighborhood for sixty years. Originally the respective marquee and restrooms (!) for a western-themed gas station along Highway 99, these behemoths are the stuff of legends. (After all, they make a cameo in National Lampoon’s Vacation, and Elvis himself supposedly stopped for gas there.)
Thanks to the introduction of the Interstate highway, the gas station was short-lived, and by the mid-eighties, the landmarks were crumbling. Yet rather than demolish them, the City relocated and restored them in 2003, making them the centerpieces of a neighborhood park.
For that, Seattle easily deserves a tip of one’s (44-foot) hat.
I’ll be sticking close to the studio today, frantically filling orders from the shop (thank you for that, by the way!). So the concept of going out on Black Friday is a moot point for me anyway, even if that were my sort of thing.
But I’ll tell you what is tempting, every single year: I love the hustle and bustle of the Pike Place Market on the day after Thanksgiving. I know it’s a complete madhouse on this day, and overtly touristy anyway, and I absolutely don’t care. No matter how long I live here, I hope I never lose my totally impractical love of the place. Our fall veggie haul has the pantry full already, so there’s nothing we actually need there. I just love the energy of the Market, and the crazy jumble of neon signs, upended crustaceans and piles of produce. It’s just about the only thing I’d want to leave the house (and the leftover turkey) for today.
Does that make me crazy? (Don’t answer that.)
Since the holiday falls on a non-post day, I’ll have to settle for this sketch of last year’s table setting. But I’m sure I’ll be sketching tomorrow, too, as our friends gather round our table to share a meal and give thanks for one another—and for friends far away, too.
This goes for you, too—whether you’re here in the U.S., getting ready to celebrate, or somewhere else in the world, having just another normal day. Know that wherever you are, I’m thankful for you, for joining me each week in this space. Wherever tomorrow finds you, I hope it finds you warm, well-fed, and surrounded by the things that bring you joy.
These are not sketches of veggie bins at the farmer’s market—this is what our back porch looks like every year at this time. When we’re at home, the Tailor and I eat almost entirely seasonally and locally (what can I say—we’re weirdos). So that means we buy all of our winter vegetables in November, and then nothing until the markets open again in the spring. I confess that by February I’m pretty sick of beets (and when I’m on the road I might sneak a salad in a restaurant), but in the fall I’m nothing but excited about the prospect of all those beautiful sugar pie pumpkins, fresh cranberries and heirloom potatoes.
Each vegetable has different storage needs: the fussy squash and pumpkins like it dry and cool (and need individual newspaper nests); the carrots, apples and garlic do best in the fridge; and the taters and onions like it dark and damp. (And you really can’t kill a beet, so they thrive on neglect.) But before the squash head for the attic and the potatoes for the root cellar, I spread out all the boxes so I can sketch the whole bounty of the cornucopia.
(And then sometimes I swipe an apple while I work.)
But also…uh…Shameless Self-promotion. And very quietly, the Sigh of relief I’m breathing. Because at long, long last, after lots of technical difficulties and a whole bunch of back-end work, my Souvenir Shop is live!
(And I even managed not to miss the holiday season—though only just.)
In the shop you’ll find a whole bunch of original artwork and prints inspired by travel and the blog. There are brand new, original travel illustrations (like the one above!), the beginnings of a 50 States series, reproductions of my sketchbook drawings, and even made-to-order prints of any sketch on the blog. As you can probably guess, this is just the beginning. There’s a lot more to come next year, but hopefully this will whet your appetite.
In the meantime, I hope you’ll pop on over and take a look. And I’ll be back on Monday with the next regular post—see you then!
Speaking of plants with giant letters on them, this is another old favorite of mine. Like its rival across the Mississippi, this guy was a starring character of my daily commute. Since the “A” mill isn’t part of the museum complex on the other bank, I was always worried it would be torn down eventually. I heard recently, though, that the building is slated to become an enormous live-work artists’ complex, complete with preserved historic exteriors. So for now, at least, I’m breathing a sigh of relief—looks like this place is still A-okay.