DETROIT: You Gotta Have Art

11 May

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There seems to be no end of things to see and do in Detroit; from places and activities that have  been around forever to  new things that seem to be springing up all the time. Today we were going to visit two places that may be a little lesser known, but are worth seeking out. We began with a trip to Southwest Detroit for some lunch. Mexican food is well represented in this district, but did you know there is an awesome El Salvordan place on Livernois? Pupuseria y restaurante Salvadoreno is a small cinder block building painted avocado green. It sits back off the road a ways,  a large blinking arrow near the street points you to the building and adjacent parking lot. This is definitely a place for the more adventurous. Once inside you walk through an area reserved for people waiting for take-out, then into the dining room. The space is sparsely decorated; white painted walls and flags representing Central America wrap around the room, seating consists of booths and tables with metal folding chairs. As you may have guessed from the name, pupusas are the house specialty, they are delicious! The menu is filled with classic Salvadoran food; try several different things. We always like to pick a combination of dishes and share. Of course you have to have a pupusa or two; we chose the cheese and jalapeno and the pork, yum! A pupusa is made of a thick handmade tortilla with a filling in the middle,  made to order they are served with curtido and a homemade hot sauce.. Curtido is a spicy cole slaw using vinegar instead of mayo, you place some curtido on top of the pupusa, hot sauce too if you like, and enjoy. We had an order of Yucca too, deep fried to a crisp light golden color, they could almost pass for french fries, also served with curtido, this one was a bit hotter with diced jalapeno. Last but certainly not least were the plantains. I’m not sure how they are prepared, but they arrive to the table all warm and golden; the outside caramelized and delightful. They are served with beans and cream, yeah, I know, sounds strange….The theory is to drag your golden plantain through the beans (they look like Mexican refried beans) then through the cream (I would describe it as a thin sour cream) and enjoy. You have to try it to appreciate it! Portions are large and prices fair so you can eat till your heart’s content, which is exactly what we did.

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One place we have been meaning to go back to is the Russell Industrial Center located on Clay Street.You have probably seen the massive structure on the east side of I-75. We heard about the Spring Open House and were anxious to see what it was all about. Construction of the 7 building, Albert Kahn designed complex began in 1915 and was completed in 1925. The structure is made of concrete and large steel-framed factory windows, it has a total  of 2.2 million square feet of space. Originally home to Murray Manufacturing Company, the buildings were originally used to make auto bodies and parts for numerous manufacturers such as: Ford, Packard, REO, Pierce Arrow, Auburn and Dodge; the list goes on and on. The building complex has changed hands a number of times, previous owners include: Harry & Leona Helmsly, Household International (Thermos), and in 2003 Dennis Kefallinos bought all seven buildings. His idea was to turn the complex into a mixed business community; there are currently 150 commercial tenants ranging from artists and craftspeople to printers and small businesses.

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We arrived at RIC and parked. The only indication that anything was going on were a few balloons near the entrance; we opened the door, a sign directed us to the second floor. Here we found ourselves at the end of a very long hallway, miscellaneous furniture was randomly placed throughout the hall. We came upon an open door, inside was a glass studio; artists and visitors were scattered about the space, some working on a project others watching intently. We felt like we had the hang of it now, so we began the process of wandering from studio to studio, hall to hall. The building  is enormous, some walls are decorated with murals, sculptures, tiny lights or signs; it’s all very avant- garde. We popped into an artists studio; over-sized paintings hung from the wall, we browsed the room taking in the view from the immense windows. In and out we went from the second to the third floor, room to room; jewelry, metal sculptures, photography and apparel. We saw vintage posters and amazing outdoor sculptures for sale. We spoke to the artists themselves about their work and the city.

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We crossed over to building #2 and began the same process. A.K. Services is this incredible woodworking studio, an intriguing collection of antique chandeliers hangs from the ceiling. Alan not only does custom carpentry work, he has designed a line of furniture that he makes right there in his shop, the designs are really cool, check out his Quarnge chairs. We happened upon another glass studio where glass blowers were busy at work, don’t you just love watching them? The pieces here were awesome, they have a large display area and make everything from bowls and vases to windows and outdoor pieces. The artwork and paintings we saw were unique and funky, done by talented artists. We came across one section where a huge sculpture of found objects stood, as we walked toward it we saw another one in the distance, then another and another, finally leading us to the studio itself. We were invited in by a voice somewhere in the room, it was hard to tell where it initiated from at first due to the mass quantities of stuff that filled the space. We found our way to the person belonging to the voice and got an introduction to his work; pieces are eclectic, whimsical, and fun. They are brightly colored range in size from a few inches to many feet tall. The buildings are also home to graphic designers, architects and writers, there is a very creative vibe about the place. It was fascinating to be able to freely investigate this extremely cool old building. The place has an amazing history; this is the project that first brought attention to Kahn’s work, and a true industrial hub.  The People’s Art Festival takes place here each September, I highly recommend a visit.

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