FLINT: Art & History

4 Apr

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The city of Flint is roughly 66 miles northwest of Detroit, it’s the 4th largest metropolitan area in Michigan. The city is steeped in history. Add to that the current revitalization and restoration of downtown buildings, an influx of entrepreneurs, new businesses, restaurants; it equals a destination of fun and good food.

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Driving around a forgotten, historic neighborhood we come across the Stockton House Museum, a sign out front reads Open Today. Let’s go! This lovely, Italianate home was built in 1872 by retired Civil War Colonel Thomas Stockton and his wife Maria. The house is nestled among 4 1/2 acres of treed grounds, a natural mineral spring runs through the property, prompting the Stockton’s to name their home Spring Grove. The once elegant exterior is now a work-in-progress, white paint wears away revealing multi-colored stones at the first level and red brick above. Fancy architectural details surround the porch, large wooden doors gain our entry into the foyer.  A friendly, knowledgeable woman is our docent, we’re getting our own private tour.

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Thomas was a military man through and through serving in the Mexican-American and Civil Wars, after retiring in 1863 he continued to work as a recruiter for the Union Army. Note the military stars incorporated into the design of the home. Maria was the founder and first president of the Ladies Library Association, she used a room in her home for lending books before there was such thing as a library. The group later became Flint’s first public library. The Stockton’s prominence is evident throughout their home; ornate plaster ceiling decoration, rosettes and medallions anchoring elegant light fixtures,thick moldings, uniquely detailed maple and oak hardwood floors. The home has 14 rooms, 12′ ceilings, a workshop and staff areas. Upstairs we find a series of photos and newspaper articles documenting the house through its uses as a private home, hospital, old age home and then returning to a private residence. There’s a collection of historic family photos, memorabilia and miscellaneous hardware. We tour the master suite and bedrooms, the current owners did extensive research, returning the home to its former beauty.

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In 1921 the Sisters of St Joseph acquired the house and established a hospital. At one point they ran out of space and built a 3-story addition. Walking toward the back of the house we enter the addition, it’s kind of creepy in an old-time-medical-facility kind of way. This section of the house was kept and restored because of its significance to the history of Flint. The surgical wing was here on the second floor, the tile floor is original. One room is staged with actual items from the time this was a hospital; I’m glad to be living in 2019. We take the elevator down to the first level, which is actually slightly below ground level. If you were on this floor of the hospital chances were you were going home. Crossing back into the home this is where we find the kitchen, dining and staff areas. I’m having a hard time reconciling the fact that when you enter the front door of the home it is actually the second floor. Once we get outside and I have a look, it falls into place.

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I could go for a coffee, Totem Books is right around the corner. “Books” does not begin to describe Totem; yes it’s an independent book store but it also sells used books, new and used vinyl records spanning decades and genres, cd’s, cassettes, dvd’s, vintage t-shirts, collectible Flint postcards, maps and photos. It’s a great place to grab a beverage or a sandwich and just browse. I sip on my coffee, walking under globe lights looking at owl figurines, I meet up with Kris by the vintage matchbooks, I hand him his iced coffee as we continue our trip through time. Totem is a cool shop and it’s located in a funky part of town with great murals. I highly recommend stopping in.

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Over at the Flint Farmer’s Market we take the last two remaining seats at the counter of MaMang. The tiny space with the beautiful mural of a woman and scenes of southern Asia is always hopping; the line to order is long, their food is always worth the wait. The menu of Vietnamese cuisine is made up of the basics; Pho, Bahn mi, spring rolls and Taiwanese treats. We place our order and watch as ladles of broth fill large bowls, pickled vegetables are placed on sandwiches and white plastic shopping bags are filled carry-out containers. When our turn comes we devour tasty spring rolls, a bahn mi filled with braised bbq Chinese pork, pickled daikon, carrot, cucumber, cilantro and mayo on a toasted baguette. The veggie Pho is outstanding; bone broth with rice noodles, Asian spices, Thai basil, ginger, green onion and bean sprouts, definitely enough to share.

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I don’t think the Flint Institute of Arts gets the proper attention it deserves. It’s a wonderful museum, their glass is world-class; which is exactly the reason we’re here today. Their Contemporary Craft Wing contains 3 distinct, expansive galleries; 2 permanent collection galleries and 1 for temporary exhibits. Shall we have a look? We traverse our way through the museum taking in extraordinary paintings and sculptures, we reach the Center Gallery and our pace slows. The glass pieces are extraordinary, each one grabs my attention and pulls me to a stop. I love flowers so Inventing Flowers by Ginny Ruffner is one of my favorite pieces–look at those Tiger Lilies and Tulips. The Daffodil vase and Tulip Panel and Daisies really put me in the mind of Spring. The glass is manipulated in all different fashions; blown, cast, acid polished, fused and kiln formed, amazing isn’t it?  Even something simple like the bowl with the red circular insert is stunning. 

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There are pieces that change as you walk past, optical crystals, or as I call them, optical illusions. There are whimsical pieces like the Red Apple, glass characters; a dancer, a blue man and a piece called Circus. No collection is complete without something from Dale Chihuly, his Paris Blue Persian Set with red lip wraps is gorgeous! Look at how the artist created an animal out of glass shards, the Falcons are made of blown and sculpted glass. Glass art is special here at FIA, they have a free glass-blowing demonstration every Saturday from 11 am – 4 pm.

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You have to check out the paperweight collection, it’s one of the best I’ve ever seen. The art of making paperweights started in Venice, they are prized for their beauty, grace and rarity. Colorful canes in complex designs are encased in crystal; popular subjects are flowers, bouquets and animals. A video runs continuously showing an artist creating a paperweight, fascinating. The truth is I like all of them from the simple swirls of color that remind me of old-fashioned hard candy to millefiori: a thin cross-section of cylindrical canes made from colored rods to resemble little flowers to the lampwork pieces: flowers, fruit, butterflies or animals constructed by shaping and working bits of colored glass. Some of them look so life-like; the fish, flowers, snake, even the little bees. It’s like a whole world encased in crystal. 

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