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Columbus: Art See…

16 Apr

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Our visit to Ohio’s capital city continues with the Columbus Museum of Art. The Neo Classical  building opened in January of 1931, there have been several expansions through the years, the latest, 50,000 sq. ft. that includes a new wing, atrium and cafe. That said, if you’re expecting the DIA, you’ll be disappointed, this museum is not of that stature. The collection includes late 19th and early 20th century American and European modern works of art. The museum holds the world’s largest collection of works by Columbus artists Aminah Brenda Lynn Robinson, Elijah Pierce and George Bellows. Contemporary Art, Folk Art, glass, photography, expressionist works and social commentary art can all be found within its walls. 

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We park in the lot adjacent to the building, it’s nice outside so we take some time to explore the grounds. A new garden courtyard provides seating with a nice view of the surrounding area; sculptures are made of stainless steel and wire, painted steel, aluminum and bronze. I’m not sure why but the tall metal strips in red, white and blue remind me of bacon–I must be hungry. The new wing has a limestone base, the rectangular-shaped gallery space is covered in panels of green-patinated copper with deep-set floor to ceiling windows, very modern looking. We use the north entrance stepping into the natural-light-infused atrium. I can see straight through to the front of the museum, lounge areas look inviting, directly above, 35 glass boats dangle, catching the light. We take the stairs to the second floor, small rooms contain video and projection installations. Large, modern works of art hang on stark white walls, individual wood planks lay side by side, it makes me think of fettuccine (why does everything remind me of food?). ‘Back of Kelly’ is a startling life-like recreation of the back of a man, I like the Nocturne Navigator, the skirt of the dress looks like stars in the night sky.

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The original building remains opulent; fancy metal grates act as windows, elegant light fixtures hang from decoratively painted ceilings. Dale Chihuly’s glass art always commands attention. Here the walls are soft colors; vanilla, lavender, blue. Wood floors creak beneath our feet, we traverse long halls, duck in and out of galleries viewing pieces by Charles Demuth, Francis Criss, Clarence Holbrook Carter, Niles Spencer and Norman Rockwell’s Morning After The Wedding. A giant sunflower under glass glows in the center of a gallery, it’s beautiful. We are delighted by the works of Renoir, Monet, Picasso, Matisse, Cezanne, Degas, Juan Gris and Diego Rivera. Some spaces have seating, allowing you to relax and really absorb the art. In the hall terrazzo floors gleam, different kinds of glass are displayed in cubicles.

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On the bottom floor there’s a whole section designed to get visitors creatively involved. A black wall is covered in art made from Post-it notes, it’s amazing what some people have made from sticky squares of paper. The Wonder Room is awesome; duck under draped pieces of cloth to a burgundy-painted room with a blanket fort, a giant spider web made from vintage textiles complete with super-sized bugs and a fashion station where you can create garments for a dress form. It’s a pretty cool space, great works of art hang on the walls as inspiration, tables are filled with materials for you to create your own great work of art, kids and adults seem to be enjoying the experience equally.We find ourselves at the original entrance, to me this is the prettiest part, architecturally speaking. The ceiling is amazing; blue, cream, yellow, green and gold all working together to create lovely patterns. The chandelier hangs from a central panel, potted palms sprout from urns, marble steps, brass railings and archways  foreshadow the treasures on display inside.

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 We’re headed over to a warehouse called 400 West Rich in Franklinton; Heather at the Terra Art Gallery  in Dublin recommended we check it out. Franklinton was the first American settlement in Franklin County, founded in 1797, it was annexed to the city of Columbus in 1870. Much of the land lies below the level of the Scioto and Olentangy Rivers, floods have taken their toll through the centuries. With a new flood wall in place the area is no longer considered a floodplain, making this district just west of downtown ripe for redevelopment.  400 West Rich resides in a warehouse built in 1910 by D.A. Ebinger Sanitary Manufacturing Company, this sanitary porcelain manufacturer invented the public drinking fountain as we know it. EBCO left the building in the 1950’s, a series of interesting tenants followed; Sweden Freezer, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut and Eickholt Glass. Today it’s a combination of artists studios, galleries and Strongwater Food and Spirits; let’s go in. A grin creeps across my face when we step inside, this was the lobby the EBCO warehouse, the terrazzo floor is spectacular, I don’t think I’ve ever seen such an intricate pattern before. The furniture is pure mid-century, love the colors. Look at the old receptionist’s desk, how about that rotary phone? Up a few steps we are in the bar and dining space, they’ve even turned former offices into little dining rooms. 

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We chat with our server about the building, Franklinton and Columbus in general, he points out the mural of Grace Darling, she was a media celebrity in 1838. She and her father were responsible for rescuing shipwrecked sailors from the SS Forfarshire. With a little help from our server we make our selections and in no time lunch is served; everything looks delicious. The Farro salad is excellent, the grain is tender, radishes and cukes are crisp, peas, sweet drop peppers and sprouts add sweetness, the soy sauce vinaigrette adds the perfect amount of saltiness. The Nashville Hot Chicken Sandwich stacks pickles, arugula, red hot aiolo on top of a spicy chicken breast all held together with a brioche bun. It has a nice kick and excellent flavor, the red hot is not the overwhelming flavor. Before we leave we take a peek at the event spaces, the original sawtooth windows are now used in the ceiling. Original birch wood has been repurposed into tables and the bar. Here and there leftover machinery, tools and bolts lurk about. What a great way to re-use and old warehouse.

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As we drive around the district a little we see a sign for Glass Axis, oh good, they’re open. The building is another left-over from like 1902, it’s now used as a glass-making facility. The non-profit allows the public access to well-equipped studios for all forms of glass art including stained and fused glass, torch and hot glass blowing and sculpting and neon art. They offer hands-on classes, demonstrations, public programs and even event space. A student removes his rod from the furnace, we watch in fascination as he gently blows into one end and a glass piece begins to take form at the other end. It’s really warm standing by the furnace, at least 6 other rods are warming up. We walk past bowls of glass chips, kilns, huge gloves work tables and a variety of other glass-related tools and equipment. At the back we wander into the gallery, shelves and pedestals hold glass in a variety of colors and forms. Vases, bowls, garden stakes and unique light boxes capture our attention; many of the items are for sale. I’m glad we were able to stop in. I imagine the next time we visit there will be a dozen new businesses here in Franklinton. Time to bid Columbus farewell; thanks, it’s been fun!

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Hamtramck: How Sweet !

25 Mar

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Have you heard there’s a new French pastry shop in Hamtramck ? What about the new reclaimed woodworking store or vegan restaurant ? Let’s go check ’em out. le detroit macaron resides on Evaline in a narrow brick building formerly occupied by bon bon bon. The black and white striped awning is new, the sandwich board on the sidewalk signals us the shop is open. I step inside to the pastel-colored world of macarons. The shop is adorable; turquoise paint, black and white tiled floor, tin ceiling and a glass chandelier. The main attraction is the display case filled with the authentic French pastry known as the macaron; made in the traditional method, these little bundles of meringue have a firm outer shell and soft insides–they are extraordinary. The shop makes 10 signature flavors and a couple of seasonal options. I order a cup of coffee as Kris and I mull over our choices, this is not an easy task! We choose chocolate malt, fruity pebbles and Bailey’s, they are absolutely delicious, the texture is perfect, chewy but not gooey; the chocolate malt is my favorite.

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Woodward Throwbacks inhabits the old Garrity Dodge building (circa 1939) on Joseph Campau. Detroit residents Bo Shepherd and Kyle Dubay  learned that abandoned buildings are full of usable materials and relics. Through their salvage efforts they have filled this building with reclaimed wood, materials and vintage finds that have been repurposed into attractive, useful items. In the showroom I find really cool pieces like the tool box end table, a coffee table made from a slice of tree trunk, vintage mid-century chairs, wood bottle openers, signs and Michigan-shaped magnets. Wire bins and metal drawers hold hinges, knobs, hairpin legs, hooks and hardware to build your own piece. A fun mural covers one wall; artwork pays homage to Detroit, Hamtramck, Dodge and Garrity, a 1954 green Dodge truck is parked by the large front windows, reminding us of the buildings days as a Dodge dealership. 

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Through an open doorway we find a bounty of reclaimed wood, antiques and great finds. Canning jars, tin signs, table bases and doors compete with tin ceiling tiles, tin molding, manufacturing molds, coolers and church pews for our attention. Reclaimed lumber leans against the far wall, tree trunks have been cut into lengthwise slices, I like the live edge. The scoreboard and locker room benches came from Mae C Jemission Academy in Detroit.

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Around the corner are more remnants of the old dealership, the 5-star Chrysler Dealer sign was probably from the Deeby Dodge years. Curiosity leads Kris to a ramp leading to the second floor, what a cool feature, walking the ramp you really get a feel of the age of the structure. This level is home to the workshop part of the business, an old Powermatic planer shares floor space with a ban saw, work tables, and handmade goods-in-progress. The original paint booth is still being used in some capacity. The whole place is a fun, tasteful, thoughtful mix of old and new. There’s something different each time we come.

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Out on the sidewalk, I hear something, I stop to listen and realize it’s chocolate and it’s calling my name… bon bon bon relocated their shop from Evaline to a much larger space on Joseph Campau at Caniff; their manufactory. The signature orange and pink bon bon bon covers the front door and back wall.  Inside the ‘babes’ are hard at work making chocolates using classic French technique. Behind the glass wall a chocolate fountain flows, blending 7 different chocolates to create bon’s secret recipe.  I watch as chocolates are being made and packed. When you’re here you have to get the ‘Hot Mess’; a chocolate shell filled with warm liquid chocolate, we always get dark chocolate. This one has to go right in your mouth, the whole thing at once, let it sit there, close your eyes, revel in the warm chocolatey goodness, yum. You can’t get just one so Kris chooses the End of the Rainbow, Harp lager caramel, 4-leaf clover ganache in a dark shell. I pick the Irish Car Bon, stout chocolate cake and Bailey’s ganache in a dark shell, it’s so good!

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Over on Yemans the folks who operate the Nosh Pit Detroit food truck have opened a restaurant, after all of our treats a nice, healthy meal is in order. The low brick building sits across the street from Polish Village, glass block front windows give no clue to the cozy interior that awaits diners. One large room holds several community tables, the one on the left is huge. The floor is made of wide wood planks, a star-shaped light and a couple of wrought iron fixtures light up the space, funky art decorates the walls. The dining room immediately feels welcoming, like I’m attending a big family dinner. We’re the first ones in the door when they open so we have our choice of seats, we’re instantly greeted, given menus and water. The Nosh Pit food truck has been roaming the streets of Detroit and the Metro area for almost two years, serving tasty vegetarian and vegan food to hungry patrons. We’re happy they’ve opened a brick and mortar space. We start with the Amanda, a layered salad of lentils, hummus, collards, pickled carrots, roasted red peppers and roasted beets, it looks pretty and tastes delicious! Next up is the Mac Un’Cheese, their house made vegan mac and cheese, the macaroni is cooked perfectly, the dish has a nice taste even though I was expecting something creamier. The Kaz is a house made veggie patty topped with Granny Smith apple slices vegan cheeze and  garlic aioli on a bun; very nice. The patty itself has a nice texture, not too mushy, and nice flavors. It comes with a side salad that was great too. From the moment we sat down Kris has been eyeing the desserts; cookies, cupcakes and brownies sit on pretty serving plates tempting customers. After much debate we decide to split the vegan brownie with sweet potato caramel; super moist and sweet, a nice ending to a nutritious, pleasurable meal.

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DETROIT: New Center Vintage

1 Mar

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A few times a year A Detroit Flea takes over the Jam Handy building on East Grand Boulevard; we’re excited to check it out. The building itself has lived several interesting lives, if my digging is correct here’s what I found. It was built in 1919  as the Maranatha Baptist Tabernacle, then in the late 1920’s the building was home to the Bellows-Claude Neon Co. factory. Bellows refers to Mr. L. F. R. Bellows, a licensed manufacturer of Claude neon tube electric signs and Claude refers to George Claude of France, the man who invented Neon lights. It was here that the neon signs were manufactured for Olympia Arena, the GM Building, the Penobscot Air Beacon and the Ambassador Bridge. An article in the February 1929 Detroit Free Press describes the sign like this, “Two main towers emblazoned on the sky in fiery letters 6 feet high, nearly 400′ above the river will be the words Ambassador Bridge.” Wow! Not long after, Henry Jamison Handy (Jam Handy), a 1904 Olympic bronze medalist swimmer, turned the building into a film studio making industrial, educational and commercial films. He made over 7,000 films for the armed services during WWII, he was hired by GM to make short training films, he did 1965’s “Detroit: City On The Move”, a promotional film for the City of Detroit. Jam was contracted as the Chicago-Detroit branch of Bray productions, he produced animated films–that’s cartoons to you and me.

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On this gloomy Saturday the white terracotta building sits non-nonchalantly on the boulevard, its blue marquees blank. It has been turned into an event space; weddings, parties and today a Flea Market. The wooden entry doors are unlocked, the lobby greets us with long tables of homemade food; snacks, hot food and baked goods, yum. At this community flea market vendors bring their own tables and decorate their space as they wish; all it costs is the donation of a baked good. There’s a buzz in the air; music plays in the background as we traverse the space, they have everything here. Vintage clothing fills multiple racks, the old guitars are cool, metal tins, typewriters and sewing machines rest on tables. Shoes, cowboy boots and old-fashioned suitcases are neatly stacked on the floor. Some people have a knack for arranging items into attractive displays. Beautiful old linens mingle with kitchen items, jewelry and perfume bottles join purses and matchbooks on a gold tablecloth.

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The building is pretty interesting too; we walk on old wooden floors, decaying sound-deadener clings to brick walls, there’s a lot going on in the ceiling–check out the skylights. I look through boxes of books, smile at board games I played as a kid, admire antique glass pieces and try to think of a reason to buy them. Flea markets are exciting, there’s such an array of items you never know what you’ll find. Need an old VCR, ceramic ash tray, money bag or a funky 70’s tunic? I know just the place…

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On to the Fisher Building, since the new owners of  have taken over the building has come alive; renovations, new shops, a bakery and people wandering about in awe. You have got to see this boutique, The Peacock Room, 3,000 sq. ft. of pure elegance. Check it out. Walls are cool shades of blue and cream with plenty of gold trim, the ornamental detailing in the plaster is stunning. Opulent crystal chandeliers hang from the barrel-shaped ceiling. Look at that wreath pattern on the upper section of the walls, beautiful pastels all hand-painted by Theresa DeRoo of Paintwork Detroit; it’s a magnificent space.

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Crossing the threshold is like being transported to a Parisian boutique. The formal dresses are as lovely as the space they inhabit; bridal wear, gowns, shawls and jackets for that very special occasion. Clothing hangs on racks that seem to disappear into the walls, built-in display cases exhibit new and vintage items. Mannequins wear flirty vintage-style dresses, tables, racks and glass cases offer glamorous jewelry; handbags range in size from petite hand-held to over the shoulder bags. The shop has an assortment of fun socks, greeting cards, candles and gift items. The merchandise is well curated, everything looks hand-selected, displays are extremely attractive; Rachel Lutz (owner) has really outdone herself. If there was absolutely nothing in the space I’d still come here just to admire the surroundings! It’s hard to believe all of this was covered up for years when this was a bank. 

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Shopping always makes me hungry, let’s eat. Down the hall and to the right from The Peacock Room is the newly-opened City Bakery. This is their first location outside of New York City and Japan; it seems they have a thing for old buildings. The white-painted space is drenched in sunlight, be sure to notice the beautifully embellished plasterwork. We walk to the counter to see what’s on the menu today, there isn’t really a menu (yet), large bowls are filled with colorful salads and pastas, muffins, cookies and scones fill serving platters. This is how it works, everything is the same price, pick out the items you want, then choose the size of bowl you desire. Small bowls are $5 and hold one item, medium bowls are $7, large are $10, you can mix as much or as little of anything you want in the larger bowls. We’re having a small roasted brussel sprouts with bacon and dates, and a medium rice noodle salad with carrots and peanuts with a scoop of the butternut squash salad, it’s all delicious! Everything is made from scratch in the kitchen below the bakery space. You can’t come to City Bakery and not get the hot chocolate…have you ever had Spanish hot chocolate? This stuff is the best; rich, thick, deeply chocolate, like drinking warm chocolate pudding, it’s heavenly.

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Our last stop in New Center is blvd beat; a fun, quirky, vinyl record, vintage shop on Woodward. Hours are kind of hit-or-miss, we’ve lucked out today. This is one of those fun places where you can buy anything from a vintage apron to a rare vinyl pressing of some obscure band. I love the white ball lights that dangle from the ceiling, hhmm, I wonder what hides beneath those ceiling tiles; the floor is still terrazzo.

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Record albums have the largest footprint in the store, I don’t know anything about the collectability but the cover-art is super-cool. Items are grouped into eye-catching displays, pieces from different decades hang out side by side. They have an eclectic variety of clothing, home goods and knick knaks; hey, my mom used to have one of those chairs that open up for storage. Hats, handkerchiefs, throw pillows with Mod patterns, so much to explore. Vintage photographs, a stereo, loads of VHS movies. Pop, Mod, Mid Century, Art Deco, funky; everything is priced reasonably. Nothing we have to buy today but we’ll be back, shops like this are like traveling through time.

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Time to go to Cleveland…

18 Feb

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In late December we packed a few bags and pointed the car toward Cleveland. The city is full of good restaurants, great architecture and fun things to do. Instead of  heading directly to the 216 we stopped in at the Liberty Aviation Museum in Port Clinton OH. Established in 1991 to showcase WWII aircraft, the museum is located on the grounds of the Erie-Ottawa International Airport. We enter off of State Rd, the complex is huge, parking is easy. The lobby gives way to Gallery 1, Civilian Aviation, display cases and glass shelves display aviation items and National Air Race memorabilia; I’m not really into planes so I’m not sure what I’m looking at. I walk around looking at displays and reading signs, suddenly I find myself fascinated. We are near the Lake Erie Islands, you’ve probably heard of, if not been to, Put-In-Bay, I guess I never really thought about it but airplanes were an important form of all-season travel between the islands and t0/from the mainland. An old billboard reads “Fly Island Airlines” on the famous Tri-Motor, hhmm, what is this Tri-Motor? 

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The Ford Tri-Motor is an American 3-engine transport aircraft brought to the world by Henry and Edsel Ford, production started in 1925 and ended in 1933, 199 were made, it was nicknamed The Tin Goose. Henry Ford brought us the first paved runway, the first passenger terminal, hangar, airmail and radio navigation. Over 100 airlines flew the Tri-Motor, the design was superior to other airliners providing comfortable passenger service, safety and reliability. It spurred the first coast-to-coast flight by Transcontinental Air Transport (later TWA), in 1927 a Ford Tri-Motor was used for flight from Key West to Havana Cuba. Locally the Tri-Motor was a familiar sight over Lake Erie, it hauled passengers and freight, was used as an ambulance, school bus, hearse and mail plane. The plane had the capability to take off and land on short runways like the ones on the islands. Tri-Motors were used by second and third-tier airlines well into the 1960’s, I read some are still in use today.We continue through the gallery looking at black and white photos, TWA uniforms, models of planes and steamships; we watch a short film about Lake Erie ice fishing. Tables are being set up in Hangar 1 for an upcoming special event, we pop in for just a minute to check out the red plane, a silver 57 Chevy and an beautiful green Chrysler.

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It’s a short walk out the back door to the next building into Hangar 2, here we find a bevy of military vehicles; tanks, Jeeps, motorbikes and planes. Information and photos accompany most displays, there’s a lot to take in. A Grumman TBM 3E Avenger and a North American Harvard IV look small in the vast space. A vintage B-25 airplane named Georgie’s Girl features a beautiful woman with a halo (scantily) dressed in white, this would be Angela, the other side belongs to Helena, in red, with horns and a tail–cute. Another section of the building is dedicated for restoration, there’s a lot of it going on. We get a guided tour of the area, the big project is the PT 728 WWII boat. Sitting disassembled on jacks and cinder blocks there’s much work to be done, pieces are scattered about, new engines are covered, waiting to be installed. When finished, the hope is to be able to take tourists out in it. The museum is also home to the Tri-Motor Heritage Foundation and the Tin Goose Diner, a 1949 diner out of Elizabeth NJ.

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We’re off to the Cleveland Museum of Art, one of the world’s most distinguished comprehensive art museums and one of our favorites. Our DIA membership gets us into the special exhibition The Jazz Age: American Style in the 1920’s for free. This is the first major museum exhibition to focus on American taste and art during the 1920’s and 30’s. I love this time in American history, think about it, WWI had ended and we won, confidence was high, money was flowing, women earned the right to vote, European designers came to America, American artists studied and traveled abroad, social mores were redefined. It created a culture of elegance, glamour, decadence, extravagance; it was an era of change and contrast, and it was oh, so beautiful!  

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Look at these pictures; vibrant colors, streamlined designs, sumptuous materials. Cleveland’s own Rose Iron Works created the stunning Muse With Violin Screen, made of wrought iron, brass, silver and gold plating it’s a real eye catcher. The jewelry is to-die-for, dazzling diamonds, emeralds, pearls, much of it Art Deco in design. One look and you know what period the furniture is from, great lines, not necessarily comfortable. I recognize the white chair with the striped fabric, it’s on loan from the DIA, the super-cool green desk and chair were manufactured in Grand Rapids MI. Extravagant clocks and watches, amazing silver tea service sets, coffee servers, candle holders. Check out the massive chandelier, it’s incredible, opulent, all of that crystal, it reminds me of a fountain, it was made for the 1928 International Exposition of Art and Industry, as were many of the items in the exhibition.

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Attention to detail was really important, everything was pretty; perfume bottles, mirrors, hair brushes. The trophy for a 1923 ice skating competition is made of rock crystal to look like frozen water, silver, lapis lzuli and marble. Moving on to fashion, there’s a lovely display of dresses, think ‘flapper’; fringe, rhinestones, multi-levels, scalloped hems. Gone were tight fitting waistlines; women threw away their corsets and opted for a loose fit, they bobbed their hair, smoked cigarettes and danced. Automobiles followed fashion and design, the red 1937 Cord is a perfect example of streamlined design. I’m hoping the exhibit will travel to Detroit, I’d love to see it again.

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Every time we get to Cleveland there’s something new on Lorain Ave, tonight we’re having dinner at Xinji Noodle Bar. Located in a 2-story brick building the decor is industrial and playful. The brief menu is filled with Asian and Korean favorites, I sip on hot green tea waiting for our dinner to arrive. The Vegetarian Ramen is mushroom broth with a variety of mushrooms, Napa choy and of course, noodles, it’s soooo good! The Korean Fried Chicken Bao is outstanding; white chicken, sweet and spicy chili, pickle and Taiwanese cabbage, I think I could eat another. The Spicy Pork Dumplings came highly recommended, I can see why, they’re delicious. Another great find!

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Having a nightcap at Stone Mad Pub has become a Cleveland tradition for us. The place is charming; lots of wood, not too loud, a fireplace and great service. We hang out at the bar people-watching, chatting with the bartenders; Kris enjoys his whiskey, I’m having Bailey’s, my idea of dessert. It feels good to relax, to escape the real world, even if it’s only for a little while. 

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DETROIT: In Living Color

14 Jan

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For the third consecutive year the Murals In The Market festival landed in Detroit’s Eastern Market in September 2017. Inner State Gallery along with 1xRUN have curated and produced over 100 murals in Eastern Market alone. World-class local and international artists converge in Detroit, taking over the market district armed with scissor lifts, a rainbow assortment of paint, superior talent and an endless imagination. The result is an exceptional array of stunning art covering buildings both in use and long forgotten. In turn Eastern Market has become one giant public art gallery, expanding the walkable footprint of the district, making it a must-see destination for locals and visitors alike. We’re here on an exceptionally warm November day, let’s see what’s new…

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Russell St. is the market’s main drag, we park near new murals by Fel3000ft and Malt. The first is a powerful image of a fox, its face in color as his fur becomes a flowing mane in black, white and grey, gears turn in the background. Tucked beside it is Malt’s flock of blue birds flying into an autumn breeze. Further down Russell Denial has created another comic-like series of images in bold colors; a tiger, peace sign, woman’s face and the words ‘never say never’, I like this style. From here we just wander the streets looking for new murals, it’s a Friday, trucks come and go down narrow streets, men unload meat, produce and other goods. On the backside of Bert’s Warehouse Jose Felix Perez and Michael Vasquez have painted a group of rappers, Eminem is front and center. Picnic tables remain on the patio hoping for one more warm day. Around the corner is another tribute to musicians; first a scene by Shade anchored by and old-fashioned microphone intermixed with a female singer, musical notes and instruments. Beside it we find black and white images of Jazz greats; singers, drummers, bass players, clarinet players–you get the idea. Over a fence is Sheefy’s creation of red, pink, blue, yellow and green body parts. Hitsville USA, Berry and Esther Gordy are portrayed further down on the same wall.

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Camilo Pardo has an incredible rendering of a 1967 Fastback Mustang over on Alfred St. A girl relaxes against the front fender, the smoke from her cigarette rises and dissipates. The car is super cool in green and gold; Kris and I really like his style. Tatiana Suarez’s goddess is enchanting against a blue background. We walk some more, ending up near the Dequindre Cut, a host of vacant building are either being restored or waiting for renovation, it’s really quiet over here, we wander around traversing broken concrete and uneven ground. On the Cut we are welcomed by more art, look at the image of the bicyclist and his shadow, the wall of bubbles in blues and purples. On street level Anthony Lee’s fire-breathing robot-dragon shoots laser beams from his eyes as repairmen make adjustments, the detail is amazing. HoxxoH and Brian Lacey’s scene reminds me of the sea or an aquarium; green leaves, blue reeds and coral-like images. A prism-colored skeleton resides on a funky pink wall, his medieval flail wraps around the building connecting with another skeleton on the other side.

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A pheasant and an old car occupy two squares of earth hovering above water in Johnny Alexander’s contribution, Paul Johnson’s piece makes me think of life on some other planet where Palm trees grow like upside-down pineapples and stars are huge in the night sky; Chris Saunder’s eagle takes up the adjacent wall. Street after street, building after building, at every turn another mural comes into view,  Lauren Y’s moth-girl is beautiful, the tunnel created in greens and yellows by 1010 makes me want to climb up and look inside. HoxxoH’s piece on Mack reminds me of a giant Spirograph, love it! Hey, did you know they still make Spirograph? If you like astronomy check out Mary Iversons constellation piece near St. Aubin.

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We’ve walked enough, let’s grab some lunch. Beau Bien Fine Foods shop and cafe opened a few months ago on Riopelle. They have been making  jams, mustards and chutneys for years, we have seen their products at maker fairs and local markets; the Peach Bourbon Vanilla Preserves won us over immediately. The shop is a mere 400 sq. ft, it’s adorable; a crystal chandelier hangs from the black ceiling, the black and white tiled floor looks vintage.  Walls are lined with jarred preserves, chutneys and vinegars all made with Michigan fruit. We order at the register and have a seat at the counter at the far end of the space. First to arrive is a bowl of steaming Tomato soup, delicious. The tortilla de patatas is next, it’s wonderful, the kick of the chorizo-spiced mayo is perfect, a mixed green salad is served alongside. You can sample anything they sell for free; Kris really likes the Plum Honey preserves, I’m torn between the Michigan Apple and the Cranberry Mustard, Cranberry wins, I’m quite satisfied with my decision.

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Back out on Riopelle we find ourselves standing in front of Eastern Market Brewing Company; the building has undergone a complete rehab and is now a fully functioning brewery and tasting room. Eastern Market has been home to dozens of breweries over the past century, EMBC continues the tradition. The brewers use ingredients from market vendors and local businesses whenever possible. The interior is a large, open, airy space, front windows roll up when the weather allows, the garden wall is really pretty with live plants and wrought iron accents. Community tables rest on concrete floors, the EMBC elephant is painted on the wall behind the bar. The menu changes seasonally, so many choices, the only thing to do is try several. Our sampler includes Cherry Porter, Apple Jacked, Coffee Stout and Nitro Honey. Being a dark beer girl I am surprised that the Apple Jacked is my favorite, Kris’s favorite is the Nitro Honey, no surprise there. 

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We meander the maze of market streets back to our car, we park in a lot so we can view the murals along Gratiot.  A multi-color tiger looks fierce, he’s so big he takes up the entire side of the building. The wall of cartoon-critters makes me smile, another mural welcomes us to Eastern Market Fresh, Lunch Money’s piece reminds us ‘there is no beauty without strangeness’. Our final stop is Pat Perry’s piece, I love his work and this piece is exceptional. The entire side of the building is his canvas, just look at the detail; the woman, the man, the house, the wildflowers and the placement of the lantern. The mural looks completely at home, it belongs in just that spot. It catches me completely off-guard, I draw a breath in and stare, it’s perfect.

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Michigan: Thumbin’

4 Jan

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 Since we’re stuck in a deep freeze right now, let us take you back to a warm, sunny September day in Michigan’s thumb…It’s the end of summer, sunshine and warm temperatures suggest otherwise; it’s a perfect day for a road trip in the country. Heading north we drive past picturesque farms; cornstalks have been picked clean, cows and horses graze under a powder blue sky. Located in the northwest region of the thumb, the city of Gagetown has an architectural gem known as the Thumb Octagon Barn. This historic structure was built in 1924 by a Mr James Purdy, when he was traveling out west he had seen similar barns in Iowa, when he arrived home he hired local builders George and John Munro to construct the barn. George and John consulted with the local mathematics teacher to help them with the calculations needed to build an octagon-shaped building. The barn is just beautiful; painted white with deep green roofs, it’s quite a sight! Each of the 8 sides measures 42′ 6″ and is 24′ high, it has a 3-stage roof, the first level is the longest and sports a dormer on each of the 8 sections, each dormer has a 9-lite window, the second level has more windows and a much shorter roof leading to the third level, the cupola, where we have more 9-lite windows; there are 288 individual window panes in the barn roof. Evidence of a lightning rod system still exists.

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Walking toward the barn we notice a tour has just begun, we join the others and are brought up to speed. The interior is quite spectacular in its own octagon way; you can see all the way to the top, sunlight filtering in from all those windows, narrow ladders are built into the structure, boxed-in ducts make up the ventilation system, the circular track over the loft area is for the hay car system. The ground floor of the barn is a poured cement foundation 4′ high that supports a 20′ high timber-framed wall. All of the timbers came from on-site, the land was dense with Tamarack trees, the Munro brothers cut the trees into timbers and used them to build the barn. Mr Purdy owned a lumberyard in Gagetown which provided the rest of the wood. The perimeter of the barn on the lower level is original, the silo is gone, the old tack room is now the welcome center. They have some great photographs of the barn when it was new and what it looked like when the Friends Of The Thumb Octagon Barn took it over. You know the story, the property had gone into foreclosure in 1990, the Michigan DNR bought the property from the bank to be incorporated into the Gagetown State Game Area. The buildings were in such bad shape they likely would have to be demolished. Local citizens stepped in, formed the “Friends” and saved the Purdy family homestead. The DNR allowed the friends to have all of the buildings and 10 acres of land.

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Our guide points out notable parts of the structure, he tells us stories about Mr Purdy and what Gagetown was like in the late 19-teens and 20’s. I won’t bore you with a lot information but I do want to share this: James Purdy joined his father at the Bank of P.C. Purdy and Son at the age of 21, James went on to become the bank president; his bank was 1 of only 2 banks in the state of Michigan to remain solvent during the Great Depression. Afterwards Purdy met with other bankers and formulated a plan where the government would insure the investors money, supported by President Franklin Roosevelt, the FDIC was born. Moving on. The Octagon Barn is now an agricultural museum; artifacts, farm equipment, butter churns, and milk separators are on display, oh look, there’s a crate from Stroh’s Ice Cream. There’s a nice saddle in the stables, the wooden model of the barn is amazing.

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We move on to the house, it was actually built before the barn; the Purdy’s moved into their 15-room, Craftsman-style bungalow in 1922. Our guide takes us through the rooms, the master bedroom is on the first floor and has its own attached bathroom. I really like the natural stone fireplace in the family room, the Craftsman style really shines in this area; thick wooden beams on the ceiling, book cases that flank the fireplace, wide wood frames around the windows, the french doors that lead to the dining room. A showcase holds dozens of Mrs Purdy’s diaries, she documented her life from 1895-1954. Her grandson preserved, then donated them to the “Friends”; they were helpful during the restoration. The kitchen has a built-in ice box and a big blue stove, the pantry holds spices and staples every household needs. Upstairs there are 7 bedrooms, each has a transom window, there is a full unfinished attic. There’s a porch on every side of the house except the south side. The large, covered front porch hosted many dances back in the day. 

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We follow the brick-pillard porte-cochere out to the garage, a blue car bears a Dodge Brothers emblem. Mr Purdy built his own powerhouse on the property, nobody is sure of the exact date. The 12×20 ft ornate brick building has been restored, the 32-volt DC Delco light system allowed the Mr Purdy to be self-reliant by providing electricity for his personal needs, he joined the Detroit Edison grid in 1938. The Purdy’s sold the farm in 1942 and moved back to the city of Gagetown. We are told this is the largest wood-structure octagon barn in the United States, it really is impressive, come up and see it sometime.

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We drive northwest past fields of windmills, acres of crops and yellow patches of ragweed, reaching Caseville in time for a late lunch. Thumb Brewery on Pine Street is the perfect place for dining Al fresco. The patio is full so we grab a table on the porch, having eaten here several times we know what we’re going to order, all I have to do is check out the beer menu. We’re ready when the waitress arrives, she returns quickly with an oatmeal stout for me and a hard cider for Kris… that really hits the spot. The BBQ Chicken flatbread has shredded chicken, bacon, yellow peppers, onions, cheddar-jack and a spicy BBQ sauce on a crisp flatbread–a great combination of flavors. We take our time eating, we have no schedule, it feels good to relax.

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In Michigan you are never far from a big, beautiful body of blue water, in this case it’s the Caseville Harbor on the east shore of Saginaw Bay. The Caseville Pier extends 1800 ft. out into the bay, it’s gorgeous! Boats enter the bay through the mouth of the Pigeon River, there’s a steady stream of boating traffic this afternoon. We walk to the end of the pier. The surface of the water is sparkling like diamonds, wispy clouds paint the sky, fishermen head out to try their luck, sailboats glide by, to the right we see a sandy beach. Are you feeling warmer yet? I will leave you now with that picture in your mind, you’re welcome. 

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Detroit: Alive & Noel…

13 Dec

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Tonight we’re just wandering around Detroit; we’ll dip our toe into Noel Night, visit the downtown Holiday Markets and finish up with dinner and drinks in Southwest. All of the featured places are new to Detroit’s growing list of places to eat, drink and shop. Let’s begin with Noel Night, being seasoned veterans of this event we tend to steer clear of  the crowds at larger venues such as the DIA, Library, Science Center and the like. Instead we head over to Third Street, the Detroit Design Center has a sculpture park next to the building, one-of-a-kind pieces decorate the open space, flood lights illuminate the art casting funky shadows on the wall. Tonight the building is open to the public, artists are busy putting on the finishing touches. Huge carbon steel sculptures reach toward the ceiling,  metal statement pieces are grounded to the floor, I’m crazy about the swing. Pieces are made of glass, metal and wood, you can purchase art for a wall, a tabletop or desk; the metal skyline organizer would look great on my counter.

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In 1949 the Willis Show Bar opened on the corner of Willis and Third Street, it was an entertainment hot spot featuring live Jazz. As the area declined so did the clientele; the building was closed down and padlocked in 1978. Today the building wears a fresh coat of paint, the Art Moderne exterior shines, a sign painted on the Willis side of the building announces the re-opening of this memorable venue. The Detroit Optimist Society and a group of L.A. investors plan a January 2018 re-opening, the 75-seat bar will serve 1960’s inspired cocktails and bar snacks, the stage will host live Jazz, Blues and Soul artists cabaret style. I can hardly wait!

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Does anybody remember the Hammer and Nail building on Woodward? This 12-story Mid-Century building was built in 1965, the hammer and nail was originally intended as a tribute to a local carpenter’s union. The building, now called The Plaza, recently underwent a complete restoration and is now home to 72 apartments. As part of the Noel Night festivities the building is open for tours, let’s take a look. A lovely Christmas tree adorns the lobby, through a glass doorway the neon hammer and nail have found a new resting spot on an interior wall, we are told this space will be a public bar in the future, it’s fun to see this landmark lit up again. A tour guide loads 5 of us into an elevator stopping on the 10th floor, we are seeing a 1-bedroom corner unit. From the dimly lit entrance we follow a short hall past the laundry room into the living space, one left turn and we’re looking out a wall of windows at the Detroit skyline. Everybody stops in their tracks, our host has not turned on any lights, giving us a clear look at the spectacular view, each of us gravitates toward the windows; Ford Field glows in Christmas colors to the left, Little Caesars Arena to the right, the Ambassador Bridge further in the distance–wow! We see pedestrians crowding the sidewalk on Woodward, the towers of the Renaissance Center are red, I can see Motor City Casino too. 

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Next we drive over to Capitol Park for the holiday markets; from now until January 7 a series of pop-up businesses will fill the park. At first I don’t even know where I am, I mean, I know the surrounding buildings, but the outdoor space has been completely transformed. Local shops fill terrarium-like little glass booths; you can purchase art, a toboggan, a wreath or even a fresh-cut Christmas tree. The air smells of evergreens and food, deck chairs surround a log table, people are making s’mores at the fire pit, visitors are packed into Eatori’s booth drinking cocktails by the Christmas tree. White lights are strung everywhere, zig-zagging above public spaces. We walk down State Street to Woodward and find trees tightly wrapped in miniature lights, fresh landscaping includes garlands and branches spray painted in red and white, it’s a winter wonderland.

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Campus Maritus is buzzing with activity, ice skaters fill the rink, the Christmas tree is the prettiest one yet, the line to rent skates is long, with hot chocolates in hand, nobody seems to mind. We cross over to Cadillac Square, picnic tables, deck chairs and fire pits fill the space between to long rows of glass booths. Food trucks, Detroit City Nut Company, fudge and popcorn are available to hungry spectators. The Cadillac Bier Garten is a good place to rest and take in the city, and have a beer of course. At the far end a large tent has been transformed into a Lodge; couches, comfy chairs, blankets and rugs welcome chilly pedestrians. Chandeliers are made of branches, strings of white lights make the tent festive. People are waiting in line to get in, we take a peek inside then continue walking. 

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The Woodward Esplande is gorgeous; the concrete pathway leads us though grapevine arches, surrounding landscape is lit with spotlights and miniature lights, people are taking advantage of the many photo ops along the way. The pathway opens up, here LED lights are strung above us, colors rotate from one shade to the next, it’s stunning, I feel like I’m in a Hallmark Christmas movie. The One Woodward building is decked out for the holidays; a tall, slender tree, elegant in white stands on one side of the lobby while a trio of gold and white ornaments anchors the other side. Standing at this level we overlook the Spirit of Detroit Plaza, clear igloos offer passersby food and drink, while large blocks make up an ice-cube maze; we need to get a closer look. This is amazing! In one igloo we find ping-pong and air hockey tables, another sells goodies from Good Cakes and Bakes, how about a cup of coffee from New Order? Unfortunately we’re here after most of the shops have closed for the evening. Families giggle as they make their way through the ice-cube maze, again everything lights up and changes colors, I swear the Spirit of Detroit is smiling…

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How does pizza sound? PizzaPlex opened a few short months ago on W Vernor in Southwest Detroit. It’s more than just another pizza joint, there’s a strong sense of community here from the employees to the events that take place in the adjoining space. The pizza oven came straight from Napoli, a pizza cooks in just 90 seconds, that’s good news for us, we’re starving. I order at the counter, #17, the Nikolette is a combo of fresh mozzarella, porcini mushrooms, roasted poblanos, parmigiano, basil and olive oil. I add a house salad and a pour-over coffee. In addition to tasty food, offerings also include coffee drinks and a limited selection bar. Sitting in a booth we are awash in blue LED light, basil grows on shelves mounted to the wall, a movie plays on the screen in the community room. Our food is brought to the table; the pizza is delicious, the crust the perfect amount of crisp and chewy, a nice balance of toppings, we eat the whole thing…

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Just down the street the Detroit Optimist Society has opened a Tiki-themed bar called Mutiny. Inside, the casual space has all the thing we’ve come to expect from a tiki bar; Hawiian-shirt wearing bar tenders, bamboo, the ceiling a mass of colored lights, netting, high-back wicker chairs, large paper umbrellas, thatch, framed vintage menus from high-profile bars back in the day, you get the picture. Tiki mugs and interesting serving glasses line the back bar, check out the photo of the waterfall. The tropical cocktail menu lists all your favorites, with a twist. We order drinks at the bar and watch as the bartender measures shots, shakes concoctions, pours them into specific mugs, he even sets some on fire. Kris’s drink comes in a stemmed coconut glass, mine in a fish mug advertising Plymouth Gin. The drinks are good, the atmosphere laid back; a nice ending to an incredible night.

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Hamtramck Arts Festival

3 Dec

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The Hamtramck Neighborhood Arts Festival is a “loosely curated showcase of artists, writers and musicians living in Hamtramck and surrounding neighborhoods.” Visitors to the festival are invited to walk through downtown Hamtown and the surround streets viewing art or listening to music, in houses, on porches, in backyards, on sidewalks and in storefronts, all for free. We grab our map at Bumbo’s Bar on Holbrook, the place looks pretty cool in a vintage way but it’s packed, I make a mental note to come back on a day when it’s not so crowded. There are 38 little blue dots on the map marking places participating in today’s event, good thing it runs all day.

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We trek over to Klinger, Hamtramck Disneyland Artist-in-Residence Joanie Wind has opened her studio to festival-goers. Inside the compact home her abstract paintings hang near the entryway, I like the textures and glitter. In the family room her video art plays on a large television screen. Outside is the infamous Folk Art installation we all know and love, Hamtramck Disneyland. I’m excited because this is the first time I’ll be seeing it from inside the yard instead of from the alley. For those of you unfamiliar with the story behind the art here’s a little history: Hamtramck Disneyland is the work of artist Dmytro Szylak, it took him nearly 30 years to build it atop the 2 garages on the properties that he owned. It’s a whimsical combination of photographs, posters, found items, that together twirl, spin, illuminate, entertain. It’s Americana, kitsch and Dr. Seuss all strung together from ground to sky. We pass the Statue of Liberty on the porch and take the narrow walkway between 2 houses, crossing under the archway of horses into the backyard. 

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We see the jetliner, a rocking horse and carousel horses for the first time. A windmill turns, a duck flaps its wings, a lumberjack saws.  Real Sparrows and Chickadees are perched throughout the sculpture, not a single one is phased by the pieces dancing in the wind. The longer we look the more we discover; a bicycle rim, window fan, Mickey Mouse, propellers, sailors, miniature lights, missals and a helicopter… In the alley a fresh coat of paint has been applied to the garage and fence. After Szylak’s death residents expressed concern over what would happen to the neighborhood Disneyland, Hatch Art took ownership of the properties in 2016, their plan is to repair and maintain the installation, it’s looking better than it has in a long time. You can see Hamtramck Disneyland for yourself anytime from the alleyway between Sobieski and Klinger, north of Commor, south of Carpenter.

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Speaking of Hatch, let’s go check out their gallery on Evaline. HATCH stands for Hamtramck Art Collective, in 2008 they purchased the old police station from the city and began renovating the building as money allowed; four years later Hatch Art Gallery opened. The 2-story brown-brick building is quietly tucked away on a neighborhood street; exhibitions take up most of the first floor, there’s also classroom space, a gift shop, community dark room and an Art Library where Detroiter’s can borrow a local artists work for their home for up to 2 months. Upstairs, studios are 11 x 14, each has a window, solid door, WiFi and secure 24-hour access, not bad for $200 a month. We climb the stairs and admire the beautiful painting in the hall, wandering in and out of each private studio with an open door we see a variety of mediums and styles; oils, watercolors, portraits, clowns, dogs, plants, sculptures and encaustic pieces. Such a mix of subjects and images; some startling, others serene.

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Moving along we pass an abandoned house where the boarded up windows have become canvases for art. Inside the Ghost Light thick-framed paintings by Emily Jane Wood fill a wall, the band is setting up in the performance space. A house on Caniff has also been turned into studios, I watch as an artist works with dried flowers she grew herself. We notice a small group of people hanging out on a porch, we cross over to see what they’re doing; it’s an interactive display combining sound, art, circuits and sculpture.. Fruits are halved with wires running to a computer, a note instructs me to pick up the wired carrots and use them as drumsticks, how fun is this? Next I tap pumpkins and hard squash with my fingertips, the vegetables have become drums. My favorite thing is the jello cups, I hold the spoon and tap the jiggly concoction mimicking  the sound of a xylophone, each color is a different note, it’s like magic– I could play with this all afternoon!

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A former Chinese restaurant on the corner of Caniff and Jos Campau has been turned into a community space called Bank Suey, today it’s home to an artist market selling everything from homemade samosas to essential oils and fiber art, chair massage anyone? Oloman Cafe is showcasing black and white photography on a gallery wall. I really like the space, so open and airy. Come in for a coffee drink or tea, pastries or light fare, check out the current exhibit, relax in the lounge area; I take my coffee to go.

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The door is open at another multi-level building, we follow the sound of the voices inside. An artist is talking to a group of visitors, we check out his work then ramble through the rest of the building. Upstairs a man is deep in thought, working on a piece. His space is bright, stuff is everywhere, he makes his own material, it looks like some kind of soft plastic, he layers pieces on top of one another creating multi-dimensional works, colors drip and ooze together. His work space is almost as interesting as his work.

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Popps Packing is an artist-­run neighborhood-­based nonprofit organization founded in 2009 by husband and wife artists, Faina Lerman and Graem Whyte. Their mission is to create impactful arts programming and foster cultural exchange between local and international artist communities, while leveraging the unique features of our region, neighborhood, and personal practices.”  Whew, having gotten that about of the way I now want to tell you about Popps Back Forty. Over on Carpenter St. you will notice the house at 2037 is undergoing renovation, we enter carefully, look at the art on display then exit through the back door; what I see is completely unexpected. A wide open space, mature trees, gardens, the tallest corn I’ve ever seen in my life, a treehouse. Stepping out into the yard we wander in amazement, cabbages are still hanging on, Marigolds are finished blooming, a thick layer of mulch separates perennials and vegetables; various garden beds are found throughout the property. Kris climbs the ladder to the treehouse, what a view; I visit the chickens and turkey’s in their pen. Musicians begin arriving for the improvisational soundscape taking place on the back forty; one makes his way to the back of the lot, the boat parked on a trailer will be his stage. Further on more musicians are already making music, one on a large wooden spool another on a platform nestled into a tree. It begins to rain, we listen to ethereal sounds that seem natural in this environment, the tire swing looks lonely, colorful art installations look as if they grew from the ground up; who knew all of this was here?

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Time to eat, the cafe at the Detroit Zen Center is open again, lets get some food. Living Zen Organics, an organic health food store and cafe is located on the lower level of the center. Operated by monks, students and neighbors you can stop in to purchase bulk foods, organic teas or have a bite to eat. The large, open space has an immediate cozy feeling, exposed rafters, glazed brick walls, decorative tiles, wood tables and benches put me at ease. After taking a seat we place our order, I have a sore throat today so director and head cook Myungju Sunim is making me a special tea. I look around at Ball jars filled with dark liquids such as coconut blossom syrup and raw blue agave, others hold spices; turmeric, thyme, sage; metal cans hold dried beans and rice. Back at the table I sip on my tea, it feels good going down. Large plates hold kale salad and a vegan black bean burrito, bowls hold today’s soup. We eat slowly, the calmness dictating our pace, the food is quite flavorful, we enjoy every bite. As a treat Abbot Hwalson Sambul Sunim is making vegan ice cream for the staff, he’s kind enough to share some of it with us, the smooth and creamy banana mixture is sweet and pleasing. What better way to end the day!

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Harvest Days

22 Nov

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Back in the mid-1960’s it was apparent technology was rapidly changing rural life, there was no going back.  From sugar beets to dairy farms, soy beans to corn, Michigan’s Thumb region was largely agricultural. A group of people saw the need to preserve the past, to provide an understanding of our heritage, to present the origin and evolution of farming and rural living; in 1966 the St. Clair County Farm Museum opened about 15 miles west of Port Huron in Goodells MI. We are here for Harvest Days a 3-day event full of demonstrations of how life ‘used to be’. You can watch huge logs transformed into boards on the Port Huron Sawmill, see steam-powered threshing of wheat, listen to steam traction engines run, visit barns filled with antiques and local memorabilia and walk row after row of restored tractors. There’s something very sweet about the simplicity of those days gone by.

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From the parking lot we have a pleasant view of the property and buildings, barns are painted white with a stone base. We start at the horse barn, no there aren’t any horses here but, they do have plows, old seed advertisements and a wagon, look at the sleigh hanging in the rafters. We find animals in the next barn; a trio of horses in varying patterns of brown and white, all very friendly, a few goats and  roaming chickens. Over in the silo a ladder grips the side, I feel dizzy when I crank my neck to look all the way to the top. Buggies are posed in a row, there’s a single-seat buggy that would be pulled by one horse and a couple of larger ones. The 1903 Studebaker hearse came from a funeral home in Port Huron, all black with glass sides, it definitely looks like something out of an old (spooky) movie. Along the wall is a series of dairy equipment and cream separators, some of them were made nearby.

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The area we are in now is more of a local museum, one exhibit is filled with basic antique household items like a rocking chair, clocks, thermometers, tools and lanterns. Area business banners act as cornice boards for displays; Yale Dry Goods, Fort Gratiot Stove and Furnace, Marysville Millinery, Richmond Glass and Pottery. Around the corner the Algonac Home and Appliance Store has a really cool display of old-fashioned washing machines, wringers and vacuum cleaners, rustic is a word that comes to mind… A poster from Detroit Stove Works on Jefferson claims it is the largest stove plant in the world! Of course, it is these foundries that paved the way for the automobile industry in Detroit.The table in the dining room is set and waiting for the guests to arrive, shelves on each side of the buffet hold the china, plates balance on the dish rail, candles grace the table. Home entertainment was provided by the television, here we have an Admiral model, and of course there has always been music. Album covers hang on the wall; you can waltz with Guy Lombardo, Polka with your partner or relax with a little Lawrence Welk. Do you remember any of them?

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Outside is where the action is. Steam engines, tractors, saws and whistles create a cacophony in the air. Before us antique tractors are lined up like soldiers by brand and color; it’s a lot to take in. We’re certainly not tractor experts, they’re a lot of fun to look at in their bright colors and era-reflective designs; placards identify models and years.  First in line is a Massey Harris Challenger model from 1936, green with red spoke wheels, it’s pretty snazzy. Next to it is another Massey Harris, this one in red from 1955, I like the yellow wheels. Look at the graphics on this model, it’s a “Super” Twin-Power 101. The green Oliver 77 has a yellow-painted grill that looks Art Deco. Here’s a name I recognize, Farmall, this one’s a 1939 F-20. Ford made tractors from 1917-1964 under the name Fordson and Ford. This one is a beauty in red and white, although I must admit, white seems an unlikely color for a tractor–just sayin’. A big ol’ Minneapolis-Moline G90 machine in rusty yellow is for sale, interested?

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The red paint on the Port Huron Engine and Thresher Co. machine has nearly faded to pink, the lettering is pretty fancy. Over by the sawmill a bright orange Allis-Chalmers looks ready to go to work. We look on as logs are sawn into flat boards. Bales of hay fill the chute of the New Holland. Probably the most popular name in tractors is John Deere, there’s no shortage of them here; they’re easy to spot in their signature green. A Turbo tractor? Why not? Here’s a red International version. The Ford display has tractors in red with white and their signature blue. The ‘Ford Oval’ tool box is cool, as is the tractor pedal-car on top of the banner. So many brands, Case, Row Crop, Cub Cadet, Massey Ferguson, Agri-King.

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Walking the grounds we see tractors from the 30’s, 40’s, 50’s and 60’s, most are restored, some are for sale, some look like they just left the field in time to make it for the show. We can’t forget the riding mowers…  The Sears Suburban has an 8-speed, the olive-green Sears Twin is so 1970’s, how about the ultra-cool Ford 120 in powder blue and white. Riding mowers and tractors from the 1960’s and 70’s took their cue from automobiles; great badges, lettering, racing stripes. Some of the mowers have been restored, others are in their original condition. By the look on Kris’s face a vintage mower may be in our future. 

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An announcement is made telling us the Horse Pulling competition is about to begin, having never seen it before our curiosity is piqued, let’s take a look. This is boat or sled pulling meaning it is a friction pull where the runners or flat bottom it has on the ground create friction with the ground it’s running against, they are pulling dead weight, in this case, concrete. A group of men lead their team of horses onto the track, the horses are all keyed up, anxious to get to work. It takes more than one try to connect the horses to the boat. As soon as the start is signaled thick-legged horses bear down, the back half of their body lowers toward the ground, I subconsciously tighten my legs, clench my hands into fists as I watch. It’s over in an instant. Today’s winners pulled 10,000 lbs.

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Walking back to the car we decide to visit the Historical Village in Goodells County Park. All of the buildings in the village have been donated and moved to the park from different parts of the county. The church is post and beam construction from 1860, it was completely dismantled, moved and reassembled here in 2011, it’s quite plain but very lovely, the is the first time I have seen white-painted pews. The Mudge Log Cabin was built in Wales Township by Isaac Mudge during the Civil War (1863), his great, great, great-grandson donated it. The contents reflect the pioneer lifestyle of rural life during that time, note the spinning wheel. The Murphy Ryan Farmhouse built in 1872 came to the park in 1998. The furnishings are all period correct; there’s a stove to warm yourself by, a piano, a pitcher and bowl for washing yourself, looks like they had everything they needed. The Schoolhouse is from 1855, all of the contents were left in place when it was moved from Yale to Goodells. The desks don’t look too comfortable, apparently blackboards have been around forever. The CC Peck and Co building was the local bank in downtown Goodells, built in 1908 it has been restored to its original appearance and is now leased by the Wales Historical Society.

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Walking through history has given us an appetite, we have just the fix. Palms Krystal Bar in Port Huron has been serving Chicken In The Rough since 1936. Chicken In The Rough was one of the first fast-food franchises in the US, by 1950 they had 250 franchised outlets across the country and around the world; today only 2 are left, this one and one in Ontario Canada. No menu is necessary, as a matter of fact when the waitress approaches she just asks, the usual? Yes. The fried chicken dinner is outstanding; large meaty pieces served in a basket of fresh-cut shoestring fries, a side of slaw and a roll with butter, DELICIOUS. Not much has changed at Palms Krystal Bar, from the aluminum entry door to the fabulous interior; pink neon, glass block, original bar and stools, very Art Deco. As Kris likes to say: Everything cool has already been done.

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DETROIT: Capitol Park

11 Nov

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When Michigan became a state in 1837, Detroit was chosen as the Capitol city. An existing courthouse on a triangular piece of land surrounded by Shelby, Griswold and State streets became the state capitol building. In 1847 when the city of Lansing became the new capitol of Michigan, the building in Detroit was used as a high school until it burned down in 1893. The land was then converted into a park with plantings, benches and a fountain; Capitol Park was born. Detroit experienced rapid growth during the late 19th and early 20th Century, buildings went up all over downtown, architectural styles include Romanesque, Colonial Revival, Victorian, Beaux-Arts and Art Deco. In Capitol Park that half-acre plot of land was soon encircled by 17 buildings for a block in each direction. Michigan’s first governor Stevens T Mason, was buried here, at age 25 he was the youngest governor in American history; Michigan’s first constitution was authored here too. Finney Hotel and Horse Barn, at the intersection of State and Griswold was one of the final stops along the Underground Railroad. Detroit thrived, offices, shops, restaurants and residents filled skyscrapers and ornate structures, sidewalks were teeming with shoppers and businessmen. And then the buildings and streets were empty.

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It’s a funny thing about Detroit, while the rest of the nation underwent Urban Renewal, much of Detroit was left untouched, the buildings and property had little value, nobody was interested in investing money in a ghost town. Because of this mindset, Detroit is left with a marvelous collection of early 20th century architecture. Capitol Park is a prime example; not much has changed since streetcars traversed city streets. Abandoned, windowless buildings stood silent as their facades slowly crumbled, witnessing the worst decline in America. Fortunately for all of us they persevered.

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Today the Capitol Park Historic District is alive and well. Buildings have been renovated or are in the process of historic renovation; scaffolding, barriers and men in hard hats are a common sight. Check out the Detroit Savings Bank building, built in 1895 it’s the oldest existing high-rise in Detroit; it’s now home to 56 loft apartments and office space, it’s gorgeous. The 38-story, Art Deco, David Stott building opened in 1929, because of the Great Depression it was the last skyscraper built in Detroit until the mid-1950’s. With a reddish-granite base the brick changes in color from an orangey-tan to buff as it soars skyward. You may remember the Sky Bar formerly located on the 33rd floor. 

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Griswold is our favorite street in the city, Capitol Park, our favorite district, I love the unique sense of enclosure the buildings provide. Let’s take a walk. Here on Griswold there are lots of new businesses, Bird Bee is a women’s boutique filled with trendy fashions, accessories, shoes and home goods. The interior is bright and airy, live plants are tucked into the honeycomb-shaped shelves behind the counter. The shop has a wonderful selection of clothing from casual and comfy to business and evening wear. Also located on the ground floor of the Albert Building (f.k.a the Griswold Building)Detroit Bikes  designs and sells bicycles handmade in Detroit using high-quality American chromoly steel. The building opened in 1929, showroom decor pays homage to the early 1900’s; red flocked wallpaper, antique display cabinets, a Victrola collection, vintage lighting; stunning. Bicycles come in Type A, B or C, they also have a versatile model called the Cortello. My favorite? The Faygo series, you know, the soda pop. You can pedal through the streets on an Orange, Lime, Grape, Red Pop or Cotton Candy colored bike, sweet! Detroit Bikes is investing in American manufacturing by making bicycles right here in Detroit.

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Next door is La Laterna, a pizzeria and bar featuring brick oven pizza. We step inside to peek at the menu and decide to stay for lunch. While we wait for our pizza I read an article in the April 1958 issue of Michigan Restauranteur that hangs on the wall. Edoardo Barbieri opened the original La Lanterna right across the street in Capitol Park in 1956, the family went on to open 3 Da Edoardo restaurants and Cafe Nini in Grosse Pointe. Now, almost 40 years after La Lanterna closed, Edoardo’s grandson has brought the pizzeria back to Capitol Park. The decor is simple and attractive; stainless steel, wood, 12-seat marble bar and teardrop lighting. The centerpiece of the tiny open kitchen is the Marra forni Neopolitan pizza oven. Our Primavera pizza is outstanding, the crust is tender and chewy, lots of tasty vegetables, fresh mozzarella, yum! It’s pretty cool the family business has returned to the city where it started.

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And we’re walking… The Capitol Park Building built in 1912 has been renovated into 63 apartments, Prime + Proper occupies the ground floor. The restaurant wasn’t open yet the day we were there but the staff let us take a peek inside; no expense was spared, it’s pretty luxe. If you like meat, this is the place for you. Next door on State Street, Lear completely renovated the Brown Brothers Tobacco Company Building; built in 1887 and designed by Gordon W Lloyd, it was the largest cigar factory under one roof in the world. The six-story building is now Lear’s Innovation Center. Back on Griswold the Malcomson Building has also been resuscitated, on the left side is The Ten, a nail bar, the right side is home to Eatori Market, a specialty grocer selling produce, pantry staples and prepared foods with a full bar in the front of the space. This was the original location of La Lanterna back in 1956, they managed to salvage the original metal railings and reuse them. We take seats at the L-shaped bar, the bartender offers us cocktail menus, as soon as Kris spots the distinct Blanton’s bottle his decision is made, I go for Eatori’s version of a French 75 called Violet 75, the Creme de Violet gives it a lovely violet hue, oooohh, that’s nice. We take a walk through the market area, everything looks delicious; paninis, salads, meatballs, lots of grab-and-go items. I like the “Invisible Gentleman” paintings by local artist and singer Ben Sharkey.

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Down the street the Farwell Building is in the process of being renovated; built in 1915 the interior design was that of Louis C Tiffany, they say the brass and marble elevators were unequaled in the city. The vaulted dome in the lobby was inlaid with thousands of pieces of Tiffany glass, I can only imagine how beautiful it must have been. When finished there will be 82 apartments, office spaces, retail and a restaurant. The building on the corner wraps around the south side of Grand River, originally called the Bamlet Building, it was built in 1897. After several name changes it was finally renamed Capitol Square Building in 1931, the name has stuck. The Detroit Institute of Music Education, a for-profit college for ‘serious musicians who desire a long-term professional career in modern music’, occupies the building. I’m very fond of the way the windows curve around the corner of the structure. There’s a brand new residential building kitty-corner from DIME, a sign in another building announces Cannelle Patisserie will soon open, Loverboy Hamburgers is on the way too.

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Dessert Oasis Coffee Roasters was one of the first new businesses to open during the recent Capitol Park renaissance. It’s a huge, raw, open space with large windows overlooking the park. They roast their own beans, offer a nice selection of desserts, have live performances and sell their own merch. Kris and I grab a couple of coffees and sit at the bar in the front windows. As I look outside I see people out walking their dogs, hipsters on their way to somewhere trendy, 20-somethings carrying shopping bags, bicyclists, men in suits; I feel like I should pinch myself to see if I’m dreaming. The transformation has been amazing and there’s still more to come…

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