Thursday, January 30, 2014

American Visionary Arts Museum Baltimore, Maryland

 Visionary art is often described as art that crosses boundaries. The artists rarely have any formal training, yet create personal visions for themselves that manifest into some of the most unique and creative pieces of work. No museum is more proud of these artists and their accomplishments than the American Visionary  Arts Museum in Baltimore, Maryland. 

The museum itself was the creative vision of a non artist, but a woman with a passion for helping people. While working with psychiatric patients in a local hospital, Rebecca Hoffberger, became enthralled with her patient's artwork. She chose to focus on the patients strength as people, as opposed to the weaknesses that got them there. On a trip to Switzerland she visited a folk art museum and was inspired to create a home for the outsider art she so adored back home in Baltimore. Several years, numerous petitions, and millions of dollars later she would witness her dream come to fruition.

In November of 1995 the museum opened to the public. It's first two visitors were a pair of visionary artists. You could even say the building itself is a piece of art, and difficult to miss. Just look for the large shining mosaic, located only blocks from the busy harbor. The outside is a spectacle of glass, mirrors, and other mediums patterned together to create a unique building, and a piece of art. Surrounding the grounds of the museum, artwork is abound everywhere. Kinetic sculptures dot the skyline, hands protrude out of the building, mammoth birds nests hang above, and trees sprout out of the concrete.

Once inside there's a plethora of raw art to be found everywhere. The museum has a revolving permanent collection that consists of over 4,000 pieces. The day we visited we encountered sculptures made of matchsticks, unusual collages, and varying degree of unusual works of art. The museum is consistently changing their displays to feature the variety of art they own. Giving each one of these unique artists a chance to shine for a period of time. In fact that artwork at the museum is so much on the move that some actually does. Every year the museum hosts a kinetic sculpture race. Artists create movable pieces of art that race 15 miles through the streets of Baltimore. Several past winners are housed within the walls of this unusual art museum.

While in the museum it's hard to grasp a few pieces. Some of them are so complex in such a simple way, it becomes difficult to comprehend. Others are some of the most amazing works of art I've seen. But all are completely ingenious. It can quickly become quite difficult to realize these amazing pieces you're looking at were created by farmers, housewives, prisoners, psychiatric patients, not trained artists.

The museum and the pieces of art housed within, show there is a creative side in everyone of us, we just need to find a way to unleash it. That there is a uniqueness in all of us that needs to be released. A way against the normal, that can be an inspiration for all.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Ripley's Believe It or Not! Odditorium Atlantic City, New Jersey

Strolling along the boardwalk in Atlantic City is like being in an giant adult funhouse. Flashing bright lights, strange motifs, and kitschy decor is found everywhere. It's very easy to get caught up in the glitz and instant gratification. Casinos designed to make you conjure up images of being in an exotic location. And just as quickly as you become immersed in all this action, you realize its all an illusion.

As my dreams of instant millions flutter by with every pull on the slot handle, every card that passes my hand, or every spin on the red and black wheel. The mirage is unveiling itself. I'm not in the wild west, a Mississippi delta showboat, a palace built by Caesar, and no where near the actual Taj Mahal. It's all a fantasy. I'm being bamboozled, the only ones making millions are those collecting my change from the machines. Dazed and hazed I follow the psychedelic carpet searching for light from a natural source and not a neon bulb. Back out onto the boardwalk I become refreshed with clean air and sunshine. The salty ocean air breathes life back into me, opens my senses, reality begins to come back.

As the wooden 2x4s pass below my toes, I recognize a building with the Earth crashed in on it. Seems fitting in a town where so many peoples own world's came crashing in on them. Loss of homes, jobs, and life savings all for the dream of the big jackpot. But I also see a shark hanging out front, and a Statue of Liberty replica. I need a reality check, I head inside the Ripley's Believe It or Not! Odditorium.

Entering the doorway, I see the world's largest tire conveniently placed next to the world's smallest car. There's even a Michael Jordan sculpture, made of Michael Jordans. I even find myself next to a life like statue of the tallest man to ever live. My 6'2" stature pales in comparison to the man who stood over 8 feet tall. Moving along I become greeted by other strange characters. The "crocodile man" flashes a horrific smile, and a man dubbed the "unicorn man" vacantly stares into the ether. Around the corner a bevy of creatures awaits me. Animals with extra limbs are quite prevalent, while other rare oddities are spotted about. The furry fish hangs proudly like a trophy trout, a Fiji mermaid glares at you behind glass, and the Garden States most notorious creature, the Jersey Devil, is even featured. Surprises are hidden around corner of this place. Optical illusions are placed all around, keeping your brain on edge so you realize not all is what it seems.

Along the way I find numerous strange items, such as a vampire killing kit (I totally want one) a shrunken head, as well as  numerous medieval weapons and torture devices. Tribal pieces from rituals and rites of passage are predominantly placed throughout the obscure museum. Displayed proudly about are also several pieces of varied artwork. Clothing made from bottle caps, art designed using jellybeans as a medium, sculptures made of nails, and structures built from matchsticks. There's even wax figures of unfortunate people who survived seemingly impossible mishaps.

Exclusive to the Odditorium in Atlantic City is a masterwork of craftsmanship, dedication, and obsession. New Jersey native George Tamasco dedicated 30 years of his life hand carving a french chateau replica, complete with 21 rooms. Including a cathedral, a parlor room, a kitchen, and even a billiards room. The attention to detail is painstaking. Experts from around the world have been marveled by the meticulous handwork and artwork of this relatively unknown artist. It's truly something that needs to be seen to completely appreciate the complexity of the piece.

What I found to be the strangest thing about the Odditorium, is that in a town like Atlantic City where everything seems to be an illusion. A false dream dangled right before your eyes, I had to come here to find a piece of reality.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Ghost Town of Lapidum, Maryland

Scattered along the western bank of the river in the Susquehanna State Park, rests crumbling canal walls, corroded railroad tracks, foundations filled with earth, and overgrown pathways that may have once been roads. Not too long ago these homes were occupied, horses galloped along the streets, while trains and canal boats brought merchandise.

Lapidum, Maryland first saw settlers occupy the area in the 17th century. It's fertile farming land and access to the river helped the humble town grow in a short period of time. Corn and tobacco were the chief crops grown in the area, while shad and herring were fished from the local waters. The young community became a local commercial hub for northern Maryland, and southern Pennsylvania. Several ferries operated throughout the area, delivering goods to neighboring river town Port Deposit, as well as upstream to Peach Bottom, Pennsylvania.

By the 19th century the meager territory was growing in size. The town profited greatly through the canals, and the community began to flourish. A three story Victorian style hotel was built. Also a masonic hall, a church, a mill, a school and several warehouses and wharves. As the town was growing the country was changing. Less commerce was being traded by canal routes. Trains and the automobiles were replacing the antiquated method. Eventually stiff railroad competition forced a halt on most of the commerce in the area. Gradually the residents began to leave and the prosperity washed away. Both figuratively and literally, several ice jams along the river caused much damage to the warehouses of the town, ending any future commerce forever.

Over time the homes and businesses were knocked down and the foundations back filled. The canal boat no longer passed through. The mule paths became overgrown with weeds. The canal walls grew over with ivy, and moss. And the area of Lapidum became a ghost town, as well as a grim reminder of what can become of a town when commerce and economics fail to keep up with a rapidly changing world.