Friday, June 6, 2014

Gallitzin Tunnels in Gallitzin, Pennsylvania

Hidden beneath the small town of Gallitzin, Pennsylvania lies an engineering feat many are completely unaware about. Passing the Allegheny mountains train bound was proving to be a difficult task for the engineers who were developing the railway systems. Many obstacles had to be overcome to manuever through this treacherous terrain. One of their final tasks to create a passage through these mountains was to construct tunnels. Getting through the steep grades in Gallitzin proved more difficult than anticipated, and the blasting began.

At an elevation of 2,167 feet the the New Portage tunnel was completed in 1854 and has been continuously in use ever since. A second tunnel, the Allegheny tunnel, with a length of over 1/2 a mile was also completed that same year. Eventually a third tunnel, named the Gallitzin tunnel was created to pass through the ridge in 1904. These tunnels were so dire to our transportation services that were guarded by armed security during the World Wars.

Railroad enthusiasts still flock to the rural area, and the adjacent park, to feel the massive power of the locomotives pushing their way through the mountains. Any given time of the day you will notice visitors on the overpass, cameras, and binoculars in hand just waiting for the raw power of a train engine to come roaring out of the tunnel and pass ferociously beneath their feet.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater

Hidden away in the Laurel Highlands of western Pennsylvania lies one of Frank Lloyd Wright's greatest engineering masterpieces. Nestled quietly over a waterfall in the Allegheny mountains, Fallingwater is a modern home full of peace and serenity. The water that flows steadily underneath could soothe the most savage beast. The neighboring trees house the beauties of nature, and the whistling sounds of the birds who make them their home.

The house was built for retail owner Edgar Kaufman Sr., a prominent Pittsburgh businessman and owner of Kaufman's department stores. He had commissioned  Frank Lloyd Wright to begin building a home for him in 1935. The home was to be built on a piece of property the Kaufman's had owned in nearby Fayette county. Initially the property was to be built facing the waterfall that flowed over Bear Run, or so that was Kaufman's idea for the home. Always the innovator Wright had other ideas, he decided to design the home over the waterfall, making it part of the home itself. He also incorporated the large boulders that were spread throughout.

The building of the home turned out to be a constant challenge for all involved. Wright and Kaufman had numerous conflicts during the construction. Kaufman at one point had hired engineers to give him a report on the structure of the property. After receiving the reports Wright threatened to leave the project, eventually the reports were buried inside of a stone wall within the home. There were various arguments between the the crews on maintaining the stability and structural support of the home. Eventually the home was completed in Fall of 1937.

The home embraces the nature that surrounds it.  Windows line what should be walls, boulders become pieces of furniture, stairways lead to the stream below.  Open air balconies allow you to breathe in the fresh floral aromas, while feeling the refreshing splashes of the cascading waterfall below. Walls inside the home consist primarily of stone and window panes. Sunlight finds it way through large panes of glass while the stone encompasses the home like a cavern.

Wright designed angled windows that wrap around the corners of the home, and open outward to allow airflow and the sounds of nature to embrace the home.  A majority of the furniture in the home is built permanently into the structure, and was designed by Wright himself. Many consider it to be Wright's greatest achievement. Others believe its a giant money pit. Either way Fallingwater is a place that needs to be seen firsthand. It has been listed on numerous architectural achievement lists, as well as one of the best places to visit in America.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Dio Way Cortland, New York

Ronnie James Dio is known for his operatic vocal ability, his charismatic personality, and also his love of humanity. He is thought to be the originator of the "metal horns" sign.

 Dio is best known for being the lead singer for several prominent bands including, Rainbow, Elf, Black Sabbath, Heaven and Hell, and his solo band Dio. His love of music, as well as his vocal abilities inspired many within the musical genre. The goodwill he spread through his life helped to inspire many others.

Throughout the world there are numerous heavy metal festivals that are named in his honor. Those who knew and worked with him described him as a humble talent. There's a statue in Kavarna, Bulgaria of him. In Central New York the town of Cortland has inducted him into their city Hall of Fame. They also changed the name of a local street where Ronnie James Dio lived, forever memorializing their own local legend.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Magic Gardens in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

One of the most unique streets in America is South Street in Philadelphia. The sidewalks are the showcase for an array of characters and an assortment of unusual shops. With all the existing subcultures represented in the area, it's only fitting that in the hub of all this lies an artistic playground.

The Magic Gardens catches your attention from blocks away. The glimmering glass flickering in the sun attracts your eye to this unique adobe, hidden on a road of sideshows. The building is a collage of art pieced together with glass, bottles, marbles, broken plates, and about anything else the artist could get his hands on. But the true masterpiece lies within.

Opening these doors and passing through is almost the equivalent of following the rabbit down the hole. Except this is a different type of Wonderland. The interior walls are plastered in mosaics. Bright colors swirl around hidden images. Feelings of vertigo pass through as I extend my neck to look above me and follow the menagerie of colors that are blossoming around me. The colors may begin to blend into psychedelic imagery. There's another door inviting you back outside, but it's not the outside you were accustomed to. You pass through the looking glass, and proceed out.

Now you find yourself in a maze of mosaics. Bicycles extend out of walls. Porcelain dolls protrude through cement. Kitchen tiles, fine china, southwestern images, and poetry are all melded together, forming structures of art, and craftsmanship. The scenery is quite overwhelming. Every twist, turn, canyon, and cavern is a symbol of inventiveness. Your brain attempts to conjure the meanings of all the symbolism that is occurring. Words of inspiration from the artist are plastered in works of poetry throughout.

 Images of a three armed man are seen quite frequently throughout the establishment, these are the artist's representation of himself. Isiah Zagar is a mosaic artist who turned his established South street business into a work of art that continued to grow for decades. In 2002 after purchasing the property outright, the Magic Gardens officially became established. Since than the project has been committed to preserving Isiah's legacy as well as educate the community on mosaic and visual artistry.

In 2008 Isiah considered the Magic Gardens to be complete, a project he had begun nearly 14 years earlier. His hard work and commitment has been greatly appreciated throughout the community. A number of his mosaic pieces can be found throughout the city of Philadelphia. The Magic Gardens is certainly his masterpiece. A place that comes alive, brings hope to all, and will inspire many for decades to come.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Amaranthine Museum Baltimore, Maryland

Touring through the Amaranthine Museum is equivalent to passing through the mind of an astounding artist, and a brilliant person. The walls and halls are lined with over 200 pieces of work from artist Les Harris. A man who lived an extraordinary life. He served under General Patton during World War 2, danced onstage at the famed Metropolitan Opera House, and also studied with famed Realist painter, Charles Rain. 

Art and teaching eventually became Les' passion. He had an undesirable thirst to educate his fellow man. He first began teaching art at Albany Academy in New York. He encouraged his students to look outside of the scope. To break traditions and see "beyond the vase." His love of art and teaching eventually brought him back home to Baltimore, where he continued to pursue his own further education. Eventually receiving a Master's degree from Johns Hopkins University. He resumed teaching for several more years before retiring in 1977 to pursue his own art on a more frequent basis.

Instead of selling his art to make a profit Les kept his collection and opened his own private museum. He would show great pride in his work as he led visitors through his 2,000 square foot gallery. Visitors from all over the globe were greatly intrigued by the artist and his unusual works of art. 

Les wasn't afraid to experiment and incorporate several mediums into one piece of art, and his style ranged greatly. His works could be described as visionary, surreal, hallucinatory, contemporary, and classical. And to say you're just looking at art, would be an understatement. Passing through the halls is almost like passing through millions of years at one brief time. You may find yourself discussing the beginning of life or the creation of earth. The next minute you may be questioning humanity and the whole reason for life. Symbolism, religion, physics, astronomy, numerology, and romance can be found in every piece of art you encounter here.

The Amaranthine Museum is named after the amaranth flower, the unfading flower. While visiting be sure to check out the multiple frames Les painted. The represent a collage of various famous paintings throughout history. At first they appear to be a kaleidoscope of colors, but upon closer examination you marvel at the details and meticulous work that went into the creation. The same way the artist wants us to interpret our own worlds. As long as this labyrinth of beauty remains for the world to see, the work of Les, and art in general will never fade away.

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.