Monday, March 31, 2014

States of Art

March 31, 2014
Day 2
Clarksville, TN to Columbia, MO
Our route takes us through four states today--Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois and Missouri.  It’s a sunny warm day, and lots of farmers are out on their tractors, turning their fields to prepare for spring planting. 

We make two stops along the way in Kentucky--one ridiculous and one sublime.   
Our ridiculous stop is a short one at Keith Holt’s Hillbilly Garden, just off Interstate 24 heading into Sharpe, Kentucky.  In fond remembrance of the glory days of Route 66, Holt set out to make his own roadside attraction on the site of his grandfather’s old gas station and cider stand.  His Garden is intended to be an exhibit of junkyard art, but it is far more junkyard than art. 

We stop to take a photo of a row of half-buried lawnmowers, clearly a homage to Cadillac Ranch, and Holt himself dashes out to hand us a flyer and beg us to come back at 10, when he opens the indoor exhibit of over 3000 toys, and can give us a guided tour of the grounds.  We practically burn rubber getting out of there.  

The sublime art is just up the road in Paducah at the National Quilt Museum.  No photos are allowed, unfortunately.  But, we spend a blissful hour and a half savoring the artistic expression, the colors and textures, the perfect stitches, the exquisite details and glorious embellishments of the quilts on display there.   
We walk around the charming downtown area, share a bulging sandwich at Kirchhoff’s Deli and Bakery, and admire the murals highlighting Paducah’s history painted all along the floodwall.
Billboards at the edge of town now welcome visitors to “Quilt City USA,” since the Quilt Museum is Paducah’s primary tourist attraction, drawing 40,000 visitors each year.  But, we learn at the floodwall that back in the 1950s, Paducah was known as “Atomic City” after it was chosen as the site of a uranium enrichment plant, and the resulting activity caused the town’s population to double. 

We could easily linger longer (fabric shopping at Hancock’s of Paducah could eat up a couple hours alone!), but we need to get some more miles under our tires, so we hit the road and make it to Columbia, Missouri by dinnertime.   

Just noshing on small plates at Room 38 lets us rationalize pigging out on homemade ice cream at Sparky’s, Columbia’s favorite ice cream shop.  There are several flavors of ice cream that cannot be sold to anyone under age 21 due to their alcohol content, and lots of other interesting flavor combinations to choose from.  The perky scooping staff encourages us to taste whatever sounds interesting (honey lavender--yum).  The walls are covered with truly awful portraits that must have been reclaimed from the art department dumpster at nearby University of Missouri, but the ice cream is fine art, and that’s what counts.   
I guess we should add another state to our four state tally for the day--the state of bliss.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Heeding the Call of the Prairie Chickens

March 30, 2014
Day 1
Savannah to Clarksville, TN

We are on our way to the Prairie Chicken Festival in Nebraska, but hoping there will be a few adventures along the road to spark up a very long drive. 

With 550 miles behind us, we stopped in Clarksville, Tennessee, boasting a population somewhere over 140,000 and anchoring the second fastest growing metropolitan area in the country.
Our search for a few geocaches took us on a walking tour through the small scenic downtown historic district.  The Montgomery County Courthouse looked to be in amazingly pristine condition for a building built in a pre-1900s style, we thought.  A historic marker out front told the story--this star-crossed building has been rebuilt over and over again since its cornerstone was first laid in 1879.  A tornado ripped off the roof in 1884, and it was rebuilt; a fire destroyed the upper floors and clock tower in 1900, and the extensive damage was repaired; and a tornado virtually destroyed the whole thing in 1999, but four years later--on the anniversary of the tornado--the rebuilt courthouse was rededicated.  

This beautiful mural captures Clarksville’s primary landmarks. 
We dined at the Blackhorse Pub and Brewery, a popular downtown restaurant where for just $3.75 we got a beautifully presented wooden tray of generously poured samples of seven of the microbrewery’s beers--each one labeled with a brass plaque, so we could keep track of our favorites.  
Dick’s favorite was the Vanilla Cream Ale, brewed with natural vanilla bean, so that it had a distinct aroma and flavor of vanilla.  Dick described it as “alcoholic cream soda,” and my descriptor was “beer with training wheels.”  My favorite was a Black and Tan made by mixing the Vanilla Cream and a very heavy Coalminer’s Stout (which no doubt got its name from being black as coal).  There was an amazing depth of flavor stuffed into that little glass.

We have enjoyed many wine tasting flights over the years (one just this past week, in fact), but this is the first time we have ever had a beer flight tasting experience.   So, here we are, our trip has just begun, and already we have had a new adventure!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

We Welcome Spring with Seven Million Daffodils

March 20, 2014

Gibbs Gardens

Ball Ground, Georgia

Surely there is no better place to celebrate the arrival of Spring than Gibbs Gardens in Ball Ground, Georgia.  More than 20 million daffodils will bloom here over a six week period, and seven million of them are blooming right now--the first day of Spring.  They carpet hillside meadows, they meander through the woodlands.  So many varieties are in bloom it is pointless to count, but if you really want to know names so you can buy some for your own garden, there are big labeled pots of all the blooming varieties near the Welcome Center. 

As for the ebullient experience of wandering the paths through the gardens today, William Wordsworth said it best in his poem "Daffodils":
I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed--and gazed--but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

 This is reputed to be the largest daffodil display in the country. 
And there's more.

We are already anticipating another visit in the Fall, when the largest Japanese garden in the country will be ablaze in color.  Even now, in its least dramatic season, the Japanese garden is a place of tranquil beauty, its paths winding past artfully sculpted bonsai trees beside spring-fed ponds with gentle waterfalls.  Tiny spring green leaves are just emerging from the cascading shoots of the willow trees.  

Jim Gibbs says, “The greatest difficulty of my garden design was to integrate 16 garden venues and preserve the natural beauty of the land.  With this magnificent scenery as my canvas, I’ve been committed to achieving a balance between natural and man-made elements to create ‘the harmony of nature’ throughout Gibbs Gardens.” 

How magnificently he has succeeded in achieving that balance.

Over thirty years in the making, Gibbs Gardens has been open for just two years, and it is still somewhat unknown.   But, it is only an hour from metro Atlanta, so we can only imagine that word will travel fast, and we may be fighting crowds the next time we stop by.


Saturday, March 22, 2014

An Afternoon in Paradise

March 19, 2014
Howard Finster’s Paradise Garden
Summerville, GA

At the age of 59, Howard Finster--a man with a sixth grade education living in one of the poorest counties in Georgia--had a vision that changed his life.  When he dipped his finger in tractor enamel while painting a bicycle, the paint took the appearance of a face, and he heard a voice say the words, “paint sacred art.”  Although he had been preaching at Baptist churches for 25 years, and had done, by his own count, 28 other occupations, he had no art training and had never produced artwork.  Nonetheless, he heeded God’s call to paint 5,000 works, and by the time he died 25 years later he had made 46,991 numbered artworks, exceeding God’s expectations by a wide margin. 

His outdoor studio and display space, Paradise Garden, was a glorious celebration of God’s Holy Word interpreted via colorful paintings and zany montages of cast-off items in Finster’s day.  He said, “My garden is a way for me to get my messages out all over the world.  And that’s my responsibility.  Someday, sometime people on this planet are going to realize they need what Howard Finster’s got, whether it’s religion, whether it’s art, or whether it’s building a Garden.”  

Fast forward to today, 13 years after Howard’s death, and most of his art that could be hauled off and put on a wall is now in the collections of museums like Atlanta’s High Museum of Art or the Smithsonian, or it is in private collections.  But, his eclectic dimensional art remains.  Winding sidewalks inset with bright mosaics of broken crockery and mirrors, marbles, and unexpected items-- a gun, kitchen utensil or a man’s pipe--lead to whimsical outbuildings, recycled material statuary, and a swampy water garden. 

The four-story sixteen-sided World’s Folk Art Church towers over the garden at forty feet high.  Unfortunately, since Howard had no architectural training, it has been deemed unstable, despite being divinely inspired, so we weren’t allowed inside.  The plan is to eventually make it safe for public use, but since there are no architectural plans, and it was not built according to accepted engineering principles, it may be a while before we see the inside of this place. (And where the money is coming from, we have no clue--the admission charge for us “seniors” was just $3 apiece--and at less than 4,000 visitors a year, the garden is not a big money-maker.)

On one side of the church is one of Howard’s favorite quotes: “I took the pieces you threw away, put them together by night and day.  Washed by the rain. Dried by the sun. A million pieces all in one.”   That is a perfect summary of Paradise. 

There is a stack of bicycle parts several stories high, and a house covered with mirrors inside and out, a pump house made of coke bottles, and a garden wall made of, well, every religious thing you can imagine, and some stuff you would never think of, all set in cement in a way that turns out to be surprisingly charming.   

Here are some of our favorite spots in Paradise:


After two and a half hours strolling through Paradise, we drove about sixty miles east to Jasper, where we stayed at the Woodbridge Inn, which traces its history back to 1880.  Our room is in the historic Inn building, right above the restaurant.  The owner told us that this was his bed room when he was a teenager.   

The Inn is in Downtown Jasper, which has about three blocks of beautifully restored historic buildings, with about a third of them vacant.  This seems to be a plague of small town America, no matter where we travel.   
Oglethorpe Monument in foreground, Woodbridge Inn in background.
A striking monument spire honors James Oglethorpe, founder of the Georgia Colony.  According to the historic marker nearby, it is made of locally quarried marble, and the marble quarries around here are the largest in the United States.  This monument is old, but there is a brand new Pickens County Court House in the center of town made of dazzlingly white marble, presumably also locally sourced.  The Ten Commandments are inscribed on two massive tablets of marble affixed to the side of the building next door to the Court House, so they are not technically violating anyone’s feelings about the necessity for eparation of church and state.   The Old (1906) Pickens County Jail, also featuring local marble, is one of the most lovely jails we have ever seen.   

Back to the Inn, we enjoy a comfy homey room and a fine dinner, including wine and three courses, and leave having spent less than $100 for our “Bed and Dinner” accommodations.