Tuesday, March 10


Last Sunday, the Boss Rabbit and I strolled through the Nelson. It's a nice way to wrap up the weekend, and has the added benefit of artistic inspiration and plenty of high-quality people-watching.

The Nelson, dues to its proximity to the Kansas City Art Institute, always has small roaming herds of feral students trying to absorb what and who have gone before them. They are easily recognized by their notebooks, sketch pads and non-traditional, hemp-flavored attire.

I appreciate the tremendous addition of the Bloch Building to the Nelson, and its photographs, including the incredible Hallmark Collection, but I've always been partial to the collections in the galleries in the old building, especially the Dutch Masters and Italian artists in the European section. I always come away with a new appreciation of the power of shadow. Light is easy, dark is hard.

I envy painters their stamina, their ability to absorb the outside world in three dimensions and translate it all back in such dramatic form in only two physical dimensions. As a photographer of nearly fifty years, I am still trying to understand the world in this way. I am always appropriately humbled.

I attended Kansas City, Missouri Public Schools way back before Kansas City became a hollow shell of a city and before the school district lost its will to live. From the fourth grade on, we were regularly treated to visits to the Nelson, The (then) Kansas City Philharmonic and other cultural treasures of the area.

In the sixties, Corinthian Hall was the herding place for throngs of children, delivered by groaning yellow buses from all corners of the district. We sat, cross-legged on the floor, ready to buddy up and explore, two-by-two, the wonders of the world contained inside the limestone and marble wonder. Even in the seventh grade at Northeast Junior High, Mrs. Ruth Barber created an entire semester's worth of lessons out of the architecture of the building, the museum's American furniture collection and the history of the museum itself. Brilliant. (Mrs. Barber's two and a half hour Common Learnings classes were self-styled democratic republics, with political parties, legislative action, a Supreme Court and elected officers who campaigned for the jobs and who, once elected, were sworn in at a full-scale inauguration. A party followed. What a remarkable teacher. I wish I could thank her. I still remember the President's Oath of Office. We can't say the same for the Chief Justice of the United States.)

The West Wing of the Nelson's main level includes part of their extensive antiquities holdings in the Ancient Collection.

I sat in the hall of the Ancients and tried to absorb the scale of time represented and then watched as a young man and his companion walked briskly and without hesitation from piece to piece, he, his Nikon in hand. Click, chimp. Click, chimp. Click, chimp. He never once stopped to actually look at anything while he photographically cataloged the entire collection. He just clicked and chimped. I think he might have missed a few details by looking at life through his lens and on a tiny LCD. I love photography, but now and then you have to remember to live where you're standing.

A couple of thoughts:

I never once heard my folks mention the gallery. I'm not sure that either of them had ever been there, even once. The time and hunger for art, a questioning of what makes us who we are and what comes next takes a back seat to the harsh realities involved in scraping out a living, and can be completely overpowered by pious, dogmatic undertakings.

Look at the bust of Ramses II, just above. Imagine you're living in Egypt 4,000 years ago. Yours is a thriving civilization, with art and architecture, libraries and temples. Would you think that it would all end? Would you believe that your version of civilization could be less than eternal, destined to become archeological curiosities and sandy ruins? I imagine that it was very likely that the Egyptians might have considered that the world was theirs and always would be, and that were it not for them, it might not exist at all. They might have considered their empire too blessed or "too big to fail". I'm just sayin'.

Thus spake the rabbit


Leslie said...
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Leslie said...

It's been ages since I've been to the Nelson but I just made plans to go next week. I'll take your advice to linger a bit longer and not just hurry by--something I fear I do far too often each day!

Hyperblogal said...

I think it's Kirkwood Hall... although it really makes not that much difference.... I remember fondly those visits as well.... AND I remember Mrs. Barber!!!!

Le Grand Lapin said...

hyper, you're right. It is Kirkwood Hall. I just realized that Corinthian Hall is at the Kansas City Museum. D'oh!

Mrs. Barber was one of five or six teachers that helped point me in a useful direction. Mary Harris at Whittier Elementary got me started in photography, David Day at Northeast taught me critical thinking. Aileen Sandgren pushed me toward purposeful, thoughtful writing. I owe them all a lot.

Hyperblogal said...

While I was mostly terrified of Mrs. Barber you are absolutely correct that one learned in her class. I remember, fondly, that some of the biggest bullies in school at the time cowered before her. I remember the elections too... I got to be president once and Mr. Danielson, the principal, administered the oath. In retrospect, good times those.

Applecart T. said...

WV: couslys!

good teachers …

a bit of this reminds me of my conversations with my desk-neighbor at the salt mines.

when i brought my mom there (actually the kemper) over post-christmas, her impulse (and i hated to quash it) was to touch things.

also, the lighting in egypt galleries is so bad (to me and my eyes) that i have to spend 100 years with everything just to get it.

that and "have to write a paper on this."

i will thank robert cohon (teacher at umkc and curator at n-a) for making me pause.