Saturday we drove up to Baltimore for the day. We decided on Friday not to try to cram too much in, but to enjoy a leisurely day. So we slept in and then had a hearty brunch at home before hitting the road around 1:00. Normally only about an hour’s drive, we were doing fine until just a couple miles shy of our destination, when we hit some construction work. Funnelling the Baltimore-Washington Parkway’s three northern lanes into one ended up adding almost an additional hour to the drive, just in that two-mile segment.
We parked next to the American Visionary Art Museum, and went there first. It’s a striking building, with large portions of the exterior covered in glass and mirror mosaics (somewhat reminiscent of the Magic Garden in Philadelphia), but not an aggressively large space, so it didn’t take much time to explore it fully (though I realize now that we spent time only in the central building, and missed the sculpture barn and wildflower plaza). It’s certainly a unique collection, with visionary art being defined in the museum’s mission statement, and amplified on its web site, as follows:
“Visionary art as defined for the purposes of the American Visionary Art Museum refers to art produced by self-taught individuals, usually without formal training, whose works arise from an innate personal vision that revels foremost in the creative act itself.”
In short, visionary art begins by listening to the inner voices of the soul, and often may not even be thought of as “art” by its creator.
Much of the work, in fact, has been produced by artists suffering from various physical or mental illnesses, or using unusual materials; there’s a huge model of the Lusitania, for example, made entirely of toothpicks and white glue, and some absolutely gorgeous masks, sculptures and ornate boxes constructed solely from wooden matchsticks and food dye.
The central exhibit at present is entitled “Holy H2O: Fluid Universe,” featuring art about or inspired by water or watery environments, and including one hall devoted to the Voudoun mermaid spirit La Siren, featuring a room-sized shell-encrusted water fountain, and a queen-sized bed also covered in shells, with a spread fully decorated with sequins in the shapes of snakes and eyes (or perhaps simultaneously sperm and ova).
The gift shop is a little strange, featuring not only unusual books and magazines, which I expected, but a huge array of 20th-century pop culture kitsch, which I didn’t. It felt almost more like a Spencer’s Gifts or a joke shop than a musuem store, with items ranging from Magic 8 Balls to Hello Kitty stationery to Edgar Allen Poe and Shakespeare bobble-heads to Menudo keychains. Unexpected, but fun.
We left the museum around 4:40, heading to the Science Center just up the street in order to make the 5:00 show at the planetarium. It was a miserably hot and humid day outside, with temperatures edging towards the 100-degree mark. Notwithstanding, there were folks playing volleyball and we even saw an outdoor wedding party taking pictures, she still attired in formal wedding dress, veil, train and he in his black tux.
After the planetarium show, we briefly walked through a couple of exhibits, but then decided to go and get something to eat and drink at the museum cafe–dinner reservations weren’t until 9:30, so we wanted to have a snack to tide us over. Jeff was starting to feel ill, though, and by the time we got to the cafe, he was looking pretty pale and felt rather clammy. We sat for a while, debating how to proceed, and around 6:40 we decided to go ahead and walk over to the convention center to meet up with Sheldon, and see if Jeff could lie down in his room.
So after getting the room key and dropping Jeff off at Sheldon’s and Gretchyn’s room, I went back to watch the “Game of the Year,” featuring a match between Richard Garfield, the creator of Magic: The Gathering, and a top-ranked player whose name I can’t recall, but who was one of the first inductees into the Magic Hall of Fame this past year. The game featured three-foot cards, and was a lot of fun to watch. It ran a little long, though, and we missed our 9:30 dinner reservation, but by the time we finished closer to 10, Jeff had called and was feeling better, well-enough to join us (along with a fifth, Nick, an acquaintance of Sheldon’s and one of the judges at the week’s tournaments) for seafood.
By the time we finished eating, it was nearly midnight. Sheldon and Nick had to be up for an 8:00 start the next morning, and we had an hour’s drive home, so we all said our goodbyes and headed our separate ways. We had a pleasant, trouble-free drive home (and averaging over 50mpg in the Prius), and then ended up staying up until after 4am, catching up on some TiVo’ed programming and (for my part) playing on the computer.