Star Wars Costumes

I may have missed attending a traveling exhibit at the Cincinnati Museum Center in the last several years but, if I did, I don’t remember what it was. The museum brings in world class exhibits which I very much appreciate and enjoy. I was, however, rather wishy-washy about Star Wars and the Power of Costume. Still am to some degree. My initial lack of desire came from a lack of familiarity. I guess I’ve been sort of wishy-washy about the whole Star Wars movie franchise beyond the first one. I feared that not knowing all the details of the full story would make it impossible to appreciate the exhibit. That turned out not to be the case at all. My current wishy-washiness comes from the price. As a museum member, attending the exhibit on Friday cost me $17. The regular adult admission is $24 or $16 for age twelve and under.

As I purchased my ticket, a fellow who had just emerged from the display and the fellow printing my ticket, had a brief discussion about how much they had each enjoyed it. One aspect they both liked was that the organization is by “type” rather then chronological. Once inside I very much appreciated that too. Having things displayed chronologically either by story line or movie release sequence (They’re different, you know.) wouldn’t have helped me at all and would likely have confused me.

There are small clusters of similar characters such as androids, empire soldiers, and rebel fighters.

Sometimes a single pair of related costumes are displayed together. Here a couple of different Princess Leia outfits are combined and Chewbacca and Han Solo stand side by side in front of a hyperspace image.

And, of course, some characters seem to just belong alone. Darth Vader masks used for specific scenes are displayed nearby. Bits of Jedi wisdom are projected on the wall behind Yoda.

The last room in the exhibit contains many of the Star Wars toys manufactured by Kenner and tells the story of how the Cincinnati based company ended up with the contract that nobody wanted. The line was incredibly successful and revolutionized the marketing of movie based toys but did not keep the company from being merged into Hasbro in 2000.

I was honestly quite surprised that the exhibit actually made me want to see all nine Star Wars movies. I saw the first Star Wars movie and thought it was great despite feeling that George Lucas had really ripped off Dune author Frank Herbert. I also saw and enjoyed the second and possibly even the third but I don’t think so. Then the whole prequel/sequel thing made me lose interest completely. Now that the story exists in its entirety, my curiosity is coming into play. Besides the more than sixty costumes, the exhibit contains many informative panels and videos. They remind me of something I already knew which is that Lucas borrowed from and/or honored many more science fiction and adventure stories than Dune and he seems to have done a better job presenting the essence of Dune than anyone who has actually used the name. I don’t see myself doing an all day or more binge but maybe I’ll finally get around to watching what everyone’s been talking about for years.


Now I’m going to invent a additional Cincinnati connection. A panel in the Star Wars exhibit states that some of the areas costume designers studied were World War II, Vietnam, and Japanese armor. Cincinnati is home to a serious collector of Japanese armor and the Art Museum has many pieces in its collection. Dressed to Kill, an exhibit of much of this armor, ended about a month ago and I’m going to turn this into an opportunity to post a couple of pictures I took there with my phone under less than ideal lighting. And now I’m going to turn this into an opportunity to mention that all the other pictures in this post were taken with my pocket Panasonic and the lighting for most wasn’t all that good either. Here’s hoping you won’t judge them too harshly.


Traveling exhibits like Star Wars the Power of Costume, are possibly even a little more important now than normal since they and the Children’s Museum are the only public spaces that remain open during the restoration of Union Terminal. Since my last visit. a large window has been opened into the rotunda that permits a view of a portion of the murals there. Reconstruction is scheduled to be completed in the fall of 2018.

Vikings: Beyond the Legend

After a couple of aborted attempts, I finally made it to the Vikings: Beyond the Legend exhibit at the Cincinnati Museum Center. A multi-year rehabilitation of Union Terminal, the Museum Center’s home, has begun and has closed all museum areas except for the Children’s Museum, the space used for traveling exhibits such as this, and the ticket and information counter seen at right. The counter is actually the front part of the large ticket and information facility in the center of the terminal’s large rotunda. A portion of the rotunda has been enclosed to provide the pictured entrance area. That impressive rotunda with its huge murals is just on the other side of those walls. The Children’s Museum and the traveling exhibit space are both on the lower level which is what allows them to remain open. A window has been installed along the path to the lower level which allows visitors to peek into some of the emptied and stripped museum space awaiting attention.

The exhibit of more than 500 artifacts opened in November and will remain through April. It is the largest collection of Viking artifacts to ever visit North America and Cincinnati is its first stop. It also has the distinction of being the largest exhibit, in terms of physical size, to appear at the Cincinnati Museum Center. For most, the word Viking conjures up an image of a large rough looking fellow with a huge ax or sword who is constantly pillaging and burning with a little time off to guzzle mead. As the subtitle “Beyond the Legend” implies, the exhibit is intended to give attendees a somewhat more rounded view. That intention is reinforced with the advertising slogan “The horns are fake. The beards are real.”

Vikings were not a race or even a nation. In fact, they didn’t use the word to identify themselves but to identify something they did. To go viking meant to go on an adventure. Sometimes they did go viking in order to pillage and burn but often it was to trade or explore. The exhibit includes plenty of items from their peaceful farms and villages and there are many examples of fine craftsmanship and artistry. Of course not all of items found in the Viking’s Scandinavian homelands were made there. Many were obtained through trading or raiding.

Apparently raiding still forms a major portion of my personal Viking image. I looked over reproductions of clothing and was actually quite impressed by the many examples of artistic metal work but when I got home and looked at the pictures I’d taken, I found mostly weapons or heavy tools. It’s possible that they were just the most photogenic but it seems at least as likely that they simply fit my preconceived notion of the Viking world.

But perhaps even more than the beards and swords, my concept of Vikings is fueled by the visual of a sleek longship floating gracefully through a fjord. The Vikings: Beyond the Legend exhibit includes four ships. A glimpse of the 21 foot long Karl, a reconstruction, can be seen at the left side of the dim photo marking this article’s second paragraph. The first picture here is of part of a ghost ship defined by metal rivets suspended where they would have held the long ago rotted planks of a hull in place. The second is of the 26 foot Krampmacken. In the 1980s, this reconstructed merchant ship sailed from the island of Gotland to Istanbul. The last picture shows the reason this is physically the largest exhibit mounted by the Cincinnati Museum Center. At 122 feet long, the Roskilde 6 is the longest Viking ship ever discovered. The ship is outlined by a modern skeleton that holds approximately 25% of the thousand year old hull in place. This is the first time it has been displayed outside of Europe.

These are reproductions of three of the more than 3,200 rune stones have been found throughout Scandnavia. Scholars consider the Viking Age to be bounded by their destruction of the abbey at Lindisfarne in 783 CE and their defeat at the Battle of Stamford Bridge in 1066. During that time Christianity made major progress in replacing the worship of a collection of gods headed by Odin. While the rune stones were typically erected to commemorate some significant event, many include Christian components and some think they may have at least partially been advertisements for the newer religion.

Da Vinci — The Genius

dvtg01A new exhibit opened at the Cincinnati Museum Center just over a week ago. Da Vinci — The Genius opened on Friday the 20th and I was there on Monday. It’s a dandy. The exhibit is billed as having “17 themed galleries” and I’m sure that’s true. Another simpler — though not entirely accurate — view is that’s its the “Mona Lisa” and everything else. I say that because the “Mona Lisa” display is quite large and is different from the others. It is the last area reached in the exhibition and the last discussed here.

The bulk of the exhibit consists of modern implementations of devices envisioned by da Vinci some five centuries ago. Using his drawings and descriptions and utilizing materials available when the the ideas were committed to paper, more than 70 of da Vinci’s concepts have been brought to life. Most are full size.

dvtg02dvtg03Devices related to flight appear early in the exhibit. The photo at the top of this article is of the helicopter-like Vite Aerea. In addition to wings, screws, and propellers targeting actual flight, da Vinci sketched out mechanisms intended to test ideas or measure natural forces. Almost all of his “flying machines” were impractical because of weight or other issues. A partial exception is the “parachute” seen in the foreground of the second picture. In 2000, British daredevil Adrian Nichols stepped out of a hot air balloon with a ‘chute built to da Vinci’s specifications. Jumping from 10,000 feet, Nichols rode the 500 year old design to within 2,000 feet of the surface before turning to something more modern. Freeing himself from the pyramid shaped device and deploying something more up to date was not because of any failure of the device to do its job but to prevent being injured by the heavy wood frame on landing.

dvtg06dvtg05dvtg04Leonardo’s earth bound inventions were more viable. The second picture is of a machine used to cut threads on a shaft. The third picture shows an area that breaks from the normal “hands off” museum policy. Here attendees are encouraged to touch and operate the mechanisms to better understand the principles involved and to better appreciate da Vinci’s genius. Da Vinci didn’t invent the “Out of Order” sign but it can be useful in his world. On the day of my visit the Ingranaggio a Lanterna don’t work cause the vandals took the handle.

dvtg08dvtg09dvtg10Enlarged examples of da Vinci’s anatomy studies are displayed as are reproductions of several other drawings and paintings. His “Last Supper” is the subject of a video. The anatomical drawings demonstrate da Vinci’s talent but are also evidence of his boundless curiosity. It’s obviously good to have a healthy supply of both but I find myself thinking that curiosity without talent is to be preferred over talent without curiosity.

dvtg13dvtg12dvtg11A sad truth is that concocting dreadful machines of war was frequently da Vinci’s “day job”. That’s not to say that it was entirely unpleasant to him. He had an interest in the science and art of war at an early age but he often obtained patronage for his artistic endeavors by promising the means to destroy enemies. He certainly wasn’t the last artist/scientist to find that the case.

dvtg14Of his Stanza Degli Specchi, an eight-sided mirrored room, da Vinci said that someone in it “will be able to see every part (of himself) endless times”. There are, of course, parts of me that you are better off not seeing even once but this from-the-shoulder shot is alright.

dvtg17dvtg16dvtg15In 2004, researcher Pascal Cotte was given unparalleled access to the original “Mona Lisa”. The painting was removed from its frame and photographed multiple times with a purpose-built ultra-high-resolution multispectral camera. Analysis of the captured data has resulted in things like an understanding of the original colors and a possible explanation for the apparent absence of eyebrows and lashes. The data was also used to produce a full-sized replica of the original. That’s it in the second picture. That’s also it in the third picture in a true “dark side of the moon” rear view. The two large portraits on the far wall relate to Cotte’s most controversial claim. Cotte believes that four fairly distinct layers can be identified in the painting and that one is an almost finished picture of a completely different woman than the one visible on the surface. On the right is a recreation of that other portrait. Everyone agrees the the painting changed during the many years da Vinci worked on it. Some authorities, however, believe all changes were along the lines of constant tweaking. They are not ready to accept that substantially completed layers were overlaid with other entire layers.

dvtg18Leonardo da Vinci is believed to have spent about fourteen years on the “Mona Lisa” and he still wasn’t entirely done with it when he died. You can use your mobile phone and a chair, frame, and background provided by the museum to complete your own in a fraction of a second. Bring your own Lisa.

Da Vinci — The Genius runs until September 25. Major restoration work will close much of the Museum Center on July 1. The Children’s Museum and the da Vinci exhibit space are in the basement and will remain open. Entry will continue to be through the main doors of Union Terminal.

Movie Review
National Parks Adventure
MacGillivray Freeman

npa_01 On Thursday I made a nighttime visit to the Cincinnati Museum Center. It wasn’t the first but they’re not at all common. Most of my visits take place in the light of day. A new IMAX film had premiered at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC, on Wednesday. On Friday it would open in about forty theaters across the USA. A handful of theaters were permitted to hold screenings on the day in between. Cincinnati’s Robert D. Lindner Family Omnimax Theater was among them and, by accident or an act of kindness, I was invited to be among those attending.

Immediately after seeing National Parks Adventure I sent a Tweet calling it spectacular. “Spectacular” is a word that fits virtually all Omnimax presentations. The screens that wrap around the viewers are huge. Quite often so are the subjects. Mountains, canyons, oceans, and starry skies are popular and fitting. National Parks Adventure is certainly spectacular in the immense-scale grandiose sort of way naturally associated with the word. There are plenty of mountains and canyons but early in the film I was struck with not just the size of the images but of their beauty and technical quality as well. I believe it was a shot of mountains reflected in a lake that first triggered the thought that many of the images I was seeing did not require a five story dome to be spectacular. Printed on flat and comparatively tiny pieces of paper, scenes from the movie could yield a very impressive coffee table book. Even six inch postcards made of images from the film would probably be stunning. I can’t quantify the difference or even prove it exists but I thought the images in National Parks Adventure had sharper focus, more vivid colors, and better composition than those of any of the many Omnimax features I’ve seen.

Stunning visuals are the reason that Omnimax theaters exist but a little story telling never hurts. National Parks Adventure tells a couple that help put things in perspective. Some historical perspective comes from the inclusion of old photos and some well done recreations. Without getting in very deep, the movie offers glimpses into some of the threats to our nation’s natural treasures and into the role of John Muir and Teddy Roosevelt in protecting them.

Size perspective is provided by following three friends as they visit several national parks. The trio is not plucked randomly from tourists at a park entrance. Renowned climber Conrad Anker leads the group which includes step-son Max Lowe and family friend Rachel Pohl. Max is a photographer and Rachel is an artist. Both are experienced climbers. As you might expect, the group climbs just about everything from seemingly bare rock faces to vertical sheets of ice. They also go biking, hiking, skiing, and probably do some other things I’ve forgotten. This is, I assume, the “adventure” of the title and it is all captured beautifully by an IMAX camera that is often high above the adventurers.

I could ramble on and on but I’m even less qualified to review movies (This is my first attempt.) than to review books and CDs. Using the universally accepted “a picture is worth a thousand words” exchange rate and assuming 24 frames per second, the movie’s trailer provides the equivalent of 171,360,000 words.

npa_02Cincinnati Museum Center is a founding member of the seven theater Giant Dome Theater Consortium which was a major supporter of the film’s production. Not only did that allow them to be one of the theaters hosting advance screenings, it undoubtedly played a role in having one of the film’s stars, Rachel Pohl, in town during the opening week. Following Thursday’s screening, she was introduced by the museum’s Vice President of Featured Experiences and Customer Services,  Dave Duszynski, and happily — nay, joyfully — answered a number of questions from the audience.

npa_05npa_04npa_03On Friday morning Rachel rappelled down the front of Union Terminal, a.k.a. Cincinnati Museum Center, to draw local attention to the film. It’s pretty obvious that the happy adventurer seen in the film is not an act. Her artistic side gets all the attention at RachelPohlArt.com. On Saturday, Rachel put her recently obtained fine arts degree to use working with even younger artists at the Children’s Museum inside the Cincinnati Museum Center. Sorry I missed it.

omnifilmThe Lindner Family Theater will be temporarily closing this summer as part of a $212 million Museum Center renovation. Older films will be shown as part of the classics series but this is the last new film to be presented before the closing. It is anticipated that when the theater reopens after a couple of years, it will be with a new state of the art digital system. That means that National Parks Adventure is probably the last new film to be shown here ever.

The Art of the Brick

aotb01“Remember”, says Nathan Sawaya, “it all starts with one brick.” Sawaya is the artist responsible for all those LEGO® sculptures currently on display at Cincinnati’s Museum Center in “The Art of the Brick”. I failed to do my homework before visiting the exhibit on Monday though I actually think that might have helped as much as it hurt. Since I’m writing about it, I’m obviously not advocating that everyone attend with the level of ignorance I had but I can’t help but think my off target expectations caused me to be more impressed with some aspects of the exhibit than I would have been otherwise.

aotb02aotb03aotb04Museum mailings on the exhibit included “Make & Take” and “Harry Potter Building Part” promotions. Apparently those “fun & games” promises made more of an impression on me than the word “art” in the title. What I expected, I suppose, was a collection of technically impressive structures. My misconception was not immediately apparent as things started off with items that were either flat or fairly shallow base-relief. Most were copies of popular works which more or less supported the idea of “technically impressive”.

aotb07aotb06aotb05Next up were some fully 3-dimensional copies of some 2- dimensional works of art. These were followed by reproductions of some familiar 3-D sculptures. The technology was more complex and the results more impressive but it was still, you know…

aotb08aotb09Then things changed. I don’t really know what Sawaya had in mind when he chose the word “metamorphosis” to identify a particular subset of his work but I do know it fit what I experienced. When I first entered the exhibit I didn’t even know that it was the work of one man. I learned that during the introductory video. I now realized that the word “art” in the title was no accident. Venus de Milo and friends were essentially the last “reproductions” in the exhibit. Sawaya’s vision would pretty much rule from here on out. An athlete is captured mid-stroke in Swimmer. Facemask is a self portrait.

aotb12aotb11aotb10That Sawaya is a talented artist as well as a skilled technician becomes even more apparent in his “Human Condition” collection.

aotb13aotb14As Sawaya notes, Yellow is probably his best known piece. Its ability to grab attention gets it featured in plenty of ads and brochures. Full frontal shots are everywhere and oblique views aren’t uncommon. This “dark side of the moon” shot is a kind of rare, however. Sawaya also notes that it gets that attention from both young and old. For adults he conjectures that it is seen as a “cathartic ‘opening one self up to the world'” and for kids he thinks it’s “Probably because yellow guts spilling onto the floor looks cool.”

aotb15I know this isn’t very artsy. I guess it might even be considered a reproduction of sorts but it’s not a reproduction like that reproduction of Michelangelo’s David. In this entire exhibition made of children’s building blocks, this is the only piece that was made specifically with kids in mind. It isn’t life size but it is big — over six feet tall and a tad under twenty feet long — and it is certainly technically impressive. 80,020 pieces they say.

aotb16aotb17aotb18One more big surprise awaited. It’s a collaboration with photographer Dean West called “In Pieces”. The first picture shows a group of items constructed from LEGOs by Sawaya. The surrounding walls are lined with photographs in which the items are combined with people and other real-world elements. For example, the red dress can be seen being worn in the picture beyond it.

aotb20aotb19These two pieces near the very end of the exhibit may require a little explaining. Cincinnati was once the pork packing capital of the world. Porkopolis borrows the city’s one time nickname and flying pig mascot. Sawaya made the piece specifically for this exhibit. Hugman is the name of a style of sculpture that Sawaya likes to install in various cities he visits. The three shown here are special in that they are made of bricks by visitors to other exhibits. I may have even found one signed by an unknown relative. “The Art of the Brick” differs from most temporary exhibits at the museum by not only permitting but encouraging photos, even flash. That might be apparent simply by the number of photos in this article. That much appreciated photo policy made the purpose of that empty pole obvious to me even though it wasn’t exactly spelled out.

“The Art of the Brick” is at the Museum Center through May 1 and is definitely recommended.

Broadside, Northside, Riverside

id2015-01There’s something in that display case that is 238 years 11 months and 26 days old. Twelve of America’s thirteen British colonies voted to adopt the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. The thirteenth, New York, had not authorized its Continental Congress delegates to vote on the declaration. On the night of the fourth, Philadelphia printer John Dunlap produced at least 200 copies of the document with one of those copies reaching the New York Provincial Congress on July 9. Before the day was over, New York had joined the other colonies in approving the Declaration of Independence and ordered another 500 copies from New York printer John Holt. The Holt Broadside, as the second printing is known, contains the text of the New York resolution along with the full text of the declaration. Some copies were sent to the Continental Congress back in Philadelphia where it seems they somehow helped in getting the official parchment copy of the Declaration prepared. The signing of that official copy commenced on August 2.

id2015-02A copy of that second printing made it to Cincinnati. One of four copies known to survive, it is in the pictured case. It is believed to have been brought to Cincinnati in 1810 by Richard Fosdick who, in 1815, was a member of Cincinnati’s first town council. The copy has been in the history library’s possession since at least the 1870s but was not recognized for what it is until about five years ago. The Holt Broadside is the centerpiece of the temporary Treasures of Our Military Past exhibit at the Cincinnati Museum Center.

Yesterday was the 239th anniversary of that day when men of courage and vision agreed to “mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor” in the creation of a new country. The day before was the 239th anniversary of the writing of a letter by John Adams in which he anticipated the happenings of the next day and told his wife that he expected it to be celebrated “with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.”

I tried to do my share. I’ll admit that I didn’t actually go looking for guns and I gave up quickly on finding any bonfires. It’s even possible that the only bells I heard were electronic but I saw plenty of games, sports, and shews. I saw two parades, a fine set of illuminations, and there was pomp everywhere.

nsp2015-01There was no shortage of parades in the area. Picking one wasn’t easy but I have absolutely no doubt that I picked the right one. Northside’s first 4th of July parade happened in 1864 when orphans were moved from downtown to a new orphanage by canal boats with members of the Turners, Oddfellows, Butchers Association, Bricklayers Society, and the Catholic Orphans Society.marching alongside. The parade developed into a fundraiser that continued until the 1960s when the orphanage again moved. It was restarted in 1970. This year’s Grand Marshall was two-year-old Quincy Kroner who received some national attention after meeting the garbage collectors he admired. The event website is here.

nsp2015-02nsp2015-03nsp2015-04Picking parade pictures from my 200+ was even tougher than picking the parade. I didn’t quite manage to trim them down to a reasonable number so here’s the start of an unreasonable number. I liked the big headed Spirit(s) of ’76 and Ben and Captain America, too. The patriotically attired lady next to me was not at all out of place as a spectator but she was there for a higher purpose. When the local steam punk group came by, she pushed the stroller forward and stepped right in.

nsp2015-08nsp2015-07nsp2015-06nsp2015-05When a portion of this cycling group started placing their bikes sideways down the center of the street, I expected some sort of slalom maneuver but noooo.

nsp2015-09nsp2015-10Someone told me that this same group marched in Cincinnati’s Gay Pride parade last month and much of the crowd simply turned their backs as they passed. It seemed that few did that today and, in my case, by the time I’d read all the signs, there was little point in turning. “I STAND WITH ISRAEL”, JESUS IS YOUR ONLY HOPE”, “…BEHOLD, NOW IS THE DAY OF SALVATION”.

nsp2015-13nsp2015-12nsp2015-11I believe this was my favorite parade entry. Essentially a live performance of Yellow Submarine with a Beatles soundtrack, it seemed to have it all. “Full speed ahead, Mr. Parker, full speed ahead!”

nsp2015-14nsp2015-15nsp2015-16nsp2015-17It might not have been quite as thrilling as the folks jumping over each others’ bikes, but these skateboard cowboys still put on a pretty exciting show with their moving ramp.

nsp2015-20nsp2015-19nsp2015-18Lots of people accepted the “Dare to dance” challenge of the parade’s last float. Dance music blared as a street full of happy folks danced and smiled their way to the end point.

nsp2015-21The end point was at the Northside Rock n’ Roll Carnival in Hoffner Park with twenty-one bands over three days. That’s “Daniel Wayne and the Silver Linings” on stage. The Stroh’s shirt is a bonus. As a similarly aged friend observed, the parade and carnival do sort of have a ’60s feel. It’s not a “we’re wearing beads and tie-dye” feel but a “we’re having fun and caring about stuff” feel.

lff2015-03lff2015-02lff2015-01I headed to Loveland for some fireworks and was pleasantly surprised to get there in time to catch part of another parade. It’s a little smaller and a bit more traditional than the one in Northside but it was still quite cool in its own way.

lff2015-04lff2015-05lff2015-06On the way to a fireworks viewing spot, I snapped a picture of Cindy’s holiday tree and the festival stage. Entertainment for Loveland’s Firecracker Festival included the Rusty Griswolds.

lff2015-09lff2015-08lff2015-07Loveland is the home of Rozzi’s Famous Fireworks so the city usually has a pretty decent “illumination” above the Little Miami River. This year’s grand finale didn’t seem all the grand but the overall show was quite good. Mr. Adams, I’m happy to report that we appear to still be observing this most important day pretty much the way you envisioned. I’m even happier to report that, at least in Cincinnati’s Northside, a little independent thinking can still be observed on Independence Day.

Cincinnati the Exhibitionist

cte01I visited a few museums this week. One reason was that I realized some temporary exhibits I wanted to see would be ending soon but there was also a lot of happenstance involved. For those of us spared desperate last minute shopping, the week before Christmas seems to be rife with days needing to be filled with something and a little catching up fits nicely. This post will wander a bit but will eventually get around to explaining the nose shortage revealed in the photo above.

cte02cte03cte04Early in the week, I attended the Mummies of the World exhibition at Cincinnati Museum Center. No photos were permitted in the traveling display so I’ve included a picture of the museum’s resident mummy, Umi. Mummies of the World will be in Cincinnati through April 26. The third photo is of the museum’s giant Christmas tree backed by Union Terminal’s brightly painted half-dome. For those who feel a little disoriented by that shot, a more traditional view is here.

cte08cte07cte06On Friday, I went out for breakfast then decided it would be a good time for an overdue visit to the American Sign Museum. There is so much here that it’s often near impossible for me to know if a sign is truly a recent addition or simply something I’ve not noticed before. As I gawked my way around, founder Tod Swormstedt made a point of saying hello and verified that a couple of signs in the local area were indeed newly placed. I clearly remember driving and walking by the Wizard sign many times in the wild but do not recall ever being inside the Clifton area record shop. Tod also gave me a little behind the scenes tour that included a recently acquired 1944 sign truck that will be used in parades and other promotions.

cte10cte11This year’s Fotofocus was in October and, with the exception of Treasures in Black & White at the museum center, I pretty much missed it. However, some related exhibits are still in place. One of them isn’t too far from the Sign Museum so I figured this was a good time to visit it as well. Good thing, too. It had just two more days to run. Documenting Cincinnati’s Neighborhoods at Hebrew Union College contains examples of the work of three local photographers from the middle of the 1900s.

cte13ncte12Maybe realizing how close I came to missing the Neighborhoods exhibit scared me because I next headed straight to the Taft Museum where two photo exhibits were in progress. I didn’t really need to hurry, I suppose, since both Black, White, and Iconic: Photographs from Local Collections and Paris Night & Day: Masterworks of Photography from Atget to Man Ray continue through January 11. No pictures were allowed in either exhibit but amateur photos of photo masterpieces aren’t all that appealing anyway. On the other hand, what I believe is a fairly recent policy change, not only allows but encourages non-flash photography in the other areas of the museum. The two photos here are of displays in the museum’s annual Antique Christmas exhibit.

cte14That opening photo was also taken at the Taft. A trio of reindeer stands in the lobby with an oval cutout that allows anyone to be photographed as one of the group. Apparently red noses were once available so that adding a Rudolph like touch was an option. That option, it seems, was quite a bit more popular than anticipated which led to it currently being unavailable. BYON.

Celebrating Diana

diana-1I wavered on going to see Diana: A Celebration at the Cincinnati Museum Center. The Center attracts some of the world’s best traveling exhibits and I generally make a point of taking them in. Some, like the Dead Sea Scrolls, I start planning to see as soon as I learn of them. Others, even though I fully intend to see them, I just sort of work in “whenever”. Until something reminded me of it on a rainy and idle day, I wasn’t even sure that I would be attending this particular exhibit.

My lack of commitment was not due to any dislike for Princess Diana. In fact, I think she probably did as much for the good of the world as any public figure of her time and a lot more than most. I simply don’t have much interest in royalty in general and nothing in the description of this exhibit aroused much interest in it. Gowns and jewels were not the only things on display but they are what advertisements and descriptions mentioned the most. To be fair, the relatively small amount of time that separates Diana’s life from the present no doubt has a lot to do with my lack of interest. I couldn’t wait to attend the Cleopatra exhibit in 2011 and I’m sure I’d eagerly work a display based on Queen Victoria or Catherine the Great. Of course, those women were all rulers while Diana was not and that may have as much to do with it as time.

I think a desire to not regret not going was a large part of my decision to go. I went and enjoyed it enough to not regret going. The exhibit and my level of enjoyment were pretty much what I expected. The only surprise was the demographics of the other attendees. A young man scanned my ticket at the entrance. About halfway through, I encountered an older fellow wearing a museum ID badge who seemed to be doing some sort of status check on some of the displayed items. At roughly the same time I spotted a guy listening to one of the optional audio guides along with a woman I took to be his wife. I saw something on the order of fifty attendees as I made my way through the exhibit. Only two of approximately half a hundred patrons were male and only one — me — was certifiably there of his own volition. In hindsight, perhaps I should have anticipated that but I hadn’t. Clearly, the trappings of a princess are of much greater interest to those who are at least physically qualified to become one than to those who are not.

diana-2No photos are allowed in the Diana exhibit. The picture at left is from the companion exhibit, Daughters of the Queen City, which honors women noted for their charitable work in and around Cincinnati. Among the women featured were Louise Nippert, Mary M. Emery, and Patricia Corbett whose names even I recognize. Diana: A Celebration and Daughters of the Queen City continue through August 17.

diana-4diana-3While at the museum, I took in two other temporary exhibits. Medicine, Marbles and Mayhem displays items retrieved from 19th century privies. Aside from their intended purpose, privies were used to dispose of just about anything and many details of life in in the good old days can be learned through “outhouse archaeology”. Medicine, Marbles and Mayhem runs through May 26.

diana-5diana-6Treasures in Black & White: Historic Photographs of Cincinnati is quite accurately described by its title. At the risk of angering princesses everywhere, I have to say that this is what I enjoyed most on this museum visit. Every photo depicts something important from Cincinnati’s past plus many of them work as pure art. Some artifacts, such as a Ruth Lyons guest book, augment the photographs. The book is displayed near a photograph of Liberace signing it and opened to show his entry. Treasures in Black & White runs through October 12.

Meeting Mister Mallory

wlmalloryTwo judges, a state lottery sales representative, a former mayor, a former vice mayor, and a state representative all lost their father recently. William L. Mallory, Sr., died on December 10. The one time high school dropout had an extremely successful career in politics and was obviously pretty good at parenting, too. I met him once.

It was Reds Opening Day in 2004. It was also my birthday. As is my habit, I headed downtown for the parade. My friend John came down later to meet me and go to the game. I don’t remember much about the game but know that the Reds lost it to the Chicago Cubs. Afterwards, we found ourselves in La Normandie, the classy but easy going tavern and restaurant beneath the perennial 5-star Maisonette.

We sat at the bar and before long were engaged in conversation with a well dressed fellow sitting just around the bar’s corner. That fellow was, of course, William Mallory. John had met him once at a fundraiser but I had no idea who he was. Even after learning his name and realizing or being told that he had been a state representative, I was ignorant of the full stature of the man I was talking with. I did not and, perhaps to my shame, still do not, follow state politics very closely. Even if I connected the name with the Ohio congress without being told (which may not be the case) that was the extent of my recognition. I see that as a good thing. While it is unlikely that knowing I was chatting with Ohio’s longest serving House of Representatives Majority Leader and the first African-American to hold that position would have turned me into an overawed blatherer, it probably would have made things a lot less natural and casual.

Although I’m not sure it was our intent when we entered, at some point John decided he should buy me dinner for my birthday and I thought that a fine idea. He asked Mr. Mallory to join us and the former congressman graciously accepted. The three of us moved to a booth.

I recall nothing specific about our conversation. I do recall that it was friendly and easy flowing. If there was anything at all political in the conversation, it was light. I’m sure we talked about the Reds and we probably talked about some current events and our families and jobs. We neither solved problems nor created any. High-caliber small-talk seems a pretty good description. I can’t recall whether Mr. Mallory had walked downtown or ridden a Metro bus. It could easily have been either. I would later learn that, as co-chairman of the Citizen’s Transportation Committee, he had been instrumental in the formation of the publicly owned Metro. He accepted our offer of a ride home and, possibly because mine was the closer of our two cars, I was chosen as “chauffeur”. We chatted easily as we walked to my car. The red Corvette convertible I was driving was not the most dignified of vehicles but it did not bother the congressman in the slightest. He settled into the seat and directed me to his home with easy to follow instructions. Once there, he thanked me and headed into the house.

It was the next morning before the internet let me know just who it was that John had bought dinner for and I had driven home. A newspaper article announcing his death and a 2008 Greatest Living Cincinnatians citation contain what are no doubt incomplete lists of his accomplishments and awards. A wonderful StoryCore interview is here. Southwest Ohio lost a great and caring man this month but he left behind a generation of Mallorys well prepared to at least try filling the gap. The memory of that nearly ten year old meeting is one that I am truly fond of and thankful for.


wlmallory_clIn addition to an earlier private service for the family, a public Celebration of Life took place in the rotunda of Union Terminal (a.k.a. Cincinnati Museum Center) on Sunday, December 22. A report of the celebration is here. This building and Mr. Mallory were very important to each other. It was a prominent landmark in the west end neighborhood of his youth and a place where he worked shining shoes and busing tables among other things. When demolition threatened in the 1980s, he played a key role in securing state funding that helped enable the conversion to the museum center and actually delivered the multi-million dollar check to the museum himself. “I often reflect on a shoe shine boy becoming the delivery man for $8 million”, he has said. That’s just one of many things about William L. Mallory, Sr., that’s worth reflecting on.

 

Cincinnati Christmas Traditions

Among the many interesting pieces of information presented in Cincinnati Museum Center‘s most recent Brown Bag Lecture, “Cincinnati’s Winter Holiday Traditions”, was a listing of the city’s four oldest Christmas traditions.

cintrad014. Duke Energy Holiday Trains – 1946
Duke Energy gave its name to the trains in 2006 when it bought Cinergy Corporation. In 2011, it gave the trains to the museum. Before Cinergy was formed in 1994, the company name was Cincinnati Gas & Electric so these trains spent most of their lives as the CG&E trains and that is still how many people think of them.

cintrad03cintrad02The O gauge layout was originally constructed by the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad as a training tool just prior to World War II. It came to Cincinnati in 1946 and for years was displayed in CG&E’s lobby each Christmas season. Today it is the centerpiece of the Cincinnati Museum Center’s Holiday Junction which includes several other model trains, the “Toys through Time” exhibit, Grif Teller railroad paintings, and more. Kids can ride a train or have a conversation with Patter & Pogie, the talking — and listening — reindeer who were a long time Christmas fixture at Pogue’s department store.

Holiday Junction and the Duke Energy Holiday Trains are are inside the fee required museum but free passes are available to all Duke Energy customers.

cintrad113. Boar’s Head Festival – 1940
I have never attended the Boar’s Head and Yule Log Festival and I won’t again this year. Tickets for the free event go fast and those for this year’s festival have long been gone. The first Boar’s Head Festival took place in Oxford, England, in 1340 which means it had been going on exactly 600 years when Cincinnati’s Christ Church Cathedral held its first. The locals have now added 70+ years of their own traditions to establish a unique event for the city. I confess to not even knowing of the festival before the lecture but, the more I learn about it, the more I want to go. There are three performances on January 4 and 5. Tickets were distributed, first-come, first-served, on December 14. Maybe I can snag one of those hot ducats next year.

cintrad212. W & S Nativity Scene – 1939
Officially known as Western & Southern Financial Group presents the Crib of the Nativity, this Cincinnati tradition has one year on the Boar’s Head Festival. Western & Southern’s President, Charles F. Williams, had the crib built in 1938 for display in the company’s parking lot. It went public and started the tradition during the very next Christmas season. Initially displayed in downtown’s Lytle Park, it was moved to Union Terminal after the country’s entry into World War II in 1941. It stayed there, a welcome sight to the train loads of GIs who passed through the station, until the war was over. It returned to Lytle Park in 1946.

cintrad22cintrad23With the upheaval and shrinking of Lytle Park that came with the construction of I-71, the nativity scene moved to Eden Park in 1967. It remains there, next to Krohn Conservatory, today.

cintrad26cintrad25cintrad24Parking and visiting the outdoor nativity scene is free. Entering the conservatory is not. The conservatory’s Christmas display is not one of Cincinnati’s oldest but it is one of its most beautiful. If you have parked to visit the nativity scene, you should at least consider spending the $7 to see “A Cincinnati Scenic Railway”, a ton of poinsettias, and other holiday themed displays. The railway incorporates “botanical architecture” which uses “locally gathered willow and other natural materials” to build structures such as the Roebling Bridge, the Tyler Davidson Fountain, and the Christian Moerlein Lager House..

cintrad311. Fountain Square Tree – 1913/1924
According to the “Cincinnati’s Winter Holiday Traditions” lecture, Cincinnatians first put a tree on Fountain Square in 1913. A large crowd had gathered for the ceremonial lighting when someone yelled “fire” and the resulting stampede caused enough injuries to keep the city from trying again until 1924. Things went much better that year and, although the fountain and the square have moved around some, a Christmas tree has stood on Fountain Square every year since.

cintrad32cintrad33cintrad34There was a snag this year when the first tree selected snapped in two at a weak spot in its trunk. A replacement was quickly obtained and the 55-foot Norway Spruce was placed on the square after a one week delay.