She relents, and we get our free tickets. One parasol, she growls, and the jig is up. The place is empty. It it ours! The pictures are stunning and realistically representational, thankfully. No impressionism, no water lilies, no long gowns, and no parasols. But, a guard follows us and we are always in his line of sight. At one point, I experiment and stay behind in one room while Annie moves to the next. BOOM! Two guards! They are cloning themselves faster than you can say "asexual reproduction." I'm sympathetic, and I begin putting my hands behind my back in a reassuring sign that I honest-to-God won't touch ANYTHING, officers. We start moving through rooms quickly. Ah, great use of color and light - RUN!
Finally, one guard says Can I ask you a question?
When you look at this painting, what do you notice?
It looks 3-D?
Look at the faces.
Oh! They're all the same face!
Right. He used the same model for all of them. [We all pause to look at the painting again.]
Have you seen our ghost? It's over here. This is a self-portrait. And, Ufer's painting this painting.
He's painting himself painting a painting of a painting?
And so, he became our personal docent, showing us things he knew we hadn't noticed. He said, "You remember that case with two small pads? You didn't even stop to look, and that broke my heart." Then he told us how Paul Kane had been a Cavalry artist, commissioned to paint what he saw. But, without a point-and-shoot Canon, how was he going to capture what he saw on the run? So he made notes, and later painted incredible scenes from them. Yes, we went back to look.
|I'm bad. And good.|
His name is Michael McKnight, and he's from Rochester, NY. He told us how he grew up near the Eastman Museum, but didn't go in until he was in the military. One visit, and he knew he wanted to work in a museum one day. He described specific bigotry and overt discrimination he has experienced here in east Texas, but says he loves this place and wouldn't go anywhere else.
Come over here. You see you can't take a picture of this painting. [There is a sign forbidding photography of this painting only.]
Oh, Georgia O'Keeffe!
You've heard of her, then? Can you tell me something? Why do ladies come in here and get so mad over this painting? Whenever I ask them why they're mad, they just say it should be taken down. What do you see??
[...three extra beats of painful silence...]
"It looks pretty genital to me."
He looked at the painting so long I thought I had gotten the answer wrong again.
I see that! Well, I'm not going to ask that question anymore! I'm not going to look at that anymore, either!
Throughout the rest of our tour, he'd occasionally shake his head, remembering O'Keeffe, and marveling that he never saw that. I told him he'd see it every time he looked at an O'Keeffe now, and he assured me he would NOT be looking at any. You have certainly educated me!
Michael talked about growing up, about his kids, about Texas in general, and about finding God here. He likes to tell kids stories about the art they're seeing, and he doesn't mind telling adults stories, either. I can see him making the difference between a kid looking at buffalo and a kid seeing art. He did that for us.
I didn't expect this kind of resource in Orange, either the Stark Museum or Michael. I can't recommend the town the way he does, but I can recommend the museum. Look around for him and then act clueless. He'll take it from there.