Friday, December 16, 2011

McKnight at the Museum

If you are languishing in Orange, Texas, you might start looking for culture or barbeque.  We found culture first, and wandered into the Stark Museum of Art.  Getting Annie to an art museum is like talking your six-year-old into kissing Aunt Hildegard before she's plucked the hirsute moles.  Look, Hon, it's free!  [FLUMP]  It's Southwestern! [MEGAFLUMP]  You know you like Remingtons!  [becomes boneless.]  Hon, don't lay on the parking lot like that.  Annie, please, you've got gravel stuck in your face.   I don't like to pry, but I know she was frightened by art as a child.

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??

[...painful silence...]

[...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.

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Nan said...

How cool! Neat story...

Carolyn said...

Outstanding, Roxanne...

Judy and Emma said...

You find art and interesting people in the strangest places. :)

Andra Watkins said...

It is always a gift to wander into unexpected places and find treasure.

Tesaje said...

Cool guard. Hope that museum appreciates him.

TexCyn said...

And...did...A-n-n-i-e...survive? Or did she expire there? C'mon, did she live to tell about it? Did she write home about it? We're concerned about her y'know. I think it's cool that he gave you a tour! But um, no pix huh? Of z art that is.

The Good Luck Duck said...

It was all very cool. Yes, I hope they appreciate him, too.

Annie's here, battered by art, yet breathing and determined to thrive in a world where building hold lots of paintings. We were feeling so dogged by the guards that I would sure I would be tackled if I even reached for my camera (you know how some museums are). Later, Michael said, you know, you could have been taking pictures.

Donna K said...

What a treasure you found. Terrific post, I can't even think of a wise-crack comment! Very nice.

Anonymous said...

*whoosh* That's the sound of my relieved sigh.

I went to bed wondering if the dreaded hoof-in-mouth disease had reared it's ugly head and I'd somehow contributed to giving someone a miserable stay in Orange. Guilt vanquished! =)

I've made a mental note for that museum. It says, "for best service, pretend you are an art thief in a James Bond movie". I guess asking nicely might work too but I am kinda looking forward to busting out some (really) old cheerleading moves. LOL

Rubye Jack said...

What a trip! Seriously! This guy is so cool and I can't believe you all found him in a museum. Personally, I don't see O'Keefe that way but that's just me. I think it is quite possible that just because a flower looks like a vagina or whatever that when O'Keefe painted it she wasn't thinking women's parts particularly but more so the sheer beauty of nature.
Regardless, this guy is too good for words!

Lynne said...

What a great experience! I have to make more time to stop in at smaller town museums more often-- you'd sure never get that kind of personal experience at a museum in Chicago or New York City!

Marianne in T-burg said...

Great story! I love that you shared it with us. A fine holiday gift, indeed.

Bob said...

OK, I have to confess, having "Texas" and "culture" in the same sentence makes me only think of maybe Jones Hall.
But, *ahem* moving right can be quite eye opening to have a couple things explained when confronted by art that is perhaps a little obtuse. We had a docent take us around a museum of modern art in Washington, D.C. many, many years ago, (don't remember which one, is there more than one?) and it was well worth it. A lot of stuff, when it comes to "modern art", just sort of makes me go, "huh?" 'cause I don't get it.
The docent will do it, even if she (wait for it) docent.

Teresa Evangeline said...

Well, you know, me and art go hand in hand,(even if correct grammar doesn't), so this guy would have been a nice treat for maybe five minutes and then I would want my art viewing quiet, Very quiet. But, given Annie's heel-dragging it was probably a perfect gift for you. He and seems to have a good heart. However, his attitude towards Georgia would have soured me quickly. You handled yourselves with aplomb. And merriment.

Fun post.

Great title.

Soaring Sun said...

What a great experience. Thanks for sharing it. I am still looking forward to seeing pictures of one or the other of you flumping.

Contessa said...

You just experienced one of the joys of being on the road. A random act of kindness. Neat guy!

The Good Luck Duck said...

Judy, I take that as a compliment to my findy skills!

Thanks, Donna! I'll try to say something more ridiculous next time.

Penny, I hope you didn't really think you were ruining my stay! I mean, you opened my eyes to the possibility of "waterfront" in Orange. Finding the museum and Michael was just the logical next step. And, please, please document the moves.

Andra, I enjoy serendipity, but only if I plan for it. :D No, you're right, it was a gift.

Rubye Jack, there are definitely O'Keeffes that I don't see the anatomical in, but I have to confess, they're in the minority. I think they're all wonderful, with or without body parts.

Lynne, you're right. A guard in a big-city museum wouldn't have the time to be so personal, even if he were inclined.

Thank you, Marianne! It's kind of you to think of it as a gift.

Bob, I had to look up Jones Hall. I figured it was some guy. I would absolutely need a docent for modern art. Heck, I needed one for straight-up pictures of people and horses. Oh and GROAN!

Thanks, Teresa! You wouldn't have needed a docent like we obviously did. His reaction was more provincial than I would have expected, for sure, but it didn't come from years of calcification - it was just a kneejerk, honest reaction. He seemed worried about children coming in and seeing it, and I said that children wouldn't be seeing the same things in the painting that I did. "Please, God, no!" was his response.

Thanks, Sue! Next time we meet up, maybe we can do a command flumping for you, live.

The Good Luck Duck said...

Yes, Contessa! That's what it was.

Sherry said...

Glad to hear that you two are FINALLY getting some culcha. Bout time.

Sorry to hear that Georgia had Michael all worked up. Now you've just gone and ruined that work of art for him. Shame on you! :-)

The Good Luck Duck said...

Sherry, that oughta do me for a while! I know. I wondered later if I should have plead ignorance of what was getting those southern ladies all indignant and outraged, but it just didn't seem like an option at the time. It seemed like the docent thing to do. [rim shot]

Nancy said...

Proof that you can find awesomeness in the strangest places. Good on you for letting Michael McKnight be your tour guide. And good on him for being one.

The Good Luck Duck said...

You're right, Nancy. You never know, do you? I like these reminders to stay open.

Anonymous said...

Now, I can't guarantee I can actually *do* them without risking personal and bystanders within a 10' radius but sure, I'll write down those old moves, if you'll teach me how to flump! It sounds like quite a way to liven any event. =)

And yes, I did feel guilty.

It's like when you tell someone a certain dish would be awesome and they wind up going into anaphylactic shock. As I went to bed, I was thinking of a good verbal epi pen treatment.

Thankfully, it wasn't necessary cause I couldn't come up with an idea to cover my butt. LOL

The Good Luck Duck said...

Ha, Penny! Yes, thankfully I didn't need to be revived.

I'm not sure that written instructions for cheerleading moves are equivalent to learning to flump, except that the potential for hurting oneself is similar. Watch a toddler who has just been denied his heart's desire; there's a certain boneless falling to the ground, lifelessly. The flump is the interval between the beginning of the descent and the beginning of the tantrum.

Anonymous said...

Ahhh. The cat on a harness effect! =)

Much more fun way to hurt oneself, I think!

The Good Luck Duck said...

Precisely. That describes it perfectly.

154275 said...

Nice headline. +1

The Good Luck Duck said...

Thanks, Rodney. It was a little unseemly how pleased I was with that.

Anonymous said...

You quack me up. Love reading your posts.