“From The Transcendent To The Temporal” | Blog #24

“From The Transcendent To The Temporal” | Blog #24

Picture gallery at the bottom of the blog!

Sunday morning found me at Crystal Bridges Museum early, double masked and distanced. I had heard about the Walton family’s project when it began, mostly because they were trying to buy all the art that was on the market for inflated prices. One famous piece of art they tried to acquire was Thomas Eakins’ The Gross Clinic, (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Gross_Clinic). It is an iconic Philadelphia painting of Dr. Samuel Gross conducting a surgery clinic in Jefferson Medical College in the 1870’s. The good citizens of Philadelphia found a way to raise the money for it to stay in the City of Brotherly Love. All the attending physicians in the clinic ultimately became famous doctors as well. Our own Dr. Bob Ikard went to Philly to study the painting and wrote a piece that was published in a prestigious medical journal that traced the careers all the physicians attending Dr. Gross demonstrating that they all later played an important part of Nashville’s medical development. Another piece the Walton’s tried to acquire for the new museum was Georgia O’Keeffe’s Radiator Building – Night, New York, 1927, (considered her “grandest statement on New York City”) that Nashville’s cash-strapped Fisk University was more than willing to sell. Step in Westminster’s Bob Cooper, then Attorney General, who managed to help broker a creative solution that would honor the O’Keeffe gift to the HBCU and allow Fisk to retain ownership, but permit Crystal Bridges to have it on loan for a period of two years (thus Fisk students could see it on campus for two years and patrons of Crystal Bridges could enjoy it for the next two years https://www.nbcnews.com/id/wbna19230929). Seeing it at CB made me smile with gratitude remembering Bob’s wisdom and faithfulness.

Initially I was skeptical about the Walton’s motives for gobbling up all the art, but the more I’ve learned over the subsequent years, the more I’ve wanted to get out and see this inspiring, unique museum for myself. It so outstripped my expectations for architectural beauty and artistic importance that I almost feel the need to write Susan Walton a letter of apology to thank her for her vision that created something so significant, meaningful, and adds so much to the people of the region. Although modern, one can see how the spirit of Frank Lloyd Wright inspired the architects both in fitting it into the natural surroundings and in the building materials. The cherry on top was a FLW house was on the museum grounds and made a marvelous conversation partner with the museum. 

I hated to leave, but given that most museums are closed on Mondays, I decided to leave at noon and drive the two hours to Tulsa so I could see the Philbrook Museum of Art. Set in the historic home of Waite and Genevieve Phillips of Phillips Petroleum it reminds me of Cheekwood with a larger art collection but with similarly spectacular grounds. Ever since I saw the Philbrook as a host site for Antiques Road Show I have wanted to visit. Moreover, Oklahoma is the only state I had not visited and since Amy finished her 50th last summer with North Dakota, I thought I would go. I am glad I did. The building and gardens are spectacular.

Another reason for driving though Oklahoma is my staff colleague, Joel Rayburn, used to own a business on historic Route 66. So, for part of my drive to Colorado where the family will join me for a long Memorial Day Weekend in the mountains, I’ll be driving the “mother road.” Joel is very excited about this and gifted me with a book that details the glories along the road. Do you remember the old AAA triptiks? The first car trip I took as a 17-year-old – from Bethlehem to Columbia, SC in my ’62 Plymouth Fury complete with 4 re-tread tires I bought for a total of $16 – Pop got my a triptik from AAA. It was spiral bound and had fold out maps for each new section of the journey, complete with attractions, food and gas, and hotels. This was long before the ubiquitous road signs at every highway exit that now proclaim which fast-food, gas, or lodging options are available. Triptiks were helpful guides especially for a novice traveler! Joel did AAA one better – he annotated and highlighted the book, so I’d know exactly what not to miss. So, I went back out on the road, but this time to see a different slice of Americana – the roadside attractions for which Route 66 is so famous, like the Blue Whale and the World’s Largest Totem Pole. Unfortunately, the Museum to Oklahoma’s favorite son, Will Rogers, was closed, but I was grateful to spend a few moments by myself at that lovely sight, remembering Will’s people were Cherokee who were taken out on the Trail of Tears from not far where I served in Dalton, GA, and yet what a hero he became.

It was a full, rich day spent in silent self-companionship, yet appreciating the transcendent glory of good art and architecture, the beauty of a new part of the country to explore, and the goofiness of our culture. Thanks be to God for such a day.