Sunday, October 4, 2009

Ode Lo Toledo

Look, I invented a palindrome ("Ode Lo Toledo")! It doesn't make sense, but it's close!

To recap: I flew from San Francisco to Ohio on Thursday for the opening of the LitGraphic exhibition at the Toledo Museum of Art on Friday, and then flew back to San Francisco on Saturday. About the flights: just imagine sitting in an airplane for four hours, sitting in O'Hare International Airport for three hours, sitting in a much tinier airplane for one hour, then doing it in reverse two days later. Then add delays and thunderstorms over the Midwest. We hit some weather coming into Chicago on Thursday, which made for a long and bumpy flight but repaid me with pictures like this:

The Moon, floating above it all.

The Toledo Museum of Art (TMA) is a very impressive jewel. The legacy of Edward Libbey, who came to Toledo to make his fortune in glass, TMA opened in 1901 and has one of the most eclectic collections I've ever seen, ranging from ancient Egyptian to contemporary art, with many household names (Rubens, Monet, Rembrandt, Picasso, Cezanne) represented. Program Coordinator Judy Weinberg, who picked me up at the airport at midnight and took outstanding care of me the entire time, explained that TMA's philosophy is quality over quantity, acquiring the best available examples of an artist's work rather than a lot of them.

The front of TMA. Behind me as I shot this photo is a separate museum building dedicated just to works made of glass, honoring the institution's origin.

The museum lobby, with the LitGraphic exhibition
through the doors dead ahead (behind the bouquet).

One of the best parts of the Libbey legacy is that admission to TMA is free. Although all museums wish they had more community involvement and support, from what I could see this joint was jumpin'. The same night as my talk, they had a wine bar with live music going on in one gallery and a weekly glassblowing demonstration happening in the Glass Pavilion across the street.

My gracious host and babysitter, Judy Weinberg . . .

. . . who then turned the camera on me.

Judy arranged for me to have lunch on Friday with Michael Walker, a comic artist and graduate of the Kubert School. That was great! Michael and I must have walked six miles through historic Toledo and downtown, talking shop. It added a lot to my trip to have a local show me around; it added a lot to my professional life to hear stories about comic art legends like Irwin Hasen (whom I've met and Michael took classes from) and Joe Kubert. He was generous with his time and I appreciated it a lot.

I think my talk went pretty well. I wish I were a little smoother speaker, but then again you don't want to be so smooth you're slick. I do think I achieved my goal of giving the 75 or so people who attended some things to look for as they toured LitGraphic and maybe some appreciation for comics as art/literature. I also met Chris Marshall, who interviewed me for his Collected Comics Library podcast a couple weeks ago and drove down from Michigan for the event. Great guy, and it was very nice to see a familiar face even if I'd never really seen it before.

The LitGraphic exhibition itself was beautifully done. TMA seemed to have quite a bit more room to display the works than the Rockwell Museum did, and I thought the extra breathing space helped. Monitors showed the same video profiles of some of the artists (including me) produced by the Rockwell Museum. Decorative banners and interpretive text were very nicely done. The whole thing was first rate.

Eight pages of original art from Mom's Cancer. I got in trouble taking this photo when a security guard nicely but firmly ordered "Sir, no pictures." "But I drew those!" I protested. "How do I know you drew those?" she reasonably asked. "Look!" I said, pointing to my self-portrait on one of the pages, "That's me!" She was unmoved and unconvinced. Luckily, Judy appeared just in time to prevent my ejection.

Another niche of the exhibition. Let's say I took
this photo before I knew I wasn't supposed to.

My entire literary oeuvre available in the TMA
giftshop. I signed most of these after my talk.

As for Toledo itself, I thought it was a great city whose citizens seemed a little too eager to apologize for it. I say no apologies are needed. While it's obviously a distressed industrial town, there's also obviously a lot of good work going on to revive it, and terrific architectural bones to build on. Michael and I ended up discussing house prices and property values, and my California ears could hardly believe what they heard. For what I'm paying right now for my two daughters' college tuition, I could buy mansions--actual historic mansions--in Toledo. Watch yourselves, girls.

Toledo skyline from a bridge overlooking the
Maumee River. Nothing wrong with that town.

The bed and breakfast a short walk from TMA in which I was put up for my stay. Toledo is lousy with great old residential and commercial buildings like this.

Altogether, I had a wonderful time in Toledo, think I performed ably and learned some things I hope to do better next time, and would love to go back again sometime. If you're in the neighborhood, check out the Toledo Museum of Art; definitely worth the trip and it won't cost you a dime. My sincerest thanks to Judy and everyone who made me feel so welcome.

Hey, "Ode Lo Toledo" isn't just a bad palindrome: It's a yodel!

EDITED TO ADD: Here's that video put together by Jeremy Clowe for the Norman Rockwell Museum and now showing on one of the monitors in LitGraphic. My desk still looks about the same.


Sherwood Harrington said...

Looks like you had a great time! Toledo looks like a great place to visit -- I never thought it would be on my list of places I want to see in person, but now it is -- and I got a giggle out of the "no photos!" story. I wish I had thought of passing myself off as the subject at the King Tut exhibit in SF on Friday, but maybe I couldn't have pulled it off, since Diane says I don't look a day over 2,000.

(Oh, and... *cough* palindrome *cough*.)

Brian Fies said...

Re: "palindrome," thanks for the save! I blame the fact that I originally wrote "anagram" on my head still being fuzzy from too much flying.

You don't look a day over 1000 to me. But maybe you should have that cough looked at.

Sherwood Harrington said...

Writing "anagram" on your head might be evidence of something a little more worrisome than fuzziness, Brian.

Mike said...

I'm starting to get something like "linguistic night blindness." That is, when you have night blindness, you can see things as long as you don't look directly at them. I have developed an ability to lose a word as soon as I try to pull it up for use. If I go at it indirectly, it will often jump into my head. Losing a word like "palindrome" would be typical.

Oddly enough, I drove through Toledo last month on my way to Lansing and saw signs proclaiming their pride in the place. Like you, I wondered why they were so defensive about what looked like a perfectly nice town.

Nelson said...

"Linguistic night blindness" -- what a great description! You're not alone, Mike.

Brian Fies said...

I think writers notice linguistic night blindness sooner than most because we're always searching for just the right word anyway. Frustrating as hell. I always feel better if I dig through a thesaurus and can't find it there either (which implies that the word on the tip of my brain is a tough one anyway), and have faith that if I just let it sit a while or "go at it indirectly" it'll come.

However, in the case of "palindrome/anagram," I didn't agonize at all--just typed the first (wrong) word that popped into my head without a second thought. I call that a brain fart.

Going WAY far afield, astronomers (of which I am a lapsed amateur and Sherwood is a pro) learn to use "averted vision" early on. The cones on the retina see color while the rods are sensitive to contrast. The back center of the eyeball--where you see things when you're looking straight at them--has more cones than rods. So when you're peering at a fuzzy black-and-white smudge of light barely visible through a telescope eyepiece (not that any astronomers actually do that anymore), you learn to not look at it. That is, you look off to one side so the faint light hits rods instead of cones. Takes a little practice, but you can get pretty good at exploiting your peripheral vision that way.

I wonder if it works that way for words...

Sarah Bocik said...

It's wonderful to read about my hometown, Toledo, from a visitor's perspective! Toledoans are quite apologetic about our city because it's received some negative press lately: an unreasonable and idiotic mayor, a struggling economy, a Nazi/ skinhead demonstration, police brutality toward a teenager. . . but many Toledoans overlook the good of our town: top-notch museum and zoo, an amazing metroparks system, a good university, our awesome Mud Hens, and our brand-new Walleye hockey team and Bullfrogs indoor football team, with a brand-new stadium to match! We also have amazing community activism; when Extreme Makeover: Home Edition came to town last fall, droves of people donated time, money, and materials. One family who was nominated but was not selected has been subsequently given a hometown version of the makeover. Our recent Race for the Cure had an immense turnout and raised tens of thousands of dollars. Toledo is a great city, full of great people, doing great things! I hope you'll come back and visit our zoo or see a Mud Hens game!

Brian Fies said...

Sarah, thanks to you and all the other Ohioans visiting my blog today! I walked past the Mud Hens ballpark and new stadium, and both look terrific. The ballpark in particular feels like a perfect venue for a baseball game, and right in the middle of town. If I lived there, I'd probably have season tickets.

I didn't mention it in my post, but one thing that struck me was the enormous number of beautiful brick buildings throughout Toledo. I gawk at brickwork wherever I go--I don't see much since all the brick buildings in California fell down in 1906--and you've got some great ones. Luckily, it looked to me like a lot of the old stuff is being appreciated and preserved.

I liked Toledo. Be proud! Go Mud Hens, Walleyes and Bullfrogs!

ronnie said...

Oh, damn, any city that has sports teams named Mud Hens, Walleyes and Bullfrogs gets my vote forever.

(My security word for posting this is "dopester". Just sayin'.)

Dominique said...

We drove on down to the Toledo Museum of Art last night for a talk by Egyptologist Bob Brier (we're just north of Detroit, a little over an hour's drive from Toledo if you factor in traffic and construction!). Great event, and we had a bit of time at the end to check out the Lit exhibit, which was also quite nicely conceived and executed.
I'd echo a lot of your comments about Toledo. It has a great art museum (we've got a great art museum in Detroit as well...and Ann Arbor, Michigan, has a wonderful art museum that recently underwent an extensive expansion and renovation--come back, and you can visit several great art museums within an hour's drive of each other!). Going to Mud Hens' games are a lot of fun--great stadium and nice energy at the venue. We love walking around the Old West End neighborhood near the art museum and taking photos of the wonderful Victorian homes (including the Libbey house). We ended up stopping by Tony Packo's for a "Hungarian hot dog" last night (yup, it's the one mentioned several times by Jamie Farr in the M*A*S*H TV show...we usually go to the original Front Street location as we did last night for dinner).
We're down there at least a half dozen times each year, so I end up blogging about the city fairly frequently. We've got season tickets to the OHL Plymouth Whalers (Michigan, about an hour north of Toledo again)--we'd watched a few Toledo Storm hockey games years ago, so I'm hoping we can get back down there one of these days to catch (no pun intended) a Walleye game!