We're off to Wichita!
As we cruise into retirement, we are now always looking for ways to travel even if it means going outside of our usual comfort zone. This was one of those times.
For this adventure, we traveled by bus to Wichita, Kansas, with a group of docents from the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery. What you might ask is so different? First, we had no part in the planning—thanks to the work of Margaret Barry, our main organizer and on-board docent/concierge.
Secondly, the mode of transportation allowed for all of us to nap, read, nap, visit with friends and nap…it was a very relaxing way to travel! Oh, and the Happy Hour celebration on the way home (planned and served by our party-bus concierge) was a splendid way to close out the trip!!
Lastly, one aspect of this trip different from previous trips was that this trip will involve a much larger group—42 in al. While we had several friends on board, after this trip, we met many more people from Lincoln who are travel, art and architecture aficionados like us!
Where Is Wichita? And, Why Go There?
Wichita is a short…4½ hours…south of Lincoln. The city is a thriving community of around 650,000 in the greater metropolitan area. It is also home to the 20,000 students of Wichita State University. Wichita also has many cultural opportunities. Two of our destination for this trip are the Wichita Art Museum and the Ulrich Museum at WSU. With more time, we could have easily spent time exploring the newly developed river front and the newly completed Mid-America All-Indian Center among other history and music venues.
Economically, the area has been a center of various corporations including Boeing, Pizza Hut and Coleman. As a first visit for me, I will admit that I wasn’t expecting to be as impressed with Wichita as I turned out to be which is always a good thing!
Wichita is also a draw for our architectural interests as it is the home of Frank Lloyd Wright’s last Prairie Style home—the Allen House.
And since we’re going in the spring, no trip would be complete without the visual stimulation of flowers starting to wake up at the Botanica Gardens. (Shades of our visit to the Keukenhof Gardens near Amsterdam, no doubt! ).
Along the way out of Lincoln on Hwy 77, we travel through Beatrice (pronounced BEE-AT-RIS, not BEA-TRIS) and Marysville, Kansas, which is along the path of the several pioneer trails. Fairly soon (we’re on a bus, remember, involving naps!) we enter the Flint Hills of Kansas which are geological left-overs from the last ice age.
One other benefit of being above the fence posts in our bus seats, we see small civil war era communities pass by us as we gaze out of large picture window sized windows. (Also the emergency exits!)
Not all of Kansas is flat. It’s enlightening to see the rolling hills that shape farms and leave open natural prairies on otherwise non-tillable ground. Forests and rivers are frequent breaks in the normalcy. While adding to the visual cornucopia are the winter wheat fields in stark vibrant green contrast against brown cornfields waiting for the planter. Bus travel can be relaxing but also stimulating as the countryside whizzes past.
A Few Images from the Bus
Our First Stop "WAM"
We arrive in Wichita at my favorite time–LUNCH! Our hosts at the Wichita Art Museum have opened their doors to the Sheldon docents (and us tag alongs) and treat us to a fantastic lunch prepared by their internal cafe, The Muse Cafe. If you’re planning a visit to the museum, time your stay during the Cafe’s open time between 11:00 AM and 2:00 PM. The menu won’t disappoint!! Oh, and if you’re looking for a nice beer, wine or cocktail, they will accommodate those needs as well!
Our visit was kicked off (after lunch!) with stories by Susan Otterness of her brother, Tom Otterness, the local creator of the museum’s signature sculptural piece called “Fallen Dreamer”. Tom Otterness was considered one of America’s most prolific public artists known for his “cartoonish, cheerful and political” sculptural creations.
The highlight of our visit to WAM, however, was seeing the exhibit on Georgia O’Keeffe entitled “Living Modern”. O’Keeffe has been called the greatest female modernist painter and seeing the exhibit puts that title into clear understanding. Our docent was superb as she led us through O’Keeffe’s development and the synergy between her life and environment as it is expressed through her painting and clothing. Yes, I said clothing. Georgia O’Keeffe used clothing the same way she used a paint brush to express her modern views. The blend of material (cloth) and art (painting) to form an all encompassing modern aesthetic was a new expression of an emerging philosophy of the time.
A wide range of examples of her work are present in the exhibit. Her iconic flower paintings, landscapes and her personal clothing offer a view of who Georgia O’Keeffe was throughout her life. It was extremely engaging and enlightening for anyone not familiar with her life story. So sign up with a docent, if possible, and be prepared to be meet America’s best modern painter–female or male–in my humble opinion.
This exhibit will be in Wichita until June 23, 2019, and then on to Reno, Nevada (July 19 to October 20, 2019) and then to West Palm Beach, Florida (November 22, 2019 to February 4, 2020).
A 'Few' Images of the Exhibit
Next Stop: Wichita State University
“That’s a Miro!”
The excited announcement could be heard throughout the bus as we approached the entrance to the Ulrich Museum on Wichita State University’s campus. Our afternoon was spent on campus with a docent led tour of the Martin H. Bush Outdoor Sculpture Collection.
The tour started in front of the recently restored mural entitled “Personnages Oiseaux (Bird People)” by Joan Miro. It is a fine example of surrealism and was completed in 1978, shortly before the time of Miro’s death in 1983. The piece is best described with photos…as is true with all of Miro’s work, frankly!…but suffice it to say the 28 x 52 foot expanse with 1 million pieces of Venetian glass and marble is awe inspiring.
Following that beginning, our visit was to see as many of the 76 works spread across the 330 acre campus as possible. Our task was daunting and we barely scratched the surface of the entire collection. Artists like Andy Goldsworthy, Claes Oldenberg, Auguste Rodin, Joan Miro, Henri Moore, Tom Otterness (again!), and Fernando Botero were a few of the artist’s works that we captured with our eyes and camera. The collection was noteworthy for it’s fine examples of national and international modern sculpture.
And here they are!
Wichita, Day 2
Our second (and final) day of the visit to Wichita started with a visit to Botanica. Botanica is Wichita’s botanical garden dedicated to bringing education about horticulture and cultural experiences to all age groups. It has been open since 1987.
The gardens are open year round but since it is spring, we were on the hunt for tulips and other flowering species of plants. The gardens also have regularly scheduled special events for adults and children. We just happened upon a bunch of fairies looking for small children…or was it the other way around…And if you like sculpture, the gardens have over 50 pieces scattered around among the trees, streams and gardens. Botanica has pretty much something for everyone in all age categories. And don’t forget to visit the Chinese Gardens before you leave!
Images from Botanica Gardens
Frank Lloyd Wright Slept Here!
Seriously, he did!
Our last stop before loading up for the trip home was a visit to a prime example of Prairie style architecture designed by the man who invented the style–Frank Lloyd Wright. The Henry Allen House was designed in 1915 and completed in 1918. It has recently undergone a total refurbishment to the period of 1918 after many years and owners effects were “undone” to the home.
The house exemplifies Mr. Wright’s (as we architects must to refer to him as–according to Him) philosophy of “living in harmony with nature”. Prairie style pre-dates his later movement of Usonian homes. ‘Usonian’ was his conceptual statement toward a more ‘accessible’ design for the everyday homeowner. Accessible in this case refers to ‘affordability’ (aka for people without ‘household help’). Yup, that would be me…but that’s another subject.
Anyway, the Henry Allen House is listed as one of the top 10 FLW designed homes in the country and it is magnificent. Once again, the docent led tour made the experience of seeing the home more valuable for us all. From the detailed descriptions of everyday living, the unique uses of building materials (like the gilded mortar between the bricks or the out of square front door) and the authentic original furniture used in the home, we were able to more fully experience what the home was like in 1918.
And yes, Mr. Wright and his wife Olgivanna visited the home in 1935 during a lecture tour at a local high school. He was probably very proud of his creation and no doubt straightened the furniture and picture frames, too, while he was there. Here are a few images of the home. For more (and better!) images of the house, visit www.flwrightwichita.org.
Henry Allen House Images
The Party Bus Home
Well no bus trip would be complete without story telling, singing, and some wine and snacks. Margaret was on top of her game! A hearty thanks for her and everyone else who put this trip together for Sheldon’s docents and “friends” of docents. If you’re in a museum, search them out and pick their brains–before they pick yours (that’s the game they play, you know!). The experience of viewing art with people who are skilled at challenging you to think about art in new creative ways makes it all more fun and memorable.