Sunday, June 19, 2011

Tucson Museum of Art

Julia Cameron, playwright, filmmaker, poet, is probably most well known for her book "The Artist's Way". I took a class based on this book many years ago and incorporated Morning Pages into my daily routine. The idea of Morning Pages is to write three pages of stream of consciousness prose when you first get up, before your logical self wakes up and starts editing and censoring the part of yourself that gets to live in dreams. You don't worry about spelling or grammar mistakes or whether anything makes sense or not. You just write, keeping the pen on the page.

The other key tool of "The Artist's Way" is the Artist Date. The idea here is that once a week you should do something to feed your muse. You're not supposed to do this with anyone else because that tends to be distracting. It's just you and your muse filling the well of creativity.

While Morning Pages are pretty easy to do once you get in the habit, the Artist Date tends to fall by the wayside. We have jobs, we have errands, we have writing to do. Taking one day a week or even just a few hours is hard, so fitting this in becomes more of a chore than a delight. But it really is an important tool of "The Artist's Way". When several of us in the Guppies Goals Group were complaining about being in the doldrums with our writing, one of our members suggested that we all try to do one Artist Date this month and report back to the group. I decided it was time for a trip to the museum.

I've lived in Tucson for five years and had never been to the Tucson Museum of Art. I'd never noticed any ads for an exhibit I wanted to see, nothing like the Monet exhibit that came to Phoenix a few years back, and the thought of negotiating downtown intimidated me. Although smaller than most, downtown Tucson has the same challenges. Many of the streets are one-way, there are twists and turns, and side streets tend to dead end unexpectedly. Throw in the usual ongoing construction, and it often seems like the trouble is more than it's worth. But making this an assignment, if you will, gave me the motivation to try it.

The city of Tucson began as a presidio, or garrison, under the Spanish in 1775. This is the "official" founding, although people have lived in the Tucson Valley since 10,000 BC. The Museum of Art is in several buildings, including the modern main building, as well as several old adobe buildings from the original presidio days. The photo at left is of the rear entrance to the modern facility, which houses several permanent collections. Unfortunately, since this is the off-season for tourism, the staff was taking this opportunity to change out exhibits. The main exhibit hall was under construction or whatever you call it to set up the biennial exhibit to go on display later this year. I decided to explore some of the other buildings first and come back here if I had time.

Another initial disappointment was that most of the Western Collection was not on display because the space in the Edward Nye Fish House was currently home to a special exhibit. I like to do things that are uniquely Tucson, that celebrate its Western heritage, and the thought that I was missing that part of the museum's collection dismayed me. I was wondering if I'd made a mistake in my choice for an Artist's Date.

The answer was "no".  Bill Schenck is definitely a western artist. The exhibit is a display of serigraphs, or silk screenings, largely based on movie stills and photographs he took. This is a picture from a book I bought at the museum. I thought I'd gotten a picture of the one that really grabbed my attention, but apparently not. I'll try to do that later and update this page.

The one that made me stop and give these serigraphs a closer look was one of a cowgirl leaning on the grill of a Rolls Royce, cigarette dangling from her mouth and a champagne glass in her hand. This was a cowgirl with attitude.

The building impressed me as much as the art itself. The Fish House was built in 1878 and has the traditional foot-thick adobe walls used in that time period. The walls keep out the hot summer sun, while fireplaces built into the corners of many rooms in the house warmed it in winter. You could still see spots on the floor where hot embers had burned the wood. Overhead you could see the rough-hewn timbers holding up the roof. There were places where the walls bulged at the bottom, weighted down by the years. If I closed my eyes, I could almost hear the voices of the people who had lived in this house so many years ago.

I did a quick pass through the main building, but I've seen Chinese artifacts before, visited the Philebaum Gallery, and am not terribly into Mexican masks. The collections from Central and South America were more interesting. I discovered something I hadn't known before. Most museum exhibits of this culture show stone balls while talking about the ball courts that are almost universal in the Americas. I'd often wondered how they played games with stone balls. The answer, of course, was they didn't. The stone balls are funerary objects, buried with the dead so they can continue to play in the afterlife. The actual balls were made of latex rubber and didn't survive the years. Obvious when you know about it. Early explorers brought the latex rubber balls back to Europe, giving rise to a whole new series of games.

I didn't get to see all of the museum. The Corbett House wasn't open. I did take a few pictures out in the Plaza of the Pioneers. Being a Tucsonan now, the fountain was a big draw. We don't see much water here.

And the restful bench among the greenery was attractive, too. It was much too hot to really enjoy the outdoors (it reached 105 degrees during the afternoon), but it was a pleasant city oasis.

I'm not sure if my well was filled or not. I'll have to see if these images inform my writing this week. I do know that it was a very pleasant day at the museum.
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