Saturday, October 12, 2013
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At the tail end of my recent trip to Virginia, I made a brief detour over to Virginia Beach to take some photos of the huge and sorta-famous King Neptune statue and the surrounding Neptune's Park. The statue is a mascot of the city's Neptune Festival and has actually only been there since 2005. Based on the photos of it that I'd seen, it looked cheesy enough that it merited a side trip, plus I had a rental car I actually liked for a change and I wanted to drive it a bit more.
So I got there and realized there was some sort of municipal weekend festival going on, and the whole area was clogged with tourists, and it was $10 to park in the nearby public parking garage. I only had about 10-15 minutes to spare before I needed to head toward the Norfolk airport, so this was a problem. I don't like to think I'm a stingy person, but paying $1/minute to park struck me as a poor allocation of funds. So I figured I could still pull off a blog post if I drove by the park on Atlantic Avenue and snapped a few quick phone photos of the statue while I was stuck in traffic. The resulting photos turned out to be comically, hilariously bad. I think one of the photos may include part of either the head or the trident, out of focus and behind some festival stands and tents and so forth, but I'm not really sure about that. It could also be a bigfoot sighting, based on the photo quality. For what it's worth, I also had big sticky half-eaten chunk of baklava in the car to maybe chuck at Pat Robertson (who's based in Virginia Beach) if I saw him, and then blog about it from jail, but that didn't pan out either, and I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have actually done it anyway, and I ended up throwing the baklava away at the airport instead.
So I went back and forth trying to decide whether I had enough material for a blog post or not. The photos I ended up with were so terrible that I figured I could go with a "so-bad-it's-good" angle, sort of the Plan 9 from Outer Space of blog posts. And then I thought, if I only go with photos from successful photo-taking forays here, I'm creating a skewed idea of what this blogging lifestyle is really like, and kids will grow up wanting to be just like me, not realizing how frustrating and annoying it can be sometimes, until it's too late. Or something like that. Anyway, trumping all other concerns was the idea that I either use these crappy photos, or I don't get a little "Virginia Beach" pushpin on the map for this humble blog. That's kind of an absurd reason and I imagine I'll get over it sooner or later, but for now I'm still kind of big on adding exciting new places to the map. Even if they're just a blur.
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A few photos from Wallops Island National Wildlife Refuge across the road from part of NASA's Wallops Flight Facility. Since the USFWS website is shuttered right now due to a silly government shutdown, here's their description of the place pulled from Google's cached version, since I have no idea when the official site might come back online:
The Wallops Island National Wildlife Refuge was created on July 10, 1975 when 373 acres of land were transferred to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). The refuge, comprised mainly of salt marsh and woodlands, is located east of Wattsville in Accomack County, Virginia and contains habitat for a variety of trust species, including upland- and wetland-dependent migratory birds. Additionally, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has an agreement with NASA to use the NASA-owned portion of Wallops Island proper on a non-interference basis for research and management of declining wildlife in special need of protection. The agreement with NASA covers approximately 3,000 acres of Wallops Island proper and is primarily salt marsh. Wallops Island NWR and the agreement with NASA are administered by the staff at Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge.
A sea-level fen, known as the Simoneston Bay sea-level fen, exist on and is protected by the refuge. Sea-level fens are nutrient-poor, maritime seepage wetlands, confined to a few sites with an unusual combination of environmental conditions for the mid-Atlantic. The fen is located just above the highest tide levels, at the base of a slope where abundant groundwater discharges. Only four occurrences are known in Virginia.
The Wallops Island NWR was opened for the first time ever to public hunting in 2002 to reduce the affects of overbrowsing by deer on refuge habitats and reduce the potential of deer collision with vehicles on the adjacent state highway 175 and neighboring flight facility.
The origin as excess, unused NASA land is similar to how the Merritt Island NWR at Cape Canaveral came about. I'm not sure coastal development pressures are quite as acute here as they are in Florida, but from the NASA standpoint it's great to have a buffer area between your launch pads and encroaching hotels and condos and so forth. The launch pads aren't protected from encroaching nature, though, as an unlucky local frog discovered during the LADEE launch.
As the USFWS description explains, this refuge is administered by the nearby Chincoteague wildlife refuge, and it doesn't have its own visitor's center or really anything in the way of developed facilities. There's just a grassy parking area and a small sign with the name of the place and some hunting and fishing regulations, and an unmarked trailhead leading off into the forest.
I stopped here on the day of the LADEE launch, as there weren't a lot of public activities that day and I had some time to kill. It basically looks like a typical coastal forest and wetland area. It probably wouldn't merit a blog post of its own if I lived in the area and saw scenery like this all the time. Still, if this isn't the sort of environment you see every day, and you're in the area anyway, it's a representative example if you want to have a quick look. Just remember to bring bug spray. I'd just purchased a new can of DEET spray but somehow forgot to put any on before wandering into the wildlife refuge, and I ended up with a few annoying bug bites. As an erstwhile South Carolina resident who really ought to know better, I found this kind of embarrassing.
When I flew to Norfolk, Virginia for the LADEE launch last month, I took a redeye flight with an early morning layover at Charlotte, NC's Douglas Airport, because it was US Airways and basically all of their flights connect through Charlotte. Taking the jump of 3 time zones into account, this meant that I was navigating an unfamiliar airport at about 3am my time, after a few fitful hours of trying to sleep on the plane.
The sun was just starting to come up as I waited for my connecting flight from CLT to ORF, and since the airport's due west of downtown Charlotte, there was a view of the downtown skyline with a multicolored pre-dawn sky behind it. I will freely admit that these are almost certainly not the best sunrise-in-Charlotte photos ever taken. I'm just pleased (and kind of surprised) that groggy 3am me thought to take photos at all. So here they are.
Updated: I just realized I accidentally took a short video clip, too, so I've added it to the post. It's not any worse than the photos, I'll say that for it.
The other thing I should point out is that most of the tall buildings in downtown Charlotte are headquarters of horrible megabanks, companies that bear a big chunk of the responsibility for detonating the global economy in 2008. Nobody's been held accountable; in fact they've gotten even bigger after getting bailed out at taxpayer expense. Grr.
Tuesday, October 08, 2013
When I stopped briefly in the Tri-Cities to snap some photos of the famous Cable Bridge, there was a BNSF railroad bridge in the background and I ended up taking a few photos of it too. It looks like your average utilitarian railroad bridge, with a bunch of truss segments and a lift span, but it turns out this one is quite old (by Northwest standards) and historically significant. Its HistoryLink page explains that it was built way back in 1888, completing a key missing link in the Northern Pacific transcontinental railroad between Minnesota and Puget Sound, and the towns of Kennewick and Pasco were founded here on opposite banks of the Columbia River, thanks in large part to the railroad.
Before the bridge was completed, a steamboat railcar ferry served here for several years. Trains would be demated and the railcars slowly barged across the river. Once reassembled on the opposite bank, the train would continue on its way. This sounds kind of crazy but it does actually work, so long as you don't care too much about speed or the cost of manpower. A similar arrangement once operated near Portland until the Vancouver Railroad Bridge went in.
Eastern Washington was still part of the wild west in the bridge's early years, and the Kennewick side of the bridge was the scene of a big outlaw shootout in 1906. It's a proper Western tale, with posses, horse thieves, an improbable jailbreak, and an unsolved mystery. I don't keep up on Tri-Cities news that closely but I assume the area isn't quite so rough-n-tumble anymore. Still, in 2011 the city of Kennewick managed to get the bridge designated as a "potential terror target", netting a cool $250k in Homeland Security
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A few photos of the Cable Bridge, which crosses the Columbia River between Kennewick & Pasco, Washington. It's a cable-stayed bridge, as the name suggests; it picked up the name because it was one of the first cable-stayed bridges in the United States, and it was kind of a novelty at the time. Many sources insist it was the first, but I was poking through a book on inspection & maintenance of cable-stayed bridges, and it points out that the Sitka Harbor Bridge in Alaska dates to 1971, making it a good 7 years older than the Cable Bridge.
I remember visiting my grandmother in Kennewick, not long after the bridge opened, and being amazed by it. I mean, I think I was amazed most of the time at that age, but still. I probably picked up on the local civic pride about the thing. The older Pasco-Kennewick Bridge sat right next to the Cable Bridge at the time, although it had been abandoned in place when the new bridge opened. My grandmother went on and on about how the new bridge was modern and forward-looking and something to be proud of, while the old bridge was an eyesore that needed to be torn out. That finally happened in 1990, after twelve years of legal battles.
This type of bridge still isn't common in the Northwest. Right now the only cable-stayed bridge I know of in Portland is the big skybridge at OHSU, and it'll remain the only one until the new TriMet MAX bridge opens in 2015.
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I was rummaging through an old iPhoto library a while back and noticed I had a few photos of of the Ft. George Garden in Astoria, an overgrown rose garden surrounded by an ornate iron fence, on Exchange St. behind the Fort George Brewery. These photos were taken several years ago, shortly before the brewery opened. Apparently they've employed a gardener to look after the place, so it may not be as overgrown as it was the last time I was there.
The garden sits next to a small city park marking the site of Fort Astoria, a fur trading post founded in 1811, which happened to be the first American settlement on the Pacific coast. After only two years in business, the fort was sorta-captured by the British during the War of 1812, and spent the next 33 years as Fort George (as in King George the 3rd), an outpost of the Hudson's Bay Company. The post was later abandoned as the Hudson's Bay Company moved its main operations inland to Fort Vancouver. I don't know whether the garden itself has any particular historical significance. Based on the fencing I'm going to guess the garden (or at least the fence) dates to the late 19th or early 20th century, or later if someone was aiming for a retro look.
The idea for this piece had its source in the rough concrete piers and reinforcements that were being excavated from the old waterfront site when I first saw it. I made a progression using local basalt stone and the existing wrecked concrete.
At the top of the berm there is a grouping of saw-cut vertical basalt, and some irregular, displaced foundations. As the basalt pieces progress from berm to river, they tip over, so that the concrete below becomes exposed and the basalt becomes submerged and eventually disappears.
At the river path there are various configurations of concrete and stone, including inlays and pieces that can function as seating. Concrete is cut in various places to expose the river rock aggregate inside as well as the old embedded wood piers, and some heavy steel reinforcement emerges in various plant-like and root-like ways.
The work is meant to be a quiet narrative that is derived and retained from the site, rather than a thing that was brought in.
The artist's website has a photoset about River Shift, including a few shots looking down on the area from an adjacent building, which gives a better idea of how the various parts of the piece are laid out.
The idea of turning construction debris into art isn't a new one. You could probably travel the world and put together a big coffee table book of other examples from all over, and maybe write a thesis about the genre and what it all means. This does make me feel kind of bad for construction workers: They tear down a building, filling dump truck after dump truck with broken concrete and twisted rebar, having no clue about all the expensive capital-A art they've just created. They could probably all retire after the first couple of buildings and live off the proceeds, if only they knew. It's a real shame. In any case, River Shift is a well-executed example of the genre, and paths down to the river are obviously a popular feature since river-level access near downtown is pretty rare. People actually fish there, and when the weather's nice a few people will even try to lie on the sorta-beach and work on their sorta-tans. Californians, probably.
Sunday, October 06, 2013
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Here's a slideshow from Eastern Washington's Dry Falls, where the Ice Age Missoula Floods once formed an enormous waterfall, 400 feet high and 3.5 miles wide. I discussed the unusual local geology in an earlier post about the Sun Lakes area just "downstream" of here, so I"m not going to recap that at length; this post is mostly just for oohing and aahing over the scenery. Assuming you like rugged desert scenery, and maybe you don't for some reason.
The building perched on the canyon rim in a few of the photos is the state park visitors center. I wasn't in the mood for a visitors center at the time and didn't go in, but I'm told it has some groovy 1960s-era exhibits and a gift shop. In retrospect I probably should have gone in just to chat up the park rangers. In this part of the state, most of their visitors are going to be Tea Party loons in RVs who think Dry Falls somehow proves the literal truth of Noah's Ark, & the commie pinko tofu-eating gay Satanic Soviet Mexi-Kenyan state government (represented by the poor local park rangers) is covering it up as part of an evil plot to ban freedom forever. The rangers might enjoy talking to someone a bit less hostile and more sane for a change, so feel free to go in and say hello. Unless you're one of the aforementioned loons, I mean. I don't get a lot of loons here, and they don't stay long, but every few months someone leaves a hysterical, incoherent all-caps rant, and I have to waste up to 30 seconds deleting it. So don't be That Guy, ok?
Saturday, October 05, 2013
In Portland's South Park Blocks, between Market & Clay, the outline of a tree appears on the ground, like something the Ent police would draw at a crime scene. This is In the Shadow of the Elm, described as depicting "the shadow of an Elm tree that used to stand at the site. It is made of 169 individually cut pieces of “Sierra White” granite." The city's South Park Blocks page cautiously states "installed in 1984, depicts the shadow of a tree that may have once existed within the grid of trees in the block". A press release from Marylhurst University (where the sculptor taught for many years) gets a bit melodramatic: "Paul Sutinen's public art piece "In the Shadow of the Elm" (in the Park Blocks between the Art Museum and PSU) is one of the treasures of Portland. Simultaneously subtle and magnificent, it is a stone shadow of a great elm tree that is no longer there."
This possibly-hypothetical tree could have died of any number of causes, assuming it existed, but the big threat to the Park Blocks' remaining American elm trees is Dutch elm disease, a fungal plague that arrived here in the 1970s and has been slowly killing off the city's elm trees. There are official city programs, and volunteer efforts, and public awareness campaigns around trying to stop or slow down the disease, but it's possible all the elms in the Park Blocks are living on borrowed time. It's worth pointing out here that elm trees are not a native tree species in this part of the world, but it would still be sad to lose them all.
A few resistant strains of elm tree have been located or developed, and in 1995 a maybe-replacement tree was planted just south of the "stump marker". It turns out the new tree was planted as a memorial to the Oklahoma City bombing, and was planted just weeks after the event.
In any case, the sculpture project was approved in 1983 as part of an effort to revitalize the South Park Blocks between Market and Jefferson. The idea that the Park Blocks would need revitalizing seems bizarre today, but apparently it was deemed necessary at the time. The project was funded with $50,000 from the National Park Service, via the "Emergency Jobs Act of 1983" (an economic stimulus bill which was generally seen as unsuccessful.)
The most surprising thing about In the Shadow of the Elm is that it's three decades old, and was not invented as part of a Portlandia sketch. I mean, an elaborate civic memorial to a tree? A tree that may not have even existed? That's a bit beyond "put a bird on it" or even "we can pickle that", if you ask me.
In the Shadow of the Elm recently acquired a cheery tropical sibling: In the Shadow of the Palm was created in December 2012 during an artistic residency at the Robert Rauschenberg estate in Captiva, Florida. I think I actually like the sibling better, just because it involves sunshine and palm trees.
From Within, Shalom sits outside the St. James Lutheran Church on the South Park Blocks. This is the smaller companion piece to Peace Chant in the middle of the adjacent Park Block, a block the city's officially dubbed "Peace Plaza". A small metal sign on the side of the adjacent church day care center features a melodramatic poem by the guy who donated the sculpture. The sign includes a brief explanation at the bottom:
Peace Plaza includes "Peace Chant" out in the Park Block (sic) and this piece, “From Within, Shalom” which belongs to St. James Lutheran Church. It was dedicated by Rabbi Joshua Stampher of Congregation Neveh Shalom. In memory of Cora Lee Beard Whiteneck, it calls all generations to the pursuit of peace.
This is a relatively small and inconspicuous piece by public art standards, and I haven't come across a lot of items to pass along concerning it. Here's what we've got:
- The same Portland Public Art post that snarked about Peace Chant mentions it a bit, though the larger piece draws most of the fire.
- The only mention of From Within, Shalom in the Oregonian seems to be a "gallery" notice about its unveiling, in the November 30th, 1984 paper, so it would have been unveiled on December 2nd of that year.
- The downtown walking tour in the November 1985 issue of Oregon Geology mentions it very briefly, by an alternate (or incorrect) name:
Note also the hornblende-biotite granite sculpture, "Within Reach," by Eugene, Oregon, sculptor Steve Gillman. The stone used in this sculpture came from near Sacramento, California.
Today's stop in our ongoing public art meander takes us back to the South Park Blocks, between Jefferson & Columbia, home to a jumble of rough stone blocks titled Peace Chant:
Steve Gillman’s “Peace Chant” is the first known peace memorial in Oregon. Gillman designed the sculpture to create a space where people could sit and have quiet time. In his work, he uses the nature of the stone to create a feeling of space and time, juxtaposing natural, manmade, and architectural elements to remind of us of man’s place in nature.
The city designated this Park Block as "Peace Plaza" in May 1985, shortly after Peace Chant was installed, thanks to a petition by local religious groups. The Oregonian article states that no public funds were to be spent as a result, and quotes a local rabbi who stated "The Peace Plaza in itself will solve no problems and will offer no solutions". The article also notes in passing that "[Mayor] Clark said the plaza used to contain a sign with names of persons killed in World War II", but doesn't explain how long ago that was. A more recent whim of the city council sited a Portland Loo in the same block, displeasing the local neighborhood association and others who saw it as sort of desecrating the local peace monument.
A snarky article in the November 24th, 1985 Oregonian included it in a rogue's gallery of the worst public art in town, saying "A Pile of Rubble" would be a more appropriate title. A June 1985 profile of Gillman explained that this was his preferred style; something about respecting the "integrity of the stone".
Both are granite pomo obelisks, cracked and scarred, very Artforum hip, circa 1980. The artist is Steve Gilman, who made a few more sculptures like this and then found more useful work to pursue.
The larger section of sculpture, Peace Chant, lying akimbo to walking traffic in the midst of the Park Block, is another excellent reason for revisioning public art placements. What can you say about it? Like Shelley Duvall in her heartbreaking performance as Olive Oyl, “He’s Large!”
It’s large, and kids from the daycare like to jump off it. That’s about all one needs say about it.
The aforementioned "a few more sculptures" includes at least one other Portland-area example, in Troutdale's Blue Lake Park, titled Wind Plane.
A few years ago the PSU Vanguard scratched its head about Peace Chant and directed readers to the Portland Public Art post. Peace Chant has also showed up on this humble blog once before, in a post about walking through the park blocks, and I linked to the Portland Public Art post too. At the time I had no idea I'd be doing a public art project of my own a few years down the road. To be honest, I probably wouldn't be doing this project at all if PPA hadn't gone on maybe-permanent hiatus a few years ago.
As I mentioned in my earlier post, Peace Chant drew the ire of a local conservative author several years ago, in a Portland Tribune editorial ranting about the evils of modern abstract art. He merely described it as "three sprawling, nondescript slabs of broken stone", but saw it as a symptom of a wider societal sickness. Apparently the purpose of art is to uplift the public while indoctrinating them with traditional values, something abstract art pretty much completely fails to do. As I said earlier, you'd think he'd be delighted that a sculpture dedicated to world peace is so utterly ineffective at getting its point across. But there's just no pleasing some people, I guess.
A more unusual take on Peace Chant comes in the November 1985 issue of Oregon Geology, the monthly magazine of the Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries. It's one stop in a walking tour of the South Park Blocks & vicinity (pp 127-134), pointing out interesting rocks and minerals used in the construction of different structures. Peace Chant gets a brief mention:
Of more recent vintage than the bronze statues is the group of large, white granite blocks forming the sculpture named "Peace Chant" (g) that adorns the Peace Plaza in the Park Block between Columbia and Jefferson Streets. This 1984 sculpture is also by Eugene sculptor Steve Gillman. The stone came from near Fresno in southern California, and the upright piece weighs approximately 20,000 pounds. The long, thin grooves visible in the blocks are from the wire saw used to saw the blocks directly from the ground.