A Quest for Beauty

“Never lose an opportunity of seeing anything beautiful, for beauty is God’s handwriting.” Ralph Waldo Emerson. Beauty is all around us, but we often fail to appreciate it; we relegate it to special occasions, or museum pieces. But if it is indeed God’s handwriting, then beauty is everywhere.

Louis Comfort Tiffany summed up his life as a “quest for beauty”. He was constantly looking for new ways to further that quest through his art – whether a piece of jewelry, a lamp, a photograph, a fountain. His methods were as varied as the world from which he drew his inspiration.

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Window, 1906
, Laurelton Hall, Long Island, New York, 1902–57
, General exhibition window, rose, 
Leaded glass, 
Tiffany Studios, New York City, 1902–32
.

Recently, my family and I had the opportunity to see the most comprehensive collection of Tiffany works in the world – right here in Winter Park, Florida at the  Morse Museum.

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View of The Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art from the corner of Canton and Park Avenues, Winter Park. Photo by Raymond Martinot.

As first time visitors to the Morse, we were invited to watch a brief introductory film about the museum and it’s founders Hugh and Jeannette McKean.

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Hugh F. and Jeannette G. McKean, Tiffany exhibition at Rollins College, 1955.

I was immediately struck by how often the McKean’s stressed the importance of beauty. Like Tiffany, they believed that beauty was abundant. But it was not just the existence of beauty that was captivating; it was the necessity of beauty. We need beauty in our lives. If beauty is God’s handwriting, and God is our Creator, then beauty is an essential component to who we are as human beings. We need beauty in our lives. Where do you find it?

Tiffany was so captured by the beautiful world around him, that when he built his final home, Laurelton Hall, he incorporated his art into every bit of the home. The Morse Museum has reconstructed several rooms of Laurelton Hall with actual artifacts from Tiffany.

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Laurelton Hall, Reception Hall, Morse Museum

Art was not just confined to pictures hanging on the walls

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Laurelton Hall, Dining Room, Morse Museum

but was incorporated into the very architecture of the rooms, inside and out.

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Laurelton Hall, Daffodil Terrace, Morse Museum

I could have wandered for hours through just this one gallery with items from Tiffany’s home. The beauty of it – both in the objects and in the arrangements was astounding. I may not have any Tiffany works in my home, but my home can also be a place of beauty. In fact, it should be a place of beauty. We need beauty in our lives.

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Laurelton Hall, Living Room, Morse Museum

The McKeans had a vision to make beauty accessible to everyone, and that was what inspired them to start the Morse Museum. The museum keeps its admission prices low, and offers several free opportunities throughout the year. In fact, if you’re local to the Orlando area, Friday nights between November and April the museum stays open late so visitors can enjoy a free Friday evening complete with music – beauty for the eye and ear to behold.

Do you think beauty is essential to life? Where have you read God’s handwriting in your life? Sometimes, our lives may not seem to contain much beauty. Maybe you find yourself in a season of darkness, grief, loss, confusion. Your eyes are darkened with tears, pain, and sorrow and you find it hard to see any beauty at all. The Scripture (also God’s handwriting) reminds us that “He has made everything beautiful in its time”. (Ecc 3:11) Do not despair, the beauty is there, and you will see it.

note: all the photos were graciously provided by the Morse Museum. I am so grateful for their support. All views expressed in this post are my own and I was in no way obligated or compensated by the museum. The Morse Museum is a true treasure and well worth your time to come and explore!

 

Inside Out Peace

Most people know that one visual symbol for peace is the dove, but why?  According to Wikipedia, “The use of a dove as a symbol of peace originated with early Christians, who portrayed baptism accompanied by a dove, often on their sepulchres. The New Testament compared the dove to the Spirit of God that descended on Jesus during his baptism.” (see Matthew 3:16)

Other people equate peace to a river. You may have heard the old gospel song: “I’ve got peace like a river.”

You can’t find peace by watching television, talking on your cell phone, or playing video games.

But many people have a feeling of peace when they see nature in all its beauty. Gazing at God’s magnificent creation, whether it’s a peaceful stream, a river, a beautiful bird, or taking a walk at the ocean can sooth the cares and troubles of this world.

Walking on the beach is one of my favorite pastimes and gives me a clear channel to hear from God, which is why I created Seaside:

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© Laura Gabel, “Seaside”. Oil, 16×20. Private Collection

But I learned a long time ago, that no dove, no mountain view, no crashing waves, no painting or photograph can really give me peace. All the outside symbols are lovely and give me a sense of God’s greatness and creativity, but…

Peace is an inside job.

People search for it in other people, places or things, but the disciple John recounts Jesus saying, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives.” (John 14:27).

The inner peace that Christ gives is because He gives Himself to us.

True peace cannot be found outside His presence. It comes from Him and is never found where He is not.

I obtain this peace by opening my heart to His presence, calling upon Him, reading His word.

If peaceful times have not been yours lately, trying calling upon Jesus to soothe your soul with His presence.

 

What will you create this year?

You may have heard the phrase “New Year, New Décor.” My question would be why take someone else’s idea of décor?  Don’t settle for copying another’s style. Create your own!

Yes, you can create!

You’re probably saying to yourself, “What in the world is Laura talking about? I don’t have a creative bone in my body.” Well let’s dream a little bit, PERHAPS:

  • You’ve wanted a room in your house that speaks peace to all that enter.
  • You’re looking to get energized in 2018.
  • You’ve really wanted to do something with that old photo of your parents before it disintegrates.
  • You want to reaffirm the love you have for your children, grandchildren, pets in a special way.
  • You’ve got a drab room you need to clear up or clear out. You just need a fresh vision.
  • You want to create your own special space or a space for someone you love, small or large.

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Creating doesn’t necessarily mean do-it-yourself. You can co-create. All you need is a starting point, an idea, a dream, a vision, a color.

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Art has the opportunity to translate those thoughts, that vision, and transport you to a special place. The world would be a lot duller and colorless without art. A painting can spruce up a dark room or calm you down in your frenzied world. Thomas Merton said, “Art enables us to find ourselves, and lose ourselves at the same time.”

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If there is something in your heart or head, your past or future that you’d like Laura to create in oil, pastel, or acrylic? I’d love to discuss it with you.

I get such joy when I am able to take the dreams of someone and create something that puts all those thoughts on canvas. Here’s a little clip of the unveiling of one of my most recent creations: SarasotaWaterfall

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Keep in mind that the outer you is always a reflection of the inner you. So strengthen your outer self by thinking on “…whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things”. Philippians 4:8 

What if your Christmas isn’t Merry and Bright?

Merry Christmas! Happy Holidays! Feliz Navidad! Joyeaux Noel! Frohe Weinachten! It’s a festive time of year with holiday greetings everywhere you turn. Local radio stations are proclaiming that “it’s the most wonderful time of the year” and Hallmark Christmas movies are trending high in the news.

But what if you find yourself a little distant from all the holiday cheer? Maybe this is your first Christmas with an empty chair at the table. Perhaps you find yourself away from family and friends, and not feeling much like celebrating this year. Maybe your home has been fractured by loss, illness, divorce. For any number of reasons, many folks find themselves on the outside looking in this Christmas season.

The Census at Bethlehem (The Numbering at Bethlehem), 1566
Pieter Bruegel the Elder
Oil paint on wood panel
115.5 x 164.5 cm
Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium
Brussels, Belgium

I know it can be hard to “get in the Christmas spirit” when your heart is broken. Can I suggest a helpful resource? I enjoy doing special devotions during the advent season and have happened upon a fabulous resource from Biola University . The Advent Project is a series of meditations on Scripture, accentuated with music, art, and poetry. I found have the daily emails to be a tremendous help in refocusing my attitude – both turning me towards gratitude for Christ’s first coming, and in creating a real longing for His second advent when He will put all that is wrong right. You can access all the devotions for the month here.

© Laura Gabel, “You Are His Masterpiece”. Acrylic on canvas, 8 x 10. Private collection.
© Laura Gabel, “You Are His Masterpiece”. Acrylic on canvas, 8 x 10. Private collection.

Two of my favorite websites also have helpful articles for those facing a deep sadness this Christmas. Celebrating Christmas with a Broken Heart suggests three strategies for walking through this season. What Grieving People Wish You Knew at Christmas provides some useful insight and tips for those of us walking with you in this time.  Both those articles are well worth your time to read.

Nativity (2 views), 2006
Brian T. Kershisnik
Oil on canvas
17 x 7‘
Utah Museum of Fine Art

Laura and I will be taking some time off over the holidays, and we hope you will too. In the midst of all the busyness of the time, take time to stop, breathe, rest, and remember. He has come, and He will come again!

 

How to find your Christmas in the park

“Have you been to Christmas in the Park?” That may be the question I heard the most when people found out it was our first Christmas here in the Orlando area. In fact, as far back as September, I was already hearing that question and in fact had locked in plans to attend Christmas in the Park – before I even knew what (or when) it was!

While I may live in Orlando, my children attend school in Winter Park, where my husband teaches. And Winter Park is well known in the greater Orlando area for it’s fabulous downtown and active cultural scene.

For almost 40 years, the park in the center of Winter Park has hosted Christmas in the Park – a joint effort put on by the city, the Morse Museum and the Bach Festival Society.

One of the benefits to being in Florida is that we can happily enjoy outdoor activities at Christmas. Folks come early and stake out a place – chairs, tables, picnic baskets. I saw elaborate place settings, complete with tablecloths, napkins, candles and centerpieces. I also saw more modest preparations of picnic blankets and pizza boxes. While the event doesn’t officially kick off until 6:15 pm, most folks were there well in advance. We met our friends, set up our chairs and our food and settled in for an evening of unexpected delight.

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Ringing the park are nearly a dozen enormous Tiffany stained glass windows. Each window is accompanied by at least one docent/security guard (complete with communication earpiece).

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The windows are not on display at any other time. Just before 6:15, an introduction is made by the head of the Bach Society, and the music begins. Then just as darkness is settling in, the switch is flipped and the windows are aglow for all too see their radiant beauty.

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We spent the next two hours listening to Christmas music, singing along, enjoying time with friends, and getting in the Christmas spirit. Our children began to grow tired, so we went for a walk through the park to see the windows up close.

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The detail and intricacies of the designs were astonishing. The colors were so vibrant, it strains the bounds of credulity to think that no paint was used, it is all in how colors of glass are blended together.

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Taking pictures of briliiantly lit stained glass windows in a park at night is no easy task. So as incredible as these images are, in order to truly appreciate them, you’ll just have to make the trip to Winter Park next year and see them for yourself!

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Christmas in the Park was the perfect way to kick off the holiday season for me. After being introduced to the Morse Museum and the Back Society, I look forward to exploring the offerings of both those organizations in the future. And I’ll be ready on the first Thursday in December next year for another Christmas in the Park!

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What unique holiday event does your town (or neighboring town) host during the Christmas season? Get out there and explore – then share it with us here!

 

Who doesn’t love a happy ending?

I love a happy ending, don’t you? Right now you may be thinking of a movie or a book that gives you a warm feeling that all is right and perfect in the universe. I call it the “TaDa” moment.

I’m fortunate, I get a “TaDa” moment when I finish a painting. But it’s not really a happy ending yet.

My ending is just the beginning of enjoyment for others! My true happy ending is watching a collector’s eyes sparkle with delight and wonder when they get their painting.

happy ending 1

Even though I may be commissioned to do a work, I am giving my whole heart to apply all my God given creative abilities in translating a flat photo into art that is alive with emotion so it jumps right off the canvas.

The Bible says that it is so much more blessed to give than to receive. Perhaps in this time of holiday frenzy the phrase is overused and misunderstood. Nevertheless, it is true that delight comes from a gift that is meaningful, original and thoughtful.

Over the years that I’ve been painting, I’ve had the privilege of doing many commissioned works. I love seeing the photographs that loved ones provide and hearing their stories of why they want that particular image painted. But even more, I love seeing the fantastic joy and delight when the painting is finally in the hands of the recipient.

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You can read the stories from these collectors and more on our website.

Perhaps you’d like to experience the joy of giving someone an original piece of art. It’s not too late for a Christmas gift certificate. I’d love to consult with you over what you might have in mind! Contact me to co-create with me a one of a kind gift that really is a happy ending for all involved.

 

How about that wacky artist?

Are artists wacky? Most artists have a style. They perfect that style and challenge themselves by working in a series. It might be a series of dog portraits, angels, bug-eyed children, pretty ladies, marsh landscapes, etc. You get the idea. Do it well, do what sells, do what you like; but many times it’s theme based. It’s a great way to create.

Other artists are often spectacularly diverse. One of my favorite pastel artists is Robert Carsten.   I’ve actually been fortunate enough to take a workshop with him.  The range of his subject matter and technical virtuosity is admirable. As you can see here, his exploration of still life and landscape show his ability to enjoy the outside and inside world.

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Spring’s Splendor by Robert Carsten
wacky artist 2
Reflecting Pool by Robert Carsten

I can’t speak for Mr. Carsten, but I can say that art is an exploration of the inner and outer world which mostly exists in the artist’s mind.

We artists and other creative folk are no more internally tormented than any other person. Some artists, like Beethoven or Van Gogh, led such fascinating lives that they have inspired many good stories and interesting films.

I personally like having multiple art personalities that develop through growth, boredom, passion, and excitement.  I am not a better or worse artist because of it, I just like exploration! Personally, I just admire different types of art and different artists.

When I look at the finished portrait of Emma, I find myself wondering at my own exploration.

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© Laura Gabel, “Emma”. 8 x 10, soft pastel. Private collection.

As you can see, she is detailed, right down to her Harley Davidson cap.

On the other hand, when I created Delightful:

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© Laura Gabel, “Delightful”. 6 x 12, acrylic. Private collection.

I was drawing on my feelings about a special person in my life. She is lively, sociable, and bright. The colors were a reflection of her personality at the moment.

So am I wacky? No, but often my paintings reflect the character of the collector, myself, or the subject.

Indeed, variety is the spice of life in art, that’s why it’s great to paint differently and why museums have visitors!

What do you think when you see different styles coming from the same artist? Do you think they’re a bit wacky? You might find they just like to explore in a unique and different way.

 

The Museum in My Backyard

Are you ready for some word association? I say “Orlando”, and you say…….

How many of you said “Disney”? I’d also accept “Mickey” or “theme parks” or “happiest place on earth”. I have a hunch the the overwhelming majority of responses would fall along those lines. In fact, when my husband first began discussing the possibility of moving to Orlando, my words were “what? Orlando? It’s just Disney and old people.” To say that I was not excited would be an understatement.

However, as I began to do a little research on why living in Orlando was fabulous, I discovered that Orlando is a city that has much to offer beyond Disney. This past weekend, my family and I headed out to the Orlando Museum of Art to participate in their Family Day. Once a year, the museum sets aside a day specifically for families. There is free admission, children’s activities, live music, and a general welcoming spirit to families. I have written in the past that my children are no strangers to art museums, but for many families, art museums are not part of their usual weekend faire, and events such as this one present a fantastic opportunity to expose their children to real beauty in the form of visual art.

As this was our first visit to the Orlando Museum of Art, we really didn’t know what to expect. I was thrilled to see that there is a feature piece Citron and Cobalt Tower by Dale Chihuly. We first encountered Chihuly’s stunning glass art when we were living in Richmond, VA, and we have been fans ever since.

Orlando museum of art 1

Like most art museums, the Orlando Museum of Art has both permanent and visiting collections.  In the permanent collections, my children were particularly fascinated with many of the modern works. They have a fantastic collection of multi-dimensional art that encouraged our children to both think, and discuss.

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I was particularly captured by the visitng exhibit Babylonian Odyssey featuring works by artist Oded Halahmy. Halahmy is an Iraqi of jewish descent who creates sculptures from metal (in this exhibit, primarily bronze) that reflect middle eastern landscapes and themes. The collection was displayed in such a creative way that truly captured the flavor of his culture. You can still enjoy this marvelous exhibit through the end of 2017.

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My children’s favorite exhibit was easily Bravo! by Chris Raschka. Raschka is an author and illustrator of children’s books. Not only did the museum have his illustrations on display, they also provided a table with many of his books.

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It was delightful to read to my girls and then walk around and enjoy looking at his artwork.

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We were fortunate enough to visit on the final weekend of this exhibit, and I’m so glad we didn’t miss it! we even went to our local library later and checked out of few of his books to enjoy at home.

Of course, since it was family day, the “craft room” was not to be missed. My own budding artists enjoyed the opportunity to create their own masterpieces as a fitting end to an afternoon of art exploration.

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I was grateful to experience this delightful museum in my own backyard. For our family, it was just the right size. We were able to wander through the entire museum without overloading our kids or our own senses. There is a wide variety of art to peruse. The exhibits were well designed and engaging. We are already planning our return visit!

Have you visited your local art museum? If not, why not plan to go this weekend? And when you do, leave me a note about your favorite exhibit. There is so much beauty to enjoy – get out there and see it!

 

Myth, Fairy Tale, or Dream?

Have you ever had a myth shattered? Some crazy idea that crumbled apart when confronted by the truth? Let me tell you my story. I know this sounds crazy but I decided to donate a painting to Habitat for Humanity. Why is it crazy? Because, I didn’t know a thing about them. I hadn’t looked at their website; I just saw a resale store as we were passing by a strip mall in Brooksville, FL, and I felt compelled to give a painting to a homeowner. I walked in, spoke with a most gracious lady, Carmela Manno and started painting!

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My ideas about Habitat for Humanity were made up, just myths. I made up things in my mind about them, like: they just build houses in inner cities and plunk people in them..that it was started by Jimmy Carter…that all homeowners are on welfare. I had no idea of the dynamic outreach and effectiveness of this organization.

A myth is a traditional or legendary story, usually concerning some being or hero or event, with or without a determinable basis of fact or a natural explanation. I had a myth in my mind and didn’t have the facts, but something kept driving me forward to paint and everyday, I found myself praying and dedicating this painting to it’s new homeowner.

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I had no idea that this organization had already built 65,000 homes. Nor was I aware that Habitat’s real story is a dramatic testimony of one man, Millard Fuller, a self made millionaire, and his wife, who decided to sell all of their possessions, give the money to the poor and begin searching for a new focus for their lives. Millard remembers about that time, “I wanted to make money, buy big cars, have a big house. My business was first. Everything else was second, my wife and our kids. I worked all day, came home had supper, and went back to work. My marriage suffered, our relationship suffered, while my business grew.” Finally, recalls Millard, “We wanted to make our lives count. We tried to figure out, ‘what does God want us to do with our lives?”

I’ve often found in my own life that a spark occurs when I ask a question, Millard and his wife Linda asked and God answered, mega-big. But only after many small journeys, to Koinonia Farm and Zaire, the Fuller’s developed a model for Habitat. A partnership model, based on truth and the good news of helping others help themselves in a grassroots fashion. You can read all about their approach to affordable partnership, no-profit loan housing, built by volunteers and homeowners here.

Wow! Totally different than my myth, but I was about to experience just how Habitat does make dreams come true with lots of loving volunteers, sweat equity and desire. The painting was done.

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It was time to dedicate the house! It was exciting to read their mission:

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Lots of preparation and excitement. You can see the painting on the left covered up with a blue sheet, as a surprise for new homeowner Michele Wyckoff who had spent many, many hours working on her new home. So many sponsors and volunteers gathered.

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The home was lovely! The new homeowner Michele and I posed in her new living room area.

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After a wonderful prayer dedication was completed, the unveiling of the painting was made by Richard P. Massa Jr – Executive Director of Hernando County:

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It was an exciting time for all involved. Jesus was certainly right, when you lose your life you will gain it, when you give, you receive so much more.

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I have a card in my studio by Mary Oliver, that I look at often. It’s a question you need to ask yourself today:

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

Well?????

 

 

Small but Memorable

Art museums may not be high on your list of places to visit with small children. I can understand that. We’ve heard an annoyed “shhhhh” from more than one art museum docent in our years with small ones in tow. But sometimes, small children and small art museums make for big memories!

We are Bank of America card holders, so we have the opportunity to enjoy a free museum on the first weekend of every month as part of their “Museums on Us” program. Being new to Orlando, we thought this would be a great opportunity to try out a new museum. This month, we selected the Mennello Museum of American Art.

The museum itself is small, only one floor with a few carefully chosen exhibits, both permanent and rotating. However, it sits on a beautiful expanse of land along the shores of Lake Formosa in downtown Orlando. We were also able to wander through its well manicured gardens which are amply supplied with comfy adirondack chairs for lounging, and engaging sculptures to enjoy.

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No small sculptures

Currently, they are featuring the sculptures of Alice Aycock – Waltzing Matilda and Twin Vortexes. These sculptures are anything but small. My daughters were fascinated just by walking around them and noting all the various details. As they viewed the sculptures from different angles, they pointed out different features and had lively discussions about what the sculptor was creating.

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There are a variety of other sculptures to view along the pathways in the garden. My family was particularly delighted with the larger than life crayon sculpture.

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No small impact

Inside the museum, we noticed that we had arrived on the final weekend of the visiting exhibit The Beautiful Mysterious: The Extraordinary Gaze of William EgglestonEggleston’s photographs have shaped many in the art world beyond just photographers. American novelist Megan Abbott said, “To me, his photographs evoke entire worlds, not worlds we merely see, but worlds we feel, smell, touch…When you look long enough at his photographs, [like the gorgeous, lonely blue parking lot chosen as one of the exhibit’s central images] you get lost in it. You’re in another place.”

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Art credit: William Eggleston, Untitled, 1973, color photograph. Collection of the University of Mississippi Museum and Historic Houses, gift of Dr. William R. Ferris.

Indeed, even our small children were in another place as they walked slowly and quietly through the exhibit. Ordinary moments in time become extraordinary works of art. In ways that I cannot quite explain, Eggleston’s works were remarkable in their power to capture my attention and my imagination with scenes as pedestrian as laundry hanging on a clothesline.

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Art credit: William Eggleston, Untitled, color photograph. Collection of the University of Mississippi Museum and Historic Houses, gift of Dr. William R. Ferris.

My girls were full of big questions about the photos and why they were so powerful. They began creating whole stories around the snapshot moments captured and displayed on the walls of this small exhibit. Unfortunately, the exhibit has moved on, but I would encourage you to check out the works of this groundbreaking artist.

The Mennello Museum also has permanent exhibits featuring self-taught landscape artist Earl Cunningham, and a fascinating sculpture by Albert Paley, entitled Hector. 

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art credit: Albert Paley (b. Philadelphia, PA 1944), Hector, 1990, steel with red paint. Collection of The Mennello Museum of American Art, purchased by Friends of The Mennello Museum of American Art, 2016, from Paley Studios Archive, Rochester, NY

This towering steel sculpture calls to mind the character of Hector from Homer’s Iliad. My husband has had the pleasure of teaching the Iliad and my daughter has read a children’s version of it as well. We had a rather interesting and engaging discussion about Hector the Greek hero and the sculpture.

No small stories

We spent not quite two hours exploring the Mennello museum, both inside and out. I’m so glad we took the opportunity to visit. I have no doubt that we will return. The museum offers multiple opportunities to engage with the art they celebrate. They offer free docent led tours on the first Friday of every month, a monthly free day for families (where your small ones can create their own art), a monthly documentary movie screening, and even a puppet led story time for toddlers.

I was thrilled to find a museum that was accessible, engaging, and thought provoking to enjoy with my whole family. Even my six year old has asked if we can return! But you don’t have to be small to appreciate the Mennello. My husband and I were grateful for the opportunity to be exposed to some new-to-us artists and look forward to our next visit.

If you’re in the Orlando area, I would encourage you to check out the Mennello Museum. If you’re not, I have a hunch that you have your own small museum in town. Maybe you’ve always overlooked it because of it’s size. You may just find something there you never expected. What’s your favorite small museum you’ve explored? Share your experiences in the comments, I’m always looking for new places to see!