Sunday, May 24, 2015

Tacoma Celebrates Its Native Son

While you can find Dale Chihuly’s amazing glasswork all over the world in famous museums, botanic gardens, and office buildings, but nowhere is it more accessible and abundant than in his hometown of Tacoma, Washington.
Chihuly, born in 1941, grew up in Tacoma, studied interior design at the University of Washington, and narrowed his focus to glass art at the University of Wisconsin. While on a Fulbright Fellowship in Venice, Italy, he first observed the team approach in glass blowing to create large-scale pieces. Utilizing this concept, he cofounded the Pilchuck School of Glass outside Seattle, and began producing large, multicolored, glass art works. He established the glass department at the prestigious Rhode Island School of Design and taught there for many years. Today he is considered the world’s premier glass artist and has made the Northwest a world center for glass art.

In Tacoma, many of his pieces are concentrated in an area known as the Museum District, a few blocks along Pacific Avenue adjacent to downtown. The Museum of Glass, Tacoma Art Museum, Bridge of Glass, and Federal Courthouse all feature Chihuly’s work. The best introduction to his style would be a stroll across the Bridge of Glass, a 500-foot span connecting the Museum of Glass and the plaza area of the Washington State History Museum on Pacific Avenue. The pedestrian-only bridge
showcases three Chihuly installations including two 40-foot, blue, translucent crystal towers. While they appear to be crafted from glass, they are made from a polyurethane material designed to withstand the elements. The main feature, however, is a tunnel called Seaform Pavilion. Inside, the ceiling displays over 2000 colorful, amorphous-shaped pieces of glass inspired by marine life in Puget Sound. On a sunny day, the sight is spectacular. Along the sides of the tunnel, are 109 glass sculptures, mostly Art-Deco style floral arrangements.

The bridge ends in a plaza adjacent to the Museum of Glass, easily identified by its silver, angled, conical shape. The museum houses a permanent collection of contemporary glass, and contains an amphitheater called the Hot Shot where visitors can observe a team of artists demonstrating glass making and glass blowing. There’s an on-site café, an excellent gift shop with unique glass items, and outside the doors, a mammoth, clear acrylic sculpture called Water Forest.

Back across the bridge, on Pacific Avenue, is the old Union Station, another successful historic preservation story. Built in 1911, it was praised as “…the most beautiful passenger station in the Pacific Northwest.”  With the demise of train travel, the station closed and the
dilapidated, aging facility was sold by Burlington Northern to the city of Tacoma for $1.00. After three years of renovation, the beautiful Beaux Arts building reopened as the U.S. Federal Courthouse. The interior is every bit as attractive as the outside and is decorated with examples of Chihuly’s glass work.  A colorful chandelier is suspended from the rotunda’s domed ceiling, and bright orange flowers cover the arched, north-facing window.  Altogether, the lobby area features five major installations.

Next door to the courthouse, is the Tacoma Art Museum. Nationally recognized for its collection of Northwest art, the museum has an entire gallery devoted to Chihuly pieces, many donated by the artist. Within walking distance of the Museum District, additional Chihuly installations can be seen at the University of Washington-Tacoma library which houses a striking red chandelier, and at the nearby Swiss Restaurant and Pub with an array of Venetian glass pieces above the bar.

Visiting these places requires a bit of pre-planning. The art museum is closed Monday, and the Union Station Federal Courthouse is only open on weekdays, leaving Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday the best times to visit. A picture identification is required to enter the courthouse. While the bridge and courthouse are free, there is an admission charge at both museums. A pass is available ($35 for seniors) that includes these two museums, the Washington State History Museum and the nearby LeMay-America’s Car
Museum, and Children’s Museum.

You can learn more about Chihuly and his works and these museums as the following websites:


Thursday, April 2, 2015

Exploring the Oregon Museum of Mental Health

Kirkbride U, Oregon State Hospital
The one good thing to be said about the old Oregon State Hospital is that the dilapidated, decaying building was a real star maker. The movie shot there, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, swept the 1976 Academy Awards winning in all the major categories including Best Picture, Best Actor (Jack Nicholson), Best Actress (Louise Fletcher), Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Director (Milos Forman).  Thirty years later, a series of articles published in The Oregonian describing the facility’s deplorable conditions and mistreatment of patient cremains won the paper a Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Writing.

Hospital grounds
The hospital, originally called the Oregon State Insane Asylum, was built in 1883 on 130 acres in what was then rural Salem, but is now well within the city limits on busy Center St. The grand, Italianate, brick building was constructed in the style devised by Thomas Kirkbride, a leading advocate for the mentally ill. His plans included a central administration building connecting two separate wings for male and female patients.  Over the years, additional wings and buildings were added, and the hospital grew to a peak occupancy of 3475 patients in 1958.

As state funding for mental health declined, so did conditions at the facility until it reached a state described in The Oregonian with adjectives like “grim,” “decrepit,” and “dreary.”  Amid mounting concerns for patient safety in the event of an earthquake, a governor’s task force in 2004 concluded it was time to tear down the hospital and build a new one more in line with current practices in treating mental illness. A preservation group rallied to put the campus on the National Register of Historic Places, and the original administrative unit was saved from the wrecking ball and incorporated into the new design.

Today the restored Kirkbride building houses the Oregon Museum of Mental Health. While small in size, it’s chockfull of pictures, artifacts, documents and interactive materials offering visitors an unusual opportunity to explore the history of mental illness and its treatments over the years, as well as the specific story of the Oregon State Hospital.  The exhibit “Why Am I Here” highlights patients’ stories and offers startling statistics on the types of diagnosis from dementia, menopause, or alcoholism that might mean a lifelong commitment in the asylum.

Another exhibit features equipment used in treatment ranging from straightjackets, lobotomies, insulin and electric shocks to the more benign hydrotherapy and cosmotherapy, a treatment encouraging patients to look their best. A section of the 1948-1951 financial statement for the Cosmotherapy Department shows line items for 224 eyebrow archings at 75 cents each, and 3071 finger waves at 50 cents each, for example.

Other displays show daily life at the hospital for both patients and staff, and there is a small exhibit related to the filming of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Using the hospital and patients for the movie project was extremely controversial at the time, but the hospital’s director, Dr. Dean Brooks, fought for it claiming the filming would provide jobs for patients and make for an exciting adventure for everyone at the hospital.  It might be noted that Dr. Brooks plays himself in the movie in the role of Dr. Spivey.

After leaving the museum, visitors should turn left and walk a short distance downhill to the Cremains Memorial. For years, the cremains of unclaimed, deceased patients were placed in copper canisters and stored in the basement of one of the buildings. Over time, water seeped in, corroding the canisters and turning the copper into marbled shades of blue and green. The labels on the 3500 canisters were mostly gone, and it took hospital employees two years to research the identities. Today the canisters reside in a special building allowing visitors to honor the dead.

The museum experience is a reminder of how our understanding and treatment of mental health has evolved over the years, and how much further we need to travel. To learn more about visiting, see

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Black Robes in the Northwest

Father Pierre deSmet
Before he had seen any white men and before there were horses in the northern Rockies, Shining Shirt, a medicine man of the Salish tribe, prophesized the arrival of pale-skinned men in long, black skirts. They would teach them a new way of praying and how to reach the place of happiness. This prophecy was reinforced years later when migrating Catholic Iroquois from Quebec confirmed the existence of white men in black robes (Jesuit priests) who carried crucifixes, said the Big Prayer (mass) and did not marry. The Indian religion was false and they would never reach the home of the Great Spirit.

The tribes of the Inland Northwest (Salish or Flathead, Nez Perce, Coeur d’Alene) became obsessed with the desire for a Black Robe to come live among them and teach this new religion. They sent a total of four delegations over ten years to the Catholic Church in St. Louis and, finally, in 1841, Belgium-born priest Pierre deSmet arrived. He established a mission and small settlement in the Bitterroot Valley of what is now the state of Montana, and named it St. Marys. Later, he returned to Europe to recruit additional missionaries, among them Father Anthony Ravelli. Ravelli, born to a wealthy family in Italy, brought with him a range of skills: pharmacist, doctor, artist, architect, engineer. His talents are visible today in the mission church he built and decorated in classic Renaissance style with paints created from local berries and minerals. He sculpted statues of Mary
Saint Marys Mission Church
and St. Ignatius of Loyola, and used a hand lathe to carve the altar rail and baptismal font.

Cataldo Mission Church, Idaho
St. Marys was the first of the Pacific Northwest missions, but it was soon followed by others. The Cataldo Mission in the Idaho Panhandle near Coeur d’Alene was established in 1850, and is the state’s oldest, standing building. This charming, Italianate church is another example of Father Ravalli’s ingenuity and workmanship, and is created from the simple tools and local building materials available on the frontier at that time. He faux-painted the altar to resemble marble, crafted chandeliers from tin cans, and stained the ceiling with huckleberry juice. There’s not a nail in the entire building.

Interior, St. Ignatius Church
By far the most prosperous of the missions was St. Ignatius, also located in Montana, north of present-day Missoula. It had a saw mill, grain mill and school for boys. Later, the Jesuits were joined by the sisters of Providence and Ursuline who established a girls’ school and hospital. In the early 1890s, the need grew for a much larger facility and the current church was constructed using a million bricks made from local clay. However, the building’s most striking feature is the interior collection of 58 colorful frescoes painted on the walls and ceiling. The artist, Brother Joseph Carignano, was the mission’s cook and had no formal training in the arts.

All of these mission churches are National Historic Sites and open to the public.  St. Marys, located in Stevensville, Mont., about an hour’s drive south of Missoula, is open during the summer months only. Visitors are welcomed to explore the mission grounds including a museum, visitor center, Father Ravalli’s cabin and pharmacy, cemetery, Salish encampment, but a guide is required to view the chapel interior.

St. Ignatius on the Flathead Indian Reservation
St. Ignatius, about an hour’s drive north of Missoula, remains a functioning Catholic church located on the Flathead Indian Reservation and is open daily.  In addition to the beautiful paintings inside the church, the grounds include original log structures housing a small museum with mission and native artifacts.

Interior, Cataldo Mission
The Cataldo church is the centerpiece of Old MissionState Park, 25 miles east of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, along Interstate 90. With its pretty, hillside setting and charming rustic interior, it is not surprising that it is a popular venue for weddings. Of the three missions, this one offers the most extensive visitor center and museum. The first-rate exhibition, Sacred Encounters, was organized by Washington State University and explores the complexities of two intersecting cultures: European Christian missionaries, and indigenous populations with a very different sacred belief system and lifestyle. Highly recommended.



Friday, January 30, 2015

Seattle's Olympic Sculpture Park

Typewriter Eraser, Scale X
Among the items in the bin of obsolescence, you’ll find rotary phones, cassette tapes, carbon paper, hardbound encyclopedias, and a funny little round, rubber circle with a plastic brush attached.  Remember the typewriter eraser?  It has not been forgotten by the famed husband/wife team of Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen who created a whimsical, 19-foot sculpture of stainless steel and fiberglass called Typewriter Eraser, Scale X for the Seattle Art Museum’s Olympic Sculpture Park.

Located on the waterfront north of downtown in the Belltown neighborhood, this nine-acre park combines landscaping, art, and a stunning view of Puget Sound and the snow-capped Olympic Mountains to create an urban redevelopment success story. The site was previously occupied by Union Oil of California as a transfer facility and tank farm. When they pulled out in the 1970s, they left behind a blighted, industrial eyesore with soil contaminated by years of oil seepage.

The idea of creating a sculpture park in this wasteland grew out of a collaboration between the Trust for Public Land and the Seattle Art Museum. Sufficient funds were raised to purchase the land, clean up the contamination, and engage the New York architectural firm of Weiss/Manfredi to transform the property into a vibrant green space to showcase art.

The landscaping, an important element in the design, consists of four Northwest ecosystems: Valley, Meadows, Groves, and Shore. Each is planted with native trees (over 500), shrubs, and wildflowers; and the entire area is connected with a 2200-foot long, Z-shaped, pedestrian path.

Interspersed along this path is a collection of monumental, modern sculptures designed by some of the best-known regional, national, and international artists.  Probably the most recognizable is Alexander Calder’s bright red Eagle which provides a perfect picture frame for Seattle’s Space
Caler's Eagle
Needle.  Other noted artists represented in the collection include Mark di Suvero, Richard Serra, and Louise Bourgeios. The twenty-plus sculptures are mostly metal and abstract including benches mimicking eyeballs, curving monoliths in oxidized steel, and a 50-foot tall stainless steel tree.

One unusual piece brings together art and science. The Neukom Vivarium consists of an 80-foot greenhouse occupied by a giant, dead “nursery log” where viewers can observe life and decay amid the ferns, lichens, and insects that have made the tree their home.

The park is open all year and is free to the public. In summer months, a café serves espresso and snacks, and the park’s amphitheater hosts a variety of special concerts and other events.
Love & Loss

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Ghostly Greetings from Bannack, Montana

Main Street, Bannack, Montana
They don’t call them ghost towns for no reason. Perhaps it’s the emptiness and remoteness; the down-trodden, forlorn appearance; the riches to rags cycle of these abandoned towns that energizes the imagination. Or, maybe they really are occupied with the ghosts of the miners, saloon dancers, renegades, and gamblers living out their unfilled dreams.

Bannack, Montana, in the southwestern corner of the state, is one of the West’s best preserved ghost towns, and it has more than its share of reported supernatural sightings and paranormal experiences.  Little Dorothy Dunn, who drowned in a dredge pond, often appears on the second floor balcony of the Meade
Meade Hotel, Bannack
Hotel wearing a long, blue dress. Other ghostly women have been spotted donned in their Sunday best, along with unexplained happenings including cold spots, door slammings, and the sound of feet walking across empty, wooden floors. Even the campground is thought to be haunted.

If ghosts have chosen to occupy Bannack, they have made a good decision. This old mining camp enjoys a pretty setting in the rolling hills and ranchlands along Grasshopper Creek. Gold was discovered here in 1862 and a year later, the town sprouted a population of over 3000. It was a free-wheeling, lawless place where even the town sheriff ended up hanging from the gallows. Bannack can boast of many Montana firsts: first territorial capital, first jail, hotel, Masonic Lodge, hard rock mine, saw mill, and brick courthouse.

Like many mining camps, the supply of gold dried up and the population moved on leaving the buildings at the mercy of the elements and vandals. By the 1950s, Bannack was a sad looking collection of collapsing structures, deserted streets, and tumble-down miner cabins.  But, because of its importance in Montana and Western history, a group of local preservationist set about buying the town and in 1954 donated the property to the state of Montana who placed it under the protection of the state parks system.

The buildings have been restored, but kept in a state of “arrested decay,” creating a town frozen in time, still feeling isolated and abandoned.  Of the 50 or so restored buildings, the two most impressive are the Meade Hotel, and Masonic Lodge. The hotel was originally built to serve as the Beaverhead County courthouse and is the only brick structure in town. When the county seat was moved to the more prosperous town of Dillon, the building remained empty until purchased some ten years later by Dr. Meade and converted to a fancy hotel, the center of Bannack’s social life. Today, peeling wallpaper and a grand, curving staircase offer only a clue of its plusher past.

Masonic Lodge
Across the street is the two-story Masonic Lodge and Schoolhouse. The Masons, with their emblem of the square and compass still visible on the building’s façade, occupied the top floor of the structure, while the first floor served as the public school, grades K-8. It functioned as the town’s only school for 70 years until closing in the 1950s. The wooden desks with the empty, round inkwells in the upper-right corner and recessed slot for pencils should bring back memories for many visitors of a certain age.

School room
While fortunate to be under the care and protection of the state park, Bannack remains exposed to the elements. In July of 2013, a summer storm dropped nearly an inch of rain in less than an hour creating a flash flood from Hangman’s Gulch above town.  A three-foot wall of water, mud, and debris surged through the center of town leaving a wide path of destruction.  The old Assay Office/General Store was wiped out, the wooden sidewalks along the main street were washed away, and nearly 80-percent of the buildings were damaged.

The town had survived over 150 years of ups and downs, and the flood was just another bump in the road.  More than a million dollars and eight weeks later, Bannack was back in business and accepting visitors once again. The park is open from the middle of May to the middle of October. There’s a small visitor center and museum, but the fun of visiting is to wander around the town, imagining what it was like during the boom years. Most of the buildings are open for exploring; the only rule is to be certain to close the door firmly upon departure.  One wonders if that is to keep the ghosts from entering or leaving?

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Wintering in Olympic National Park

Olympic National Park in the northwestern corner of Washington might not appear on too many winter vacation agendas, but it’s the season when the park shows its more dramatic side. Sure,
Ruby Beach
you’ll run into wet weather, but the payoff in solitude and tranquility is worth it. There’s snow in the mountains, wild waves along the beaches, and the rainforests are never greener.

Most of the winter sporting activity is centered at Hurricane Ridge with skiing, cross-country, snowshoeing, and sledding. The road is open on weekends only (weather permitting) and all cars are required to carry chains. On the other hand, the lower altitudes in the park including the rainforests and beaches, receive only occasional snow but plenty of the damp stuff.  The wet season brings out the green lushness of the mosses and lichens making a hike through the Hoh or Quinault rainforests a drippy, but beautiful experience.  Pacific Ocean storms blow through frequently delivering spectacular waves for storm-watching and beachcombing along the coast.

Lake Crescent Lodge
One of the major highlights of a winter visit to the park is enjoying the indoor comforts of the lodges. While booked full in the busy summer months, reservations are much easier to obtain and the prices are reduced during the winter season. Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort is closed during the winter, but Lake Crescent Lodge is open until December 31, and Lake Quinault and Kalaloch Lodges are open year round.

Lake Crescent Lodge dates back to 1916, and enjoys an idyllic setting on the shores of a glacier-carved lake ringed with forests and mountains, about 18 miles west of Port Angeles. The Main Lodge features a lobby with a stone fireplace, a cozy sunroom, a wood-paneled dining room overlooking the lake, and rooms on the second floor with great views, but shared bathrooms.  The property offers a variety of other accommodations to choose from including the historic Singer Tavern Cottages and the Roosevelt Cabins as well as more modern motel-like rooms.
Sunroom, Lake Crescent Lodge
The Roosevelt Cabins are especially popular with guests because of their lakeside setting and fireplaces. While the rest of the lodge closes at the end of the year, these cabins remain open on weekends-only throughout the winter season. 
Kayaks awaiting summer guests at Lake Crescent

Further south and just outside the park boundary is another rustic, lakeside inn, Lake Quinault Lodge. Built in 1926 by the same architect who designed Old Faithful Lodge in Yellowstone, it has an expansive front lawn leading down to the lake and a warm and inviting lobby with a large brick fireplace.  In addition to rooms in the main lodge, there is a more modern building with an additional 36 rooms as well as an indoor pool and sauna.
Lake Quinault Lodge
The lodge’s dining room is named after Franklin Roosevelt who lunched here in 1937. He must have enjoyed the meal and view as he signed the bill creating Olympic National Park only a few months later. Winter specials offer room rates equivalent in price to the average Motel 6.
Lobby, Lake Quinault Lodge

Driftwood brought in during storms
The Pacific Ocean coast can be an exciting place in the winter when storms bring in blustery winds and crashing waves.  There’s no better place to enjoy the action than the Kalaloch Lodge, perched on a bluff on the west side of the park.  There are rooms in the wooden, rustic main lodge as well as cabins with fully stocked kitchenettes. The dining room, also open year round, serves up Northwest cuisine accompanied by a sweeping ocean view. With easy access to beaches, a winter visit means great beachcombing and storm-watching. To accommodate guests, the lodge offers a special Brave the Storm package that includes ponchos, hand warmers, hot chocolate, and peppermint  schnapps.

To learn more about rates and seasonal packages, or make reservations at Lake Crescent and Quinault Lodges, check out  The Kalaloch Lodge website is  It should be noted that these park lodges are not suitable for guests addicted to wifi, cell phones, and big screen tv. Instead, the simple pleasures of sitting in front of a roaring fire, curling up with a good book, or working a jigsaw puzzle prevail. When visiting the park during the winter months, it’s always prudent to check weather and road conditions in advance.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Exploring Oregon Caves: Above and Below

 The slogan on the brochure reads: Cool Cave, Warm Hearth!  It’s a clever turn of phrase but, more importantly, captures the concept that Oregon Caves National Monument offers two featured attractions, one natural and one man-made. The park is located about 50 miles southwest of Grants Pass off U.S. 199.  A narrow, winding road leaves the community of Cave Junction and the Illinois River Valley, and climbs upwards through the Siskiyou Mountains to the monument, about 20 miles.
Cave Entrance

The caves (actually, it is only one cave, but has numerous side passageways) were discovered by white settlers in 1874 when hunter Elijah Davidson’s dog, Bruno, followed a bear into a narrow opening in the hillside. However, the cave began life over 200 million years ago as a tropical reef in the Pacific Ocean, and by a series of complex geologic events, combined with years of water erosion and mineral deposits, evolved into one of the very few marble caves in the world.

Ranger-led tours through the cave are offered between late April and early November and cover a little over a half mile in 90 minutes. In this remarkable subterranean world, visitors are introduced to the geology,
The "Banana Grove"
history, wildlife, and view a variety of calcite formations: stalagtites, stalgmites, soda straws, moonmilk, popcorn. The trip is described as moderately strenuous and includes 500 stairs, some uneven and wet, as well as a few low and narrow passageways. The cave temperature is 44 degrees so a warm jacket is welcome even on a hot summer day.

Across from the cave entrance and Visitor Center sits the park’s man-made attraction, a rustic, wooden lodge known as The Chateau, a National Historic Landmark. From the entrance it appears to be a two-story structure with a steep pitched roof and dormer windows, however, it is actually six stories tall.  This unusual design reflects the challenging and limited building site it occupies, a ravine with a creek running through it.  Construction began in the early 1930s during the height of the Depression. Local contractor, Gust Lium, chose a style coined by Frank Lloyd Wright as “organic
The Chateau entrance
architecture,” promoting harmony with the environment and utilizing local construction materials. In the end, he created a building of natural charm and elegance, well adapted to its setting, with a great sense of place; a “green” structure long before it was eco-fashionable.

The exterior is covered with Port Orford cedar bark creating a shaggy, textured façade while the interior lobby features a massive, double marble fireplace; exposed wooden beams supported by 30-inch diameter, Douglas fir posts; and a staircase of local madrone, oak, and pine. Downstairs from the main lobby is the dining room, gift shop, and a 1930s diner-style café; 23 guest rooms occupy the two floors above the lobby.

waterfall and reflecting pool
One of the most unusual features of the building is the presence of the stream accumulated from dripping surface water inside the cave. There, it is called the River Styx, but once it emerges from the cavern it assumes the less intriguing name of Cave Creek, and flows over a man-made waterfall in front of the Chateau into a picturesque, reflecting pool. From there, it travels into the building, through the dining room, and then out to the canyon on its journey to the Illinois River. 

1930s Coffee Shop
This design plan had an unfortunate consequence in the winter of 1964 when heavy storms, snow and rain combined to release a flood and avalanche that ripped through the bottom floors of the Chateau creating a swath of structural damage and debris. While many considered the building an insurance write-off, others, including original builder Lium, worked tirelessly to save and restore the property.

Today, visitors can enjoy the charming ambiance of one of the Great Lodges of the National Parks from the attractive lobby, restaurant options, and inviting guest rooms.  Both the public and private rooms are decorated with the largest collection of Monterey furniture, a uniquely American, arts- and-crafts style characterized by leather and metal detailing, distressed wood, and painted designs.

Example of the Chateau's collection of Monterey furniture
Throughout the lodge, the emphasis is on local.  The gift shop offers crafts from southern Oregon artists including jewelry, prints, wooden items, jams, soaps, and textiles. In the dining room, the menu is filled with locally sourced meats, fish and produce.  (Be sure to try the bison meatloaf!) The quirky, retro café with its serpentine countertop serves hearty breakfasts, sandwiches, and old-fashioned milkshakes. Even the people waiting on you are local.

Learn more about a visit to Oregon Caves or make reservations for a stay at the Chateau by visiting these websites: Oregon Caves Cheateau and Oregon Caves National Monument.