Outsider art in Baltimore

I ended up choosing Baltimore as my baseball trip destination last year mostly by default. For the week I could get away, it was the only place in North America I could get to on my airline points. Not knowing much about the city, once I started planning for the trip there was something that immediately caught my eye. The American Visionary Art Museum, located just around the other side of the harbour from downtown, is a one of a kind art museum in the USA. It is a museum that specializes in “outsider art.” That alone got me interested in visiting this place.

What exactly is outsider art? It’s quirky. It’s outlandish at times. It’s thematically based and curated in a way that I haven’t seen in other more traditional art museums. It’s exactly the kind of art I’m attracted to when traveling. Many times, I’ll use a city’s avant-garde public art as a way of exploring a new place… In Baltimore, they put it all under and around one roof.

Sometimes you just need an example to get a feel for what an art museum is all about. In a gallery featuring an exhibition about art relating to food, this is “Swpeepish Chef” by Christian Twamley – it’s the Muppet’s Swedish Chef made 100% out of Peeps marshmallow candies.

Swpeepish Chef by Christian Twamley

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Atlanta’s downtown art

With a downtown hotel, limited time and a number of the sights I wanted to see all nearby, I didn’t get the chance to see a great deal of Atlanta. With what free time I had, I dedicated that to getting to a Braves game and to checking out three museums and tours that peaked my interest. Traveling to and from those things and a couple of restaurants and craft beer bars, I stumbled across some interesting public art over my four days in the city. One of my favourites ended up being a design by fellow Canadian, Jeff Santos of Coquitlam BC. This children’s playground was built in the shape of “ATL”, the airport code and general shorthand reference for the city. I found it visually striking and a nice touch to a public park in the centre of the city.

ATL Playground, Jeff Santos

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Modern meets historic

For the better part of six days, my wife and I called Lyon home during a two week vacation in France. Lyon is beautiful. Gorgeous, really. And if you were dropped into the city blindfolded, you’d know you were in France from the architecture alone. I really wasn’t expecting to see much modern public art while visiting here, but was more than pleasantly surprised by a few sculptures and installations as I wandered around Lyon. These pieces all caught my eye as physical representations of a noticeable modern vibe running through this historic city.

On a stunning afternoon in the sprawling Parc de la Tête d’Or, this installation, “Ensemble Pour la Paix et la Justice” caught my eye. It was commissioned for the G7 meetings in Lyon in 1996.

Ensemble pour la paix et la justice

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PDX public art

Of Portland, I expected nothing less than some funky and interesting public art. Audacious, touching, poignant, curious – I got the full menu of art experiences from just walking around the city. I love how public art enlivens urban spaces, but perhaps nowhere was this more evident than outside the Oregon Health and Science University Hospital. In a small garden for patients and their families is Sophie Ryder’s sculpture “Standing Lady Hare with Dog.” On one level as simply an animal lover, this is touching. On another level, I love how the tenderness shown in this piece reflects what occurs mere feet away inside the hospital.

Sophie Ryder's Standing Lady Hare with Dog

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Chance encounters with art

Wandering through the streets of downtown Seattle back in November, I came across a number of interesting pieces of public art. On a previous trip to Seattle, I ventured out to the Olympic Sculpture Park to take in an amazing collection of public art situated right on the water just north of downtown. This trip was much different. My public art exploring ended up being mostly accidental encounters on my way to or from something else. These small, pleasant interruptions on my journeys, added colour and context to this lovely Pacific coast city.

As I was heading to a tour of Safeco Field, the baseball stadium of the Seattle Mariners, and on my way for a coffee in Pioneer Square, I came across the Fallen Firefighters Memorial by Hai Wing Yu which pays tribute to four firefighters who lost their life fighting a blaze in this neighbourhood.

Fallen Firefighters Memorial in Seattle

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A downtown different with art

Having traveled a significant amount south of the border, I’m fairly confident in saying there’s a definite similarity to the look of larger American cities. It’s even more striking as you move away from the east coast. Yes, all cities have their distinguishing features, but subtract obvious landmarks (like the Space Needle in Seattle) or geographical markers (a mountain off in the distance in Denver), and there’s a lot of sameness. Of course, I’m not speaking of New Orleans… that doesn’t look like anything else. But you get the point.

Minneapolis, especially in its downtown area, is a bit of an American cookie cutter environment of high rises in the usual architectural styles. Although that remained my impression through five days in the city, the longer I was there, public art kept catching my eye and added a lot of character to what I was seeing in my walks. Like these statues outside of Target Field paying homage to two Minnesota Twins legends: Harmon Killebrew on the left and Kirby Puckett on the right:

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Moose Jaw

There are a ton of really cool places in Saskatchewan. Through a spring, summer and fall of living in this super easy to draw province, I’m happy to have seen a bit of this place and am excited of everything else to explore in the years ahead.

My in-laws visited back in late August and September. Nearing the end of their trip and with a desire to see something else in their first visit to Saskatchewan, we decided on a day trip down to Moose Jaw. The easy drive from Saskatoon gave my mother and father in-law the experience of being out on the prairies. I was agreeable to this trip because I have always have wanted to visit Moose Jaw. First, it was a must see for me for the uniquely Canadian name alone. But I also have a fascination with oversized roadside attractions and wanted to see this guy up close – the town’s mascot – Mac the Moose.

Mac the Moose

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Retracing steps in Quebec City

When I’m traveling solo, one of my favourite past times is simply wandering around the city I’m visiting. In Canada, I can’t think of a better city in which to walk around aimlessly than Quebec City.  I’ve been there often and think I’ve walked every street in the old city many times over. But seeing the architecture, the art and the people never gets old.  On my most recent visit in June, although my time was limited as this was a work trip, I managed to put a few kilometres of wear and tear on my shoes retracing some of my favourite steps. Seen many times over by my eyes, Quebec City will always hold a special place for me.  It is a uniquely beautiful city.

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Parc Jean-Drapeau public art

One of my earliest travel memories is an afternoon I spent with my dad in Parc Jean-Drapeau in Montreal in 1981. I was seven years old, and on what was to be my first trip to see my Montreal Expos, a major league baseball strike killed those games (why I still love this sport is beyond me – strikes took away my first games as a child and then my team for good as an adult), leaving us with some extra time to explore the city. We used some of that extra time to tour the park, and the memory of first seeing Alexander Calder’s sculpture “L’Homme” still exists in my mind.

When I was in Montreal for work back in April, I used the little time around the edges of the conference I was attending to visit some old favourites, including wandering around Parc Jean-Drapeau to visit a number of pieces of public art. One of the first pieces on my tour was “L’Arc” by Michel de Broin. Up close, this sculpture looks like it’s made of organic materials and has the appearance of a real tree. Interestingly, it’s made of high performance concrete.  It was a mind-bender when I touched this piece.

L'Arc by Michel de Broin

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