Saturday, June 29, 2013

Understanding Modern Art - American Color Field Painting

The extraordinary artistic movement known as American Color Field Painting both continued and challenged prior esthetic traditions. Beginning in the late 1950s and continuing through the 1960s, this movement influenced the entire world of art.

American Color Field Painting was a combination of shared revolutionary techniques and unique individual solutions to the traditional problems and considerations of artistic expression. This new type of art reevaluated traditional pictorial elements including naturalistic perspective, color use, the function of line and shape, and the role of formatting.

Although individual Color Field painters developed distinct modes of expression, they shared a common emphasis on color as a central aspect of painting. They also shared a rejection of the contemporary focus on the conscious social and political responsibilities of art. Their love of materials and their joyous and strenuous endeavors to redefine the boundaries of art are among their exceptional contributions to the ongoing evolution of modern aesthetic values.

Four of the major legacies of the Color Field Painters were an emphasis on the infinite potential for variations in light and color; the practice of creating multiple interpretations, known as a series, on a single theme; the relentless pursuit of the dual identity of art as both illusion and reality; and the use of landscape elements. These legacies were an extension of the practices begun by the Impressionists almost a century before.

The Impressionistic emphasis on distinct patches of solid color was carried to an extreme by Color Field painters like Kenneth Noland who created concentric rings of color in his "target" series. The scientific approach to color that was prominent in the 19th century asserted that a pure color placed next to another color will result in a more dramatic optical effect than colors that have been muted through traditional shading and rendering. Like many of the innovative Impressionists, the American Color Field painters sought to investigate the phenomenon of color contrasts in a deep and intuitive way. Their contributions helped to pave the way for a free-flowing approach to painting that focuses on a single aesthetic element rather than trying to duplicate the visual world around us.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Minneapolis - Northern Mississippi Soul

From the first moment when you arrive in Minneapolis you will instantly understand why Mary Richards tossed her hat into the air with excitement for seven years every time The Mary Tyler Moore Show, set in this vibrant locale, played on television. There's a feeling in the air that can only be understood by the emotions which surely originate in the strong affinity with arts and culture that are an historic legacy of Minneapolis.

With luminaries past and present on the Guthrie Theatre stage that include Jessica Tandy (Fried Green Tomatoes, Driving Miss Daisy), her husband Hume Cronyn (Cocoon) whom she met at the Guthrie and T.R. Knight (George on Grey's Anatomy) it's not hard to understand the culture that is Minneapolis. Wherever there's a healthy arts community it seems like a thriving GLBT community is only a heartbeat away.

Open minded, vibrant, friendly, safe and forward thinking. However you describe Minneapolis it is an exciting new destination for the gay tourist. With the largest percentage of GLBT population of any city in the United States outside of San Francisco it's not surprising that a gay-friendly welcome is guaranteed in this mid-western metropolis.

The Minneapolis cultural landscape is currently experiencing an arts explosion with almost a half billion dollars being spent recently on new and upgraded infrastructure. With the new Public Library building, the stunning new Guthrie Theater, a new expansion to the Walker Art Center and a new wing at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts and more to come in the next few years, this city is a rare treat for cultural aficionados or anyone with curiosity.

Three openly gay men who sit on the City Council and an openly gay Senator have enabled the existence of some of the most progressive same-sex legislation anywhere to be found in Bush country. Although there is no actual gay village it is abundantly clear that the local GLBT community is fully integrated in this cosmopolitan gem of the American mid-west.

Anything and everything you might be searching for on your gay vacation is available in Minneapolis. A vibrant GLBT community, fabulous food, great accommodations, lively nightlife and culture beyond imagination are waiting for you to experience and enjoy.

With the new trend around the world toward boutique hotels not surprisingly Minneapolis is ready and able to offer this type of lodging for the ultimate holiday experience.

The new Chambers Hotel opened in September of this year to great anticipation as a boutique design hotel featuring a multi-million dollar contemporary and edgy art collection of original works from around the world. An intimate, deluxe service, high design, luxury complex with sixty rooms, an open-air courtyard, lobby bar, rooftop lounge and Chambers Kitchen restaurant, this can only be described as an incomparable experience. For art lovers who've ever felt they didn't want to leave a gallery when the doors closed, then the Chambers is like sleeping overnight in that gallery. Whether or not you consider yourself an art lover, the stunning design will leave you breathless. Be sure to check out the fire escape mural-a unique work of art unto itself. Add to this experience the luxurious rooms and friendly, efficient staff and this will prove to be a holiday or honeymoon experience to remember.

The larger twenty-one story Graves 601 Hotel launched in August of this year adding another new landmark to the hotel scene in Minneapolis. Featuring an environment rich in design, modern art and state-of-the-art technology it is located in the centre of town close to shopping, businesses and the Guthrie Theatre. Each room includes a wall mounted forty-two inch plasma screen televison, two ambient light moods, a wireless digital keyboard for internet access, an edge-lit etched glass headboard depicting one of four Minneapolis scenes, a vast library of movie and music selections for download digitally and a top of the line mattress for a decadent night's sleep. In addition you will experience incomparable bathroom elegance which is out of this world for a truly pampered stay in this new brand of hotel.

For a more traditional hotel experience the Marriott City Center offers full amenities in the heart of downtown just a short walk to all that Minneapolis has to offer. Connected to all of downtown by the enclosed Skyways and near the theatres and nightlife this is a location worthy of consideration for your stay. A Sunday breakfast in bed with champagne and orange juice in the newly renovated rooms will help your recovery from the previous night's frivolity and set the tone to explore all that is offered in the heart of this city.

Sparkling lakes, inviting trails and green spaces beautify this landscape where every resident lives within six blocks of a park or open space. It's possible to bike, hike, pedal or paddle all within the limits of downtown.

The mighty Mississippi river courses through the heart of Minneapolis providing spectacular river-walks and skyline views of this urban playground. The city's history revolves around this river and today the local residents and visitors enjoy the historic landmarks along the river banks.

The historic Mississippi Riverfront district has transitioned from industrial to recreational land delighting outdoor enthusiasts with parks, picnic areas, walking trails, landmarks such as the Pillsbury Bakery and the only stone railroad bridge to cross the Mississippi. This history-rich neighborhood is a perfect afternoon retreat with restaurants, patios and shops for a complete escape from the nearby city across the river. You can experience a Segway magical history tour which is as close to a magic carpet ride as you are ever likely to get. If you've never ridden a Segway then you are in for a unique experience and full training is provided before you head out to glide along the riverside trails and pathways.

Returning to the downtown side of the river bank you can visit the Mill City Museum which is the latest addition to Minnesota's statewide network of historic sites. From 1880 to 1930 Minneapolis was considered the "Flour Milling Capital of the World" and this museum rises eight stories from the ground in the original ruins of the Washburn A Mill, a National Historic Landmark. The elevator ride to the rooftop observation deck culminates in a spectacular view of the Mississippi River valley and downtown Minneapolis. In the museum's theatre a twenty minute video provides an excellent fast-paced history of the region which will make you feel like an expert local historian. If that's not enough for a trip back in time then the aroma of freshly baked bread will transport you to the past.

When the past comes together with the present and looks to the future there can be no better example than the historic Guthrie Theater. Back in 1960 an eager invitation from Minneapolis community leaders brought internationally acclaimed director Sir Tyrone Guthrie to the city to consider it as a possible home for his new theatre. In 1963 the original Guthrie Theater debuted with a modern-dress production of Hamlet on a unique thrust stage. Over forty years later the spectacular new multi-million dollar Guthrie Theater complex opened in June of this year. This new performing arts centre with three stages remains true to the original concept with another thrust stage in an 1100 seat auditorium and the additions of a 700 seat proscenium and a 250 seat studio theatre. However, French architect Jean Nouvel has created an entire entertainment structure with restaurants, bars, a view of the Mississippi and an awe inspiring atmosphere worthy of some of the finest performances by actors today and tomorrow. This bold venture is certain to ensure that the prolific Minneapolis theatre community, which is also the soul of this city, will continue to aspire to greater heights now and in the future as this theatre's tradition deserves. A visit to this performing arts centre and a night at the theater will be the highlight of your visit to Minneapolis-guaranteed.

Dining in Minneapolis will be an adventure and will involve some very tough decisions. Wolfgang Puck's 20.21 at the Walker Art Center versus Cue at the Guthrie Theater? No choice you have to try them both! A really special place for breakfast is Hell's Kitchen, so that's an easy decision and a truly unique experience. Even if you're not staying at the Chambers Hotel you'll want to experience a multi-course dinner created by Chef Jean-Gorges at the Chambers Kitchen. An old police station is the setting for a dinner perfectly prepared by chef and owner Stewart Woodman at Five Restaurant and Lounge. Wait for the surprise of a "Boys in Blue" special dessert and when you go to the washroom be sure they don't throw away the "jail" key . At Wild Roast Café you can expect a warm welcome from owners and partners Dean and Tom at their coffee-house where the 1903 fireplace is the centerpiece and their great light fare is a true culinary delight to complement the relaxing at-home atmosphere. And of course there's always dinner on a Mississippi paddle boat night tour for a truly unique dining experience with a little romance thrown in for good measure.

Halfway between New York and Los Angeles but all the way out of the closet Minneapolis offers unparalleled nightlife for the energetic gay traveler. After everything this cultural city has to offer during the daylight and twilight hours those with incredible stamina can party into the wee small hours at approximately fifteen gay or gay-friendly bars, clubs and pubs. There's somewhere to drink and dance every night of the week and it's no wonder the locals are always out and about.

For those who enjoy shopping there are several neighbourhoods close to downtown with boutiques and community style shops. For a retail adventure The Mall of America is a must with over 520 stores, an amusement park and aquarium. With no sales tax on clothes this a perfect time to expand your wardrobe.

One of the best and most practical amenities of this city is Metro Transit which includes light rail transit and buses. For just two dollars and fifty cents you can ride in comfort from your airport terminal to the heart of downtown and many places in between. You can save that expensive airport transfer money common to most cities and spend it on fun.

The enthralling culture and soul of this city is only due to the incredible people that call Minneapolis home. The city's biggest asset is the warmth of its citizens. Everyone from bell-hops to waiters, the directors of museums and galleries, actors and people on the street give forth a gay-friendly greeting. It's easy to understand the pride in their city, the pride for their community but their welcome goes beyond that of any other equally proud cosmopolitan city.

Look out Big Apple and Broadway there's a new Mary throwing her hat into the ring !

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Community College - Your Last Fighting Chance?

My father sent himself to college and law school at night by working in the post office during the day and receiving some help from my mother. It has probably been four decades since a mailman's salary could cover college tuition and board.

My friend, Bill went to boarding school with me, graduated from Columbia University, became a stock broker, was given a pick slip, but then used the high school math and courses he took at De Anza community college to transform himself into a super computer manager. He paid for this career change by working as a truck dispatcher at nights, earning about $13 an hour, for two years. He jokes, "Columbia did nothing for me, De Anza college made me who I am today."

Increasingly people are going to be more like Bill and less like my father. The best of plans will be torn asunder and it will be community colleges that often help people put the pieces back together.

For about the last seven years I predicted an economic collapse based purely on 19th century economic theory. I guess MBAs did not read the same books, probably they don't read books at all. Production was getting more and efficient but the consumers who were to absorb all this production were shrinking. When those two lines crossed, there would be a collapse. Simple, basic elementary school math. One obvious example was that China and India were destroying the very middle class in America and Europe they would need to buy all their products. I did not know a thing about sub prime mortgages, but I did predict that American buying power had decreased dramatically and this drop was being covered by cheap credit---even groceries and pizzas were bought on credit. This Ponzi scheme would have to collapse one day. When my tasteless father bought his 1976 Ford Pinto, he paid $3600 in cash for it. That was about one month's salary for my father who was just a government employee. Few can pay cash for a car today, much less just one month's salary.

As a result of our collapsing economy and the rapid commodification of even the highest skilled professionals, such as lawyers and doctors, I predicted we would all need at least three revenue streams to guarantee our survival. "One job" was just a bit to close to "no job."

As such, I recommend that everyone who can, should go to community college to deepen, broaden, and modernize their skills set. Community colleges, especially California community colleges, are a great way to get a good and affordable vocational or academic education. As an undergraduate student and as a graduate student, I always worked in some high paying trade such as house painting, carpentry, or even hard core landscaping. I always figured trying to be too purely middle class in my job choices was too geeky and overspecialized (and it did not pay well for students). When I wasn't landscaping, I was teaching myself jewelry fabrication and casting, blacksmithing, welding, and metal machining. I have found these diverse skills helped my analytical ability and they have given me the confidence to know that I could learn new things, even if I was awful at them in the beginning.

As our economy changes I believe many of the big name schools will provide knowledge that is both expensive and obsolete. Their legacy and prestige will make them reluctant to change at the very moment they need to change the most. Like RCA, they will not adopt the transistor because of their huge inventory of obsolete tubes, but a young upstart company like Sony will, to their great profit. I believe the new hot careers will be taught at small community colleges rather than at hallowed institutions like Harvard. De Anza had a star program in animation 20 years ago when animation was just becoming interesting. Stanford University, the school I attended, did not. Instead they had a communication program and a snooty documentary film program. Animation blew up, but snooty documentary films and a bloated TV industry did not.

Affordable and relevant education will be key, whether its is academic or vocational in nature. Attending a top California community college is probably your most straight forward of obtaining either-especially for academic education. No onerous high school requirements like super high grades or SAT tests. You get in automatically. If you do well in the courses you need to transfer, you are pretty much assured of transfer. No soul searching essays about your most formative experience. No need for all those contrived extra-curricular activities. Best of all, it is relatively inexpensive.

If you use community college as part of your university career, do take your normal college courses, but also take a few less mainstream courses in organic farming, or solar electrification, or small business accounting. Take these courses and take them seriously. They may end up saving you. As my professor used to say "relying on reason alone is the quickest way to disaster." Chaos enjoys playing with all your well laid plans. For more and more of us, the worse case scenario will be the real scenario. Widen your options and become as adaptable as possible. That is how hominids have coped for a couple of million years.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The Ancient Chinese Silk Route - Conduit of Culture

Small Beginnings

Arguably the most significant trade route of ancient Chinese civilisation, the Silk Road, or Silk Route as it is sometimes known, was named in the mid-19th century by German scholar, Baron Ferdinand von Richthofen. However, the route itself was in use since around the 2nd Century BC. Its original purpose had been political rather than economic and a court official from the Han Empire was sent westwards on a diplomatic mission, becoming the first traveller along what would become the most important east-west link ever. It was to be decades before his return, and when he did, the goods and information he'd gathered on his journey would spark the desire for trade.

Corridor of cultural exchange

Over time, the route became a conduit for the exchange of information and goods - it was to people of the time as the Internet is to us today; a means of linkage between diverse and geographically isolated civilisations.

What's in a name anyway?

"The Silk Road []" is a bit of a misnomer. Firstly, it was not really a single road. Rather, it was a wandering network of trails linking the Far East to Europe, Persia and Northern Africa. Secondly, silk was but one of a considerable number of valuable commodities traded along the route.

Exchanging ideas and ideologies

Scientific and technological innovations, such as gunpowder, ceramics, the magnetic compass, the printing press and mathematics, transferred along the Silk Road to the West. The religion of Buddhism reached China from India, and was later to play an important role in the evolution of Chinese culture. Of course, Buddhism was not to be the only religion to travel this road. The cultural effects of the rise of Islam can still be seen in many of the areas along the route. Art and language too came to be exchanged.

Silk by Sea

In the late 15th century, the discovery of a sea route from Europe to Asia made the Silk Road less popular as a trade route. Sea travel presented a new opportunity to trade at lower cost, with fewer dangers. These sea routes are sometimes considered as part of the greater "Silk Route".

The Silk Route Today

After what could perhaps be called an extended hibernation period, the Silk Route is once again growing in importance. The construction of modern roads and railways, the discovery of oil reserves and the industrialisation of surrounding areas has led to the reopening of parts of this route to some extent.

The historical significance of the route is well-appreciated by modern-day travellers. To walk in the footsteps of the likes of Marco Polo, to see first-hand the landscapes traversed by explorers centuries ago; it is surely a fantastic experience of cultural enrichment.

The potential that this area holds as a tourist destination is not lost on the authorities. Neither is its archaeological relevance.

Preserving the Past

Chinese authorities are doing their best to protect and restore many of the most important archaeological sites. The Dunhuang Research Institute has been examining and restoring the Mogao grottos and an extensive preservation project is currently underway. Excavations are undertaken all over, with significant finds relatively frequent.

One such find has been produced at the Astana tombs site, where the dead from the city of Gaochang were buried. The murals, clothing and other artefacts discovered, have provided significant insight into life along the old Silk Road.
There is much to see and learn from around the Taklimakan Desert; damaged grottos and ruined cities rich in their histories.

Unique People

Archaeology is not the only draw card though. Many visitors are attracted by the minority peoples - there are about thirteen different groupings in the region; the Han Chinese, the Tibetans and Mongolians in the east, and the Tajik, Kazakhs and Uzbeks in the west.

Then there's the lure of cities such as Kashgar, where the Sunday market maintains much of the old Silk Road spirit. People various nationalities selling everything from spice and ornaments to camels and carpets.

It is the kind of place that adventure travellers dream about. Rich in history and cultural legacy, surrounded by imposing geography, peopled by diverse minorities and relatively untouched by mainstream tourist machinations.

The Silk Route Legacy Lives On

From its founding during the early days of the Han Dynasty, the Silk Road has had an important role in international trade and politics, extending over three continents and leaving its mark on civilisations around the globe. It has had periods of boom and decline and it has been always come back to boom again. I would venture to suggest that the story of the Silk Road is far from over...

Saturday, June 15, 2013

The Hudson River School of Painters

1. Forces and Philosophies behind the Movement:

At the dawn of the 19th century, everything in America was new. Towns were new. Government was new. Infrastructure was new. Even its spirit was new. And a new breed of painters was about to capture it on canvas. But their origin, like many of the country's aspects, can be traced across the Atlantic to Europe-in this case, to the Romanticism movement.

Spreading across the continent during the previous century, and serving as the artistic core of poetry, painting, and even architecture, it replaced the traditionally restrictive, intellectual and factual approach to life with one of contemplation and expression, particularly of its awe-inspiring features, such as its vast forests and limitless skies. These, according to this philosophy, could only have been created by a Source far greater than the contemplator, and it took his limitless soul to be able to connect with it. Finite intellectual understanding, it was concluded, was no opponent for infinite creations.

Artistic works served as expressions of what may have been man's ascent back to his original, enlightened origins-namely, that he had begun to (re)realize that he was a combination of physical, intellectual, and emotional properties, and it was only the latter which had enabled him to replace reason with emotion, gaining a new relationship with nature in the process.

Like a series of lights re-lit after a long, dark winter, this philosophy spread across Europe, each of its countries beginning to flicker as they focused on their natural beauty.

Art, traditionally following form, now did the opposite. Instead of reflecting a formal English garden, for instance, paintings now increasingly represented informal nature, which was seldom so meticulously patterned and planned-at least not by man. Scenes appearing on canvases were representations--not artificial, idealized images-and with them came acknowledgment and acceptance of what "is" and not what "should be."

A counterforce, opposing order, balance, and symmetry, arose.

Society, again only subconsciously aware of its impinging enlightenment, evolved, as expressed by its shifting beliefs. Medievalists, for example, had viewed nature as sinful, seeped with Christianity-incompatible pagan gods, while Classicists felt that, if nature were left untamed, that it would remain chaotic. As a result, it could only be rearranged into proper order by the touch of man. But Romanticists saw it as a natural expression of faultless beauty to be enjoyed and appreciated, and man's hand only marred, spoiled, or uncreated it.

Although these forces and philosophies ultimately floated across the Atlantic, there were several fundamental differences to the movement, which began to take root in North America. The European philosophy was, first and foremost, a revolt against classical traditions and their established beliefs. Because the New World had no formal school of arts--whether they be of the painting, prose, or poetry genres--before the dawn of the 19th century, there was no need for such a counter-movement. Traditional portraiture constituted the primary artistic legacy of the latter, 18th- century Colonial period. That few examples of landscape painting remain from this era indicates that little value had been attached to it.

But 1800 would serve as both the threshold to the new century and to its shifting values. Having already established its foundation of independence and government, America now turned its attention to its aesthetic side, establishing pride in the natural beauty its new shores had provided. The principle medium through which this pride was expressed was art.

Like a collective canvas waiting for a brush, the Hudson Valley posed for painters, enticing them with its lush river, forest, and mountain vistas, and providing the stage where that beauty could be captured, expressed, and interpreted. The stage, in essence, served as the incubator of an American painting movement.

The Catskill Mountain House, the country's first resort, opened in 1824. Along with the Hudson River-dotted summer retreats, it attracted tourists and travelers, who were spurred into exploring the area by a flourishing economy. Since America's still budding, nature-expressing trend arose in original form as Romanticism in Europe, it is not surprising that it was carried across the ocean by a European, who became one of the earliest venturers to be lured here by its pristine beauty. His name was Thomas Cole.

2. Thomas Cole:

Born in Bolton-le-Moor, Lancashire, England, on February 1, 1801, Thomas Cole served as an engineering apprentice in a calico print factory before relocating to Philadelphia as a young artist. Despite having subsequently embarked on an overland wagon journey to Steubenville, Ohio, with his family, he quickly aborted the attempt, returning to pursue a career as a textile print designer. It provided an initial, albeit tenuous, connection to art.

That connection, however, was more firmly established in 1819 when he was given his first exposure to tropical seas and majestic mountains during a trip to St.. Eustasia. The images impressed on his soul would later be transferred on to canvas.

A self-taught artist, he elected to acquaint himself with painting fundamentals the following year, after which he became an itinerant portrait artist in Pittsburgh and Ohio. He first drew at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art in 1823.

At the quarter-century mark, several career-shaping events occurred: he moved to New York City; traveled to the Hudson Valley for the first time; sold three, notoriety-sparking landscape paintings; and began to spend his summers on a Catskill farm called "Cedar Grove."

3. Cedar Grove:

Initially traveling to the village of Catskill in 1825, he returned the following year to board at, and establish a rural studio in, a small outbuilding on the 110-acre Cedar Grove farm, which sported a Federal style, mountain-facing house owned by local merchant, John A. Thomson. The view became his life-long inspiration.

Indeed, in his "Essay on American Scenery," written in 1835, he expressed how the landscape had featured "varied, undulating, and exceedingly beautiful outlines-(the Catskills) heave from the valley of the Hudson like the subsiding billows of the ocean after a storm."

Taking long, frequent walks alone, he became mesmerized by the vistas of both the Hudson River and the peaks triumphantly raising their heads to the sky behind it, sensing the Source which had created them.

As the arm of that Source, he both liaised between and expressed the two on canvas-in the process sparking the beginning of what would evolve into two early-19th century trends: a strong national interest in American scenery and the religious awe with which it became associated. Because nature was a form of God's work, landscape painters were credited with alerting others of this fact.

According to Matthew Baigell's book, Thomas Cole (Watson Guptill Publications, 1981), " ought to be a ladder by which people might rise to see spiritual reality shining above base nature..."

Aside from embodying this philosophy, Cole's paintings offered the viewer a unique perspective, implanting him, for the first time, in the raw, untamed, and uncensored American wilderness, which he recreated by means of colors and techniques, in unprecedented detail, demonstrating what traditionalists considered its "imperfections." These ranged from broken tree stumps to unsightly underbrush and jagged mountain edges.

Topographical variations, emphasized by sun and shade alike, evoked mystery and terror.

His painting process was also less than traditional. In an 1838 letter to fellow artist Asher B. Durand, he detailed his compositional methods and creative techniques. "...I never succeed in painting scenes, however beautiful, immediately on returning from them," he explained. "I must wait for time to draw a veil over the common details, the unessential parts, which shall leave the great features, whether the beautiful or the sublime, dominant in the mind."

Cedar Grove proved instrumental in both his professional and personal life. After a decade of summering there, he permanently planted his roots in Catskill soil on November 22, 1836, when he married Maria Bartow, one of Thomson's nieces, in the west parlor, subsequently taking up residence in the house's second-floor rooms. He also completed his first major series of paintings, "The Course of Empire," for which he was most known.

In order to accommodate the large canvases needed for the second series, entitled "The Voyage of Life" and commissioned by wealthy philanthropist Samuel Ward, three years later, Cole moved into a barn-resembling structure he designated the "Old Studio." Ward, in the event, died that November, before they could be completed.

The "New Studio," an Italianate building on a knoll overlooking the Catskills and the only building he ever designed himself, replaced the old in 1846, but it was only used for more 14 months until his own untimely death at age 47, of pneumonia, on February 11, 1848.

In addition to "The Course of Empire" series, which depicted the rise and fall of civilization, and "The Voyage of Life," which demonstrated its mutability, Thomas Cole left numerous paintings, including the "Lake with Dead Trees" of 1825, "Kaaterskill Falls," "Falls of the Kaaterskill," "Landscape," "A View Near Tivoli," "The Notch of the White Mountains," "The Old Mill at Sunset," and "Mount Aetra from Taormina."

Despite his short life, he nevertheless set the tone and revolutionized the themes, styles, and methods which became characteristic of American landscape painting, enabling future generations, in his own words, to "know better how to appreciate the treasures of their own country."

Cole's initial, and recurrent, inspiration can be viewed from the main house's porch, which provides a picture postcard view of the Catskill peaks, such as Palenville, gathering spot of Hudson River artists throughout the 19th century; Kaaterskill High Peak; and Thomas Cole Mountain. Their significance to him is expressed by his very poem, "The Wild," written in 1826 and reprinted on the porch's plaque. "Friends of my heart, lovers of nature's works, let me transport you to those wild, blue mountains, that rear their summits near the Hudson's wave."

Although Thomas Cole's untimely death may have signaled the end to his painting philosophies and styles, it had actually been just the beginning of them, since he had already passed the torch to a student. His name was Frederic Edwin Church.

4. Frederic Edwin Church:

Born in Hartford, Connecticut, to a family, which had been prominent since the city's very founding, Church knew, from an early age, that art had been his life's calling. The most pivotal step toward that goal had been his acceptance as a student of Thomas Cole, then considered America's most respected landscape painter, in May of 1844.

The two-year pedagogy, held in Cole's west bank Catskill studio and costing $300 per annum (plus $3.00 per week for room and board), enabled him to see through his teacher's eyes before establishing his own style. His teacher's influence was, nevertheless, evident in his later painting, "Morning," of 1856.

Like Cole, Church drew inspiration from the area's namesaked mountains. Serving as "lesson plans," they were considered "steps by which we may ascend to a great temple," and were transformed into drawings, sketches, and paintings. One such lesson, taught on a bluff designated "Red Hill" and located on the river's east side, enabled Church to both capture the Catskills from its greater elevation and lay the foundation from which his home would someday rise.

Although he had initially focused on painting landscapes in the Hudson Valley, he soon hungered to serve as intermediary between more of the world and his canvases. Particularly peaked, in interest, by Baron Alexander von Humbolt's Mexico, Caribbean, and South American Kosmos volumes, he elected to make his own sketching trips to the southern hemisphere in 1853 and 1857, during which its rich tropical foliage and mountain silhouettes provided the scenes for such paintings as "Chimborazo," "View of Cotopaxi," and "Heart of the Andes."

Church employed a progressive process to his creations, communing with nature during the summer and creating "sketch snapshots" in the form of graphite (pencil) drawings to preserve the visual memories, coupled with notes and verbal impressions. More than observing, he studied nature, becoming immersed in it and gaining considerable understanding of it before capturing it with his brushes. As interpreter, he recorded his translation in painting form, transforming it from three-dimensional reality to two-dimensional representation on usually very large oil canvases in his studio during the winter.

Several elements are indicative of his style. Abundant vegetation, for instance-usually appearing in the foreground-served to draw the viewer into the scene, placing him above and at some distance from the represented landscape. Using light, he captured water and ice with a wide range of colors, while streams and lakes served as sun-illuminated elements. Leaf, flower, rock, and boulder details were painted with infinitesimally detailed accuracy.

The sky served as Church's most consistent inspiration, enabling him to capture its cloud types, colors, shapes, and hues after obsessive study of them, and rainbows, most often associated with waterfalls, were also frequently featured.

By the end of the decade, Church temporarily turned his attention from painting to searching for a suitable location where he could raise a family, although even that was influenced by his budding years. Indeed, he could conceive of no more appropriate place than that which had allowed him to return to his roots.

5. Olana:

Acquiring 126 acres of fields and woodlands in early 1860, including the very Red Hill from which he and Thomas Cole had sketched, Frederic Church, now married to Isabel Carnes, built a white, clapboard house designed by Richard Morris Hunt and dubbed "Cosy Cottage." The mountains visible across the azure stretch of river from it at times resembled green velvet pyramids and at others waves suspended at their crests.

With the birth of his third child-and intermittent, premature deaths of his first two due to diphtheria-he purchased an additional 18 acres of land, which blanketed Summit Hill, in 1867, on which to build his definitive domicile, a French manor house equally designed by Hunt.

Yet, inspired by the European and Middle Eastern research trip he took between 1867 and 1869, he restyled it mid-stream, to feature Moorish elements, with the aid of Calvert Vaux, a noted architect who had worked for Andrew Jackson Downing. Aside from providing the material for his eventual, continuity-of-human-civilization series of paintings, the trip also enabled him to determine how a house of true strength and integrity should appear, as demonstrated by the stone structures seen in Beirut. Optimum elements, he had decided, included thick, almost fortress-indicative walls and a central courtyard in Persian style. His success as a painter left no monetary shortage for the project.

Vaux, replacing Hunt as architect, employed his reputation-earned flexibility in designing according to client need and suggestion, as Church definitively determined the house's height, architectural details, and decoration, using his own artistic talents and consulting books about Persian architecture to determine the most optimum ornamental motifs. The former, particularly, enabled him to create decoratively detailed elements, from staircase balustrades to interior wall stencil patterns, and resulted in a rich, if not eclectic, collection of Moorish tiles, Turkish carpets, Near Eastern brass, Italian Old Master paintings, and teacher (Cole) and student (Church) works.

Construction of the imposing Persian palace propped 600 feet above the Hudson and offering pristine views of the Catskill Mountains, was completed in 1872, but interior decoration was achieved over several more years, during which Church and his family already occupied the rooms.

He described his home as "Persian, adapted to the Occident," and explained that its "interior decorations and fittings are all in harmony with the external architecture." Its name, "Olana," was chosen in 1880 to reflect that of the fortress treasure house in ancient Persia called "Olane."

Church's numerous paintings were the result of both the vistas it afforded and his frequent trips. After returning from his European and Middle Eastern sojourn, for example, he produced "Parthenon" and "Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives," while local scenes were captured in "Scene in the Catskills" and "Catskill Mountains." Other notable works include "Niagara," "Sunset," "Cotopaxi," and "The Icebergs."
Illness ultimately proved his enemy. Progressively attacked by degenerative rheumatism, he lost the use of his right arm, electing to add a studio wing with a gallery, observatory, bedroom, storage room, and gilded Moorish glass window overlooking the Catskills in 1888 to replace his 30-year New York facility.
His final brush stroke preceded the loss of his left arm, rendering him incapacitated as a painter during the last two decades of his life.

Because of his wife's own decline, he offered management of Olana to his 21-year-old son, Louis Palmer Church, to whom he re-bequeathed it when she passed on May 12, 1899. Repurposing his trips from sketching to convalescing, he traveled to Mexico the following winter in search of more illness-compatible climates, but was himself defeated by his afflictions during its return portion on April 7, 1900, ironically the location of the studio where it had all begun while enroute to Hudson, location of the one where it had all ended. In a way, his life had mimicked the soul's journey in that its origin and destination had been the same.

Frederic Edwin Church had been the world's most-traveled artist, and the world is exactly what he captured-one brush stroke and one painting at a time. Of his numerous works, Olana had served as his last-and only three-dimensional-architectural and landscaped one.

Located across the Rip Van Winkle Bridge just outside the town of Hudson, and majestically perched on Summit Hill, Olana, now visitor-accessible, emphasizes its connection between student and teacher, who were physically separated by only a swim's distance. An integrated environment of art, architecture, and landscape, it is a masterpiece in the midst of nature, whose grounds cover 250 acres.

The former stable, coach house, and coachman's quarters serve as the present-day Visitor Center and gift shop, where the 17-minute film, "Frederic Church's Olana," is continuously shown.

Brushed with the same artistic touch as his paintings, Olana is the result of balance, composition, and fidelity to nature, exhibiting what is considered the finest surviving example of the Picturesque Style, whose cornerstone is the framed view. For the first and only time in his life, he rearranged the landscape, creating the "real thing." Like his paintings, it featured both fore- and middle-ground elements in a composition whose background otherwise remained the ubiquitous and unaltered Hudson Valley and Catskill Mountains.

The scenery, having inspired both student and teacher, provided the natural setting to be depicted on canvas, demonstrating that the earth's purpose was a stage whose elements did not necessarily change, but whose representation and interpretation varied according to the "actor" currently using it.

According to the Olana website, "the distinctive land form (shaped to form a grassy stepped terrace) inevitably draws all visitors and functions as the viewing platform for the ultimate landscape experience at Olana. From that point, visitors experience the sublime in the truest sense of the word. The land falls away at one's feet. The Hudson River bends deeply and stretches toward infinity. The Catskill Mountains rise up from the south to their majestic peaks just across from Olana."

Thomas Cole and Frederic Church, although having settled in the Upper Hudson Valley, were not the only two artists who were inspired by it. Another painter lived further south, in Poughkeepsie. His name was Samuel Morse.

6. Samuel Finley Breese Morse:

Despite his reputation to the contrary, Samuel Finley Breese Morse was only secondarily an inventor. But without attracting any significant recognition of his artistic works, the reverse became the reality in the public's mind.

Born on April 27, 1791 just outside of Boston, in Charlestown, he was the son of Jedidiah Morse, who was a pastor and creator of geographies, and he traces his artistic awakening to the art class he took when he had been all of 11 years old.

Before graduating from Yale University (his father's alma mater), he had painted miniatures, but the dabbling evolved into more serious strokes when he had accompanied Washington Allston, a noted painter, to England for four years to study under him at the Royal Academy. It was at this time that he had determined that he would dedicate his life to art.

Like so many others, however, monetary necessity forced him to relinquish his passioned genre of history painting for portraiture.

Although portrait painting may have been less then fulfilling to him, it provided considerable monetary reward, enabling him to earn between $60 and $70 per canvas when he had been in Charleston, South Carolina.

Adopting the profile of the most successful, New York-based painters, he finally planted roots in that metropolis in 1826, forming and becoming head of the short-lived Drawing Association, itself an extension of the American Academy of Fine Arts. Thomas Cole and Asher B. Durand ranked among its members. It was quickly replaced by the National Academy of Design, of which Morse became its president.

Also mimicking fellow painters, such as Cole and Church, he began spending his summers in upstate New York, before embarking on a three-year sketching tour of Europe, producing his second monumental, but not particularly successful, canvas, "The Grand Gallery of the Louvre," which succeeded the first, "The House of Representatives."

While crossing the Atlantic on the Sully on the return journey in 1832, however, he also crossed the line between art and science, for the first time discussing electromagnetism with fellow passengers and thus picking up the thread to his second interest. In fact, he would later rely on these passengers and their affidavits that he, and he alone, had been the inventor of the electro-telegraph and the dot-dash system used to transcribe its signals into words. It was known, of course, as "Morse Code."

The amount of time and attention devoted to his new life purpose increased until he was no longer able to concentrate on either painting or teaching.

Linking Baltimore with Washington by means of the telegraph line for the first time after Congressional funds had been granted, he succeeded in transmitting the world's first inter-city communication, via wire, from the Capitol Building in 1844. Reflective of his and his father's deep religious beliefs, it consisted of four words: "What hath God wrought!"

Like the strands radiating from a spider's web, his telegraph cables ultimately connected the United States, Canada, Europe, and Asia.

Yet, despite the change in life strategy, he still followed in the footsteps of his fellow painters, eventually settling in the Hudson Valley in an estate named "Locust Grove."

7. Locust Grove:

After years of exclusive focus on his invention, and subsequent marriage to his second wife, Sarah Elisabeth Griswold, Morse purchased a 100-acre farm two miles from the village of Poughkeepsie for $17,500 in 1847, and its location, on a high bluff overlooking the Hudson River, was strongly reminiscent of the Cole and Church estates. In any case, it served to rekindle his painter's perspective, as indicated by the description of his new surroundings, which offered "every variety of surface, plain, hill, dale, glens, running streams, and fine forest..."

The working farm, tended by a live-in family and retaining its original, "Locust Grove" name, yielded crops and livestock.

Like Frederic Church's Olana, the original Federal-style house, built in 1830 by John and Isabella Montgomery, was subjected to considerable, European-influenced remodeling and expansion, this time by renowned architect Alexander Jackson Davis, who transferred it into a Tuscan villa with an octagonal plaza formed by its north and south wings; a four-story, westward (and hence, river-facing) tower; a billiard room on the east side; and a porte-cochere.

Also like Olana, Locust Grove featured framed views and beautiful vistas shaped by Morse's Romantic, 19th-century landscape design.

Waxing rhapsodic about the sanctuary located in the very setting he had often painted, he wrote in an 1848 letter to his brother, "You have no idea how lovely Locust Grove is. Not a day goes by that I do not feel it."
Morse died on April 2, 1872 in New York City. Having been a painter, photographer, professor, and inventor, he was considered one of the greatest men of the 19th century, having immeasurably improved commerce, politics, journalism, and communication during a period when the New World enjoyed a four-fold increase in land area and a catapult in population from four to 40 million. He had completed 300 canvases during it, but painting, alas, was not considered one of his principle accomplishments.

Purchased from Morse heirs in 1895 by William and Martha Young, a prominent Poughkeepsie couple, Locust Grove was subsequently occupied by them, their two children, and 12 servants, and subjected to expansion with the acquisition of the adjoining Southwood and Edgehill estates. A dining room was added on the north side, along with romantic gardens and carriage roads paralleling the Hudson River.

In 1963, it became the first Hudson Valley estate to be designated a National Historic Landmark, and 12 years later, Annette Innis Young, the last member to have occupied it, created a not-for-profit foundation to preserve it and its 150 acres for "the enjoyment, visitation, and enlightenment of the public."

The house, featuring all of the Young's furniture and possessions, remains virtually unchanged and is open to the public.

Its Morse Gallery, located in the Visitor Center, offers a glimpse of his life and a prelude to the house, featuring a collection of portraits, telegraph instruments and cables, an 1835 telegraph patent model (consisting of a transmitter and receiver), rival European telegraphs, wet-cell batteries, and an 1850 telegraph register. You can even try your hand at tapping out the dots and dashes of Morse code.

Internally, the house offers a rich collection of artwork, including 18th century Dutch landscapes, 19th century Hudson River School paintings (more about which see), and 20th century prints and drawings. Furniture styles range from Chippendale to Empire.

8. Hudson River School:

Frederic Church and Samuel Morse were only two of many members who belonged to what a newspaper reporter once called the "Hudson River School" of Painters, and Thomas Cole was considered its founder, father, and leading light, despite the fact that he played no organizational or administrative role in it.

Although they often lived in, were inspired by, and painted its namesaked valley, they were otherwise unrestricted by it. Most, in fact, were based in New York City.

Characterized by the European Romanticism movement's philosophy that nature is an expression of the Higher Power, which had created it, its landscape painters glorified this fact with an almost religious reverence and thus believed that art was an agent of spiritual transformation.

Considered the foremost American artist, Cole was credited with creating the independent category of "landscape painting."

Although the Hudson River School of Painters cannot be considered group members bound by prescribed or specified rules or limitations, they enjoyed both stylistic and social cohesion, belonging to the National Academy of Design and, by 1858, working at the first purposefully-built studio for artists, the Studio Building on West Tenth Street in Manhattan.

Aside from Thomas Cole, Frederic Church, and Samuel Morse, other members included Thomas Chambers, Samuel Colman, Thomas Doughty, Martin Johnson Heade, George Innes, Homer Dodge Martin, Jervis McEntee, Charles Herbert Moore, William T. Richards, Thomas P. Rossiter, Francis Augustus Silva, and Robert Walter Weir.

Like many artistic movements, however, the Hudson River School reached its peak of popularity before it descended toward a trough, at which point it was replaced by the Barbizon style, which first took root in the French village after which it was named.

Nevertheless, having spanned the half century from 1825-when Thomas Cole had first settled in New York-to 1875, when Church and Bierstadt had produced the huge, glorifying depictions of the Andes and the Rockies-it had served to define the "American artist." Synthesizing European Romanticism with American landscape painting, it established the ultimate trinity by connecting man, by means of nature, with God-or created with Creator.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Changing the Tides of Confidence Through Strategic PR

Over two months have passed since the explosion of the Deep Horizon well in the Gulf; however, the aftershocks of such a "game changing" event are still far from over. Since this catastrophe began the global FIN-Ecological-system has shifted from its previous state resulting in 11 lives lost on oil rig and two other related deaths; estimated 4.2 million gallons of Oil flowing daily into the ocean; potential of 38,000 jobs lost due to the government placing a moratorium on deep sea drilling; the steady decline of political capital of BP CEO and in the like a company share price at historic lows.

They say every American President will be tested in their first term by either external threats or internal political issues which will define a President. Polls today reflect a lack of confidence in President Obama and his administration largely reflective of its failed attempt to swiftly respond to the Gulf Oil crisis. Conceivably, unknown to the administration their appointed Afghanistan Czar, GEN Stanley McChrystal, would provide the proverbial life raft to the President and administration in order to change the tides of political confidence.

This blog demonstrates how the Obama administration was able to get the BP Gulf Oil spill off of the front page through the use of strategic PR. Plausibly, discussions occurring within the White House Communications Office for the past two months have been preparing for the day that the administration may claim since "Day One" its oversight has successfully saved the coastlines and fishing industry from the worst natural disaster in American history, well surpassing the Exxon Valdez accident in Alaska in 1989. Unfortunately, there are months before this headline or similar headlines can be printed and social media can make them viral. Since desperate times require desperate measures-an alternative communications strategy must be enforced in order to employ strategic PR. That is burying the damaging headlines that pervade across multiple media platforms daily eroding the President's ability to wield power and influence. It should not be forgotten that bad press is still press and in this case," the release of the Rolling Stones article" created the opportunity needed for the administration to show the power and swiftness of the President-that which was not present in the early hours of the BP Oil spill.

It is here that professional staffers search and prepare legislation for their senior leaders in an attempt to capitalize on the opportunity and/or as others would argue-divert the American public's attention from one failed policy to another. Put another way, change the political issue in the headlines in order for the President to have an opportunity to gain political capital and rally his base. Most likely, immigration reform was too hot and politically charged to address; while banking legislation initially had traction; but, stalled when particular members of the Senate Banking Committee refused to vote on the bill in its current form.

White House Communications staffers would not have believed weeks before they would find their answer in Afghanistan, much less through the help of a calculating Rolling Stones reporter, Michael Hastings. I would not be surprised if the Press Secretary presents a seat to Rolling Stones in the White House Press Corps for their recent "gift" to the President-the gift of a "Re-do," a moment to appear in the media as strong and decisive. The result of such action shifted confidence polls regarding the President that were mostly trending downward in the light of the Gulf Oil spill to one seen as favorable in the immediate replacement of GEN Stanley McChrystal with the "Rock star" GEN Petreaus, largely credited as the architect of Counter-insurgency doctrine and the success of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Political strategist in the future should mark the June 23, 2010 date. It is the date where President Obama very likely saved his first term and potentially earned a second. It is the date he relieved GEN Stanley McChrystal, former Commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan for his disparaging remarks about the administration and removed the BP Oil spill from the front page headlines. Military Historians should mark July 4, 2010 as an important date in the history of the US struggle in Afghanistan. This date signifies the day GEN David Petreaus assumed command of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan and the date in which his legacy surely will be tested.

This could not have been scripted better, on Independence Day of all days; the administration's "Trifecta" is achieved. First, a few days earlier the administration skillfully used the White House as a backdrop to announce in essence that the Commanding General of Central Command would take a demotion in title to command US and NATO forces in Afghanistan. This was not said; however, within military circles this was observed. Second, the Rolling Stones article created the platform for the President to look strong in front of the American people by relieving GEN Stanley McChrystal of command for his disparaging remarks made about the administration and for quickly nominating GEN David Petreaus as his successor. Third, the President was able to send a message to aspiring 3-Star and 4-Star military officers that he did not have the confidence in their abilities to either promote or to be selected to successfully carry out his Afghan Strategy when he selected GEN Petreaus for the position.

This is where the White House Communications Office exercises the art and science of Strategic PR, the ability to send a message to multiple audiences via explicit and implicit communication forms. School trained as a policy analyst and strategist and additionally serving in the company of political, military and corporate strategist, one learns to pay attention to what is "not" being said, who is communicating the message, where the message is communicated, when it is communicated and the why. It is only then one truly understands the meaning behind the words chosen and their intent. This is what we like to call the story within the story.

One thing is for certain, if you are President Obama, you should still keep GEN McChrystal on your White House Christmas card list. If it were not for his lack of judgment and careless handling of embedded media, the administration's inept handling of the Gulf Oil spill surely would still be on the Front Page of media outlets across the country. Additionally, President Obama should thank GEN Petreaus for not only accepting his appointment; but, for putting his legacy and any future political aspirations in the complex box called Afghanistan. If one were looking forward to the 2012 Presidential landscape two potential challengers discussed in the past are now held very close.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Whirligig Pleasure

Likely you have smiled many times at whirligigs as you drove past them in someone's yard -- without knowing you were admiring a 10,000-year-old folk-art form.

Hitch weather vanes to windmills and you get whirligigs - an ancient device whose only purpose is to delight onlookers.

Though once widely popular, whirligigs have declined in popularity except for those young in heart. A few local fans keep the historic devices alive.

Every civilization dependent on the weather for farming or seafaring invented the simple pointer that indicates wind direction. Representations are found in Samaria, Egypt and China. We still rely on them.

Windmills - canted blades attached to a hub - turn wheels that grind grain, pump water or generate electricity - are almost as old as weather vanes. The genius that melded weather vanes and windmills is long forgotten, but not his/her legacy.

Medieval European tapestries show children playing with small whirligigs of a hobbyhorse on one end of a stick and 4-bladed propellers at the other end.

This was a time of chivalry and knights on horses wielding lances and swords to rescue maidens in distress. The 1440 edition of the Oxford English Dictionary defined "whyrlegyge" as "any spinning toy."

In the late 1700s of colonial America, human figures waving their arms -- holding swords, shovels, pitchforks and other implements - were popular.

When George Washington rode home to Mt. Vernon after the Revolutionary War he brought in his saddlebags "whilagigs" for Martha's grandchildren.

Washington Irving in his 1820 "Legend of Sleepy Hollow" wrote of "a little wooden warrior who, armed with a sword in each hand, was most valiantly fighting the wind on the pinnacle of the barn."

In the late 1800s, popular whirligigs portrayed Indians paddling canoes, birds with flailing wings, men sawing wood and women scrubbing clothes in a washtub.

First settlers on the south shore of the Peace River roadstead of Charlotte Harbor was Fred and Anna Howard in 1875. The following year they were joined by Fred's brother Jarvis and his family.

Jarvis kept a diary and related their first Christmas together in 1876. Among the gifts exchanged was a "whirligig" from Fred and Anna to the Jarvis family. Size and design of the contraption was not stated.

Whirligigs experienced a renaissance during the Great Depression of the 1930s. Men out or work could make whirligigs with scrap lumber and sell them from their front yards for one dollar. This would feed a family of four for a day. (I know.)

Interestingly, whirligigs sold well. They were relatively inexpensive and boosted spirits when times were grim.

A favorite toy during the depression was the pin-wheel -- basic whirligig. Dime stores sold them for ten cents, of course. They were constructed of a square of colorful celluloid - the first plastic - the points of which were split, bent together and nailed to a stick. You created wind to spin the whirligig by running or holding it out a car window.

A beautiful, triple-tier pin-wheel whirligig --with multi-colored, counter-rotating vanes -- grace a yard across the street from the Punta Gorda Isles Yacht Club.

The most spectacular whirligig in southwest Florida is about ten feet tall in Punta Gorda. It spins merrily at the western end of Olympia Avenue near the Visual Arts Center and Fishermen's Village.

Its vertical and horizontal blades of polished and crimson stainless steel was created -- and is maintained -- by Stephen Schwarz, a member of the Visual Arts Center. He has several more such works of art at his home.

Traditional whirligigs are crafted by hobbyists like Gerry Philbrick of Punta Gorda Isles. He fancies traditional designs such as flying cardinals and little men sawing wood energetically in a breeze.

Many history and art museums feature whirligig collections. Private craftsmen create whirligig "gardens" for fun and profit. Roadside craft vendors offer a wide variety of whirligigs for sale.

The best vendor in these parts is Chris "Kringle" Williams the "Toy Maker" at Fort Ogden on S.R. 17 between Punta Gorda and Arcadia. His "Santa's workshop" is set back from the highway but easily visible. He and his wife Delores preside over a salesroom of thousands of handcrafted novelties in a historic general-store building.

Craftsmen - or craftswomen - will find a book by Anders Lunde interesting and instructive. "Whirligigs Design & Construction" (Chilton Book Company, Radnor, Pa.) can be ordered from any bookstore.

Lunde is credited with reviving the whirligig a quarter-century ago. A well-known painter and wood sculptor, Lunde won First Prize in a sculpture at the1981 Durham (North Carolina) Art Guild Juried Exhibition. He received two awards for his whirligigs at the 1983 Juried Exhibition of North Carolina Crafts.

His book contains easy-to-follow instructions and patterns for constructing whirligigs - from pinwheels to elaborate groupings of several animated figures.

CAUTION: exposure to whirligigs could entrance you.

August 17, 2000

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Interview - Dr Daniel Spindler - Director - Siemens Healthcare Diagnostics Services

Dr. Daniel Spindler, Director of Siemens Healthcare Diagnostics Services, has been responsible for the Siemens Finance and Accounting Shared Service Center in Brussels since 1st May, 2009. He first joined Siemens in 1994. His areas of responsibility covered various Controlling functions for Industry in Regensburg as well as for Global Procurement and Logistics in Munich. Two stays abroad in China and Canada enabled intercultural experience. In 2004 he was granted a doctorate by the University of Regensburg for his research in the field of Fair Value Accounting under IFRS. From 2005 to 2007 he was responsible for the implementation of IFRS at the Siemens Energy Group Power Transmission and Distribution in Erlangen as well as for the Automotive Group SiemensVDO in Frankfurt. Additionally he was involved in the preparation of the IPO for SiemensVDO.

Prior to his appointment at Siemens Healthcare, he worked for over two years for Audi in Ingolstadt, where he took over responsibilities in external Group Reporting. Furthermore he was in charge of the group-wide implementation of an SAP BCS consolidation system.

SSON: Siemens Healthcare Diagnostic Services (SHDS) has gone through a lot of change, especially with the post-merger integration. Could you elaborate on the change programme?

Dr. Daniel Spindler: Siemens in general have very high standards and comprehensive guidelines on Compliance and Corporate reporting. There are very intensive requirements which have to be followed with regard to the monthly Corporate reporting to our HQ in Munich. Siemens also have detailed post-merger guidelines that allow new entities to get familiar with the Siemens landscape; there is a list of about 16 pages outlining what every entity has to implement and to fulfil. When all instructions are implemented and followed then an entity is fit to become part of the Siemens world.

After a merger, the people also need to be brought on track. To achieve this we conducted many meetings, like welcome days for newcomers or Town Hall meetings for the entire team. In addition, it was important for the understanding of the Siemens culture and its values to move to the Siemens Regional Company facility in Brussels. Before the move, we were apart from Siemens and still felt and behaved like different companies. Now we can easily get in touch with all our colleagues, e.g. the corporate departments of Siemens Belgium like Legal, Tax or Real Estate.

SSON: Daniel, what are the key drivers in the change programme, and how did Capgemini Consulting support this?

DS: The key driver of the change programme was the change of mindset. It was a change towards the Siemens world and its IT systems, where we benefitted greatly from the support by Capgemini Consulting. One big project was for instance the implementation of the Siemens Chart of Accounts (CoA). Before we had the Dade Behring CoA, but mid October 2009 was the go-live for the Siemens CoA. We now also have in our local SAP system the Siemens CoA and we don't have to convert anymore from the former Dade Behring accounts to the Siemens accounts. This was one very important step in fulfilling the central requirements, as Siemens asks all entities worldwide to use the same Corporate CoA.

Furthermore we are running through the 3D programme, which means that all the company acquisitions that Siemens made over the last three years, in order to build up the Diagnostics business, are migrated into single entities. In each impacted country the three former entities - DPC, Bayer Diagnostics and Dade Behring - have to be merged. In this context not only are there several legal mergers that need to be performed, but also on the Finance side the entities need to be merged. We have also received a lot support from Capgemini Consulting on this project.

SSON: What processes were standardized through Capgemini Consulting when Siemens acquired Bayer's diagnostic division, Dade Behring and DPC?

DS: A high degree of standardisation was carried out on the Finance and Accounting side, like implementing the Siemens CoA and through the 3D programme, where Capgemini Consulting worked with us to make this a success.

SSON: How long did it take to integrate and to standardize the two existing shared service centers, in legacy country activities?

DS: The shift of the activities from the Global Shared Service (GSS) Centre of Siemens is still ongoing. The former Bayer Diagnostics part, which is currently serviced by GSS, will be carved out by mid 2010.

SSON: Can you explain the set up that was there, and how long did it take to integrate and standardize that?

DS: As mentioned above, Siemens acquired the three entities DPC, Bayer Diagnostics and Dade Behring up to the end of 2007. After the acquisition, the Bayer Diagnostics part was serviced by GSS while the former Dade Behring entities belong to the Shared Service Centre in Brussels. Now almost two years later, we are still in the process of migration and integration. However, in the beginning in general the most important thing to do was to integrate, but this also offers the opportunity to standardise and we are taking the chance to do so now.

SSON: How long did it take to integrate the shared service centre and legacy contract activities proceedings?

DS: To date we have worked on this for roughly two years and it will be completed in 2010. When the 3D programme is finished all entities will run on one SAP platform. Furthermore, all Siemens compliance requirements and SOA requirements are already in place.

SSON: I believe this is likely to be fully completed by the middle of 2010 - is that correct?

DS: Yes, the 3D program is still ongoing, but there are just a few more countries which still need to be migrated. We plan to finalise the migrations in June 2010. We migrate country by country and this takes time, because every migration must be prepared and conducted precisely. In total it will take around two and a half years.

SSON: What were the main challenges in doing so, and how did Capgemini Consulting help?

DS: The main challenges were IT and Finance adaptations, and secondly the associated ramp up of Headcount. As already mentioned, it is crucial to fulfil all requirements which Siemens demands, but the acquired entities did not fulfil all these requirements in the past (e.g. very extensive and strict Compliance rules). Siemens has a lot of specific requirements related to Compliance as well as SOX404 and, as is commonly known, Siemens was going through a very rough time of bribery and corruption. In this context Siemens has now installed very high barriers in order to prevent bribery and corruption in future. This means that a lot of processes are very strict and require a lot of paperwork and a lot of signature authorisations. To implement all these takes time and Capgemini Consulting was supporting us in doing so, e.g. within the 3D programme.

SSON: Would you say that the challenges were predominantly technical or people-related (when I say "people-related", I mean change management)?

DS: I would say that the challenges were first of all very technically related, but the changes had to be driven by the people, so the challenges were also very much people related. People need to understand all new technological requirements, which especially in the SAP systems can be very complicated and complex. In the first years we are using the so called eConverter tool as a manual interface between our local SAP system and the Siemens SAP Business Consolidation System (BCS namely Esprit in Siemens). As a result of these technical changes, the people had of course to be trained and prepared, i.e. it was essential to provide the necessary knowledge and background. It was a huge task to train a lot of new people coming from many different countries. As a result the huge technical changes also had a high impact on the people involved. One is linked to the other.

SSON: And did you incur any major challenges when negotiating service level agreements?

DS: We recently went through the process of updating our SLAs, because they were outdated after almost ten years in place. These SLAs do not fulfil anymore the legal, tax or transfer pricing requirements of Siemens. Therefore we are currently aligning our SLAs with Siemens and started an initiative to update our SLAs with the help of Capgemini Consulting. We have worked out a new charging model for our fees, which was agreed with our customers. In the past we had a purely Sales based charging model, while we now switch to a volume or transactional based model. This model is a big change and we are expecting big efficiency gains out of it.

SSON: Daniel, how do you handle negative reaction when negotiating the SLAs?

DS: First of all we made all changes and especially the charging model very transparent; we have also conducted market comparisons where we analysed market prices of competitors. We additionally aligned our transactional charging prices with GSS of Siemens. Therefore, we are now aligned with in house prices as well as with market prices. Our overall charging fee is based on our actual costs and contains a reasonable mark-up.

Overall the amount of our fees does not have any effect on Siemens Group level, because it is purely an internal charging. With the new SLAs we just change the allocation between our customers while the overall charging amount still remains unchanged. When moving away from a sales based to a transactional based model, certainly some entities will in future have lower charges while charges to others increase. But in total for our Division nothing changes, it is just the allocation between the customers that changes. This leads to individual discussions with our customers, especially when they will be getting higher charges in future. As the prices are based on GSS and external market evaluations they are competitive prices and reflect the services rendered.

SSON: How does the retained organization look now? I mean, what suggestions make for a smooth transition?

DS: Siemens has three different sectors: Energy, Industry and Healthcare. Additionally there are cross sector services where for instance GSS belongs to. Siemens has many shared service centres within GSS which is operating on a global basis. GSS is rendering services to all sectors, that's why they are called cross sector services.

SSON: For members of organizations reading this who are thinking of merging with other organizations, what advice would you give for a smooth transition?

DS: Communication in my opinion is the key to success, because with a lack of communication people will not really be aware of what needs to be done and in which manner. The difficulty with our merger was that there was no former Diagnostics business and in this context there existed nothing to be integrated into - it was a newly built up Division coming from three acquired entities on different continents and cultures as well as having three different IT systems. This new Diagnostics Division has around 3.5 bn Euro revenue and more than ten thousand people who now need to work together.

As this Division is completely new, it is also very exciting. Diagnostics is very different to all other divisions Siemens has. First of all, the Finance headquarter is in the US, while all other Division headquarters are located in Germany. That means Diagnostics has a very different culture and philosophy. And as is always the case, it is important that all people work close together, especially in this post merger situation. It is very important to give all people the required knowledge and it is not sufficient just to send out some emails or instructions. It is really very crucial that people with Siemens experience go to the local sites and help to implement all standards.

I have realised that even after one and a half years, some people still do not fully understand how the end to end processes work. If nobody explains the entire process to you, how will you then know what part of the process chain might be wrong or even missing? We have experienced instances where parts of the standard processes were not yet implemented, which unnecessarily led to huge amounts of manual efforts. Therefore, somebody should be available until all tools and processes are completely implemented and the people are trained. Again, communication is the most important thing, especially if you imagine that a small entity is coming to a very huge and complex entity like Siemens. For sure it is not easy to find out the right people to contact. There are so many different Corporate departments and most of them are based in Germany. For the people it is often difficult to find the right contact person in case of questions.

SSON: Why did Siemens decide to go into diagnostics, and take over three different areas of very established companies?

DS: This is a very good question; Siemens had the strategy to enter this promising business derived from the megatrend 'aging population' and its growing need for Healthcare. Siemens historically was very strong in the classical Imaging business, i.e. in-vivo Diagnostics, as well as in the field of Workflow & IT solutions. In-vivo means taking photos of the human body, like using Ultrasound or Computer Tomographs. However to become an integrated Healthcare supplier, it was essential also to operate in the field of the in-vitro Diagnostics, i.e. where substances coming out of the body, like fluids and blood, are analysed. Now with Imaging, Diagnostics and Workflow & IT Solutions, Siemens can offer the full range of diagnosis. So in vitro and in vivo diagnosis come together and this has the advantage that e.g. the Sales people from in-vitro can also offer in-vivo and vice versa. With this approach the Sales departments from each Division get access to many customers and the customers on the other hand get the full product range out of one relationship.

SSON: What functions are consolidated into the SAP platform?

DS: General Ledger Accounting, Accounts Payable, Accounts Receivable, Cash and Bank, Intercompany Clearing and Fixed Assets are definitely the main functions. The SAP systems furthermore provide the full range from Finance & Accounting, Procurement, Logistics until Sales. Within Accounting & Finance the major parts are running on SAP, while one exception is some source data for the internal Management reporting, which still comes from various other systems outside SAP. However, it is our target that all reporting requirements should be handled in SAP. For instance we do our monthly closing on a local SAP system, which is then loaded into Esprit. In Esprit the Group figures are then ultimately consolidated.

SSON: How easy was it to implement that?

DS: It is probably more reasonable to ask how difficult it was. It was indeed pretty difficult, because all three former companies for instance had different CoAs. Furthermore Siemens already had its own SAP systems mainly adapted to the needs of an electronic company not covering the special needs of a Diagnostics business. Although parts of the SAP landscape are similar to what Dade Behring had, there is still a big gap between the systems. For example, our local SAP system does not yet have development codes or functional areas. Apart from these examples, there are even more outstanding topics that are necessary: in the final stage - it is our target to have an automated interface between our local SAP system and SAP BCS. Without this interface we have to convert the data and make many adjustments within a manual interface called E-converter. This can only be a preliminary solution and needs to be replaced. With the second phase of the CoA implementation we also want to implement this automated interface.

SSON: What are your priorities for shared services in the next five years? I understand that Capgemini Consulting has been your partner in your change programme - do you see them supporting you in achieving your future plans?

DS: Yes, we are very happy with our cooperation with Capgemini Consulting. Looking back I can say that there is always a lot of need for consulting services, especially if we talk about very dynamic companies; e.g. Siemens is a company with a lot of M&A activities and therefore a lot of changes. I can easily imagine that the current Diagnostics SAP platform will sometime be integrated into the existing Siemens systems already running for the Healthcare sector. Currently there are different SAP systems and different business models within the Healthcare sector, which all need to grow together.

SSON: And how long do you think that will take for you to go into that?

DS: This depends mainly on how long the current SAP systems, which are tailored for Diagnostics are in place, presumably the next two to three years.

SSON: So once the SAP evolves, so you are working off the same platform - then you can be brought in and integrated?

DS: Exactly, to integrate the Diagnostics Division into the classical Healthcare business one common platform is the key success factor.

SSON: A long journey ahead of you, but it sounds like you have done so much in the last two years anyway.

DS: We did a lot, but this is just the basis for the new tasks yet to be done. Now we have to take the next steps, and one of the next big steps is to adapt to the existing Siemens SAP systems. From a cost perspective, it makes sense in the end to operate on one Siemens SAP platform.

Monday, June 3, 2013

AI Maha Desert Hotels - Luxury in a Desert

Al Maha Desert is a part of the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve, which is country's first national park. This desert region takes pride in being the home to an impressive herd of rare Oryx. This rare species were becoming extinct around 50 years ago, and the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve took into its hand to save these gazelle-like creatures, the natives of UAE. Now, breeding is done and they are reintroduced into the wild. Today, Al Maha charm attracts number of tourists, for a unique experience with nature. It is one of those destinations, which leaves one spellbound. The reserve is spread out on 225 square kilometers area of pristine desert landscape, and makes for a holiday to remember. One cannot but overlook the panoramic views of Hazar Mountains and charm pervading throughout the place.

Hotels in Al Maha Desert provide with a luxurious and pleasant stay. Al Maha Desert Resort & Spa is the world's most pleasant oasis located 45 km from the city of Dubai. Amidst the mountains and surrounding dunes, the tourists have experience of a lifetime. Visit the resort, which bestows its guests with a quality environment wherein all your mind, body and soul are refreshed. The resort is world famous and rub's shoulders with some of the best hotel properties and even has been a winner of National Geographic's 2004 World Legacy Award for nature travel. It offers a luxurious way to be with nature. One of the elite hotels is a 42-suite luxurious hideaway located in the heart of the desert. Al Maha Desert Resort and Spa allows visitors to stay overnight in the reserve and is the only one resort which does so. The place is perfect to experience the magical beauty of the desert. The resort lets you live the true feel of Arabia, offering a unique desert life experience.

Hotels in Al Maha Desert Resort was conceived and developed by Dubai genius Sheikh Ahmed who as the Chairman of Emirates Airlines. He has made every effort required to make it one of the most beautiful places in Dubai. Very few people leave disappointed, as the resort boasts of excellent facilities, services, and ambience all around. This luxurious resort near the Dubai city is attracting most of the visitors in the city. Everything from the ambience to food and service is perfect, with some of interesting activities on offer. One can enjoy the activities such as falconry, camel riding and archery. A stay for a couple of nights at the resort offer a much-needed antidote to city's relentlessly fast pace.

Suites at the resort are adorned with fabulous amenities and give an opportunity of living in a heaven even in the desert. In addition, every suite, one will find a wildlife field guide who will let you know the success story of the desert conservation program. The romantic ambience can be seen excelling when the guests start on the sunset camel ride. And relaxing in the plunge pool of the Hotels in Al Maha Desert Resort is an unmatched experience. You will have the same enthrallment while roaming in desert landscape where beautiful white Oryx keep wandering in search for the food. The stunning environment of the place demands a visit whenever one comes visiting Dubai.