Sunday, February 25, 2018

Chicago Museum Rounds!

In the nearly 12 years I've been coming to "Ketelsen East" to visit Melinda, we only went in to what most consider "downtown" a few times, mostly when visitors were stopping by. There was a trip to Adler Planetarium, once to Navy Pier and Millenium Park, once or twice to Wrigley, that was it! The western suburbs were good enough for us! My friend Karen has intended to broaden my horizons somewhat, plus I've given 2 talks at Adler the last 5 months! So last weekend we took public transportation down to the Chicago Art Institute for a few hours, then in a lovely blizzard, took in Millenium Park. A couple days later (President's Day) we risked being over run by kids out of school to take in the Museum of Science and Industry (MSI). I still remember a long bus drive from Iowa when I was in 7th grade (!) to visit not only MSI, but Natural History Museum, Shedd Aquarium AND Brookfield Zoo. THAT must have been a day! My highlight of the entire day was the Nazi U-Boat on display at MSI. Would love to see that again - missed it this week! It is impossible to see anything close to a majority of the displays in a few hours, so repeat visits, better yet, annual memberships are well worth it!

I'm thinking I'd been to the Chicago Art Institute before - I remember the lions in front if not what I saw inside... I know that Grand Wood's "American Gothic" usually resides there, though is currently on a tour of Europe. We saw some sketches from war-torn Syria, a photography exhibit, a gallery of glass paperweights and Marc Chagall's "American Windows" in the couple hours we spent there. We spent a good amount of time reading about "Chagall's Windows", which were created for the Bicentennial and tell the story of America, but unfortunately, I evidently miss most of the symbolism in the story told in the glass. As someone who has previously dabbled in stained glass, his use of making images without the standard caming techniques is somewhat foreign too... Case-in-point is what I thought was a dove - a symbol of peace at right, but turns out it is an eagle, a symbol of strength... You can also see where he does not use the standard lead caming division between colors and textures but somehow incorporates it into the glass - a little strange to me!

As we returned to one of the galleries that overlooked an open space, we saw it was snowing heavily. It seemed disconcerting to be looking at Italian sculpture from millennia ago with heavy snow falling in the background!

There was Byzantine sculpture and mosaics from what is now war-torn Syria that was absolutely beautiful. Originally found in public places, the leopard mosaic at right was just stunning! It would be fun to try to replicate this on some smaller scale! Make sure you click on the image to see the details in it!

I think I've seen the glass paperweight gallery in a previous life too! There were some beautiful objects - the line of various sizes at left immediately jumped to mind as a focus-stack - 7 individual frames at various focus setting combined to extend the range of the in-focus setting. This particular design is known as millefiori - or "thousand flower", the effect of using hundreds of colored canes to create the effects of colorful flowers.

Likely the most impressive "paperweight" was the huge 30cm diameter one at left that had to have weighed in at 60 pounds or more! It was huge, yet very nearly perfect as I could make out!  There were other amazing examples too - what looked like real bees buzzing around what looked like real flower buds was one standout...

We were just about to leave as they started kicking people out at closing time, walking out into the evening blizzard.  But the temperature was moderate and snowfall was manageable - quite pleasant to be in, and perhaps some interesting photos would come of it. Of course first we had to photograph one of the "guard lions" with a fresh coating of snow.  They do not have names, but this north one was indicated to be "on the prowl" by the artist... Millennium Park is just a block to the north, so headed that way. The first public art we came upon is known at "Crown Fountain", a pair of 50 foot tall towers faced with LED displays that randomly shows few-minute videos of about 1,000 Chicagoans, ending with a "kiss" that results in a water spray during the Summer months. It is quite striking, especially with snow falling, surrounded by people and the Chicago skyline.

The other highlight of Millennium Park is the incredible sculpture "Cloudgate", commonly called "The Bean"! I thought it would be interesting in the snow, but it likely detracted from the reflecting surface...

If you can't find photos to take at "the Bean", you aren't trying hard enough! We weren't there very long, and even with the perfect reflective surface partially blocked, it was a fun time. We ambled a bit, and I snapped the shot at left of another fellow snapping it, then walked around to the west end where there was an ice skating rink. The Bean from that angle does reflect the rink, but is tough to spot with the snow partially blocking the reflections.

I was doing some reading on its installation, and they did a LOT of work in the construction, from welding 168 pre-formed stainless steel panels together. The panels are 3/8" thick and in total weight about 100 tons. The tough part was in polishing the stainless steel, including the welded seams so that the joints are totally invisible. After looking closely, I can say they did a very good job!

Two days later we did a post-brunch visit to the Museum of Science and Industry (MSI) on President's Day. While risking hordes of running schoolchildren, since school was NOT in session, it seemed to be mostly families, so wasn't a bad day! First up was transportation, where some time was spent investigating a 727 on display! One of the best things they could have done was put a pilot there to talk to - which is what they did! Scott worked as a pilot for both Midways and United Airlines and had some great stories to tell. He truly made it sound like it was the best job in the world! Even the story of how it got there was interesting. Since even Midway is 10 miles away, they landed the 727 at the old Meigs Field, a small, single-runway airport. Once landed, the 727 was stuck there as the runway wasn't long enough to take off again. It was transported the mile or two to the MSI, split along it's length for easy access to the interior and displays in the museum. That is the 727 hoisted to the second floor at left, and at right is Scott, eager to talk all about flying it!

The weather section had lots of displays too, highlighted by a 40 foot tall vortex, looking for all the world like a miniature dust devil like you would see in Arizona. Operators had some control over it, including the air speed and the angle of injection of the input blower. In the vortex photo at left, you can also see the Foucault Pendulum at right, a closeup of which is shown at right. It is a simple demonstration of the earth rotating. If mounted at the north or south pole, the plane of the pendulum would sweep out a full 360 degrees in 24 hours. At the equator, it would stay in the same plane. At Chicago's 42 degree latitude, seems to me it would go about 2/3 of the way 'round, about 240 degrees... With the pendulum's slow swing I took my selfie in the reflective ball at left...

While there were ample opportunities for kids to be running around like wild Indians, it was gratifying to see lots of them actually paying attention to the displays and principles being taught, especially young women. From the electrical to more vortices, they seemed to be outnumbering the boys at paying attention!

All the museums visited are worth further exploring, since only a small part of each were seen. I stand by my wish to go thru the Nazi U-Boat again, after my first visit 50 years ago!

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