Judge Hatchett was very enthusiastic as she shared her stories and words of wisdom to inspire all the attendees. Unlike other speeches, Judge Hatchett meandered around the room and asked questions of attendees. She encouraged everyone to establish professional and private goals and to stick to them!
For us, the breakout session was an opportunity to learn from senior managers at the conference.
After the breakout session, she left us all pondering her powerful message: “on the other side of fear is your freedom!” Reminding us to not be afraid to act upon our dreams and do what we are meant to do.
Receiving a standing ovation from the audience, Judge Hatchett walked off the stage to converse on a more personal level with a few of the attendees. It was then that we realized what a small world we live in when we “bumped” into Scott Wayman, who, as it turned out, is married to Diane Gottsman! For those wondering who Mrs. Gottsman is, she comes to Sam Houston State University (brought in by Career Success) every semester to teach us about etiquette, and we very much enjoy her annual visits, where we pose with her in annual selfie.
So, we did that with Mr. Wayman!
As we got ready to leave, we said our goodbyes to Ms. Breland, Mr. Wayman, Mr. Stokes, and Judge Hatchett.
We are looking forward to attending the 2023 TCMA Conference in Allen, Texas!
As we sprinted to the last day of our conference trip, we prepared for our busiest and most fulfilling day. We headed to the Lost Pines resort for a delightful breakfast and one of our last opportunities to network and learn from other city employees. Our conversations soon came to an end when the World-Renowned ER Physician and Iraq War Veteran, Dr. Sudip Bose took the stage.
Dr. Bose spoke on how to be the best leader, even when while under A LOT of pressure, which is something that various city managers have dealt with through COVID-19 and its effects. Utilizing his military background as an analogy to various situations, Dr. Bose was able to relate with the many city managers in attendance.
Dr. Bose reminded us that “challenges without support are discouraging,” stressed the importance of knowing when to let go of a situation and move on, and highlighted the importance of knowing when a window of opportunity is presenting itself.
Perhaps most important was his message emphasizing preparation, a lesson he learned in the military: “the more you sweat in peacetime, the less you will bleed in war.”
Dr. Bose’s closer was perfect lead-in to the different sessions that we would hear, involving: (1) cybersecurity and (2) how and why it is important to address mental health needs.
The cybersecurity session focused on the importance of addressing and having a multi-layered defense and an Incident Response Plan.
Ryan Burns with Texas Municipal League (TML), who is a former SHSU graduate, led this session addressing all the concerns of its attendees as well as covering what he thought was most important.
Without saying too much, Burns advised everyone on how “it takes everyone to combat a cybersecurity threat and each city must plan, prepare, and test their plans, revising as necessary.” As city managers and employees, they must be PERFECT all the time compared to a hacker who only needs to get it right once.
Morgan and Isabel reported that the session covering mental health was comforting to see so many cities focused on the mental health of their employees.
TCMA has partnered with Deer Oaks Employee Assistance Program to provide mental health support for its members. Rep. Kristina Herrera, explained the various services that will be available for TCMA members and their families and the importance of utilizing them. The concept, as with all proactive health efforts, is that providing mental health services is not only the right thing to do, but will ultimately lead to a happier, more productive work force.
The City of Austin awaited us, so we left the conference early after enjoying a quick lunch!
We had the pleasure of meeting (and, for some of us, re-meeting) a passionate artist, Daniel Arredondo, whose work entranced us for almost two hours. One of most prevalent themes in his work is “what lies beneath,” the idea that what is beneath the surface is often more important than what is on the surface.
It may be appropriate, then, that his work often depicts trees. But he also showed us his landscapes and, in a new twist for him, his recent, more abstract pieces.
Arredondo’s passion was apparent throughout our visit. We asked him how he knew when a painting was done, and he simply described it as a gut feeling.
Morgan seemed to gravitate toward the pieces that were more southwesterly in appearance, a bit reminiscent of Georgia O’Keeffe landscapes. Jessica was fond of his signature style paintings of “what lies below,” landscapes of trees and their roots growing underneath–so much so that she bought one of them!
We also got to see him in action! Arredondo demonstrated how he starts an abstract painting and described why he chooses the media that he does. He mentioned multiple times that he has never done a demonstration in front of others; it was such a treat! I loved how passionate Arredondo was, how detailed he was in his descriptions of his process, and the hospitality with which he welcomed us. Today was filled with so much laughter, great conversations, and fellowship. It was a great day to start the end of our trip!
At the end of our stay, Arredondo gifted us with pieces that will serve as reminders. Some of his earliest works adorned the front of the cigar boxes, and he was kind enough to let us choose ones that spoke to us.
Many, many thanks to Daniel Arredondo for showing us was art is from the other side of the canvas.
We switched gears from the roaming hills of West Austin and headed for the heart of Austin, the Texas State Capitol.
We began our capitol tour much like we do others, by commenting on the interesting or unique architectural features and designs. Professor Yawn walked us around the groups and explained that the extensions to the structure were fundamental in accommodating our Texas-sized legislature and staff. While the extensions and supporting features are new, they did not distract from the aesthetic of the Capitol established in 1885.
The red limestone exterior of the Capitol seemed to glitter in the setting sunlight, and we made our way into the north entrance. Upon opening the front doors, we of course stopped to look at the 7-pound door hinges, detailed with the Texas Seal.
We posed with Elizabet Ney’s rendering of a young Sam Houston…
…and pondered on the surrender of Santa Anna.
But, of course, from the rotunda, the most interesting piece is the interior of the dome, which is beautiful.
And we also followed toured the floors viewing the different governors throughout history, settling on our favorite.
As we were leaving the sun was just setting under the tree line and we snapped our final photos.
After a lovely tour of the capital and a relaxing drive around Austin, we were ready to kayak and spend some time on the peaceful water of the Colorado River.
And while Jessica and Izabella accomplished a peaceful journey, that certainly was not the case for Morgan and me.
I knew it might be a bit rocky when Morgan began our ride by saying, “Isabel…I’ll do my best not to yell at you.” Part of our problem is that we thought I, sitting in front, should be steering, when, in fact, that was Morgan’s job. (Editor’s note: both parties lacked any semblance of navigational skills, exacerbated by the fact that Morgan is often flummoxed by even simple directions.)
Our meandering, inefficient paddling, however, did not prevent us from seeing a beaver casually swimming along the shoreline!
While we worked just to paddle forward, Jessica and Izabella enjoyed a leisurely tour along the river, using what Jessica referred to as the “slow-and-steady approach.” Although we aren’t ones to judge, it did appear that Bella was allowing Jessica to do much of the work….
Around 8:30 pm we began to paddle to the dock. The trip back was where Morgan and I experienced the most action. We attempted to convince Jessica and Bella to tow us into the dock, but they selfishly refused to play along. This left us to our own devices which, at one point, rendered us fighting limbs and the shoreline, running aground (and encountering a spider–eek!) as we ineffectually tried to return to the dock.
Despite these misadventures–or perhaps because of them–we very much enjoyed our time on the water, and it was a fitting and madcap ending to a wonderful day.
…who introduced our keynote speaker for the general session, Nora McInerny, whose talk, “Terrible, Thanks for Asking” played on themes she discusses in her podcast and books.
She displayed her dry, witty sense of humor while also touching on loss, grief, change, and new beginnings. Most importantly, she addressed the ability to genuinely answer the question, “How are you?” I think we often answer with the word “fine,” which is okay, but sometimes, it’s okay not to be okay.
Following McInerny’s inspirational words, we had a chance to meet her and discuss her talk.
She was very generous.
Today was a unique day with their awards luncheon! Once the doors opened, we scurried off to get a table and save Huntsville’s City Manager, Aaron Kulhavy, a seat next to us. For most of the luncheon, we were conversing with Aaron to get to know him and learn more about city management.
Our entrée for lunch consisted of Ham with Barbeque sauce, and grits, accompanied by a variety of vegetables such as corn and some delicious carrots. Once we finished our main dish, we started on our dessert which was a delicious fruit tart with oranges and strawberries. Countless city officials were recognized for their outstanding work and accomplishments throughout the years. It was truly an amazing and rewarding experience.
Once the luncheon was over, Aaron Kulhavy took us around and introduced us to multiple people from the surrounding areas before we split off to the breakout sessions.
Isabel enjoyed the economic development conference presented by Imelda Speck, the Economic Developer in Irving, Texas, which is Isabel’s hometown! Speck along with the other panelists talked about the effects the Covid-19 pandemic had on their cities and small businesses. Isabel found it interesting to hear about the programs the City of Irving implemented to try and soften the blow. Jessica found this session particularly easy to understand and follow thanks to her Finance Internship with the City of Huntsville.
In ways, her internship with the Finance Department helped her understand things in different sessions such as previously mentioned and the strategic plans session. However, this can also be said of Morgan after interning with the City Secretary.
Morgan’s favorite conference, All Disasters are Local, Your Emergency Program Should Be, Too, by Nim Kidd. Kidd talked about three new technologies that they are putting in place to cover more bases regarding emergency management. It was also intriguing to know how they are also starting the first academy in the nation for emergency management and will be placing 100 new agents in 100 new counties.
Despite many good sessions today, my all-time favorite was the opening session with Nora Mclnerny.
Dinner in Downtown Bastrop
Once the conference wrapped up for the day, we were beyond excited to explore downtown Bastrop and eat at a local place. On our way to Piney Creek Chophouse, we took a moment to admire the various bookstores, coffee shops, and beautiful homes in their downtown. Piney Creek Chophouse is a nice neat little local restaurant that has a unique architectural design and interior that adds to the character of the place.
Often Professor Yawn forgets to feed us, but makes up for it when he treats us to a fancy steakhouse. Never failing to get us appetizers to hold us over until our entrees arrive, we ordered Crab Cakes, Crab-Stuffed Mushrooms, and Bruschetta.
We were also provided with a delicious, crafted artisan bread accompanied by butter. The crab cakes were bursting with flavor, and we even convinced Jessica, who isn’t a fan of crab or seafood, to try a bite! We couldn’t get her to try a mushroom, but maybe we’ll have some better luck next time.
As we waited for our main entrees, Professor Yawn gave us a quick crash course about dining etiquette. Soon enough, our main entrees were brought out to us, Morgan and Izabella shared a Filet Mignon served with Mashed Potatoes and Haricot Verts. Jessica and I both shared a New York Strip accompanied by Mashed Potatoes and Haricot Verts as well.
Professor Yawn enjoyed a Strawberry Salad and a side of fried Brussel Sprouts which we all absolutely loved.
Each dish had its own quality that made it special, and each dish was full of different flavors. We all had our own unique experiences. After our main dish, I was sure I was full and had no room for dessert…. I was wrong.
Dessert included an exquisite Bread Pudding, A Molten Lava Cake, and Banana Foster. I found the Banana Foster the most interesting since our waitress brought the dish out covered in flames which certainly made for a cool and unique presentation. The Banana Foster had a very strong cinnamon taste and a slight hint of coconut, it was one of the favorites and there was not a single piece left on the dish. The Bread Pudding had more of a sweet, rich taste and the Molten lava cake was very neatly presented, and the brownie was super rich and paired with the ice cream, it made for a wonderful combination.
We all had a great time at dinner, and it was the perfect way to end a long eventful day.
Prior to the kickoff of the TCMA Conference, we went to the Blanton Museum of Fine Arts, where we got to learn, look, observe, and interpret various kinds of art! For some of us, it was our very first art museum.
Morgan’s favorite exhibits were American art and Modern American art. Her favorite artist, Albert Bierstadt, had a painting that she liked called “Sioux Village near Fort Laramie.”
The painting featured a native encampment in 1859 that was centered around a sense of calmness and was overall, a beautiful, timeless piece. I can understand why Morgan liked the piece, as well as the artist!
Isabel admired Cilado Meireles’ artwork called, “How to Build Cathedrals” which was created in 1987 and composed of 600,000 coins, 800 communion wafers, 2,000 cattle bones, 80 paving stones, and black cloth. This piece was probably the piece that everyone had different interpretations of, which again, is the beauty of art!
The cattle bones were hanging from the top, almost like a ceiling, while the coins were scattered around the bottom, and the wafers acted like a spine from pennies to the bones. It was overall a very dynamic and intriguing piece.
Jessica loved the beautiful Ellsworth Kelly Chapel, which I believe was another of the group’s favorites! It was comprised of a circle of squares and a sun-colored glass that had all the vibrant colors.
When the sun shined through, it was even more beautiful! Its walls were decorated with Ellingworth black and white paintings that brought out the colored glass.
Whether a piece is simplistic, challenging, controversial, disruptive, or detailed, we learned it’s ultimately up to the viewer on their take always of art.
Clay Pit, Jessica Cuevas
We then ventured to a neat Indian cuisine restaurant, Clay Pit, for lunch. For many of us, it was our first time having an Indian dish. Our appetizers consisted of Naan, Samosas, and Papadum which was like a flattened-out tortilla with lentils.
The appetizers were delicious, but we mostly enjoyed our flavorful and savory meals which ranged from medium spiced Butter Chicken to Chicken Kabobs and Coconut Curry Chicken. One of the great things about traveling with LEAP is that they encourage and provide us with opportunities to try new things.
Texas City Management Association, by Isabel Behm
Once we finished our delicious lunch in Austin, we began to make our way back to Bastrop to kick off the Texas City Managers Association Conference. On the drive into the resort where the conference was being held, we were met with a beautiful scenery surrounded by nature.
The first event we attended was Career Development. The presenter, Larry Gilley, is Vice President and Executive Recruit of Strategic Government Resources.
We also heard from four panelists, Matt Mueller (Town Manager of Little Elm), James Childress (Town manager of Flower Mound), Dalton Rice (City Manager of Morgan’s Point Resort), and Chrystal Davis (Assistant City Manager of Carrolton).
The recurring theme of this session was how to strengthen your resume, as well as your interviewing skills. We got to hear first-hand about what these specific city managers looked for and how exactly they dealt with balancing and managing their workload. Some of the main points of the presentation were to get to know the position you’re applying for prior to an interview by either reviewing the city’s website as well as their city council members and knowing why you are the right fit for the position itself.
When the panelists were given time to speak, they gave countless pieces of advice about how exactly to be successful in those positions. The biggest piece of advice that stood out to me was the advice given by Chrystal Davis. She stressed the importance of being able to take time to breathe and assess your priorities so that you can have a work-life balance and be able to manage your home life as well. Some other things mentioned were the importance of knowing your own personal strengths and weaknesses and being able to let your team succeed and learn from their mistakes. It was an amazing experience to be able to hear from these city officials firsthand and get an inside look at how exactly they managed their specific towns/cities.
Interestingly, we finished the night at a reception, where we spent more than two hours…
…meeting with people, learning new things about city government, and networking in the hopes of landing a job when we graduate!
It is not every day that you get a tour of a presidential office, and even less common to get one from a presidential chief of staff. But on a busy Wednesday in the middle of summer, LEAP students had just that opportunity: Jean Becker offered a wonderful two-hour tour of former President George H. W. Bush’s office in Houston, TX. Coincidentally, the tour occurred on Barbara Bush’s birthday, one of many connections we would make over the course of an educational afternoon.
Although we didn’t personally know Ms. Becker, we felt like we did from discussions with Professor Yawn and our reading of her book, “The Man I Knew.” And in the conversational, warm manner of her book, Ms. Becker welcomed us with open arms and was full of enthusiasm upon our arrival.
One of the first stories she shared with us was about the christening of the USS George H W Bush. Ms. Becker stressed how important it was to President Bush that the christening happen while his son (George W Bush) was still president. While the Navy said that this wasn’t possible, being a former President (and father of another) has its perks, and with a few phone calls, Ms. Becker was able to make it happen. The office is full of photos, and each photo has a story, and no one is better at bringing these stories to life than Jean Becker.
Another treat of the afternoon was having the opportunity to sit in the chair that President Bush sat in during Cabinet meetings in the White House. Each of us took our turn in the chair, and all of us enjoyed looking over the items that President Bush had on his desk. For a moment, we felt a bit presidential.
The conversation with Ms. Becker ranged across many topics, from international security to the friendships that President Bush developed over the years. One of those with an unlikely individual: Bill Clinton. This is somewhat surprising, of course, because President Clinton beat President Bush in the 1992 election, so one might expect some animosity. But following an international emergency in 2004, President George W. Bush asked his father and Clinton fundraise to help those affected by the disaster. This sparked a friendship that lasted until President Bush’s death.
While we learned a lot about the man President George H.W. Bush was, we also learned about how Ms. Becker came to be his Chief of Staff and how her life was drastically changed. She grew up in a small town, went to college in her home state, and upon graduating, worked her way up with various newspapers to USA Today. In 1988, she was assigned to cover the wives of the presidential candidates. When George H. W. Bush was elected, she was offered the role of Deputy Press Secretary to the first lady.
When this job ended following President Bush’s loss in 1992, he offered her the position of his “interim” post-presidency chief of staff. The interim position lasted for more than 25 years–until his death in 2018.
In a very relatable way, Ms. Becker shared many thoughts about her career, offering us valuable advice for our own careers. In particular, she reminded us it was okay to stray away from our “plan,” which is what she did when she was offered a job at the White House.
We were there for more than two hours, and time flew by. When we left, we all agreed that we could have listened to her all day, if schedules and time permitted. She was a wealth of knowledge, we absolutely enjoyed every second of it, and we were impressed by her example of hospitality and generosity.
Side Note: It wouldn’t be a LEAP trip, if we didn’t learn something about art. So it was interesting that, when we entered the building, we encountered a bust of George Bush done by Huntsville artist David Adickes.
Moreover, we also saw a work by George Rodrigue, an artist LEAP is familiar with through trips to Austin and New Orleans. Here the work was on President Bush’s wall, and it was signed to him by George Rodrigue!
Although summer is often a time for students taking time off, Izabella (Bella) Urbani, Isabel Behm, former LEAP Ambassador Quinn Kobrin, and the LEAP Ambassadors braved the Houston summer traffic to attend The World Affairs Council Event “Combating Venezuela’s Refugee Crisis.”
We were excited to be invited to the Palm Restaurant, a nice steakhouse in downtown Houston. We ventured through the dining room and into a private room that was decorated with murals featuring scenes of Houston.
The room was full of doctors and medical professionals from Baylor College of Medicine Children’s Foundation, Chevron employees, and interested citizens of Houston. Jessica, Saara, and I introduced Bella and Isabel to Sandija Bayot, the Chief Development Officer for WAC, and someone we can always count on for a warm greeting.
Maryanne Maldonado, the Executive Director of the World Affairs Council…
Before actually speaking on the topic, Dr. Mizwa, offered us a friendly greeting of “Go Bearkats,” and then moved to an introduction of our featured speaker: Ana Maria Galvis, the Executive Director of Baylor College of Medicine Children’s Foundation, Colombia.
Galvis began by explaining some of the issues that Non-Government Organizations (NGOs) face. However, Baylor College of Medicine Children’s Foundation Colombia operates somewhat differently than traditional NGOs. The program is run and operated by Colombians and, although the overall program objective is to promote health, they can’t do that without addressing related issues. Thus, they focus on four major issues: health, food, education, and nutrition.
Recently, there has been an influx of Venezuelans migrating to Columbia; many of whom require immediate or long-term medical care. The employment rate in La Guajira (a Department of Colombia0 is 26.1 % and only one-third have visas. To provide aid to the incoming Venezuelans, the current President of Colombia has offered 10-year permits. Galvis said this has helped to reduce the number of undocumented migrants, but there is still work to be done to track their medical needs.
Since the program is an NGO, it is held to a different standard than the privately funded healthcare centers. Baylor College of Medicine Children’s Foundation Colombia offers 25 health certified services, and they have a dedication to “not just treating the illness, [but] treating the human being.”
Since 2014 the program has provided treated 12,400 patients, administered 7,000 vaccinations, and is the only NGO in Colombia authorized to provide the Covid-19 vaccination. The program has done amazing work to provide aid for the current crisis, and their approach is what we, as social science majors, also aim for: the help communities, not just individuals.
The event was enormously educational, and it also moved us out of our comfort zones, prompting us to converse with professionals over lunch, discussing topics with which we aren’t overly familiar.
It is a recipe for growth, and one we enjoyed very much.
For our first full day in D.C., we made sure we bundled up before we braved the chilly weather. After a typical quick breakfast, we laid out a plan of action for the day and set off on foot. Our first location was within a reasonable walking distance inside the National Mall, and we could see our destination from a distance. As we neared, we could see the details of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, which was adorned with Corinthian columns and several reliefs.
We were grateful that there was no great line to enter the museum but we were shocked at the number of people also exploring their way through history. A grand foyer and a posed elephant welcomed us as we entered the building. As a group, we gathered and quickly discussed the best use of our time and the order in which we should meander through the exhibits. We soon were enthralled by specimens, fossils, and skeletons that left no room for downtime. The exhibits were displayed by date, species type, and even dramatic scenes.
Yvette and I split off from the rest of the group and started our journey through time. We were also blown away at the sizes of some of the displays.
A few towered over us…
… while others were the size of a hummingbird’s femur. Yvette and I especially enjoyed the lab on the first floor of the museum which had cameras and screens set up to allow visitors to watch scientists work on the fossils. We were mesmerized by the work the scientists were conducting on the specimens.
Interestingly, we also saw a first edition of John James Audubon’s “Birds in America,” which was beautiful, and bigger than any book we’ve ever seen!
The crown jewel of the museum was, naturally, the Hope Diamond. It was mined in India in the 17th century and changed hands several times over the last few centuries. It was eventually purchased by famed jeweler Harry Winston who donated it in 1958. It is one of the most famous parts of the museum. It gets its blue hue from trace amounts of the element boron in the stone. We learned that a diamond’s size and clarity are good indicators of its worth. The Hope Diamond is a prime example of the size factor, weighing in at 45.52 carats and costing upwards of $350 million. We could have easily spent the entire day inside the Museum of Natural History alone, but we pulled ourselves away from the many fascinating and—in the case of the Hope Diamond, dazzling displays and headed toward the exit.
Smithsonian National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden
As we left the museum we spied portions of sculptures peeping over the tops of shrubbery across the street and decided to investigate further. Imagine our delight when we realized that they were works by artists we know and love! We had recently seen one of Robert Indiana’s “LOVE” while we were in Oklahoma, and this time we found ourselves looking at his sculpture, “AMOR.” A true pop artist, Indiana uses modern materials such as aluminum and bright, contrasting colors in his works.
As we roamed the rest of this sculpture garden, some among us were introduced to other pop artists like Claes Oldenburg and Roy Lichtenstein…
…for the first time. We paused briefly at a striking work by Roxy Paine, whom Professor Yawn acknowledged as being one of his favorite artists. Paine is recognized for his giant metallic tree installations that combine the natural world and man-made elements.
Personally, Joel Shapiro’s sculpture Untitled, 1989 was my favorite. Shapiro is well-known for his minimalist sculptures consisting of fixed rectangular elements that evoke a sense of movement.
And, of course, we also got to see a couple of Calders…
…with so much to see here, it’s no wonder that we fell in love with D.C. as we rambled across the city.
But it was the Smithsonian that we witnessed the largest collection of American Artists, some we had previously seen and others we had not. We were exposed to such varied styles of works from artists that we were familiar with, that we found ourselves eagerly moving from painting to painting in the hopes of seeing something new from artists that we had become used to.
Unlike other museums we had previously been to, we were able to see more of Thomas Moran’s and Albert Bierstadt’s works. Their breathtaking landscapes scenes consist of the country’s natural beauty, with luminosity provided by the artists.
Morgan, who typically prefers a Moran or Bierstadt painting over other artworks, today favored a piece by Sargent; the “Corner of a Church on San Stae.” We all noted that this work was much different than anything we had seen by him up until this point. We had only seen his portraits!
Interestingly, we saw an early Jackson Pollock, and the influence his mentor, Thomas Hart Benton, had on him was obvious.
And this became more clear when we saw an entire wall dedicated to Benton!
Up on the second floor, we were able to see the Presidential Portrait Gallery. In this wing was included at least one portrait of every U.S. president, starting with President Washington, proceeding all the way up to President Trump.
Upon entering we were immediately confronted with the famed George Washington Portrait done by Gilbert Stuart.
This portrait is deeply symbolic. It depicts our first president, but it also includes several other details regarding the birth of our nation. In the background of the painting through a window, there can be seen a rainbow emerging from dark storm clouds, suggesting that America was emerging bright and new from a dark and stormy era. Washington’s right arm gestures toward a quill pen and parchment on his desk while his left arm rests on the hilt of his sword, suggesting that our newly-formed democracy was ready to assume its governance role but that it would still defend itself if the need arose. The law and philosophy books under his desk portray Washington as an enlightened leader in addition to his being a man of action. This is the famous portrait that we see on our dollar bill.
Prior to this museum, we’d stopped briefly at Ford’s Theater, where President Lincoln was assassinated. Seeing his presidential portrait and then a face casting made before and after his death, resonated with us.
Although most presidential paintings were traditional and sort of regal, former President John F. Kennedy apparently asked Elaine de Kooning to do something unique when he commissioned his official portrait. The portrait is semi-abstract with hundreds of strokes of greens and blues coming together to show Kennedy sitting casually on the canvas looking back at the viewer.
As the sun began to set, we rushed in order to see as much of the museum as we could. While most of what we saw were paintings, we did encounter a few sculptures including a James Surls piece!
Such a rich art experience on our first full day in our nation’s capital gave us the opportunity to encounter new artists but also to deepen our knowledge of the artists that we were already familiar with.
In leaving the Museum, we realized we weren’t too far from the White House, which prompted us to make a detour before going to eat.
Dinner at Oyamel
To cap off a long and rewarding day on the National Mall, we stopped in at Oyamel, a wonderful Mexican restaurant not far from our hotel. All the food was good, but we especially like the appetizers, which ranged from Brussel sprouts…
…to queso fundido…
The entrees were equally as good. We had a mix of food, with the shrimp and the tacos being the best of what we tried.
We didn’t know it at the time, but this turned out to be the best food we would have on our trip.
With snow having had fallen the night before, the grounds of the Carnegie Museum of Art were covered in a white blanket. But this did not deter us, as we made our way to the entrance and noticed a few memorable outdoor sculptures, such as George Rickey and Henry Moore.
We were greeted in the gallery by a staircase with a beautiful, grand, and colorful Sol LeWitt art piece along the wall. The highly pigmented colors set the tone for the rest of the museum.
As we made our way through the “Working Thought” exhibit, Millicent, a docent, pointed out a few central art pieces to us. Millicent educated us on how all the art pieces in this exhibit came together by expressing the social inequities of labor and the economy, both past and present, between the museum, Andrew Carnegie, and Pittsburgh.
The first of the four was The Band Played the Night of the Johnstown an intricate art piece carved out of basswood by Aaron Spangler. Following was the Space in Between, made out of decommissioned patrol uniforms that were embroidered to tell the stories of immigrants and labor, by Margarita Cabrera and The Triumph of Labor by Andrea Bowers. The Triumph of Labor was a play on Walter Crane’s art piece since it was made from cardboard boxes and black marker to tie together labor movements and protests.
The next room we were led into, was filled with statement art pieces. Greek gods and goddesses overlooked the main chamber where people could congregate. However, we became quickly distracted by a single statue that did not fit the mold. It was much larger, was a bit blobby without defining features, and had enormous hands, which were holding a cell phone. The contrast between classic and modern was unsettling, and a little too close to the truth.
Morgan discovered a new favorite artist: Gustave Doré, a nineteenth French printmaker and artist…
…while also seeing some of her old favorites, such as Thomas Moran and Albert Bierstadt.
Our favorite section of the gallery would most likely be their regular exhibit with all the artists we are familiar with such as Claude Monet, Pissarro, and more.
On show was a famous waterlily painting by Monet of his flower garden in his home in Giverny. Monet is one of my favorite impressionists and his water lilies are one of his most famous collections even though they were made later in his artistic career.
Professor Yawn commented that this might have been the most expensive exhibit in the gallery, because of all the notable names such as Pissarro, Monet, Van Gogh, and Renoir amongst others. These famous impressionists were revolutionary, since they painted landscapes and people as they saw them. They also changed the way art could be made through different variations of colors and how exposure to light affects them.
Erin had a chance to see her favorite artist, “her girl,” as she calls Georgia Okeeffe.
We got to see a different type of Piet Mondrian painting…
…having previously only been familiar with his geometric paintings.
We also saw a Pollock, which Professor Yawn likes, but we haven’t warmed to his work.
And echoing back to the night before, we saw a Warhol…
…and taking us back to Austin, we saw an Ellsworth Kelly.
We also had a chance to see an artist we have trouble remembering: Edward Hopper. Professor Yawn tells us he is famous, and he tries to explain some of the distinctive features of his work (green and blue tints; a theme of loneliness), but it has not yet sunk in.
On behalf of the LEAP Ambassadors, we would like to thank Millicent for the “tour.” This was our first time at the Carnegie Museum of Art, and we enjoyed our time visiting.
Cathedral of Learning and Pittsburgh Glass Center
As we drove through the frosty, white-covered Pittsburgh, it was impossible to miss the beautiful Cathedral of Learning. We braved the slight flurries of snow and made our way along the path to the Cathedral entrance, we got an even better view of the intricate details of the skyscraper. The height of the cathedral was amazing!
Not being able to pass the inside entrance was indeed a teaser as we looked inside from the door. To our right in the distance is colorful stain glass. We were fortunate enough to at least catch a glimpse of the enormously high ceilings. Although we got only to see a tiny part of the Cathedral of Learning, we enjoyed seeing the bit we saw.
While we didn’t get to see the Cathedral as fully as we would have liked, we did have another quick stop, but this time at Pittsburgh’s very own blowing glass center.
We encountered a small exhibit through the Pittsburgh Glass Center that incorporated different, fascinating glass-blowing techniques! One has applied a tryptic method, and others used the finest techniques to create thin glass that interconnects.
In addition to seeing a small glass gallery, we had the opportunity to attend a glass blowing workshop. Our glasssmith, Sam, left us mind blown at how he managed to go from what looked like a small bowl to a flat glass cheese plate! Each of us grew a great appreciation for glassblowers.
Each detailed step used to create glass artwork is very intricate and later leads to the breathtaking final product.
We were able to finish off our snowy day in Pittsburgh, by driving to a local theatre, which had commission a mural by Richard Haas.
Haas is of particular interest to us because he has done 15 murals in Huntsville. We’ve all seen his Fort Worth piece, but for the Ambassadors, this was the first we’ve seen of his outside of Texas.
As the art of Pennsylvania flowed into our hearts, our last stop may be considered the best work of art we saw: Fallingwater, by Frank Lloyd Wright. This piece of architecture is not solely a home but a piece of art within the breathtaking natural surroundings. As we walked through the snow alongside a natural spring water stream, we were eager to see the notable home. As we approached, we heard the rushing water, and the closer we got, the more it was like a gift that couldn’t yet be opened. Then, at last, we were in complete amazement to see the light reflecting off the snow shining on the crystal-clear waterfall that flowed out of the home.
Frank Lloyd Wright was a renowned American architect who created Fallingwater for the Kauffman’s, a wealthy family with the largest department store in Pittsburgh. Edgar Kauffman wanted a home for his family that would act as a a getaway from the hustle and bustle of life. Kauffman selected the family’s favorite picnic spot, and it turned out to be not a bad “summer home.”
Wright achieved not only the vision of Kauffman, but also of what he thought would best reflect the nature. He planned for every rock and tree, how they were placed and how they grew. Through this knowledge and talent, he constructed a home that incorporated every bit of nature, creating an organic composition. Wright used a technique called compression and release, by which the narrow hallways lead to grand, open spaces.
Walking to the hidden entrance, you could see how Wright incorporates cantilevers from the outside into each room. With the primary goal of creating a space of comfort and gathering, he emphasized that the heart of a room is the fireplace. There would be Japanese-style seats around the fire closer to the ground and nature. Wright incorporated other parts of the furniture that were created to open out to have a larger seating space or more oversized buffet table.
Each room had exciting features, including the outside rocks being exposed inside the house. We were amazed by the interior and exterior design of the house, but we also encountered notable artwork from Picasso, Diego Rivera, and Tiffany glass!
Any homeowner might notice the lack of gutters on Falling Water. The circular edges of the roof allow for water to cascade from the roof, through drains in the balcony and into the river below.
The concept of falling water was incorporated within every part of the home. Specifically, the rolling sound of the water can be heard upon entering the family room, at the main house. At the third level, what would have been servant lodging, the water is almost impossible to hear. The staircases leading up to the top of the home replicated the cascading water movement. The design of the water flowing out of the home is seamless and left each one of us in shock of its beauty of connectedness. Wright created a house of unity and tranquility, and with that, the LEAP Ambassadors were beyond grateful to have been in the heart of Falling Water.
Dinner at Tsunami
We stopped for dinner at Tsunami, a ramen restaurant, after being on the road for nearly four hours. Nestled in downtown Frederick, MD, Tsunami was next to well-lit buildings with a nice view of their central shopping area.
We went over the menu after being seated by their polite staff to see what piqued our interest. We had shrimp and scallop pot stickers, spring rolls, and spinach and goat cheese dumplings to start.
Which were, of course, delightful. Our supper had everything from miso to chicken ramen, although one outlier order fried chicken–at a Japanese restaurant!
We still had room for dessert after finishing our meal! We had a croissant pudding and a crepe cake for dessert.
Our desserts weren’t our only treats: Victoria shared with us about law school, the LSAT, and just life away from home, a trove of information for us as spiring law-school students. It was a pleasant dinner, and we very much enjoy hearing and taking in advice from someone who has walked in our shoes.
After dinner we headed back to the car. Since the car was parked a few houses down, we were able to walk through part of downtown Frederick by the and admire the structure of the colonial buildings. As the night got colder, and everyone was so eager to get to Washington DC, we once again set our sights towards D.C.!