Midwest, Day 2: Show Us St. Louis, MO!

Not much happens in Little Rock, Arkansas at 5:00 am, LEAP students were thrilled to find out, as we left the City of Bridges early enough to spend the day in St. Louis, Missouri. After passing the six-hour drive sleeping the scenery away, we made it to the “Gateway to the West” around lunchtime, grabbed a quick bite to eat, and headed straight to the landmark for which the city is best known

Signifying expansion into unknown territory, the Gateway Arch stands 630 feet tall in the St. Louis skyline, beckoning travelers to explore what the city has to offer. Designed by Eero Saarinen, completed in 1965, and designated as a historic site in 1987, the Gateway Arch is visited by thousands annually from all over the world. Located between the Mississippi River and the Old Courthouse, the Gateway Arch stands 630 feet high–tall, indeed, especially for two people who do not like heights.

Undaunted, we embraced the moment, commemorating with a photograph.


We then proceeded to hop into a pod that transferred us from underground into the skies of the city.  I (Constance) don’t care for the pod much.


After a five-minute ride, we disembarked, climbed a few stairs, and were confronted with windows to the east overlooking the Mississippi and beyond.


On the opposite side, we enjoyed a bird’s eye view of the Old Courthouse, Budweiser Park, the Wainwright Building, and the Edward Jones Dome, home to the St. Louis Rams.

St_Louis_From_Arch_WebThese views come courtesy of small windows in the middle of the arch.


Taking in our fill of the city, we snapped a couple selfies and got back in line to descend to the bottom once again.

We left the Gateway Arch to return to the Old Courthouse, where the Dred Scott trials occurred in 1847 and 1850. Construction began in 1816 but was not completed until 1828 by the firm of Lavielle and Morton. Since the first completion, Henry Singleton added an addition of three wings and a center cupola dome in 1839, which lasted until 1851, when the east wing was replaced.

Known for not only the Dred Scott case, the Old Courthouse was also home to slave auctions until 1861. While inside, we explored the different wings of the courthouse, admired the beautiful staircases…


and different structural intricacies, and posed for quite a few pictures as well.


The courthouse differs today from the 1839 version because William Rumbold replaced the cupola with a dome in 1861, modeled after St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City.Standing in the center of the main hall looking up, we had the chance to view the dome from the inside-purples, blues, pinks, and greens all around.

Court_Room_Dome_WebAfter spending as much time as we could inside, we headed out to venture back to the car and drove outside of the city to the most anticipated tour of the day, a Frank Lloyd Wright home.


Frank Lloyd Wright Home at Ebsworth Park

We arrived at Ebsworth Park and drove through a winding driveway to arrive at our destination and learn more about Frank Lloyd Wright. Born in 1867, Frank Lloyd Wright was an internationally known architect in the early to mid 1900s. He built homes and buildings after learning from and working for Louis Sullivan, who is known for his work with skyscrapers and who built the Wainwright Building in downtown St. Louis. Wright built the home in Ebsworth Park for Russell and Ruth Kraus, a modest couple who doubted they had the funds to afford a home from such a well-known figure in architecture. Instead, the architect surprised them with his acquiescence and proceeded to plan them a Usonian home. Known for its affordability and political implications, Wright’s Usonian theme, seen throughout the United States, encompasses smaller homes, with only one story, usually no basements, attics, or garages, and just enough space to be efficient.

The home is laid out in grids, with parallelograms serving as the major building motif.  Within the parallelograms, however, are embedded triangles and hexagons, and these three shapes make up the shapes in the home.  In fact, there is only one ninety-degree angle in the home (the bathroom); the rest of the home’s angles are either 60 degrees or 120 degrees.

FLW_Constance_Alex_WebWe learned of Wright’s use of compression and expansion as we walked through the tight entryway and entered the spacious main hall of the home. Docent Dave Baumgartner, a former architect in St. Louis, made the tour very enjoyable and provided much insight into the particulars of Frank Lloyd Wright’s architectural plans.

FLW_Tour_Guide_WebLow tables and chairs, great windows, and open space pulled our view towards the outside of the home and into the great forest beyond.

In addition to the beauty of the home…

FLW_5_Web…we learned various innovations produced by Frank Lloyd Wright (e.g., larger bathrooms), the creativity he used to fit his homes to his ideas (in this case, he created a parallelogram bed for the Krases), to the meticulousness with which he planned out every detail (the screws in the home lined up with the angles produced by the home’s grid).



We were awed by his presence still pervading the space to this day and left with minds blown by the genius that was Frank Lloyd Wright.


Richard Haas

Intriguingly, St. Louis is also home to a building graced with a three-sided Richard Haas mural, fronted by a strange sculpture of a high-stepping jackrabbit (not done by Haas!).

Haas_STL_Jackrabbit_WebHaas’s mural, which depicts a woman as “Peace”…

Haas_Mural_STL_Web…has eight obelisks and  numerous other adornments.




We were also able to spend time in St. Louis’ beautiful downtown “urban park and sculpture garden,” Citygarden.  Incorporated into the “Gateway Mall” area, the park is bordered by Eighth, Tenth, Market, and Chestnut Streets – just a short walk from many locations within a downtown area that is actively trying to tie together green spaces and government structures, common spaces and the corporate sphere.

Part of our group was fortunate enough to spend some daylight time in the park, with the sun setting alight the fall colors in many of the park’s varieties of trees.  The procession of gingko biloba trees (also known commonly as maidenhair trees) positively glowed along the Market Street promenade, their yellow leaves glinting off the last of the sun’s rays.


The entire group paid a visit just as the sun set early on the first night of Daylight Savings Time for 2015, with the park’s lighting creating interesting shadows on several of the pieces, such as Fernand Leger’s Femmes Au Perrequet…


Mark di Suvero’s Aesop’s Fables.


Constance impersonated (can you impersonate a fictional wooden figure?) Pinochio…


And Professor Yawn was proud that his pupils, Alex and Constance, finally and truly lived up to their name, serving as pupils in Igor Mitoraj’s Eros Bendato.

Pupils_Constance_Alex_2_WebNot to mention the other fun sculptures…such as Bernar Venet’s “Three Rings”…

Constance_Alex_Citygarden_Web…Ju Ming’s “Tai-Chi Single Whip”…

Tai_Cho_Web…the intriguing Video Screen…

…and the reflecting pond with stepping stones…


We even saw a rabbit!


The park is a must-see if in St. Louis.  Even a short stroll through the beautifully landscaped space evokes feelings of tranquility within.  Park maps that provide info on all the art pieces are available; or one can download the app, with even more information on the park’s amenities and scheduled events.


Wrapping Up

Before leaving, we took another brief stroll to “The Runner,” the statue celebrating the country’s westward expansion.  We had stopped there earlier in the day…

Arch_Alex_Constance_2_Web…and had some with photographs…


Well, we had some fun again, at the end of a long day, but in the midst of a fun trip.


LEAP Center Midwestern Tour (Day 5): Madison, WI; Dubuque, IA; Des Moines, IA

Today was the second day of the 2014 Film & History Conference. As yesterday, the featured panels were many, and the titles all appeared to be interesting topics. What appealed to me the most was a panel titled “Jimmy Stewart for president and Ronald Reagan for best friend: Star Image and Political Campaigning,” by Amit Patel. Amit began his presentation by introducing Ronald Reagan’s initial career as a B movie star. In fact, he starred in low-budget films such as Love is on the Air and Santa Fe Trail. In 1942, the film Kings Row finally gave him some recognition as a movie “star.” Interestingly, Reagan was initially a Democrat, but later switched to the Republican party. In 1976, he embarked in a campaign for the Republican presidential nomination against incumbent Gerald Ford. Amit focused on Ronald Reagan’s use of Jimmy Stewart in his campaign. In fact, Stewart strongly supported Reagan, and even participated in a political ad were he stated that Ronald Reagan was his friend, therefore, the American public should vote for him. Reagan lost the nomination, but campaigned again in 1980, and became president. I thought it was an interesting panel because a candidate’s image is probably the most important thing during a campaign, and if the candidate was a known public figure beforehand then that plays in his favor. In addition, the use of famous actors or public figures to support a political candidate is common nowadays, and it is interesting that it was used in Reagan’s campaign, too.


After attending the Film & History Conference, in the morning, we headed to the Wisconsin State Capitol, in Madison.

Wisconsin Capitol Building
            Wisconsin Capitol Building

A tour guide showed us the most important features of the Capitol, and shared the details of its construction. What interested me most was that Madison had previously had other two state capitols, but they both burned down. The second time around, the Capitol had recently discontinued its fire insurance, so the state did not have enough money to rebuild it. Ingeniously, the state had the idea to tax railroads that were passing through Wisconsin at the time, and with that revenue, they rebuilt the Capitol between 1906 and 1917. The architecture of the capitol is mesmerizing, featuring marble from many different countries, such as Greece, Italy, France, and Germany, as well as some beautiful mosaics.

Wisconsin Capitol Building, Interior
Wisconsin Capitol, Interior

Perhaps most interesting, the capitol staff apparently have a very liberal speech code in the building.  Numerous exhibits were posted around the capitol rotunda protesting the performance of Governor Scott Walker, and one impressively vocal protester’s shouts could be heard throughout the building.

After the tour, we decided to go to the observation deck at the top of the building, and experienced true cold for the first time on our trip.


The winds were so strong that it was hard even to close the door behind us. Nonetheless, it was worth it because the view was beautiful.


Leaving the Capitol, we took a stroll in the brisk Wisconsin air to find ourselves some nourishing lunch. We finally settled on Marigold’s, a local deli, where we reveled in the many options available. Among the delights we delved into were lavender white mocha and grilled ham and cheese with a hint of strawberry jelly. Packed with locals, Marigold’s was definitely a winner.

Out into the invigorating weather we went again to make our way to another of Frank Lloyd Wright’s masterpieces, the Monona Terrace. Opened in 1997, the Terrace was built posthumously and served as the cause of much strife and contention during his career. Using Wright’s design of the exterior, Wisconsin contractor J. J. Findorff and Son Inc. carried out the great architect’s dream, while his previous apprentice, Anthony Puttnam, designed the interior.

Once inside Madison’s event center, we explored the gift shop full of Wright memorabilia before embarking on a tour with guide, John.

Frank Lloyd Wright Bust
                Frank Lloyd Wright Bust

Pointing out certain Wrightian things, such as the dome on the west side of the building and the arches in the grand ballroom, John proved to be a formidable docent as he never ran out of interesting facts and stories to regale. Braving the gusty winds, we had the chance to view Lake Monona, which Monona Terrace balances precariously over, thanks to the intricacies of Wright’s design.


Awed by the view and many selfies taken, we headed inside to embrace the warmth it offered and finish our tour.


Seeing it was getting late, we rushed back to the car in order to make it to a few last minute shops, original to Madison. Among those, we re-caffeinated and browsed a wonderful cheese boutique, Fomagination. Overwhelmed by the many options and tastes, we took in Wisconsin’s finest and tried to contain our enthusiasm at all that was available. It was incredibly exciting to see so many things unavailable in the great state of Texas. We loaded up on cheeses and cheese accessories before tumbling back into the car to begin the final leg of our trip.

We admired the beautiful fall landscape of Wisconsin; the rolling hills and deep yellows, greens, and reds created the perfect ambiance for our drive to Dubuque, Iowa. There, we enjoyed the Fenelon Place Elevator, or Dubuque Incline, claimed to be the shortest and steepest railroad in the world.


Gripping the seats…

Incline_Constance…up we went on the side of the hill to eventually reach one of the most inspiring views of the trip so far.  Known as “the magic hour” in film circles, we caught the sun setting on the horizon, creating beautiful red and orange tones in the sky and on the trees off in the distance.


Proud to say we had viewed three states at once (Iowa, Illinois, and Wisconsin) from the top of the incline, we got back in the cable car built in 1882 to return to our vehicle and carry on to the next leg of the journey.

After a short drive, we arrived at our final destinations: The John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park and the Des Moines capitol building. The 4.4-acre sculpture garden is unique and home to 28 sculptures from 22 different artists. Various paved paths provided a route for us to take through the garden, however, curiosity and the lure of new art, propelled us forward.

Man of Letters, Jaume Plensa
Man of Letters, Jaume Plensa

Many of the sculptures were created by artists that were foreign to us, however, one sculpture in particular provided us with the comfort of familiarity: Painted Steel by Mark Di Suvero. Di Suvero also has an art piece called “Proverb” in Dallas, Texas, which we were able to relate to. “Painted Steel” was made out of steel and painted in the same red that “Proverb” is painted. Both statues have similar characteristics, but varying dimensions and structure.

Another interesting sculpture that we saw was, “Back of Snowman (Black)” and “Back of Snowman (White).” These sculptures were created by artist Gary Hume and were located side-by-side in the middle of the park and held a spectacular gleam given off from the surrounding lights. Each of the statues consisted of two round pieces of bronze covered in enamel, one in white enamel and one in black. These statues were especially appealing because each round piece of bronze was perfectly symmetrical and smooth, giving the piece a unique trait of looking seamlessly perfect.

The last sculpture that really caught our eye and our interest was “The Thinker on a Rocky” created by Barry Flanagan. This piece was a large rabbit sitting upon a boulder in the same pose as Rodin’s “The Thinker.” The piece was clearly a satire on Rodin’s famous statue, which only added to its appeal!

While the statue garden was a fantastic experience, we had to continue our night and head to the Des Moines capitol building. The Renaissance style capitol, designed by John Cochrane and Fred Piquenard, was absolutely stunning! The capitol building featured a 23 carat gold dome in the middle of the building and was accompanied by two smaller domes on either side of the building. The capitol took expansive resources and large amounts of time to build and open to the public. The building took fifteen years and a staggering amount of $2,873,294.59 to complete. On June 29,1886, the capitol was ready to be open for use!

Iowa Capitol
Iowa Capitol

Both the capitol and the sculpture garden trips were the perfect ending to day five of the trip!