Marvelous, Minimalist Marfa!

After a twenty-hour day at Big Bend, we were ready for more education, but this time in Marfa, Texas, home of mysterious lights and much minimalist art and hipster vibes.

These adventures began with the Chinati Foundation–a non-profit focused on the minimalist art of Donald Judd and his contemporaries.  He purchased a former military base–Fort Russell–and turned it into a major art installation.

Our tour–led by a somewhat bored tour guide–began with Judd’s works.  These works were housed in two old artillery sheds and consisted of 100 untitled pieces made of aluminum.  Each cube had the same outer dimensions, but each had a different interior configuration.

SHSU, LEAP Center, Donald Judd, Minimalist Art, Chinati Foundation, Marfa Texas

From some angles with the right light, some of the pieces looked as though they were made from glass.

SHSU, LEAP Center, Donald Judd, Minimalist Art, Chinati Foundation, Marfa Texas

You don’t have to a fan of minimalist art to be be intrigued by Judd’s art, but you do need an open mind.  It’s almost impossible to examine the 100 pieces without asking, “But is it art?”

Actually, it is art, and the installation goes a long way to reinforcing Judd’s purpose in founding Chinati.  He believed that having Museum curators slice his art into smaller pieces (or subdividing it) and then placing it in a corner of a museum gallery next to pieces by artists of their choosing didn’t appropriately convey the artist’s intent.  So…he bought 340 acres, on which he could install his pieces in the format and configuration of his choosing.  They definitely had an impact different than what have been experienced by seeing a single aluminum piece next to, say, a work by George Segal in a large museum.

The site was also ideal for the works of Dan Flavin, commissioned specifically for Chinati.  Using six old barracks buildings, Flavin created art from flourescent bulbs of varying colors which, when seen from various perspectives, blend into unique color combinations.  When entering the north barrack wing, for example, we saw this:

SHSU, LEAP Center, Donald Judd, Chinati Foundation, Marfa Texas, Dan Flavin

From the south barrack’s wing, however, we saw this:

SHSU, LEAP Center, Donald Judd, Chinati Foundation, Marfa Texas, Dan Flavin

What we also saw a lot of was this…

SHSU, LEAP Center, Donald Judd, Chinati Foundation, Marfa Texas, Dan Flavin

…us posing in the sometimes beautiful, sometimes eerie, always intriguing art works by Flavin.

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As a group, the Flavin pieces were the most popular, although individuals in our group have a soft spot for the pop art of Claes Oldenburg (not a minimalist!)…

SHSU, LEAP Center, Donald Judd, Chinati Foundation, Marfa Texas, Claes Oldenburg

…which was created to honor Louie, the last surviving horse of the fort’s cavalry unit.  This art work also served as a memorial, in that replaced the deteriorated memorial previously on site for Louie.

We also had warm feelings for Chinati’s most recent installation, a large work by Robert Irwin.  His installation was actually an entire building, horseshoe shaped, with a courtyard.

SHSU, LEAP Center, Donald Judd, Chinati Foundation, Marfa Texas, Robert Irwin

The building’s interior consists of two sides: the left side is dark, with black walls, windows that open at eye level–designed to provide the look of Dutch landscapes–and a black screen that provides compartmentalized interiors.

The building transitions on the horizontal leg of the horseshoe, moving from the “dark side” to the “light side.”

SHSU, LEAP Center, Marfa, Chinati, Robert Irwin

This is a supremely interesting effect, providing both visual stimuli and a provocative metaphorical sense of moving from dark to light.

SHSU, LEAP Center, Donald Judd, Chinati Foundation, Marfa Texas, Robert Irwin

Indeed, halfway through the building this effect is captured by dark and light doors.

SHSU, LEAP Center, Donald Judd, Chinati Foundation, Marfa Texas, Robert Irwin

And from there, visitors enjoy the ‘optimist’s side,” filled with light and interiors of white, making for some happy tourists.

SHSU, LEAP Center, Donald Judd, Chinati Foundation, Marfa Texas, Robert Irwin

Our happiness transformed to curiosity as we moved to downtown Marfa, where the “Chamberlain” wing of Chinati is housed.

There are 22 of Chamberlain’s curiosities in this building.

SHSU, LEAP Center, Donald Judd, Chinati Foundation, Marfa Texas, John Chamberlain

His works are primarily cars that have been compressed and placed…

At the front of the building, there is a large “couch” of sorts, and it was an installation we were allowed to touch and, in fact, sit on!  ALthough comfortable, we didn’t sit on it long, because one of Chamberlain’s movies, “The Secret Life of Hernando Cortez” was playing, and it was supremely strange.

On a more quotidian note, we did find a sand patch that was part of the building’s original structure, and we were able to add our own art.

SHSU, LEAP Center, Donald Judd, Chinati, Marfa Texas, LEAP at SHSU

The half-day tour was enthralling.  It was our first experience with minimalist art and provided an eye-opening and even uplifting experience!

SHSU, LEAP Center, Marfa Texas

 

Zooming through Zion National Park

After a long night at Angel’s Window at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, we woke up latish, and headed to the Zion National Park–the second National Park on our trip.  The drive from Kanab, UT is about an hour, but summer is the busiest season for Zion, so we had to park (nearby parking is $10-$20) and then ride to specific Park destinations on one of their shuttles.

At 147,000 acres, the Zion is a moderate size for a National Park (Big Bend is about five times larger), but access is mostly restricted along one major roadway.  Given that it is the third most visited National Park in the Nation, at 4.5 million visitors, it ranks behind the Smoky Mountains (1) and The Grand Canyon (2) in annual visitors.  With that many people and one major roadway, the going was slow.  The shuttle trip from the Main Visitor Center to our destination was about 30-40 minutes on a crowded bus.

We began at The Temple of Sinawava, which allowed us to access the River Side Walk. This hike lead us to The Narrows, which is a popular trail that goes through water.

SHSU, LEAP Center, Zion, The Narrows Trail

We didn’t plan to go through (much) water, but we were eager to see the water and terrain.  We occasionally stopped to hop along rocks…

SHSU, LEAP Center, Zion, The Narrows Trail, Maggie Denena

…”LEAP” for a photo op…

SHSU, LEAP Center, Zion, The Narrows Trail, Maggie Denena, Ryan Brim, Anne Jamarik

…and enjoy the water that trickled down the mountains and into the stream.

SHSU, LEAP Center, Zion, Hanging Gardens

On our way back to the shuttle stop, we were “attacked” by a hungry squirrel.

The squirrels must be used to being fed by visitors, because this squirrel was fairly bold, and assertively looked for food, going so far as to burrow inside our bag.

From the shuttle, we headed to the Park’s seventh stop, Weeping Rock Trail. The trail was short but had an extreme incline to the viewing area where the water “weeps” from the mountain above. The view was beautiful, but difficult to capture by camera.

SHSU, LEAP Center, Zion, Weeping Wall

From our viewing area–an alcove in the side of the mountain–we sat for several minutes, enjoying the cooler temperatures behind our weeping wall.

We boarded the shuttle again for a short ride to stop six, where we got off to walk The Grotto, a short trail to the Lodge at stop five. This was our least favorite hike, although we did get to see a deer that seemed unperturbed by our presence.

We stopped at the Lodge for lunch in the Red Rock Café, which overlooks a large picnic/park area below.  Scores of people filled the area, lounging on the grass or sitting at picnic tables, enjoying the shade. Meanwhile, we enjoyed our burgers, before heading to Emerald Pool Trail.

The Emerald Pool Trail consists of three sections: the lower, middle, and upper trail. We traveled all the way to the upper Emerald Pool Trail, which is approximately 3 miles round trip with an elevation gain of 350 feet.  It was definitely worth the trek: the pools of water and views were beautiful.

Finally, we headed back to the visitor center at the first stop to hike the Watchman Trail for sunset. The Watchman was a fairly moderate hike up and around a mountain that lead to a peak to view the sunset. After seeing part of the sunset and taking photos…

…we gave up and headed back down the trail, exhausted from a day of many hikes.

It was the first time to visit Zion National Park for all the LEAP members and it did not let us down!

 

Biloxi News: Southern Legislative Conference, Day 1

Our first day in Biloxi, Mississippi began in a typical LEAP fashion: getting to discover what the variety of local attractions the Magnolia State had to offer. Having gotten to Biloxi late last night, we were unable to even glimpse what this new state was all about, but today we took full advantage of what it had to offer.

Half Shell Oyster House, by Christina Perez

Our first stop was in a quaint, local restaurant called Half Shell Oyster House. Nestled in Mississippi’s downtown area, this refurbished bank turned restaurant, was a hidden pearl. Surprisingly enough, about half of the ambassadors had never tried oysters, so the main course of our cuisine consisted of just that, including both raw oysters and grilled oysters.

Southern Legislative Conference, Biloxi MS, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, SHSU, Half-Shell Oyster House

To make it even more of a MS treat, we had fried tomatoes and crab cakes, The first timers prepared their oysters, and together took their first bite. All were glad to try it, but some proved more adventurous than others.

Next, we decided to partner up and share a plate so that we could save some room for dessert. Beatriz and Christina ordered a Seafood Sampler which included oysters, crab cakes, shrimp, and two sides: Sweet Potato Crème Brulee and Fried Okra. I couldn’t wait to taste the scrumptious Sweet Potato Creme Brulee. Ryan and Makayla decided to also be adventurous by ordering a Big Easy Surf and Turf which included a 6 oz filet over a crab cake. Strong reviews were given on the variety of seafood plates and then it was time for dessert.

We all decided on the Cinnamon Roll Bread Pudding and the Bananas Foster Cheesecake. The Bread pudding was made with cinnamon rolls and topped with Homemade Spiced Rum Sauce. Professor Yawn, being the bread pudding connoisseur that he is, began to compare it to other bread puddings. It was delicious. So delicious in fact, that many of the Leapsters ended up burning their mouths due to their impatience for another bite. Everyone left happy and with full bellies towards the next adventure which would be a good compliment to the food.

Chandaleur Island Brewery, By Makayla Mason

As part of the Southern Legislative’s Conference first event, we went to tour the Chandeleur Island Brewery. We were greeted at the entrance by some sweet artisan ice pops, handcrafted by Pop Brothers.

Southern Legislative Conference, Biloxi MS, SHSU, Sam Houston State University, LEAP Ambassadors, Popbrothers, Chandaleur Island Brewery

After a day in the hot sun, we thought the popsicles were heavenly!  There were even some pleasant surprises such as an entire Oreo on the inside of the “Cookies and Cream” popsicle!

Southern Legislative Conference, Biloxi MS, SHSU, Sam Houston State University, LEAP Ambassadors, Popbrothers, Chandaleur Island Brewery

After enjoying our ice pops, Chris Vignes, the City of Gulfport’s Public Information Officer, gave us some of the brewery’s backstory, and he explained the City’s economic development philosophy and vision for the future.

Once behind the the bar, one of the owners supplemented the tour, and we learned about the interesting history behind the building, the background of the company, and process of composing the beer.

Southern Legislative Conference, Biloxi MS, SHSU, Sam Houston State University, LEAP Ambassadors, Popbrothers, Chandaleur Island Brewery

Chandeleur Brewery was never meant to be just a bar.

Southern Legislative Conference, Biloxi MS, SHSU, Sam Houston State University, LEAP Ambassadors, Popbrothers, Chandaleur Island Brewery

Instead it was meant to revive the interest in hand-crafted beer and be a place where families could relax. Bringing the community together was crucial to the existence of the Brewery. Their beer cans were designed by a local tattoo artist, which we all thought was an interesting fact! Over the years it has grown to be quite popular and in the 14 years of the Chandeleur Brewery bartender’s experience there has never been a fight.

Southern Legislative Conference, Biloxi MS, SHSU, Sam Houston State University, LEAP Ambassadors, Popbrothers, Chandaleur Island Brewery

Wanting to partake in the famous reputation of this Brewery, we sampled some of their beers (by “we,” we mean those of age). Out of the 5 samples that we could try, the popular vote went to the sweeter blueberry-flavored beer. After that, we played a couple of games ranging from Jenga…

Southern Legislative Conference, Biloxi MS, SHSU, Sam Houston State University, LEAP Ambassadors, Popbrothers, Chandaleur Island Brewery

…and Bean Bag Toss, or “Corn Hole,” as Christina and Ryan call it.

Southern Legislative Conference, Biloxi MS, SHSU, Sam Houston State University, LEAP Ambassadors, Popbrothers, Chandaleur Island Brewery

As part of the advertising the many treasures hidden downtown, we learned about Fishbone Alley.

Southern Legislative Conference, Biloxi MS, SHSU, Sam Houston State University, LEAP Ambassadors, Fishbone Alley, Gulfport MS

Just a block away from the Brewery, this alley had a charm all of its own.

Southern Legislative Conference, Biloxi MS, SHSU, Sam Houston State University, LEAP Ambassadors, Fishbone Alley, Gulfport MS

Once an plain-looking alley, it had gotten a touch up by many local artists from the area, decking it out in a variety pieces of art.

Southern Legislative Conference, Biloxi MS, SHSU, Sam Houston State University, LEAP Ambassadors, Fishbone Alley, Gulfport MS

This also enhanced the community bonding that the Brewery was trying to promote.

Southern Legislative Conference, Biloxi MS, SHSU, Sam Houston State University, LEAP Ambassadors, Fishbone Alley, Gulfport MS

This alley created a space where people from the community could get together for music, peace and quiet, expressing themselves through the medium of art, or some of the rather odd games the city sometimes hosted. The alley is a continuous project in which locals are excited to see grow.

Southern Legislative Conference, Biloxi MS, SHSU, Sam Houston State University, LEAP Ambassadors, Fishbone Alley, Gulfport MS

Jet Ski Adventure, by Ryan Brim

After getting back to Beau Rivage from the Chandeleur Island Brewery, we still had some time before attending the welcoming reception. Quickly, everyone decided to take the extra time to change at the hotel into some more beach-appropriate attire and drive the short distance to a jet ski rental stand right off the beach. None of us had ever ridden a jet ski before, and we were very excited for the opportunity.

Southern Legislative Conference, Biloxi MS, SHSU, Sam Houston State University, LEAP Ambassadors, Jet Skiing, Biloxi Beach

First, we paired up, with Christina being Makayla and Ryan partnering with Beatriz. We donned our life vests and waited a few minutes for the jet skis to get set up. After a 2-minute training, we were off. Time seemed to rush past us as we zipped every which way, skimming along the waves.

Southern Legislative Conference, Biloxi MS, SHSU, Sam Houston State University, LEAP Ambassadors, Jet Skiing, Biloxi Beach

Both teams switched drivers, taking turns and experimenting with the jet ski until they felt comfortable on maneuvering the machine around.

It was easy to get the hang of, and a whole lot of fun!

Finally, our time was up. Sadly, we trekked across the sand back to the shore…

Southern Legislative Conference, Biloxi MS, SHSU, Sam Houston State University, LEAP Ambassadors, Jet Skiing, Biloxi Beach

…and even found a small crab which Beatriz had accidentally taken for a ride throughout the entire jet skiing experience. After a couple more pictures…

…it was soon time to head back to the hotel to prepare for the day’s next event.

Opening Reception at Jones Park, by Beatriz Martinez

Thirty minutes later, the LEAP Ambassadors were headed on their way to Jones Park where the Opening Reception for the Southern Legislative Conference of 2017 was being held. Music reached our ears as we walked across the “Front Yard of Mississippi”. We were greeted by a very Southern “Welcome Y’all” sign at the main entrance of the Barksdale Pavilion.

Southern Legislative Conference, Biloxi MS, SHSU, Sam Houston State University, LEAP Ambassadors, Jones Marina and Municipal Park, Gulfport MS

Of course, we could not help but take a picture with it. As famished as we were, we decided to explore the tantalizing food options available. With a very Southern theme mixed with some of the more coastal delicacies, we were served Bayou rice, a variety of local seafood (no oysters this time), and of course some good old-fashioned barbecue. In the meantime, we were enjoying the night music by Bobby Rush.

Southern Legislative Conference, Biloxi MS, SHSU, Sam Houston State University, LEAP Ambassadors, Bobby Rush. Blues Music

With over 17 blues awards in his lifetime, 364 records, and 66 years in the musical career, Bobby Rush was a sight to behold. At his early age of 84, he had the crowd grooving to his music pulling in people of all ages.

Not only did he present himself like the “King of the Chitlin’ Circuit” that he is…

Southern Legislative Conference, Biloxi MS, SHSU, Sam Houston State University, LEAP Ambassadors, Bobby Rush

…but also did other king impersonations such as the “King of Pop” (Michael Jackson)…

Southern Legislative Conference, Biloxi MS, SHSU, Sam Houston State University, LEAP Ambassadors, Bobby Rush. Blues Music

and the “King of Rock and Roll” (Elvis Presley).

Southern Legislative Conference, Biloxi MS, SHSU, Sam Houston State University, LEAP Ambassadors, Bobby Rush. Blues Music

To end the evening with a bang, we were dazzled by a firework display that lighted the dark, night sky.

After celebrating the beginning of the Southern Legislative Conference, the Leapsters headed home to rest for the upcoming days filled with adventure.

Southern Legislative Conference, Biloxi MS, SHSU, Sam Houston State University, LEAP Ambassadors

National Book Awards Come to SHSU

The National Book Award Festival (NBAF) at SHSU is the product of hard work by Dr. Amanda Nowlin-Obanion, who has once again brought a group of award-winning authors to Sam.  Sponsored by the CHSS, the NBAF featured the young-adult trilogy March, by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin and illustrated by Nate Powell.  The three spent 24 hours or so at SHSU, mingling with students, faculty, and staff at a reception, formal presentation, and a breakfast.

The evening kicked off with a reception for 80 or so stakeho0lders in the Lowman Student Center, where Lewis, Aydin, and Powell patiently shook hands…

National Book Award Festival, SHSU, Sam Houston State University, LEAP Center, Center for Law Engagement And Politics, John Lewis

…mingled…

National Book Award Festival, SHSU, Sam Houston State University, LEAP Center, Center for Law Engagement And Politics, John Lewis

…discussed politics, literature, and the weather…

National Book Award Festival, SHSU, Sam Houston State University, LEAP Center, Center for Law Engagement And Politics, John Lewis

…and, of course, signed books.

From there, the authors migrated to the LSC Ballroom, where they took turns discussing their book and life experiences for about an hour and a half.  Introduced by Dean Abbey Zink, Benjamin Samuel (NBA Director of Programs), and President Dana Hoyt, the three authors spoke to a packed house of approximately 650 people.

National Book Award Festival, SHSU, Sam Houston State University, LEAP Center, Center for Law Engagement And Politics, John Lewis

Illustrator Nate Powell discussed the challenges of drawing pictures that not only advanced the narrative, but also captured the raw emotions of the events: violence, courage, and passion.

National Book Award Festival, SHSU, Sam Houston State University, LEAP Center, Center for Law Engagement And Politics, John Lewis

Author Andrew Aydin discussed his career with Congressman Lewis, from his beginnings handling mail to working with emergent digital technologies.  He also took credit for the idea of a graphic novel, as a means of achieving Lewis’s goal of reaching a younger audience.  Pushing a “comic book,” he noted, was a tough sell, but one that Lewis warmed up to over time.

National Book Award Festival, SHSU, Sam Houston State University, LEAP Center, Center for Law Engagement And Politics, John Lewis

The crowd was clearly there to hear Rep. Lewis, who responded with a moving biographical discussion and rousing calls to action. He reminisced about his days on a farm in Alabama, his lack of access to college education, his parents’ admonitions “not to get in trouble,” and his own tendency to push the envelope for the right cause.

It’s a strategy that has served Lewis well over some six decades in public life.  He has served in elective office for 46 years, 41 of them in US Congress.  And he encouraged the young people in the audience to heed a similar call: to pursue activism for the right cause, to “get into trouble” for a good cause.

Whatever your thoughts about getting in trouble, the night was clearly a good cause, one supported by hundreds of staff, faculty, students, and locals, who offered thanks with multiple standing ovations and the purchase of probably 200 books.

LEAP students were privileged to be a small part of the proceedings, serving as somewhat ineffectual ushers (people sat where ever they wanted mostly, irrespective of instructions).

Following the event, we were able to pose with a group shot of the authors, the Dean, and event organizers, a special coda to a special evening.

National Book Award Festival, SHSU, Sam Houston State University, LEAP Center, Center for Law Engagement And Politics, John Lewis

Many kudos to Dr. Nowlin-Obanion, Dean Abbey Zink, and the staff of CHSS for putting on a first-class event.