The morning began early for the LEAP Ambassadors. We said goodbye to New York City and began our trek across the Empire State.
Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum – Francisco Peña
Our first stop was the FDR Presidential Library and Museum. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was the first President to have such a library built in his honor. The museum was constructed on sixteen acres of land next to the Hudson River in Hyde Park, New York. It was designed by the President himself and the only library created for a President while in office. During its grand opening on June 30, 1941, the President humorously said that this would be the first and only time that admission would be free to the people.
Upon entering, we were greeted by a statue of the President and his wife, Eleanor, sitting on a bench.
The interior exhibits started with personal items such as childhood pictures, Franklin’s double basket side-saddle that he rode with his dog Fala, and a locket that belonged to Eleanor.
We proceeded to walk through the timeline of Roosevelt’s presidency which, in large part, consisted of the Great Depression…
the New Deal, and World War II.
…the liberation of the concentration camps…
…and, ultimately, the end of the war.
One smaller but interesting exhibit focused on his battle with polio and how he maintained an authoritative physique while the whole nation watched him.
Part of the exhibition included an interactive item: a lever weighted to simulate the heavy steel braces the President had to wear. We were amazed and shocked by how heavy it was to lift the lever. It was no wonder his core remained in top physical form despite his illness.
Other exhibits highlighted his innovative prioritization of “the first 100 days…”
…during which he passed much of his agenda, while also setting the tone and establishing the momentum for the rest of his first term.
As a bit foreshadowing, we saw Norman Rockwell prints related to FDR’s “Four Freedoms” Speech.
This was of particular interest to us, because we are heading to Norman Rockwell’s studio tomorrow.
Also of note is his original private home office, where he did much of his work.
What distinguishes this library in some aspects is that it maintains over 17 million pages of documents, 150,000 audiovisual items, and some 50,000 books among the personal items belonging to both FDR and Eleanor, viewable in glass cases in the basement of the museum and accessible for research. On view were FDR’s model ship collection, his 1936 Ford Phaeton…
…and family paintings and portraits. We ended with our usual gift shop stop to check out souvenirs for our loved ones and friends back home.
Vanderbilt Mansion Drive-By – Francisco Peña
After leaving the FDR Library, we detoured slightly for a drive-by of another nearby monument. Although lesser-known, the Vanderbilt Mansion is not the slightest bit subtle. In fact, entry to the grounds requires a massive iron gate and a 20-foot-tall gate house. A blanket of snow rested upon the landscape as we puttered along the windy road leading up to it. Upon reaching the crest of the hill, a collective gasp was let out among the Ambassadors. The mansion is absolutely stunning.
Construction occurred between 1896 and 1899. What stood before us at the end of a circle drive was a 44,000 square foot, 54 room Beaux-Arts monstrosity. Even though there were no tours of the mansion, and we didn’t have time to park the car to wander the grounds, we definitely did not regret the additional stopover.
Mass MoCA – Sawyer Massie
After a brief drive from the library, we arrived at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art. Mass MoCA’s outward appearance is quite deceiving. The campus embraces all forms of art: painting, film, light, sculpture, photography, and unheard-of genres that create new boundaries. The weather was frigid and windy, so we were especially eager to enjoy the museum’s warm confines. Inside, we were greeted by the gift shop and several galleries.
Sol LeWitt was one of the featured artists, so his was the first we visited. Inside, entire walls were painted with a variety of colors and patterns – all pieces were completely different from one another and could be black and white or contain all colors from the rainbow.
We took advantage of the fact that we could take pictures and left for the other main attraction: James Turrell.
Turrell is especially significant for the Ambassadors because we have all seen his work in Austin at the University of Texas, as well as in Houston, and the organization has seen his work in numerous other places. The Mass MoCA exhibit was called “Into the Light” and was on two floors of a huge gallery of renovated-warehouse space.
“Dissolve” is, like most of Turrell’s pieces at Mass MoCA, seemingly a projection on the wall that shows ever-changing patterns of color. The color changes are slow moving, so they’re quite beautiful and calming to look at, but, as you walk closer, you realize that there is no projection at all.
The piece’s depth stems from there being an actual hole in the wall, lit from inside. Therefore, from the outside, you think you’re looking at a light projected on a flat wall, but what you’re actually seeing is light scintillating in a curved hole. This specific piece became a favorite for some of us for its constantly-changing color combinations and for its relaxing quality.
The other upstairs installation was just as deceiving. When you walk in, it just seems like a white diamond projected into the corner of a room. Upon further inspection, however, it is yet another “trick-of-the-light.” This time, light is projected into the hole in the wall. We thought it was incredible especially since none of us knew it was a hole until investigating it closely.
Seven more installations awaited us in another gallery, two of which had required advance reservations given space limitations. With each one, we were left with jaws agape. Turrell’s mastery of light manipulation leaves little competition.
“Hind Sight (Dark Space)” was a complete mystery to us, as was intended, before witnessing it. So much so, that we needed to be instructed on how to properly navigate it. This is due to the fact that the installation is completely devoid of light. Only two were allowed in at a time. The entrance was a hallway with handrails on each side to which each person had to use while holding up one hand in front, using both to prevent running into walls.
Victoria and I went in together and, almost immediately, I became too confident and smashed into the wall due to a sharp turn. At the end of the maze sat two chairs, one for each person. We were told that our eyes would adjust after 15 minutes and we would see what Turrell wanted us to see. Victoria and I sat, unable to see anything, in utter darkness, for what seemed like forever. Then, almost at the same time, we both began to see something. A gray figure materialized in front of us. We couldn’t see it when looking right at it, but we could see it out of our peripheral vision. It was interesting that Turrell, someone who specializes in light installations, created a piece that does not involve light at all. We left once our fifteen minutes were up and tried not to spoil it for the next two people who entered.
The installation that absolutely flabbergasted all of us the most was “Perfectly Clear.” This installation encompassed an entire room we were to walk into.
We were instructed by museum staff to wear shoe covers, not touch any of the walls, and not walk too far to the end of the room because there is a steep drop that probably would not feel good to tumble down. Inside, all of the white walls were bathed in blue light. Standing in amazement, we watched as the colors shifted to the next hue ever so slowly. Once our eyes adjusted, we could close them and see the complementing color to the one presented in the room (when the light was blue, the white waiting room appeared to be orange, etc.).
At two points of our 10-minute session, a rapidly flashing strobe would play for 20 seconds. The hypnotic strobe light created patterns in our vision and left us dazed as we walked out of the room. Out of all of the impressive installations, all agreed this was the favorite.
Additional adventures awaited us in the Museum. We had a chance to see another of our favorite artists: Anish Kapoor. Having seen his work in Houston, New Orleans, and Chicago (the famous “Bean,” or “Cloud Gate”), we saw another version today. Like the others, it also involved reflective surfaces.
This is one we had a lot of fun with.
We also saw Jenny Holzer’s work, with her usual emphasis on language…
…and we saw some innovative Louise Bourgeois works…
MASS MOCA also has Houston artist Trenton Doyle Hancock on (large) display…
…giving us a small sense of being home away from home.
Our adventures for today done, all there was to do at the end of our endless day was to wander out into the grey light of the real day to make the drive to Albany and prep for more adventures in the morning.
On our way to Albany, we passed through Vermont!
And there we found a frozen lake, which used for a snowball fight…
…and a nice photo.
What Did We Eat?
For our usual readers, you may have noticed that we have left off our meals from this blog. We have a rule of sorts on our trips that we sample local fare and avoid nationwide chains wherever possible (well, more like unless in case of emergency!). On this day, we had much travel between cities and states to our various destinations, so most of our meals were on the road or obtained late in the evening. It probably isn’t fair to rate fare we selected given that our laps were doubling as our tables. That said, we’d like to give the Eveready Diner in Hyde Park, NY a shout-out for their awesome black & white cookies!