It’s not easy traveling more than 2,000 miles by car, even if you have eleven days to complete the trip, but that’s what LEAP students did over their Spring Break. In the process, they explored three states, two Capitol buildings, nine art museums, many conference sessions, and countless restaurants. Below is their favorites from their experiences.
Santa Fe: This won one handily, with five of the seven travelers selecting it. The town’s charm, shopping, art, and history were among the reasons this ranked high, not to mention it’s access to skiing.
Denver came in second, beating out, well, Amarillo and Canyon.
The top three restaurants were an eclectic bunch and reflect the diverse foods sought by LEAP Ambassadors on trips.
Bistro Vendome in Denver was probably the favorite experience of the bunch. It was our first experience with French food as a LEAP group, but just one of many different cultures we have explored.
Also among the top restaurants was Los Potrillos, which offers “Santa Fe New Mexican.” While it may have advertised itself as “New Mexcian,” we enjoyed some favorites of Old Mexico such as chicharrones and nopalitos.
Finally, we also enjoyed the African fare at Jambo Cafe.
The LEAP Ambassadors visited the following museums on their trip: (1) Panhandle Plains Museum, Amarillo Art Center, Cadillac Ranch, Denver Art Museum, Clifford Styll Museum, Kirkland Museum for Fine Arts, American Museum of Western Arts, New Mexico Museum of Art, Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, and the Allan Houser Sculpture Garden.
The three favorite were…
New Mexico Museum of Art, in Santa Fe. While there were artists we knew (O’Keeffe, Diego Rivera, Jesus Moroles), there were also more artists from the southwest that we were less familiar with. Examples include Alfred Morang, Gerald Cassidy, Andrew Dasburg, and Victor Huggins. A big bonus was the tour, which was well done by our guide, and the many educational opportunities in the museum.
Georgia O’Keeffe: A smallish Museum dedicated to just the works of O’Keeffe, the Museum nonetheless does a wonderful job of providing a timeline of her works and exploring the different styles she worked in. While most are familiar with her flowers and skulls, they may be less familiar with her abstracts or urban-scapes.
The Denver Art Museum had the Degas exhibit, and photos were allowed! Without this exhibit, it’s not clear that this museum would have ranked among our top, inasmuch as much of the permanent collection was in storage. But you cannot go wrong with Degas!
Also of note was the Allan Houser Sculpture Garden. This may have been the favorite of the group. With some eighty sculptures on approximately 20 acres, it’s a great way to see Allan Houser’s work.
Although we did numerous hikes, the Ambassadors’ favorite was the Rocky Mountain National Park, which offered sledding…
…views of wildlife…
…and frozen lakes!
Two honorable mentions include the Lighthouse Trail in Palo Duro Canyon…
…and the Bandelier Monument outside of Santa Fe…
But of course if you are going to the western mountains early March, then skiing will be in a category of its own! The students loved the skiing, with several of the students becoming skilled beginners!
Personality studies show that “the big five” traits–(1) openness to new experiences, (2) conscientiousness, (3) extroversion, (4) agreeableness, and (5) neuroticism–are key shapers of personality and, by extension, shape our life happiness. While everyone’s personality differs, almost all LEAP Ambassadors score high in conscientiousness, and most score high in openness to new experiences. And it’s a good thing, because trips like this are designed to offer new experiences to those who can get the most from them.
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.
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.
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.
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…
…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.
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!
Both the capitol and the sculpture garden trips were the perfect ending to day five of the trip!
Joycelyn Ovalle–On Saturday morning we met up with SHSU alum Will Phillips, a former Junior Fellow and POLS graduate, and headed to Johnson City, the home of former president Lyndon Baines Johnson. Our first stop was his humble, yet peculiar, “Boyhood Home”. We were guided through the home by a National Park Ranger, who offered insightful tales of LBJ as a boy. When the future President was in middle school, for example, he was referred to as “First Base Johnson” for his baseball skills, but he didn’t really enjoy baseball.
He played to make contacts, a political player more than a sports fan. He followed in the footsteps of his father, who was a local politician. The two of them would often go to the Texas Capitol together and, by the age of 11, LBJ was claiming he would one day be President. He was correct.
As President, Johnson often referred to himself as the son of a “poor dirt tenant farmer,” but his childhood home suggests otherwise. The family owned a telephone and a gas stove, items that weren’t in many early twentieth century homes. As we continued to explore the works of President LBJ, we moved away from his “Boyhood Home” and transferred into the home of the president – “The Texas White House”. We made a stop at the Lyndon Baines Johnson National Historic Park and we spent our afternoon enjoying the weather, admiring his ranch, and learning about his works as a president and his last days as a Texan. The Johnson’s residence was filled with historical artifacts and well preserved personal items.
From his flamboyant convertibles to his shoes and shorts, there is no doubt that “The Texas White House” truly resembled President LBJ.
It was extensive and distinguishable from the outside, but welcoming and refined from the inside. Another note worthy artifact was a framed letter hanging in the Johnson’s living room. As Bearkats, everyone wanted to see it, particularly because it was sent from our hero, Sam Houston and was written from Huntsville, Texas in 1838.
After building up hunger from the walk around the LBJ Ranch, we stopped at a popular Johnson City restaurant in the heart of town called the East Main Grill. It is an exquisite southern restaurant providing delicious arrays of soup, salads, and sandwiches. While all of the food items sound fantastic, there was definitely one that stood out from the rest. The Ultimate Grill Cheese sandwich consisted of fresh apples, tomatoes, swiss, cheddar, and gorgonzola cheese. Only a few students were smart enough to try it, and they were not disappointed.
Following lunch, we made our way down to the Benini Studio and Sculpture Ranch, which is owned by the Italian artist Benini. Driving through the Hill Country of Texas, you could not help but appreciate the natural brush terrain it’s known for. Sculptures are placed throughout the property, and they become more elaborate as you approach his studio. While the sculptures were impressive, Benini is best known for his painting. His ability to blend colors to create depth and shades without the use of an airbrush is what sets him apart from his contemporaries, and it was a pleasure (and an adventure) to meet and explore the mind of Benini.
He talked about his childhood growing up in Italy during a time of turmoil. With political unrest, war, and problems with his father, Benini began to copy things, and this turned into his art. He spoke freely about his life experiences and gave us a tour of his studio, the place where he imagines and creates his pieces of art.
It was a rare experience, and we were all appreciative of the opportunity and the ability to not only see his art, but to learn more about it and the processes he used to create it.
But the art did not end at his gallery; his whole ranch was filled with trails leading to different sculptures, a hand cropping out of the hillside; a massive drum set (with drums!) beside a pond; a glass figure looking over the beautiful hill country. It was an intriguing and educational afternoon.
Our evening events concluded with a night out under the Austin sky. The Leap Students ventured on a haunted Segway tour in downtown Austin. We had the opportunity to ride around the Texas State Capital, through the streets of downtown Austin and various city attractions. Our group had to quickly learn how to master the Segway, learn how to go up and down hills and most importantly how to brake! Throughout the tour the guide told 3 ghost stories based off of local downtown buildings. The first was told at The Driskill, which the guide said is “the fifth most haunted building in America”. The second story was told near the Speak Easy, and was a tale of two young girls who died in an elevator. The last story was told at the west wing of the Texas State Capital, where it is said a former governor shot his wife and her ghost haunts the apartment in the capital. The Segway Tour was both fun and educational as well as a neat way to view Austin.
The final stop of our night was at Kerbey Lane Café. We met up with Sam Houston State Alumni Blake Roach, who is living in Austin and works for Attorney General Gregg Abbot. The Leap Students had the opportunity to both pick his brain about his successes while enjoying a wonderful meal.
Ashley Richardson and Constance Gabel–Our second full day in Austin tackled three large subjects: LBJ, Arts, and Austin which are somewhat connected. Joining us for this trifecta was Will Phillips, an SHSU alum from Austin, who had been to some of these stops previously.
Our first stop included the LBJ boyhood home and the LBJ Ranch, giving us insight into the more private life of the former President. At the boyhood home, a modest-sized structure (but large for the time), we heard how LBJ would sneak out his window, crawl under the house, and sit beneath the room that his father and other local politicos would gather in to discuss politics. LBJ’s political ways—and his subterfuge—began at an early age.
The LBJ Ranch, or the “Texas White House,” was a snapshot of a different era. The home, clearly ruled by Lady Bird, was just as she left it, from the yellow Formica counter tops to LBJ’s three televisions (one for each network), to Lady Bird’s closet, which was filled with pantsuits of green and other unlikely colors. We toured the home, amazed by the preservation.
We also saw the Johnson family grave site which includes the graves of LBJ and Lady Bird and the “Air Force One Half,” the smaller version of Air Force One, which LBJ used to travel between the ranch and the DC White House.
One of the things we learned at the LBJ venues was his support for the arts, particularly inhis creation of the National Endowment for the Arts. In that spirit, we piled into the van and navigated the Hill Country to the Benini Sculpture Ranch. Unbeknownst to us, Professor Yawn set up a chance to meet the artist, who gave us access to his inner sanctum—a private tour of his studio—as well as an earful of his beliefs on politics, religion, and sex, all offered without much prompting.
The conversation, as well as the man’s art, was thought provoking and eye opening.
We each had favorite pieces from the tour. For Constance, it was Andante….
For Ashley, there were two: the Heartcatcher and the Stars Giver.
And lots of other works:
On a larger scale, both LBJ and the arts are part of the Austin scene. The LBJ Presidential Library is located in Austin and the arts are everywhere, in the form of architecture, public art, music, and private galleries. We had the chance to explore some of those on a night-time Segway Tour that lasted some 2.5 hours.
We capped off the night at Kerby Lane Café, where we met with Blake Roach, an SHSU alum who now works for Attorney General Greg Abbott. The food was good, the conversation was nice, and we were able to warm up before resting up for tomorrow, our last day in Austin.