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.
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!