The photo above shows a preserved Tatra T87 automobile, which, in my opinion, must surely be the ultimate “Art Deco Car”. Designed in Czechoslovakia in 1936, this particular example was built in 1948. The swooping lines and graceful curves of the design are highlighted in this case by the gleaming silver paintwork.
I’d have expected to find a car such as this on display in a prestigious European motor museum, so I was quite astonished this week when I visited the Minneapolis Institute of Art, in the Midwest of the USA, and found it there.
The reason for my visit to Minneapolis was simply because that’s my wife’s hometown. We went there to visit her family, most of who still live in or around that city. We had a great visit with everyone, but I must confess that, as I get older, I increasingly prefer the comforts of my home, so I was glad to get back!
Far Away is Close at Hand in Models of Elsewhere
Many years ago, during the 1970s, there was a famous item of graffiti that appeared near the approach to Paddington railway station in London, which ran:
FAR AWAY IS CLOSE AT HAND IN IMAGES OF ELSEWHERE
The first inkling that I ever had that there existed a place called the “Midwest” was when I was about 7 years old. In 1967, the Trans-World Model Railway opened at the Corner Café in Scarborough. This was a gigantic OO/HO scale model railway, which included inter-connected sections depicting Britain, France, Germany, and, via an “Atlantic Bridge”, the USA and Canada.
One of the US sections was captioned “The Midwest”, but of course I had no real idea where it was, nor did I ever expect to visit such a place, and I certainly never imagined that I might one day marry someone from there!
Having been married to Mary for some 27 years now, I’ve traveled with her to Minnesota on many occasions. We try to visit different places during each visit.
The Inland Beaches
As you might guess, the Midwest is far from either the Atlantic or Pacific Oceans, so there’s no ocean frontage to be found there. Nonetheless, given that Minnesota is the “Land of 10,000 Lakes”, there are still beaches within the state. The photo below shows one: Thomas Beach, on Lake Calhoun in Minneapolis, with the skyscrapers of downtown visible in the distance.
As a girl, my wife lived in an apartment that’s behind the trees on the far side of the lake, and she used to swim at this beach.
A Cultural Center
I realize that the Midwest may not generally be thought of as a center of culture, but in fact (probably thanks to its industrial wealth) Minneapolis has more than its “fair share” of cultural attractions.
In the past, I’ve visited the Walker Art Center, and various local museums, but I’d never before been to the vast Minneapolis Institute of Art. Hanging above the lobby of the Institute is a large glass sculpture by Dale Chihuly, as shown below.
Inside the Institute, many substantial collections are on display, covering all time periods from the Stone Age to the present, and spanning all continents.
Amid the collection of Twentieth Century artwork, there’s one painting by Piet Mondrian, whose art and beliefs I discussed in an earlier post. The photo below shows a closeup of his initials at the bottom left of the painting, to prove that it’s really his, rather than some simulation that I cobbled together on my computer!
There’s also a large collection of Impressionist works, three of which are shown below. The painting on the left, Notre Dame de Paris by Maximilien Luce, sold in 2011 for $4.2 million, a record amount for an Impressionist work.
It’s impossible to do justice to the scale of the Institute’s collections in this short article, and I would encourage you to visit this amazing museum yourself if you’re ever in the vicinity.
The Scandinavian Diaspora
Many of the early European settlers in what’s now Minnesota came from the Scandinavian countries; Denmark, Sweden and Norway. Apparently, circa 1900, about 25% of the population of Minneapolis consisted of Swedish emigrés. Thus, it’s perhaps not surprising that Minneapolis is home to the American Swedish Institute. We visited this Institute too, and took the tour of the Turnblad Mansion, which was built in 1908 by the proprietor of a Swedish-language newspaper. The mansion is shown in the photo below, seen from inside the modern extension built next to it.
The ASI also has an excellent restaurant, FIKA, but it’s an understandably popular lunch venue, so you may have to wait for a table!
We returned to San Francisco airport directly from Minneapolis. I took the emotive photo below from my seat, as our Boeing 737-800 was descending to land in San Francisco. Our flight left Minneapolis at about 6.30pm, so we were “chasing the sunset” back to California as shown in the photo.
The circumstances of my flight reminded me of the lyrics of Thomas Dolby’s song Flying North, which was popular in the early 1980s when I was first traveling to the US. Part of the lyrics are:
Metal bird dip wing of fire
Whose airlanes comb dark Earth
The poles are tethers we were born in
Now I’m back in the London night
On a bench in a launderette
I’m staring right into my face
And I’m drawn out like a plot
And I’m flying North again
These days, I’m no longer flying home to London, of course. Instead, we just had a wonderful dose of Midwest culture, and now it’s great to be back home in California!