Saturday, July 14, 2007

Late afternoon launch in Bordner Park

I was already running late as I drove north on Rosa Road Friday about 7:00 p.m., overdue for a walk with other members of my family at Owen Park. But I had to pull over. There was something large and bright and hugely multicolored on my left, growing larger as it tugged at my peripheral vision. Turned out to be a hot air balloon launch in the somewhat tight confines of Madison Bordner Park, the Crestwood neighborhood park. Someone was embarking on a sunset cruise over Lake Mendota. (Click to enlarge photos.)

The inflation phase was as colorfully expansive as the heedless joy of the kids playing in the foreground.

The launch seemed to put this older resident in a more meditative frame of mind. Was he thinking of other departures, other farewells?

Bascom Hall, the way it used to be, from an amazing postcard time capsule, mailed to Holland 92 years ago

Did you know that State Street once had domes at both ends, that the stately dome of the Capitol faced another dome a mile away, capping what we now know as Bascom Hall, but which was then called Main Hall? This is how it looked in 1915 (click to enlarge). And this is how it looked when the dome was destroyed by fire a year later. Although the building was saved, the dome was never replaced.

This image is part of the series of 1915 postcards from a visit to Madison that year which were mailed by the visitor back to his relatives in Holland. Postmarked Milwaukee, the folder of cards presumably went through the Great Lakes, up the St. Lawrence, and made their way to Holland by sea in a time when there was no intercontinental air travel. It was an arduous journey taking weeks. But in today's global village, it took just an instant for a link to the images to show up in the comments on my photo of The Lorain, which I had uploaded to Flickr.
Just out of curiosity: Is there anything left from this Madison, the Madison my grandfather visited in 1915?
The comment was from vfm4, an artist and photographer in the Netherlands, which is about all I know about her -- except that she has an unusually creative and varied photostream on Flickr, made up of thousands of images. Take a look. A good way to start is by getting an overview on her page of collections, each of which leads to numerous individual sets.

I'll comment on some more of these individual cards in future posts. But you don't have to wait for me to get around to it. Click here to go the page of images shown above. Each is a clickable link to a full-sized image of an individual postcard. You'll be able to experience the Madison of 1915 just as the recipients did, paging through the folder one image at a time.

Note: I'll give each posting as I post it a "Madison 1915" tag, so you'll be able to call them up as a group simply by clicking on the label.

Friday, July 13, 2007

America's past and America's present, as observed on Madison's Southwest Bike Path

America Then and Now
America then and now: American history meets modern America, in this photo taken from the Southwest Bike Path of the Midvale Heights community prairie park. The buffalo sculpture look balefully at the camera, while in the background a resident hoses down the roof of the RV parked in his yard.

The bike path, which was built on an old railroad right of way and completed in 2001, has quite a history itself. Did you know that the Fox Avenue-Hillington Green underpass that it crosses was once a cow tunnel under the railroad bed? Explore this and other facets of its history at the DMNA's Southwest Bicycle/Pedestrian Path History web page. A lot of community involvement was involved in making the vision a reality, and you'll find it documented in the links on the page.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

The greening of the Southwest Bike Path

Dudgeon Monroe  Prairie
I love this tiny prairie -- less than an acre, I believe. It's a small jewel in the heart of Madison's near west side. Once it was a vacant lot at the intersection of the railroad tracks and Odana Road. Now, thanks to a lot of volunteer work, it's a lovely little wedge of prairie at the intersection of the Southwest Bike Path (built on the old railroad right of way) and Odana Road. And this section isn't the only planting that neighborhood volunteers have done along the bike path. The greening of the bike path was almost entirely a volunteer effort, and this page from the Dudgeon-Monroe Neighborhood Association website chronicles their progress.

Click on the photo to get to larger versions in Flickr. And if you'd like to see more photos on and about the Southwest Bike Path, click here to get to my set on Flickr.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The lonely exile of William King's "Act"

"Act" by William King
This 1979 work of public art stands in lonely splendor in Olbrich Park on Madison's east side, an isolated silhouette alongside Lake Monona. The figures reach toward the sun, seeking something just out of reach. Public appreciation, perhaps?

I used to really hate this thing back when it was wedged into its old location just off State Street next to the old Civic Center, jammed into a narrow stretch of sidewalk on Henry Street. The aluminum sculpture had no discernible connection to the site, other than the bolts that secured the base. I wasn't alone in thinking that the $45,000 work was an unpleasant afterthought that didn't really belong where it had been plunked down. "Act" had few fans and many foes. Doug Moe explained how the figures got to Olbrich in the Capital Times last fall.
William King's giant aluminum sculpture, titled "Act," was originally behind the old Civic Center at the Dayton Street entrance. Local attorney and businessman Fred Mohs so disliked the piece that he put up $5,000 of his own money to have it moved to Olbrich Park.

Mohs told Channel 3's Joel Despain, "I said this was 10,000 aluminum cans yearning to be free."
During its time as art-in-residence downtown, that was a typical reaction. In the snarky overview of public art in Madison he wrote 15 years ago, Jacob Stockinger also had nothing good to say about it.
William King's 1979 ``Act,'' the outsized aluminum cookie cutter figures in Olbrich Park, remains an embarrassing $45,000 cutout worthy of blunt-nose scissors from Miss Frances' Ding Dong School.
That seems a bit harsh now. With room to breath and since it no longer comes off as a potentially dangerous obstacle on a narrow downtown sidewalk, "Act" doesn't evoke such hostile passion anymore. It has taken on that patina of age that often leads to affection. As I framed it in the camera, I realized I had become kind of fond of it. And William King, now 82, turns out to be a fairly interesting artist.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Are Those Dick Cheney's Eyes?

Are Those Dick Cheney's Eyes?
Why, yes, I believe they are. Revealed by a closer, daylight look at this building. I wonder what the heck the guy is doing in Madison? Hanging out in the last refuge of a scoundrel -- the patriotic pumpkin patch?

Monday, July 09, 2007

Condos after Dark: The Loraine

The Loraine, once Madison's most prestigious hotel and a hangout for state legislators and other luminaries, has been a Madison fixture just a block from the Capitol since 1924. From the history page on its website:
The Loraine was originally conceived in 1922 by Milwaukee hotelier Walter Schroeder as a 250 room hotel. Architect Herbert Tullgren designed the Tudor Revival structure and construction was completed by June, 1924. Hotel Loraine (named after a niece of Mr. Schroeder who died during the course of construction) was so popular that a 100 room addition was completed one year later in 1925.

Hotel Loraine was the largest and arguably the most prestigious hotel in Madison. At an initial cost of $1,100,000, Hotel Loraine was the most expensive commercial building in Madison. Its prominent location on the site of Henry Proudfit's home provided a seamless link between the affairs of Wisconsin's government at the State Capitol and the academia at the University of Wisconsin.
Among Hotel Loraine's guests during its glory years were Ethel Barrymore, Gloria Swanson, Mae West, Harry Truman, and John F. Kennedy. It was declared a historic landmark due to its history, location and architectural significance.

In 2004, the conversion of The Loraine to luxury condos was completed, giving it a head-start on the current downtown condo building boom -- and its example also helped jump-start that boom. With its early start, it has a considerably higher sell-through rate than most of the other recent condo developments in Madison. According to the update on the local condo market in Sunday's Wisconsin State Journal, nearly 79 percent of The Loraine's 84 units have been sold, much better than most (the units that remain unsold include many of the more expensive luxury penthouses).

The article also reports that developers who once planned on a two-to-three-year turnaround for condo projects now expect something more like six to eight years. The slow market is also seeing some developers offer leases with options buy, with some of the rent applied to a downpayment in the event of purchase.

NOTE: As noted by Dr. Diablo in the Comments, the quotes in the WSJ article are more positive than the data seems to suggest. In fact, the real story is in the chart that illustrates sales in nine Madison-area condos, only three of which are more than 50 percent sold. Click here for 372kb PDF.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Optical magic at Olbrich Botanical Gardens

Top Eyepiece View
I've seen a lot of startling, beautiful surprises at Olbrich Gardens, but this one really took my breath away -- partly a miniature garden, partly an interactive sculpture, and partly an optical toy. And pure psychedelic magic.

Garden KaleidoscopeWhen I first spotted it right outside the visitors' center, I wasn't sure what it was. A bowl with plants in it was mounted in the center of an oxidized steel frame. There were a couple of what seemed to be telescope eyepieces attached. It was completely disorienting, and for a moment I thought, "Oh, a telescope for plants." Which made no sense.

Garden Kaleidoscope Top Eyepiece with InstructionsThen I saw the small sign reading "Garden Kaleidoscope by Robert Anderson." One look through the eyepiece, and everything made sense. My field of vision exploded into a kaleidoscopic pattern of forms and colors that endlessly shifted as I gave the bowl containing the garden a spin. I wondered if I could shoot through the eyepiece by pressing my camera up against it. As I kept my eye the LCD screen, I was amazed by how well the flat top of the eyepiece lined up with my camera. The photo above is the result. (Note how you can pick out the multiple reflections of the bench in the image taken through the eyepiece.)

But that was just the beginning. When I read the instructions more closely, I realized that it wasn't just the eyepiece that turned. So did the bowl containing the mini garden. A quick spin of the finger set the bowl revolving silently and gracefully. The swirls in the eyepiece became even more incredible, an endless, flowing metamorphosis of shapes and hues. The photo doesn't really do it justice. It wasn't so much a view through a kaleidoscope as a look at the tempestuous surface of the sun during a major solar storm.

I wondered who Robert Anderson was, and I wanted to know more about the garden kaleidoscope. Was this a one-off, or had he made others? The staffer I asked did not know, and there was no literature about Anderson's creation. But I found an article on the web in Door County Magazine from a couple years ago that answered my questions.
Singer Lionel Richie has one. So does the Green Bay Botanical Garden, Lands' End Co. and a New York penthouse resident. Garden kaleidoscopes by Robert C. Anderson of Sturgeon Bay stand on private properties and in a growing number of public places nationwide. The sculptor also creates tables, outdoor furniture and wacky inflated pieces - all from steel.

He left a good job as a maintenance engineer in Sacramento, Calif., in 1996 after selling hoards of art at a juried show in Madison. More recently, his wife, Ann, left her job as a human resources manager for 20 years to join her husband in the business. After real estate hunting on the Internet in 2003, the couple landed in Door County, closer to where Anderson grew up in Stoughton, Wis.
Click here to read the whole article. I like what Anderson says about how people perceive his sculptures.
The kaleidoscopes are just fun, and they get people talking. People will share with each other in a public space, and that is nice. They give two strangers something to talk about. But a lot of times, we think we know what things are. People see the kaleidoscopes and they say, "Oh telescopes," and keep walking. So they miss an experience that may be fun for them. They think they know everything. Don't trust your eyes so much. Use two senses: your eyes and touch it. Ask questions. And life's a lot more satisfying that way.
I've put these and some additional pictures in a set on Flickr. Clicking on any of the photos will take you there, or you can click here for an overview of the complete set.

UPDATE: Chris Norris mentions in the comments that he posted a shot of the kaleidoscope at Olbrich on Flickr last fall. He's one of the intriguing photographers whose work I follow in the Madison Flickr Group. He uses the screen name "thechrisproject." He also has a cool photo website.

My question is, where were they hiding the garden kaleidoscope? I never saw it before the other day, but it must have been out there somewhere. Or maybe I'm just blind -- a blind photographer.