Hollyhock House @ Barnsdall Art Park

I’ve been visiting Los Angeles regularly for several years now (hurray for friends in far-flung locations!). One of my favourite neighbourhoods is Los Feliz, with its great cafes, a wonderful independent bookstore, lovely old movie theatre and proximity to the Hollywood Hills (and one of the most beautiful LA landmarks, the Griffith Observatory).

As if it needed more going for it, Los Feliz also borders Barnsdall Art Park, and a beautiful house that Frank Lloyd Wright built (for Aline Barnsdall, American oil heiress, theatre patron, and all-around feminist radical), Hollyhock House. It got its name from the stylized hollyhock desings that adorn the entire home – both inside and out.

I went on one of the docent-led tours (call first to verify times), and it was well worth the extra couple of dollars it cost me. I learned all about Barnsdall and Wright’s arguments, the original intent of the 35-acre property (a sort of theatre community), and the history of the house’s decline and subsequent revival.  I admit, I’m a sucker for Wright’s brand of architecture (I’m likewise a big fan of Scottish architect & designer, Charles Rennie Mackintosh), so I try to see anything he’s designed. Hollyhock House, much of it newly restored, was a delight!

I wasn’t able to take any interior shots, but I urge you to wander around inside. It’s completely sumptuous, from the wood panelling and built-in shelving, to the design details on the furniture and how Wright brings the outdoors inside. I went for a wander around the home afterwards, where I was able to get a few shots of the back of the house, with its courtyard and small pool – just stunning!

Extra bonus: There were some very friendly, helpful and clearly enthusiastic folks around inside the house ready to answer questions and engage visitors. A very interesting visit!


Must-See Museums: Getty Center, Los Angeles

How much do I love the Getty Center? Let me count the ways.

My first visit was in May 1999, about 18 months after it first opened. I was entranced. It’s part museum, part gallery, and part conservation and research institution. Oil tycoon and avid art collector J. Paul Getty left a heap of money to an art trust – and what the trust has done with it is spectacular. Even if you have no interest in coming to look at the art (and I have to ask, why wouldn’t you?), you really need to visit to get a gander at the buildings. I mean, it’s got its own monorail. Need I say more?

Before you set foot inside the buildings, it’s pretty amazing. (I’ve even photographed the floor tiling!) If you get a clear day (without clouds, smog or haze), you can have a fantastic view. But mostly, I’m just wandering around, looking up at buildings.

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A trip to the Getty alos wouldn’t be complete without a wander around their gorgeous gardens. And because it’s LA, something is almost always in bloom.

Getty Center lobby

The Getty Center Lobby

And that doesn’t even cover what’s inside the building – oodles of fantastic art! On my first visit, I went through most of the collection on display, which ranged from antiquities and medieval manuscripts, to impressionist paintings. But the best (according to me) is the roomd dedicated to photography – it’s one of the few places that really pays significant attention to important fine art photography.

During my May 2016 sojourn to Los Angeles, I went to its co-exhibition (with LACMA) of Robert Mapplethorpe‘s work. It was shown alongside Sam Wagstaff’s photo collection – which includes some of the most historically significant and recognizable pieces there are. So interesting!

And just in case you needed one more reason to make it to the Getty, consider that entry is free! (Parking, however, is not.)

A visit to Brompton Cemetery

Brompton Cemetery

I have always enjoyed wandering around cemeteries, the older the better. Perhaps it’s because I was a history major at university. And while some find cemeteries morbid or sad or depressing, I find them peaceful and uplifting. They provide me an important reminder about the fragile and finite nature of human life, and the many, many people who have lived and died before me. They make my day-to-day troubles shrink in importance. Perspective.

So, I often visit cemeteries when I travel (e.g. my earlier posts of New Orleans – here and here). It was no different in London last October. I wanted to get to two or three of the city’s “Magnificent Seven” Victorian cites. I made it to just one – Brompton Cemetery – and it was worth the walk.

Brompton Cemetery sign

I took the Brompton Cemetery entrance sign to heart.

Brompton has beautifully trimmed pathways (attractively strewn with colourful autumn leaves) that divide the cemetery space. Some grave markers are well manicured, but they are beside entire sections so overgrown with tall grass and vines, they’re partially (or totally) obscured. I enjoy the variety of grave stones, admiring the design details, reading the inscriptions.

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Love all those angels:

Brompton buildings are lovely too, and provided me some much-needed shade on a bright sunny day.

But I don’t just visit cemeteries abroad; I also make a point of revisiting family grave sites whenever I’m in Alberta. On a trip there last year, I popped in at the Coronation Town Cemetery and went with my aunts and uncles to visit the Cadogen Lutheran Cemetery (pictured below).

Cadogen Lutheran Cemetery

Cadogen Lutheran Cemetery

I love the big skies and gently rolling farmland. Quite, peaceful and pretty. This piece of land was the corner of my Norwegian great-great grandparents original farm, donated for the purpose of a community cemetery.

Must-See Museums: London’s V & A

William Morris cup at the Victoria and Albert

William Morris cup at the Victoria and Albert

Whenever I get to London, I make a point to go to the Victoria & Albert Museum of art and design. No question. If it’s the only building I visit while I’m there, I’m fine with it. It’s one of my favourite places on the planet.

Museums and galleries are often my preferred haunts – both at abroad and at home in Toronto. Each has something to offer, but some institutions are better at welcoming you. They’re simply a pleasure to be in. It’s difficult to put your finger on the whys of it, but you know it as soon as you walk through the front door (when you walk into the V&A, you see Dale Chihuly’s gorgeous glass sculpture – below). Great museums engage the public, provide new and compelling ways to look at art or history, and just draw you in better. That’s how I feel about the V&A. It’s really just fun to be inside it.

Rotunda glass sculpture by Dale Chihuly

So, what’s so great about it? First of all, it’s free. Special exhibitions can be rather expensive (but totally worth it if you can afford it), however, they aren’t necessary to your enjoyment of the place. The museum is plenty big enough to get lost looking and learning for hours.

Second, it’s more than simply paintings and sculptures (though I’m a fan of those too). They have wonderful paintings, drawings and sculptures – but what I really love is wandering through the V&A’s collections of jewellery, ceramics, fashion, furniture, textiles, photography and my absolute favourite, metalwork. Ever seen centuries of intricate wrought iron designs in one place? It’s absolutely spectacular.

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During my October 2015 visit, in addition to taking in the amazing shoe exhibition (Shoes: Pleasure and Pain), I finally got around to seeing their glass collection. Even the stairway bannister is made of narrow towers of glass:

Glass collection at the Victoria and Albert Museum

And third, the V&A has a beautiful garden area in the middle of the museum, a large square with a pretty fountain, with tables and chairs. The architecture is beautiful, and on a sunny day (below is a pic from June 2013), it’s simply stunning.

Tell me you’re not just itching to sit down mid-museum wander for a coffee in this lovely square! It’s even better (and highly appropriate) if that coffee’s in a William Morris design paper cup (as mine was in the picture at the top of this post).