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Flag of Chicago


The flag of Chicago depicts two blue stripes, representing Lake Michigan and the Chicago River, and four red stars, representing significant historical events in the city.  I believe the Chicago flag should depict a phoenix, because out of the Great Fire of Chicago in 1871 arose a beautiful, modern city.

I had the opportunity to visit Chicago last year with my husband.  He had to attend training (advanced interventional bronchoscopy stuff.  Zzzzzz.) so I got to explore the big city of Chicago and  meet up with a high school chum, Melisa Wells.  I had not seen her since high school graduation.  Melisa sat in front of me in AP English, and we shared a fascination with British music and world travel.  Melisa wanted to become a writer; I wanted to become an exotic animal veterinarian and work in a captive breeding program in a large zoo.  Fast forward 25 years – she is a published author and I?  Well, many of you would say that I run my own zoo.

Best of all, Melisa has written a guidebook to visiting Chicago.  It is called Chicken in the Car but the Car Won’t Go: Nearly 200 Ways to Enjoy Chicagoland with Teens and Tweens.  You can check it out at  So one of the wonderful things about having an expert show me around the city of Chicago is that SHE KNOWS WHERE ALL THE COOLEST STUFF IS!

We started our day at the Rookery.  The Lobby, designed by Frank Lloyd Wrigh, was stunning.

The Rookery lobby, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright

The next stop was the Willis Building, that extremely tall skyscraper known to most of the world as “the Sears Tower”.  The building is 110 floors tall, and on the 103 floor is the breath-taking Skydeck and, best of all, the Ledge.  The Ledge is a glass room that protrudes from the building.  Brave souls can stand on the Ledge and look straight down 103 stories to the street below.  I was mesmerized.

The view from 103 stories up.


The Ledge

Spectacular skyline

View to Lake Michigan, Grant Park, Shedd Aquarium

While the Willis Tower was literally the “high point” of my visit, Melisa knew where to find, in an unlikely location, one of the most dazzling sights my eyes have beheld.  In Macy’s department store on State Street, a location that was formerly a Marshall Fields, is the largest example of Tiffany favrile glass IN THE WORLD.  Right there!  On the ceiling!  She led me to the fifth floor, where we had to squeeze past the lady’s undergarments for a closer view.

Tiffany favrile glass

On the ceiling of a department store!

Right up there on the fifth floor, along with the undergarments.

Hard to take in all the beauty!

To see this beauty in the midst of department store clutter! What must it have been like in its heyday?

After a lunch of, what else?  Chicago-style pizza, we headed toward the Wrigley Building and took an architectural boat tour.

I suppose one of the things that stands out to me about the architecture in Chicago is that the designers seemed to be led by VISION.  They did not seek to merely build a big block to “get the job done”.  They followed inspiration.  For example, one building, the AON building, is constructed to that there are no corner offices. Another skyscraper (don’t remember which) has a design that creates LOTS of corner offices.

Some buildings seemed rather playful in their design.  Aqua takes its inspiration from the undulating waters of Lake Michigan.


The Jewelers Building looks styled like a woman’s engagement ring.

Jewelers Building

Marina Building

The skyscaper, 77 West Wacker, was a modern take on a Roman temple.

Romanesque skyscraper at 77 West Wacker

Faux flying buttresses on the Tribune Tower

The skyline of Chicago is a feast for the eyes.  My son’s point-and-shoot camera does not do it justice.  Which of course means I need to plan another trip.  And hopefully, another personalized tour!

Friend and personal tour guide, Melisa Wells.




Comments (3) Nov 06 2012

Savoring the Art Institute of Chicago

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Landscape with Two Poplars by Kandinsky






How thankful I am for talented artists!  Last week I had the pleasure of visiting the Art Institute of Chicago.  I went alone, able to absorb and ponder great works of art.  My viewing was limited only by the museum’s closing hours.  Five and a half hours were not long enough.  Studying pictures of art masterpieces is worthwhile and culturally relevant, but does not substitute for the experience of connecting with them in person.  It is an intimate experience, sort of like finally meeting someone you have always heard about.  “I am so glad to finally meet you; I have heard so much about you.”

Alas, upon arriving at the museum I discovered that the camera I brought to Chicago was a 45 minute train ride away in my hotel.  Sigh.  I did my best to capture a few snapshots with my cell phone before the battery plunged into the red zone.

An exhibit called “Belligerent Encounters:  Graphic Images of War and Revolution, 1500-1945” was powerful and moving.  How seamlessly Otto Dix’s images of World War I horrors and the brutality of the Weimar Republic flowed into Francisco de Goya’s portrayal of Napolean’s war atrocities in Spain.  These artists so powerfully communicated where words fail.  From a series called Der Krieg, Dix captures civilians fleeing an aerial raid.

Lens wirdt mit Bomben belegt

Here we see depicted homes destroyed and cities trampled by soldiers.






This poster depicts the evacuation of civilians from a ship that was attacked by German u-boats.  The child’s face beneath the sailor’s arm seems to glow angelically.

My favorite image came from a collection of prints depicting the aftermath of war and the hardships of soldiers, especially amputees.  This print by Heinrich Hoerle is called The Married Couple, from Krueppel.  Their faces show such sorrow, yet see how gently she holds his hooked arm, and how tenderly his other hooked arm embraces her waist.


The Married Couple, from Krueppel

My experience at the Art Institute of Chicago was not all heavy and introspective.  I enjoyed lighter subjects as well.  The museum has a fantastic collection of modern art.  When I was a child, my family often played a board game called “Masterpiece”.  Even when I was very young, I would always trade my Rembrandt card for a Van Gogh or a Marc Chagall.  I don’t know why.  They make my eyes feel good.   So I was delighted to encounter a large collection of works by modern favorites, such as Kandinsky, Klee, Miro, and these by Georges Braque:


Landscape at L'Estaque


I think I have found a new favorite.  Piet Mondrian is perhaps best known for curious abstract paintings, such as Lozenge Composition with Yellow, Blue, Black, Red, and Gray:

Lozenge Composition with Yellow, Black, Blue, Red, and Gray

But look at this terrific landscape!

Farm Near Duivendrecht

The Art Institute of Chicago displays quite a number of very famous paintings.  The gallery with Grant Woods’ American Gothic was quite crowded.  I was content to view it from afar. I suppose there is no painting that has inspired as many parodies, except perhaps The Mona Lisa.

American Gothic

In the same gallery was a painting I had never seen before by Charles Sheeler.  The artist looks down upon a surreal landscape.  Even though his shadow is cast upon the grass, he seems to hover above the wall.  The painting he is composing is not the visible landscape, but instead a monochromatic painting of a cellar.  It makes you ponder.  Or at least, it makes me ponder.

The Artist Looks at Nature

I had to wait  for a crowd to clear so that I could view George Seurat’s A Sunday on La Grande Jatte, 1884.  I wanted to take it all in, unhindered.  It was magnificent.

A Sunday on La Grand Jatte, 1884


Seeing a painting in person allowed me not only to stand back for the “big picture”, but also to move in for a closer view.

John Singer Sargent painted a portrait of a lovely, elegant woman.  It seemed life-like.

Mrs. George Swinton (Elizabeth Ebsworth)

I could move in close to marvel at the brushwork, then step back again to appreciate the effect.

Detail of gown

In many ways visiting a museum is like attending a party.  You not only become acquainted with familiar names, but also you get to meet new friends.  Francis Picabia’s painting, Edtaonisl, shows whirling, swirling colors.  The painting was inspired by the artist’s observation of a Catholic priest who was captivated watching dancers rehearsing on the deck of a ship.

Edtaonisl (Ecclesiastic)

Thanksgiving, by Doris Lee, is amusing and sentimental.  I can not help but smile.


There are many paintings which I feel can only be appreciated when seen in person.  An example would be Whistler’s Nocturne: Blue and Gold – Southampton Water.

Nocturne: Blue and Gold - Southampton Water

Photographs and prints make this painting appear to be a mere gray blob with an orange spot.  But not in person!  There are flecks of gold light that penetrate the mist, and draw you in to the painting.  For me, it was one of those “WOW” moments.  I had to go back for a second look.

There are many who would argue that the study of fine art is not a legitimate career; that painting is not a worthwhile pursuit.  I wholeheartedly disagree.  As Stephen Sondheim said in his musical, Sunday in the Park with George, “Give us more to see!”


Comments (0) Oct 05 2011