Art in Bloom 2019

The crowd gathers near the entrance to the special Egypt’s Sunken Cities exhibit

Winter’s been overstaying its welcome again this year, but as always there are things to keep us occupied indoors. Lately, my wife and I have been organizing all our books. But when it’s time to get out of your house and a spring blizzard has covered the ground in a gross slush for another week, what to do?

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A bloom to match Chihuly

We hadn’t yet seen the Egypt’s Sunken Cities exhibit at the Minneapolis Institute of Art, so last weekend we decided to check it off of our to do list before it closed later in the week. Like many of Mia’s traveling exhibits, it was very interesting to see such ancient, important artifacts so far from home. Lindsay’s a big fan of Ancient Egyptian stuff and this exhibit had a lot to offer on the unique cities of Thonis-Heracleion and Canopus, underwater for more than a millennia and a half. We particularly enjoyed it’s focus on Egyptian religion and the interesting melding of Greek and Egyptian mythology in the temple city of Canopus. A good tip to remember, if you wait until the last minute to get in before the special exhibit’s last day, you can get some good deals on the related merch!

Upon arriving at the museum, it seemed we were far from alone from deciding that a Friday afternoon was a good time for a visit. The day coincided with one of Mia’s most popular yearly events, Art in Bloom. The museum was filled with the intoxicating perfumes of various blooms, as well as packed with people admiring local florists arrangements in homage to Mia’s collections. The colorful bouquets can make even the most miserable, slushy April feel like the spring we are all craving. Outside, a wintry mix was falling from a dreary sky onto grimy streets, but inside, fresh flowers allowed us to imagine the coming time of year. Art in Bloom is always a fun time to visit Mia, still free for the vast, shifting collections the museum boasts and the intricate, innovative floral arrangements paying tribute to some of the museum’s beloved works of art are different each time. It’s definitely a great time to check out the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.

I’d recommend taking public transit or walking, the parking in the whole area was wild, with the museum offering valet parking for full lots. We parked a few blocks away without too much trouble, though, making a perfect opportunity to bring home some donuts from Glam Doll on Nicollet for a nice donut dinner. The many restaurants on Eat Street, only a couple blocks away, are a nice way to end any visit to Mia.

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Flowers inside, snow outside

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MSP Reading Time: Pioneer Endicott Building

 

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view of First National Bank Building from Pioneer building apartment (courtesy of Lindsay Cameron)

My wife and I changed our addresses two times last year, which was a bit of an adventure by itself. Among the places we inhabited was the Pioneer Endicott building in downtown Saint Paul, which was fun place to live for a bit. It’s a great base to experience the other downtown, or as my wife calls it, the “real” downtown!30227599

As I was moving out of the building, I discovered this recently published book, Heart of Saint Paul by Larry Millett, discussing the history of the place, and I really enjoyed reading it!

 

A concise but informative work, Heart of Saint Paul is packed full of interesting factoids and lush period and contemporary photos of the Pioneer and Endicott buildings, one of the historic landmarks that have been revitalized in recent years in downtown Saint Paul. Now housing the newly renovated Minnesota Museum of American Art and a brewery, we may perhaps being seeing life in downtown Saint Paul after so many jokes of being “dead” after 4:30. As a former tenant, I appreciated the detailed research and background info provided by Millett on this historic dwelling. Taking the glass fronted elevators up through the atrium as I arrived home each day, for instance, it was interesting to learn how rare this once common feature of 19th century office buildings is to have survived.

2244347709253925315From the architectural history and designs of both the Pioneer Building (built in 1889 to house the Pioneer Press newspaper and the tallest building west of Chicago for a few years), and the connected Endicott Building (designed as an indoor shopping arcade by a young Cass Gilbert), to some of the tenants who also called it home, like Northwest Airlines and Ecolab, there was a lot of fun info here. The most interesting to me were the personal perspectives of the elevator operators, office workers, and shop owners who worked there during its century long history (especially the story of the young women who hid from the rather disturbing actions of rampaging Vulcans during a 1940s era Winter Carnival). While perhaps most interesting to tenants (current or former) of the Pioneer Endicott, Heart of Saint Paul definitely has something to offer anyone interested in the architectural history of the Twin Cities.

Now that we have finally gotten to visit the new Minnesota Museum of American Art after months of seeing its construction, we’ll look back on our time downtown with nostalgia. I’d recommend checking out MMAA (aka The M), too, as they are going to be displaying some of the museum’s interesting, and long unseen, collections, and it’s always free! After the tour, you could even stop by 12welve Eyes Brewing in the Endicott. for a pint commemorating one of local sculptor Paul Manship’s works, Group of Bears. 

 

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elevator atrium, Pioneer Endicott building (courtesy of Lindsay Cameron)

Foci

img_4679A few weeks ago, on that last blistering hot September weekend we had here in the Twin Cities, I tried out a new and interesting experience.

Throughout my childhood, I knew that my mom was a very creative and crafty person, and she had a lot of handcrafting hobbies she became very skilled at. For a long time, she was a master at basket weaving, spending a lot of time at the Minnesota Textile Center and even running my whole boy scout troop through the basics for that coveted Basket Weaving merit badge. In recent years, though, she has become obsessed with fused glass. 

To celebrate a recent milestone birthday, we thought it would be fun to learn some new crafting skills with her and bought us all a Groupon for a glass paperweight making class at Foci, a local non profit celebrating the medium of glass. In the end, it was a fun and rewarding activity I would definitely recommend.

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Foci has been present at numerous local art events and festivals, demonstrating the tools and skill of glassblowing to the community, including the Northern Spark, so the name was definitely on my radar and I jumped at the chance to share the new experience.

Foci (pronounced, we discovered, as “fo-sigh”), the home of the Minnesota Center for Glass Arts, is housed in a repurposed and sprawling old factory building in the Como neighborhood of Minneapolis, near the Mid City Industrial. Displaying the finished products of member artists as well as the artists at work in the studios Foci provides, it is a pretty cool place. I always like to  see such urban ruins being put to new creative and collaborative uses. The only issue is the accessibility, which the organization is trying to change. Currently, the building is not ADA accessible, with two sets of steep stairs being the only way to access the studios and glass working areas.img_4681

While the weather was stifling outside, the glowing infernos inside the brick building made the interior even hotter. If you are taking a class, bring plenty of water. We signed up for a Paperweight Experience and with the assistance of a professional glassblower we got a quick rundown of the tools and techniques we would be using to make our very own fused glass paperweight. With the temperatures and heavy metal implements being used, it was great to have such a thorough and helpful guide to using them, assisting us in some of the somewhat intimidating tasks.

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With kilns firing away at almost 2000 degrees fahrenheit, we were assisted in grabbing a blob of molten glass. After this, it was up to us to choose our colors among varying shades and opacities of glass fragments (or frit), fusing into our glass and using pliers and tongs to shape our white hot blobs to our desired shapes before adding another dollop of molten glass. This we shaped into the final form of our future paperweight using a moistened wooden cup or our own hands protected by a wet newspaper. Feeling the extreme heat radiating off your work, hearing and feeling the hiss and pop of steam coming off the newspaper as you manipulate the odd consistency of the glass, smelling the slight woodsmoke smell, was a quite intense experience. Once we detached our finished spheres or cones of glass from the pipe and stamped our initials on it, we felt quite accomplished. We then just had to wait forty eight hours for the glass to cool completely for us to take our creations home and see their final appearance, as the temperature of creation makes everything glow orange or red.

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A few days later, as the temperatures dropped, we came in to collect our own handmade paperweights and were pretty gratified by the results.

All in all, it was a very exciting, if sweaty, experience that I’d recommend to anyone looking for a fun, creative experience.

 

 

Art-A-Whirl 2018

 

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Outside of Rogue Buddha Gallery

I’m excited to start up a new year of adventures here in MSP, after some long months of stasis. Before I wrap up some last favorites of 2017 and some of the reasons I’ve taken a writing break, I’d like to post about a fun new experience from this weekend.

After a long, cold winter that seemed to overstay its welcome by a few months, the warm temperatures of spring are sure to make any citizen of the Twin Cities look for some fun things to do outside. We look for any excuse to leave the skyways and our comfy winter lairs. Lindsay and I have been obsessed in recent weeks with tackling the walks featured in the book Walking Twin Cities; some of which we walked before the snow from the last blizzard even melted away.

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Art-A-Whirl venues in Northeast Minneapolis

This last weekend, we took the opportunity to check off the “Nordeast” walk, a 2.5 mile stroll through the Northeast Minneapolis Arts District, which just happened to be the Art-A-Whirl, Northeast Minneapolis’ annual open studio tour, the largest in the country. Art-A-Whirl was always something I was aware of and interested in checking out sometime, but for whatever reason I never ended up going, so it was fun to finally experience it. In it’s 23rd year, there was so much cool stuff happening all throughout our walk, from local artists displaying their work to local bands performing at neighborhood restaurants, it was almost overwhelming! Here is a few of my impressions from our afternoon of walking the Art-A-Whirl.

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Some curing salumis in the Food Building

The day was perhaps not the most spring like, with a brisk wind and temperatures in the low 50s making it feel a little more like October, belying the sweet perfume of the blooming lilacs as we walked through the vibrant Northeast neighborhoods. Beginning near the Pierre Bottineau Library, built into the old Minnesota Brewery building, we explored the old brewery buildings, once packed full of bottles of Grain Belt, now filled with all manner of paintings, photographs, sculptures, and other interesting things, and crowded with patrons of the arts. In the Food Building, we saw more artists amid the baking bread and curing salumis of Red Table meats and Baker’s Field Bakery.

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A few of the many whimsical creatures at Betty Danger’s (photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron)

Some of the local restaurants were also in on the festivities. We had lunch at Psycho Suzi’s, celebrating an Art-Thou-Luau and puppy pageant, enjoying our tropical drinks on the decidedly untropical porch with it’s view of the rolling Mississippi, and some cute dogs. Still, we were happy to be outside in spite of the chilly temperatures. A few blocks up the street, we indulged a little round of mini-golf at Psycho Suzi’s sister establishment, checking out more unique and interesting pieces along the way. I will discuss more about the kitschy and very midwestern sport of minigolf in an upcoming entry.

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Walking Twin Cities with the authors!

Heading down into the heart of the Art District, we stopped at a few interesting places, making our way through the crowds. At Rogue Buddha Gallery, we saw some spooky art by curator Nicholas Harper and other local artists, and then caught some more music behind the Sheridan Room and the 331 Club. As Lindsay consulted our copy of Walking Twin Cities, looking for where to turn next, we were surprised to bump into the author’s themselves, who were themselves surprised to see their book! So far, it’s been a great resource, as we learned a lot on our strolls, including how Northeast Minneapolis was once a national leader in casket production and it was fun to be able to show our appreciation in person.  

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The sun sets in Northeast Minneapolis (photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron)

 

 

After our brush with literary fame, we stopped for a peanut butter porter at Dangerous Man as the sun began to set behind the looming clouds. Finishing up our walk, we went off the route to make our way over to Central Avenue for the finale for our evening, Har Mar Superstar at Bauhaus Brew Labs, part of the brew lab’s Liquid Zoo lineup. As among the most stylish breweries in the metro, as usual for events at Bauhaus, there was a bit of line to get in but once inside, it was a great venue for Har Mar’s brand of energetic, catchy dance pop. After a fun set, it was a long bus and train ride back to downtown St. Paul, encumbered with beer and art, but it was a great day and definitely worth the fatigue! Northeast Minneapolis is a fun, dynamic, and idiosyncratic area and I really enjoyed the chance to explore it up close.

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Har Mar Superstar performing at Bauhaus Brew Labs (photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron)

 

2017 Highlights: Can Can Wonderland

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Hitting the links at Can Can Wonderland: Photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

Just opened in 2017, Can Can Wonderland was one of the most fun, weird, and wild nights out I have gotten the chance to experience over the last year. Buried deep under an old can factory in the industrial zone in the Midway area of St. Paul, it is one of those new uses for decaying industrial infrastructure that is making the city so interesting.

After hearing about it early in the year, Lindsay and I were excited to finally make it there with a group of friends for my birthday last August, and it was definitely worth the wait. In this case, literally, as the place was so popular we had to wait several hours to get into the much anticipated artist-designed mini golf course the place is becoming most well known for.  From what I’ve heard from others, arriving the earlier the better is advisable to get checked in for minigolf, as we discovered as we were the very last group to make it through the links late one Thursday evening after getting signed up before seven.

On the other hand, there is plenty stuff to of keep you occupied while you’re waiting, including vintage arcade machines, a variety of tasty comfort food (I recommend the grilled cheese), and delicious, bizarre cocktails. The blue cheese infused gin “Sailing the Seas of Cheese,” for instance, was a refreshingly creamy mix served in the gaping maw of a shark shaped mug, complete with fake blood. Wow! And, it is was quite tasty as well. Of course, Lindsay ordered me a wonderful Happy Birthday cocktail as well, a delicious birthday cakey drink which was served with a sparkler and a party popper let off by the bartender.

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Receiving a birthday sparkler from the bartender at Can Can Wonderland: Photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

In addition, another new 2017 brewery, BlackStack Brewing, shares the same location, in on old warehouse upstairs from Can Can’s subterranean factory space, allowing you to sip a few pints of Punch Press Belgian ale or Spare Parts dark lager while waiting for your queue in the Can Can line. The comfy, low key brewery offers plenty of seating and board games, too.

As for the mini golf, it was well worth the wait. Now, I haven’t played much mini golf for a number of years, so I was a fair bit rusty when the time came to hit the course. To be honest, I ended up swinging wildly at the ball and didn’t get very far in terms of progress. Maybe the beer and the cocktails had something to do with that, but the elaborate and innovative backdrops certainly made even losing fun. In addition to the cool surroundings, the whimsical holes allow for any number of strategies for getting your ball through the obstacles- attempt a delicate maneuver to roll it right up the tongue of the Blue Toad, or try to knock it over the pond? Take the bridge or brave the tornado in the Natural Disaster? My favorite was trying not to get the ball lost under the couch in Gramma’s Living Room, packed full with kitschy bric a brac and vintage knick knacks. After all eighteen holes, I was pretty tired.

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Taking a rest on Gramma’s Couch at Can Can Wonderland: Photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

Thankfully, we were responsible and came via Lyft, though on a less hot, muggy day, Can Can Wonderland is a convenient fifteen minute walk from the Fairview Avenue Station on the Greenline. I’m looking forward to making another expedition here.

2017 Highlights: At Home With the Monsters and Mythic Creatures: Dragons, Unicorns, and Mermaids

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The imposing doors leading to Guillermo del Toro’s traveling exhibit at the Minneapolis Institute of Art

Last spring, for those interested in the weird, monstrous, and bizarre, two Twin Cities museums definitely had us covered, drawing in special exhibits from each coast. After the cold winter, it was fun to have such escapist fare to check out.

At the Minneapolis Institute of Art, an exhibition put together by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art was featured, Guillermo del Toro: At Home With the Monsters. MIA was one of three lucky stops in North America for the fascinating, exhaustive exhibition of pieces collected by the idiosyncratic and innovative director, Guillermo del Toro. It was really kind of breathtaking.

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One morbid piece among many!

While I’m not a superfan, I have tended to be drawn into many of del Toro’s cinematic visions, working with horrific yet beautiful images, intricate and eerie, drawing deeply from mythology and literature. This is true especially of Pan’s Labyrinth (El laberinto del fauno). I was eager to check this exhibit out, and we were lucky enough to get in as part of one of MIA’s fun Third Thursday events, enjoying horror themed cocktails and the music of local band, Graveyard Club, before braving the ornate portals into the exhibition itself.

The collection was packed full of artifacts and works which both inspired Guillermo del Toro in his deep well of imagination, along with background information about the director, from his childhood in Guadalajara to the literary and artistic traditions he drew from. Divided into areas by theme, it seemed that at every turn, some new cool, disturbing, entrancing, or breathtaking discovery was to be found; eighteenth century models of diseased organs, vintage comics, props and full sized sculptures of some of del Toro’s more infamous creations.

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Encountering fandom’s racist uncle

A creepily life-like statue of H.P. Lovecraft, fittingly displayed among the monsters, startled many exhibit viewers with his intense gaze (if not his deeply disturbing personal views). Like del Toro, I too found myself drawn in by the author’s rich, eldritch writing but horrified by his philosophies, which I write about in more detail here. All in all, At Home with the Monsters was a richly rewarding and engaging exhibit, even for those new to the director (though those steeped in his creations were, of course, more engaged).

Across the river at the Science Museum of Minnesota, the special exhibit on Mythic Creatures: Dragons, Unicorns, and Mermaids was also an interesting, informative exploration into the science behind the mythology of such legendary creatures. Put together by the American Museum of Natural History in New York, this one was a bit more geared for children but still had some interesting tidbits and bits of new information for adult fans of strange creatures, too. Organized around the creatures of the water, the air, and the land, coupled with huge, impressive statues, the exhibit detailed the biological, historical, and literary origins of such mythological beings, hoaxes and folklore, pop culture and high culture. All in all, it was a fun exhibit and a fun accompaniment to “At Home with the Monsters.”

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It’s a kraken! At the Science Museum of Minnesota

Now that the cold times have returned, staying at home and traveling through movies, books, and other things is definitely a smart way to survive a Minnesota winter.

Art Shanty Project 2017

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Art Shanty Projects 2017 (photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron)

I might have mentioned this before, but one of my favorite annual events celebrating two of the great stereotypes of Minnesota, our winters and our quirky artistic side, is the Art Shanty Projects. Back in 2014, it was the first adventure that I wrote about for this blog and I continued the tradition with my fiancee this year. Each year sets up a community of immersive shanties on the ice of a metro area lake – White Bear Lake for the past several lakes – always a new and unique  experience to explore, though some favorites remain beloved standards.

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Dance Shanty! (photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

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View of the Shanty’s from the top of the Welcome Shanty, with Lindsay

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Last year, unseasonably warm temperatures beached the shanty’s on our visit, but this year we got to explore it on the ice. This year’s unseasonable temperatures, though, made it a bit of a slippery affair, the warmth having melted a layer that subsequently refrozen when conditions dropped under freezing. Lindsay still hasn’t mastered the art of walking on ice yet, but we shuffled our way from ice shanty to ice shanty, taking in the interesting and inspired interactive activities. Dancing in the Dance Shanty, making our voices known in the Justice Shack (very topical), and time traveling with the Sci-Fi Book Club’s spaceship shanty, among others. I particularly liked the Vehicle of Expression, which gives you a chance to warm up in a converted bus and contribute some writing to notebooks from various genres, along with a storytime. With some colder weather this week (and maybe snow?) this weekend is the last chance to check out the artwork before next winter, though the chillier temps have not come in time to keep the shanties on the ice, so this weekend they will be on the shore of the lake at White Bear Lake County Park.

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Slippery ice (photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron)

 

Tryorama: Grown Up Club

Back in January, Lindsay and I attended a really fun monthly event in Minneapolis, the latest activity organized by the Grown Up Club.  Really a genius idea, the people behind Grown Up Club have been putting together fun, nostalgic things to do hoping to “inject fun and adventure back into adult life” since 2013. That’s definitely a sentiment I can get behind! Obviously… I don’t need much excuse to indulge in youthful shenanigans in spite of that slowly creeping maturity that one is forced to take on after a certain age, and it seems that I am far from alone, there!

How had I not heard of them before Lindsay signed us up for their latest awesome extracurricular, Tryorama: A Diorama Fair for Grown Ups? I recall making dioramas (dinosaur centered) in my own elementary school experience, so it was really fun to get into this with the full command of adult faculties! The theme for this one was fascinating in particular, creating a vision of “American Lyfe: 50 Years in the Future.” What good can come of the horrifying present we find ourselves in? Will the year 2067 be a desperate hellscape or a technological wonderland. Will we even still be around? It was up to the participants of the fair to express their hopes and fears of the future in a 3d display, as well as vie for the coveted prize ribbon of Empress o’ Effort (or at least the title of Official Trier?). Not to mention the $100 prize or the complimentary tickets to the Minnesota Zoo’s adult night for the winners. The competition was on.

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Our completed diorama! 

 

Lindsay and I pooled our talents and built a Library of the Future to describe what the library will be like in half a century. Of course, in my professional opinion the profession will be more important than ever in guiding a lost public through the vast seas of information, especially when private interests make it more difficult to access this info, but as can be seen, we took it to some new places, too! After much cutting, gluing, and scribbling, we got it all together and lugged it on the bus to Minneapolis!   

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Held at Sisyphus Brewing, a cozy little brewery near Dunwoody (and a short walk from my old stomping grounds near Loring Park), the tap room was soon filled with all manner of elaborate dioramas and cool set ups. Along with Sisyphus’ rich and delicious beers, the participants were free to scope out the competition, play shuffleboard, and color awesome extreme coloring pages just like when you’re parents dropped you off at one of those kids care places when they went to see a movie. Except with beer!

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Photo from Grown Up Club

In the end, in spite of some really fierce competition, our diorama got third place, which came with a prize of two free beers! Hey, at least it was something! The next Grown Up Club event sounds fun, too! On Tuesday, February 28th, they will be hosting The Singles Exchange, “Offline Online Dating via Proxy,” at Bauhaus Brewlabs in Northeast Minneapolis. Here, participants will prepare a powerpoint presentation on one of their single friends, being sure to point out their prospective dater’s strengths and weaknesses. The subject is banned from attending. In any case, watching such a display sounds fun, though neither Lindsay or I know any single searchers we could spotlight, but maybe you do?

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Lindsay shows off our winnings! 

Camping in the Metro

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Canoeing the St. Croix- photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

Throughout the summer, Lindsay and I took advantage of our year long Minnesota State Park sticker, as can be seen during our voyages outstate, but there are plenty of Minnesota State Parks within a short drive from Minneapolis and St. Paul. Two of the nearby state parks we took lovely, relaxing weekend camping trips to over the summer were William O’Brien State Park and Wild River State Park. Each are situated just along the border with Wisconsin, along the scenic St. Croix, probably my favorite river in Minnesota, and offer plenty of hiking trails through mixed deciduous and conifer forests, prairies, and swampy lowlands. We wandered along some of them, plodding through the green, buggy summer woods and fields of these wonderful natural areas, encountering ghost towns and the occasional squirrel or deer. As I mentioned in a previous blog, though, even wearing plenty of insect repellent, it proved too much for us- the mosquitoes were particularly horrible at Wild River, hideous clouds that beat even those we encountered earlier in the year at Bear Head Lake. We had to run back to our campsite in terror! We were also horrified to find a deer tick on Lindsay at William O’Brien, but were quickly able to remove it thanks to the tick removing devices sold at the park.

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William O’Brian State Park

On the whole, though, our favorite times were the pleasant hours of grilling veggie dogs, making s’mores, and reading next to the campfires I managed to start (I guess those years of Boy Scouts were good for something), watching the sun set and the stars come out as fireflies flitted in the woods.

William O’Brien is, in particular, a very popular park for campers from the Twin Cities, especially due to its proximity to the charming tourist town of Stillwater, a place where one can find no shortage of antique stores, bookstores, boutiques, and other high end shopping. I could not help but drag poor Lindsay to yet another brewery, Maple Island Brewing, during our afternoon in Stillwater. We shared plenty of tasty brews, even finding a few that she didn’t think were too bad! I particularly enjoyed the Cup of Joe Freakshow, a dark, roasty oatmeal coffee stout. Also, Stillwater has plenty of places to get candy, from the Twin Cities’ standard, Candyland to the local Tremblay’s Sweet Shop, which contained the most peanut brittle I’ve ever seen outside of Christmas. Because of all of these attractions nearby, most summer weekends at William O’Brien are pretty well booked, so it’s a good idea to take a look at sites early through the online booking system. This allows you to have a better choice of sites, so that you can avoid the one right next to the bathroom but also make sure its not all the way on the other side of the camping area!

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On the river- Photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

Up the road a bit at Interstate State Park in Taylors Falls, we went on a canoeing adventure down the St. Croix. Renting a large canoe from Taylors Falls Canoes and Kayaking for a reasonable rate, it was a lovely afternoon for a river voyage. Along with a small fleet of other renters, we floated down the mostly unpeopled river, occasionally paddling. I was bit a rusty in my canoe steering (or maybe I never really developed that skill at all), but the current and river were not too demanding. After a few hours of listening to the wind, and the waves thump up against the sides of our canoe, we reached our destination, a park on the Minnesota side across from Osceola, Wisconsin. From there, we waited for a rental bus to return us to Taylors Falls.

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Franconia Sculpture Park

Just outside of Taylors Falls, we encountered one of the Twin Cities weird, hidden gems, one I had never been to before (though I had heard things), the Franconia Sculpture Park. Wow! The sunny fields and shady woods of the expansive grounds were packed with strange and monumental works of art from artists all over the world. Founded just twenty years ago (just twenty years!?), judging by the dates the works were installed, they are always growing. Lindsay and I were not prepared for just how huge the place was, and just how many bizarre, innovative sculptures were tucked away all over the place. It would definitely warrant another visit, I think! The place is open 365 days a year, so I’m intrigued by the idea of checking it out during the winter!

Northern Spark 2016: Climate Chaos, Climate Rising

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I attended the Northern Spark for the fifth time this year, and it was quite the adventure as always. Checking it out with my sister and aunt as well, it was Lindsay’s first time experiencing this idiosyncratic standard of the Twin Cities summer! Spending a sultry summer night experiencing the many wonders brought to you from the innovative and diverse minds on the streets of Minneapolis has always felt like a magical night to me. Wandering around, there were new and strange wonders to experience everywhere. This year, the majority of the festival centered exclusively in the Mill District, utilizing facilities at the Mill Ruins Park, Mill City Museum, and the Guthrie, so Lindsay and I biked in from St. Paul. As the twilight faded and night arrived, haunting images were projected up on the old grain elevators and factory chimneys and eerie music began to drift up from some undersea dance.

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The glowing sea creatures of the Illuminated Reef. Photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

The theme this year’s Northern Spark was climate change and the future, “Climate Chaos and Climate Rising,” a theme that is continuing on to next summer as well, and if you’ve followed my other blog, Reading Rainstorm, you know this is a topic I find fascinating. Many of the events and exhibits brought a makeshift, tongue in cheek “apocalypse” to the Mill District, fitting in well in the industrial ruins of the former milling capital.

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The flags indicate jars of water and their quality from various bodies of water around the Twin Cities, from Lake Calhoun to a puddle from a dog park. 

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Entrance to the Night Library

Having a couple of librarians with us, we of course started out at the Night Library, the Hennepin County Library’s interactive performance celebrating the role of libraries in the community. Nestled under the Stone Arch Bridge, the Night Library imagined a post-apocalyptic future swampland in Minneapolis, plagued by mutant mosquitoes and moose, as scavenging librarians hoped to piece together the knowledge of the past to share with the future. A little weird, but a lot of fun!

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The Minnesotan Ice bartering storefront. Photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

The Minnesotan Ice concessions stand seemed to come from the same world, a traveling caravan carting potable Minnesotan Ice to the parched lands of the future, allowing festival goers to trade random objects for some object frozen in a block of ice, 2.5% of which were edible. While we didn’t come away with a treat, Lindsay did get a cool

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Treasure from Minnesotan Ice. Photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

“grandma” card frozen in an ice cube!

Over in the Guthrie, the Nerd vs. Nerd event, sponsored by the University of Minnesota’s Institute for Advanced Study, was another festival highlight, in which local scholars present short papers while a local artist interprets them. A good way to sit down for awhile while learning some interesting things. Over in the Mill City Museum, we also got some rest watching the intriguing Wayang kulit, the shadow puppet art form from the island of Java in Indonesia in its traditional all night length. A new story, Bimo Gugah, depicts a hero realizing that various climatic calamities were the result of his country’s poor leadership, the lush show featured guest artists from Indonesia and the rest of the U.S.  

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Late Night in the Mill District. Photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron.

 

As we paused to listen to the music and watch the screen and behind the scene working of the music and shadow puppets, we noted climatic changes of our own as lightning began to arc across the sky above the Minneapolis skyline, followed by distant thunder. Realizing the night was nearly over, as the rain began to fall, we began pedaling our way back to St. Paul, getting soaked during the journey. The wet bike ride was an exciting end to a fun night!