Monday, May 31, 2010

It Keeps on Ticking

Magnet # 256:  Big Ben

Material:  Plastic

Purchased By:  Dad

It stands in one of the busiest areas in the world, often ignored by the natives, but photographed by many a tourist, as it is an internationally recognized landmark that has appeared in many a film or television show set in London. And it was on this very day in 1859 that Big Ben began ticking and its Great Bell began chiming.  Of course, some might argue that Big Ben really refers to the nine foot tall bell that hangs inside the bell tower and is pretty much never seen by the public, but with time, the name of the Great Bell has expanded to refer to the entire giant clock and tower located at the Palace of Westminster's north end.  Nowadays, mention Big Ben and pretty much everyone you're speaking to will picture the same image that's depicted on this magnet, but it is interesting to learn the origins of the name, and the structure itself.

The Palace of Westminster has been a very important site strategically and politically ever since it was built in the eleventh century.  After it suffered a second great fire in 1834, Parliament made plans to rebuild on what remained of the original structure.  It was at this time that it was decided that a giant clock tower would be built almost as an afterthought, but the creation of the structure created a great deal of competition and invention.  Charles Barry was working as the architect on the project, and when he invited a particular clockmaker to design and create the clock, others in the field demanded a competition.  However, it was so difficult to create the perfectly accurate clock that was expected that the Astronomer Royal was brought in to help with its creation.  Finally, one of the most accurate clocks ever was installed in the clock tower at the Palace of Westminster.  And the Great Bell was an equally difficult challenge.  The first bell produced for the project cracked and was unable to be repaired, but another was created at the Whitechapel Bell Foundry and it would be their largest ever, even if it, too, would crack just two months after it began ringing high atop London.  But it remains in place to this day and is the true Big Ben of the Palace of Westminster.  So just who was the Big Ben in whose honor the bell and, later, the clock tower were named?  Well, that's believed to be Sir Benjamin Hall, the commissioner of works at the time the bell was installed.  He was also a Member of Parliament and he made important sanitary and environmental upgrades in the city of London during his tenure.  Hall, a tall and imposing man himself, was nicknamed "Big Ben" and it's thought that his fellow members of Parliament named the bell after him in appreciation of his hard work on their country's behalf.  Not too many public servants can claim such an honor, especially not one that has lasted so long.  Big Ben just celebrated its 150th anniversary last year, and it has become one of the most recognizable symbols of its city.  Big Ben has continued faithfully over the decades, although events such as bad weather and the Blitz have temporarily silenced its chimes or dimmed its clock faces.  The clock was wound by hand until 1913, but an electric motor now ensures its continuation and accuracy.  Although the great fire of 1834 may have succeeded where Guy Fawkes and his conspirators failed, destroying nearly all of the Palace of Westminster, the seat of the British government, it also made the creation of Big Ben possible.  And now, Britain has a very striking, reconstructed complex for its Houses of Parliament to meet in as well as one of the largest and most impressive four-faced clocks in the world to keep ticking the minutes by, inspiring them to remember the past and strive for an even better future.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Life In the Fast Lane

Magnet # 255: Indianapolis Speedway

Material: Rubber

Purchased By: Dad

Once again, Indianapolis, Indiana is revving up for its biggest event of the year - the Indianapolis 500. It's almost always held on the Memorial Day Weekend and this year, the green flag signaling the start of the race will be waved by actor Jack Nicholson. This year is the 94th annual run of the "Greatest Spectacle in Racing" and 33 cars will be on the field to sun 200 laps, as has been the tradition for many years. The betting favorites this year are New Zealander Scott Dixon, who won the 2008 race, and Helio Castroneves, a Brazilian who has won this race three times before. That two men from very far points of the globe could be contenders to win this race shows just how fat the Indy 500 has progressed over just about a century, and that it truly has risen to prominence on an international level.

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway, home to the Indy 500, was built back in 1909 and is now celebrating its centennial era. It has a two and a half mile track that was at first used to race motorcycles, but later moved onto cars. The first official 500 race was held on Memorial Day in 1911, and it would go on to become the standard in automobile racing. Over the years, many eras in racing sprang up at the track, and it was the site of triumphant victories as well as shocking accidents and occasional deaths. And as time continued, the racing vehicles evolved into some of the fastest on four wheels. In fact, this magnet does a pretty good job showing the progression of the styles of cars featured in the races. One of the more interesting traditions about the Indy 500 is that the winner is presented not with a blanket of roses or glass of champagne, but a bottle of milk. This dates back to 1933, when winner Louis Meyer asked for a glass of buttermilk after his first win. He continued to do so after subsequent wins, and a dairy executive eventually saw an image of Meyer drinking from a bottle of buttermilk and holding up three of his fingers, for the trio of victories he'd had at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Inspiration hit, and a bottle of milk, not buttermilk, began to be presented to the winner - either whole, 2%, or skim, depending on his preference. You wouldn't think this was such an important part of the race, but when the tradition was broken, it proved to be. The 1993 winner Emerson Fittipaldi from Brazil drank a glass of orange juice rather that milk, which many viewed as a shameless move of self-promotion, as he owned orange groves in his native land. This move infuriated so many and was so mocked that he later had to drink a little milk, even though the cameras were off. However, he did not appease racing fans and was booed and jeered at events for weeks after. So no matter who wins this year's Indy 500, I'm pretty sure he - or she - will accept that bottle of milk and have a nice sip. After all, it does a body - and a racer - good.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

More Cheese Than People

Magnet # 254: Wisconsin Milk Bottle

Material: Porcelain

Purchased By: Dad

It was on this day in 1848 that Wisconsin became the 30th state to be admitted into the Union. The French are believed to be the first European nation to reach the area in the 1630s, when their explorer Jean Nicolet was traveling the Great Lakes by canoe. While the French didn't do much but establish some fur trading posts in the area before they lost it to the British after the French and Indian War, they still continued trading there, eventually settling the region. The United States took control from the British after the American Revolution, but failed to do much with it until the War of 1812 had been settled. It was then that the area changed its focus to mining lead. Settlers pored into the area, many of them digging holes for shelter and leading to the nickname of the "Badger State." By 1836, the Wisconsin Territory had been established and in just over a decade, it gained statehood. For a time, the new state dabbled in one industry after another, producing some of the most wheat in the country, and becoming so overwhelmed by the lumber industry that most of the trees in the state were stripped away. Finally, in 1890s, the state began to find its true calling - dairy farming. Immigrants to the area began crafting cheeses based on traditions from their respective homelands and exporting them all around the nation. Before long, Wisconsin had been established as "America's Dairyland." And although other industries would continue to spring up, the state would hold firm to this title. It still produces more cheese than any state in the country, and only California is able to beat Wisconsin in overall dairy production. There are also other food related industries in the state, such as meat products and beer. It's a pretty good chance we all enjoy the exports of the Badger State on a regular basis. I, for one, am a pretty big fan of Wisconsin Cheddar - it certainly blows American Cheese out of the water!

I've only been to Wisconsin once in my life, when I traveled there with my family that was living in Chicago to buy some fireworks. It was around July 4, and we were getting ready to celebrate. I don't remember much of the rural area we were in that day. But there is plenty to be seen in the state. One tourist destination I'd really like to experience for myself is House on the Rock near Spring Green. I've been told by a friend that visited it that when he comes across someone else who's been there, it's never a mild-mannered conversation - they usually exclaim their mutual amazement of this site, which is supposed to be like no place else in the world. House on the Rock sprang from the mind of Alex Jordan, Jr., who was infuriated after his hero, Frank Lloyd Wright, said he wouldn't hire Jordan to build anything - even a chicken coop. To show Lloyd Wright up, he created a home filled with all sorts of unusual rooms and elaborate collections - it even has what is said to be the world's largest carousel. The most striking feature of the home may very well be its Infinity Room, an unsupported room filled with windows that stretches out 218 feet. Though Jordan first discouraged onlookers at House on the Rock, he soon realized he could charge them for admission, and the crowds have only increased with time, making this unusual home one of the tourist attractions in the region. And Lloyd Wright's own summer home, Taliesin, is nearby, so it's possible to compare the two architects. Wisconsin Dells, with its host of waterparks, and Circus World in Baraboo are also very popular tourist destinations in the state. And, yes, I have seen adorable Wisconsin magnets on the web that read "Wisconsin - We've Got More Cheese Than People" - I wouldn't mind getting one of those. But this one is still pretty great, and nothing like the rest of my collection - I'm glad my Dad picked it up. Sure, Wisconsin may be famous for its dairy output, but there is plenty more to be seen in this exciting state.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Island Life

Magnet # 253: Map of Rhode Island

Material: Metal

Purchased By: Me

The smallest state in all the Union, Rhode Island, celebrates the anniversary of its statehood tomorrow. The first Europeans to make it to this area were Italians under the command of Giovanni da Verrazzano, who arrived in 1524. But it wasn't until 1636 that Roger Williams, an outspoken minister who had been expelled from the Massachusetts Bay Colony, settled the area with his followers. Williams' opinions that there should be a separation of church and state, freedom of religion, and fair treatment for Native Americans outraged authorities so much that they at last threw him out in January during a harsh winter, despite the fact that he was ill. Williams walked over 100 miles in the snow until he was given shelter by a local Indian tribe. Soon, he was able to start a community in a town he called Providence and allow other religious nonconformists to follow suit nearby. Under Williams' influence, there was peace between the local Indians and his settlers, but conflicts in nearby Connecticut and Rhode Island soon entered the area. Settlers from those colonies attacked and killed the Native Americans living in Rhode Island, while Indians burned down white settlements in the colony. And tensions only grew when the British combined the small colony with its neighbors to form the Dominion of New England. The British rule proved to be particularly unpopular there. Although small, Rhode Island made a habit of standing apart from the other original thirteen colonies even after Roger Williams' time, being the first to separate from the British and the last to join the United States. Yep, it was the thirteenth state and it held out to ensure the creation of a Bill of Rights, a document that has been a great benefit to the citizens of the United States. And when the Civil War broke out, Rhode Island was the first state to send troops to support President Lincoln. And its reputation for being independent and rebellious has followed the state into modern times. Despite its small size, the state has managed to become industrialized and attract some very rich residents, even though it has some of the highest taxes in the nation.

While I know I've traveled through Rhode Island at least once during family trips up North, I really have no recollection of being in the state. That's a shame - there are some fantastic places to be seen in the Ocean State. Most notable are perhaps the mansions of Newport, which are some of the most impressive that are left from the Gilded Age. These are the summer cottages of families like the Vanderbilts and were designed by master architects such as Richard Morris Hunt and Howard Greenly. Of course, labeling these homes "cottages" is akin to calling the Pacific Ocean a lake - these were some of the greatest homes in their very wealthy time. Of course, they paled in comparison to the homes many of these individuals owned on Fifth Avenue in New York City, but while those were later demolished to make use of the prime real estate on which they stood, these are still open to the public. There are quite a few available for tours, and visitors could spend an entire weekend seeing them all - sounds like a good time to me. Of course, the many beaches of the state are also very popular tourist destinations, and many enjoy sailing in the area. One thing's certain - a roadtrip completely around this teeny state wouldn't take long at all, so there's no reason not to give it a try!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Last Tsar

Magnet # 252:  The Church of the Savior on Blood 

Material:  Paper-Mache

Purchased By:  Mom & Dad

Nicholas II was coronated on this day in 1896 at the age of 26. His father, Alexander III, had ruled Russia with an iron fist after the assassination of his own father in 1881. But as Alexander had anticipated ruling for another two or three decades, Nicholas did not have the full scope of training and experience that would have been critical to his role as Tsar. After his father died suddenly from kidney failure, Nicholas took his place, although with doubts as to whether he could handle the task. He was right to have been concerned - though he is said to have been a kind and good man who looked after his family, he was weak and ineffective as a ruler.  He lacked the ambition necessary for a powerful leader and Russia fell on hard times during his rule, losing the Russo-Japanese War and suffering great losses during World War I.  There were also food shortages and finally, rebellions broke out, removing Nicholas from power.  In just about two decades after his rise from power, the Romanov dynasty would be wiped out and the line of Tsars would come to a bloody end.

The line of Russian Tsars was begun by Ivan IV, better known as Ivan the Terrrible, who ascended to the throne in 1547.  He was ruthless at times and was able to help make Russia once of the largest countries on the planet and create a line of rulers that would last long beyond his time.  It would continue on for well over three centuries, and include several dynasties, but the longest lasting line of Tsars would be the Romanov dynasty, which included such powerful and famous figures as Peter the Great and Catherine the Great, both of whom expanded and modernized the country.  However, by the time Nicholas II came to the throne, Russia had fallen on harder times and he had even seen his grandfather, Alexander II, assassinated during his life.  Although he did his best, Nicholas simply didn't have the ability to rule the country.  He abdicated the throne in 1917 and, along with his wife, four daughters, and one son, moved from one location to another.  Nicolas hoped to be granted asylum in England, but was denied out of fear that his presence might provoke a revolution there.  Finally, the Romanov family settled in a home in Yekaterinburg, where they held onto the hope that they would be smuggled to safety.  So when they were awakened one night and brought down into the basement.  But instead of being taken away, they were attacked by the very people they thought would bring them salvation.  Nicholas was the first to die, followed by his wife.  But when the murders began to shoot his four daughters, they were shocked - the bullets were not killing them.  There were diamonds sewn into their clothes that protected them, but their killers soon improvised, finishing off all five of the Romanov children.  By doing so, they were able to force the people of Russia to not turn back to the system of the Tsars and more firmly establish Socialism in the country.  But the murders are remembered as taking place in one of the darkest events in Russian history.

Although Nicholas and his family were assassinated in a terrible manner, their plight has gained them great sympathy in much of the world. When the remains of the family were unearthed decades later, their discovery was kept secret for about a decade to prevent the Communists from seizing control of the bodies. But after the Soviet Union fell, the authorities removed the bodies in 1991 and identified them in a very painstaking process.  The bodies were those of Nicholas II, his wife, and three of the daughters.  His son and one final daughter's remains would be found later in a separate grave.  Russia held a state funeral so that its fallen leader and his family could have the respect they deserved.  And as the house in which they were slaughtered had become a ghoulish tourist attraction, it was torn down and the Church on Blood in Honour of All Saints Resplendent in the Russian Land was built in its place in the early 2000s.  Like his grandfather's Church of the Savior on the Blood, Nicholas now had an elegant, impressive site to mark where he and his family had fallen.  And they were even canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad and made passion bearers by the Russian Orthodox Church.  It's good to see the attention that has been brought to the last of the Romanovs in recent years.  Not only does it help atone for their brutal deaths, it also serves as a reminder of the awful acts that can be carried out when people loose control of their humanity in their quests for power and revenge.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

A Long Time Ago

Magnet # 251: Star Wars Episode IV:  Return of the Jedi Poster

Material:  Metal, Paper, Mylar Shell

Purchased By:  Me

Now that's more like it - a great film with a stunning Drew Struzan poster to boot! Yep, today marks the anniversary of the release of Return of the Jedi back in 1983. Fans of the series had been waiting three years to find out the fate of Luke Skywalker and his friends, most notably Han Solo, who had been taken by Boba Fett to the notorious Jabba the Hutt. And they came to theatres in droves, making it the top grossing film of the year. At the time, critics praised the film, mostly preferring it to its predecessor, The Empire Strikes Back. But with time, opinions have shifted and the second film in the series is now generally preferred over the third. Perhaps it's because we all know how the series played out. Or it might be another matter entirely.

A guy at a comic shop once told me that he thought males preferred The Empire Strikes Back, while women like Return of the Jedi better. I don't know if that's always true, but it was in our case. Yep, Return of the Jedi is easily my favorite of all of the Star Wars films, with Episode IV: A New Hope close behind. I guess that leaves The Empire Strikes Back in third place, with the prequels trailing pretty far behind. He held that guys like the big reveal that Darth Vader is Luke's father in the second film and the cliffhanger ending best and that women like how all of the loose ends are tied up in the final film with a happy ending. Yep, I like happy endings. And I've recently discussed on here how I prefer endings that make good on answering questions and resolving whatever issues are left on the table, which Return of the Jedi definitely does. But I think the scene at Jabba's Palace is what makes this film my favorite of the bunch. It drove me nuts when Han was frozen in the carbonite and I was relieved when Leia was finally able to save him. Plus, there was just so much action during that part of the film, with Luke escaping the Rancor and the entire team defeating Jabba and his minions. It was fast-paced, engrossing, and moved very quickly. I wasn't quite as fond of the second half of the film, with the Ewoks on Endor, but I did enjoy when Luke was able to come to terms with his father just before Anakin's death. And, yes, it was very nice to have everything tied up nicely with the film. I remember getting pretty upset at the conclusion of The Empire Strikes Back, wanting to know what happened next, even though I didn't see it in theaters. Does that make me a girl? I don't know, but if anyone has more insight as to gender preferences with these films, feel free to post it.

Even though the Star Wars saga ended - chronologically speaking - at the theaters with this film, further adventures of Luke and his friends are available in print, both in novels and comics. Han and Leia get married and have twins, Luke becomes a Jedi Master with a family of his own, Lando continues to help while working as a businessman, eventually retiring, and Chewbacca dies valiantly saving Han's son.  And their children continue the drama as they choose to fight as Jedis or join the Dark Side.  If you've never checked these works out, but are a Star Wars fan, it might be worth a try.  It's a shame we never got to see Mark Hamilton, Harrison Ford, and Carrie Fisher continue the stories of their respective characters on the big screen, but at least they went out on a high note.  Return of the Jedi may not be on my top ten list, but I always have fun watching it and seeing how the original trilogy wraps up.

Monday, May 24, 2010

All Hail the Queen

Magnet # 250: Canadian Mountie

Material: Resin

Purchased By: Mom & Dad

Up in Canada, they're celebrating Victoria Day, a federal holiday held in honor of Queen Victoria' birthday.This observance was created before Canada even became a nation. At first, it fell on her actual date of birth, but over time, it has shifted dates. After Victoria's death, Victoria Day became Empire Day and as the monarchs of England changed, the date on which their birthday was celebrated moved around the calendar. But eventually, Empire Day transformed to Commonwealth Day and was moved to March. After that, Victoria Day returned on the first Monday on or before May 24. Of course, that means this year the holiday actually falls on the anniversary of Victoria's birthday on May 24 in 1819. It's almost been two centuries since then, but clearly Britain's longest reigning monarch is still beloved in the modern world.

While I an definitely a fan of Victoria's, I have to admit, I prefer Elizabeth I. Maybe it's her refusal to marry, or the fact that she actually controlled the power in her country during her time - or it might just be our mutual name. But if I could visit any period in history, it would absolutely be the Victorian Era. The art that was produced then is my favorite and Victoria and Albert really encouraged the arts, becoming patrons and helping contribute to the Victoria and Albert Museum, the largest collection of decorative arts and design in the entire world. And Victoria was the first ruler to ever grant a peerage to a painter - Lord Leighton, my absolute favorite artist, so she helped elevate the status of artists to a new level. I enjoy watching movies about her life, even if they aren't exactly documentaries. There are several films that deal with Victoria's life that I definitely recommend if you'd like to get a better feel for the monarch. The first is The Young Victoria, which was finally released last year and won an Academy Award for Costume Design. It started shooting in 2007, and I anxiously awaited its delayed release. It's a very impressive film, with a nice budget, so it really has great clothing and scenery. Unfortunately, it's hardly historically accurate. Its most notable departure was when they showed Albert being grazed by a bullet during an assassination attempt on Victoria. While she really was shot at, he was not injured. A more faithful dramatization of the couple's life was presented in the 2001 BBC serial Victoria and Albert. Though it doesn't have the hefty budget of The Young Victoria, it does stick closer to the facts. And, at 200 minutes, it packs much more in than the later film's 105. Really, it feels like her life is barely getting started in that one, compared to seeing their children grow and Victoria deal with Albert's young death in the previous serial. And supporting characters that are almost overlooked in The Young Victoria are much more developed in Victoria and Albert. It's interesting to compare the two films' take on the romance between the pair, as they vary. Victoria and Albert portrays her as being completely smitten with him from their second meeting on, but while he cares for her, Albert is slow to love Victoria. And The Young Victoria shows the two slowly growing to love one another. But the final film about Victoria's like leave out Albert entirely - Mrs. Brown. This deals with the later years of her life, after her husband had passed away. She strikes up an unlikely friendship with a slightly coarse Scottish servant who had been close with Albert, John Brown. Brown is summoned to help her through her her grief. Some felt he was too good at his task, and the two may have engaged in an improper relationship. But he helps her return to a public life, and because of that, the monarchy is once again embraced by the public. Brown also saves Victoria from another assassination attempt. But when he dies, his diary was taken away and never seen again. The real extent of the relationship between Victoria and Brown has never been known, but I prefer to give her majesty the benefit of the doubt. And when you combine all three of these films, it's interesting to see the portrait they portray of this beloved monarch.

Today, there will be fireworks and parades in Canada, both to celebrate Victoria's birth and life and the beginning of Spring. While she may not have been one of the most powerful rulers in British history, she lived during one of its most prosperous times when it expanded all across the globe. And the images of this sweet young bride, productive mother, determined monarch, and heartbroken widow have captured the attention of generations of followers around the world, and have kept Victoria almost as beloved by the public as she was during her own time.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

The End Is Here

Magnet # 249:  Lost Season One Cast Photo Montage

Material:  Plastic

Purchased By:  Me

This is it - tonight, the final episode of Lost airs.  It's funny reading what I had to say just a few months ago about the show on this blog, and comparing that with my current feelings.  I've talked to a fair amount of people and discovered that they, like myself, have been very disappointed by this final season.  If this show has asked 10,000 questions, it's answered about 9,000.  And I think it's highly unlikely that the rest will be answered in the last two and a half hours.

Pretty soon after its debut in 2004, Lost proved to be much more than a simple story about survivors on an island in the middle of nowhere.  The island seemed to be a character itself, with monsters and mysteries all its own.  So many questions were asked and whenever one was answered, a dozen more seemed to pop up.  It seemed that the show's producers had woven a very intricate web, the most intricate in television history.  However, now that we're at the end, plenty of viewers are beginning to become pretty sure that the producers didn't even know the answer to many of the questions when they were posed and just came up with something else later that fit, or forgot about them altogether.  But even as they were doing this, they were trying to cultivate an obsessed audience, putting crumbs in various episodes and all sorts of clues and extra information on the web, and promising us incredible answers to all of their conundrums.  If they didn't want us to get so involved, why did they ever challenge us to ponder so much about each episode in the first place?  I don't know why, but I do know that a good producer always knows where a story is going and never poses a question that won't be answered.  I'm pretty sure that after the final episode has aired, Lost won't so much resemble an intricate spider web, with all of its delicate lines firmly attached as a huge slice of Swiss cheese, rife with gaping holes.

So there you have it - my expectations for this final night of Lost are not very high.  At best, I'm hoping there's a happy ending for my favorite characters, like John Locke and Penny and Desmond.  The Lost world has been split into two realities and it looks to me like they will merge, saving a lot of great characters that have died in the show's past.  But rewatching the old Lost episodes will likely be a somewhat empty experience for me, seeing the producers set up mysterious scenarios they never knew the solutions for or intended to answer.  I could be wrong.  I hope I'm wrong.  But, as it stands, I'm not recommending anyone start watching Lost once it's over, unless they like huge buildup with little payoff.  Stick with simpler shows like Chuck and Supernatural instead who don't raise the expectations that high, but follow through on their stories.  The Lost producers have broken my faith and I don't think I'll ever trust another show that requires its viewers to have such trust that the answers will come in the end.  Rest assured, I'll be watching the finale tonight, but I'll be shocked if it leaves me satisfied.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Under a Palmetto Moon

Magnet # 248:  South Carolina Palmetto Tree with Moon

Material:  Clay

Purchased By:  Me

It was on this day in 1788 that South Carolina became the 8th state to be added to the Union.  Although the Spanish were the first Europeans to reach the area, the English would eventually gain control of it, naming it the Province of Carolana after King Charles I.  Eventually, the spelling changed, but England was careful to increase its control over the region to halter the spread of the French and Spanish. In 1663, King Charles II chartered control of Carolina to eight of his close friends, who became known as Lords Proprietors.  They, in turn, sent settlers to establish South Carolina's first permanent settlement - Charles Town, or later Charleston.  By 1710, tensions had increased so that the territory was split into north and south portions.  It's not known exactly what necessitated this split, but suggestions ranging from Indian wars to corrupt politicians have been offered. What is more clear is that South Carolina received far less land from the split than North Carolina.  While that state is ranked 28th in the United States in terms of area, South Carolina is 40th.  And North Carolina also cuts across the western border of the state, taking away what might have been a mountainous region of the state.  Regardless, South Carolina continued on, joining with the other colonies to fight for independence in the Revolutionary War.  Charleston became an important battlefield during the conflict, attacked both by land and sea.  They managed to fight off the British on two occasions before bring taken in 1780.  Although the gained control of most of the colony, the American victory at Battle of the Cowpens in South Carolina was critical in winning the war in the South.  By 1782, the British had left Charleston and only small battles took place in South Carolina after that.  And soon, South Carolina was able to claim its place among its fellow states. During the war, Colonel William Moultrie successfully defended Sullivan's Island and nearby Charleston with the aid of a palmetto log fortress.  As these trees have no rings, the cannonballs the British fired at the walls were unable to break through.  In honor of its importance in protecting the state, the palmetto tree was made the state tree, featured on its flag, along with a crescent moon, and the state even became known as the Palmetto State.  So this Clay Critters magnet is basically their version of the symbols on the state flag, and is a great version at that - the moon even glows in the dark!

Given the Palmetto State's close proximity to Savannah, I've been there a fair amount of times and I even have coworkers who live there and travel over each weekday.  When I was growing up, I visited the town of Charleston  with my family.  We met a particularly friendly local who gave me a couple of very unusual pods that I ended up using for a project in a college art class.  Nowadays, I mostly go over to shop at the Tanger Outlet Malls in Beaufort, which is on the way to Hilton Head Island, one of the most popular tourist destinations in the state.  A friend of mine lives near the shopping center, and I visit her there from time to time.  She even helped me find the best places to shop for magnets on Hilton Head, which made for a fun afternoon.  There are still a couple of places I'd like to see in the state, like Myrtle Beach, which is home to Apache Pier, the East Coast's longest pier, a boardwalk packed with tourists, and plenty of miniature golf courses.  Sounds like a great place to pick up magnets.  And the capitol building in Columbia sounds pretty interesting - it was attacked by Sherman and his troops during the Civil War.  There are even has six bronze stars marking the spots on its walls where the cannonballs struck.  Plus, it might be fun to revisit Charleston as an adult.  Sure, Georgia and North Carolina may have taken the mountain areas that the state might have otherwise gotten, but there is still plenty of beautiful places left to be seen in the Palmetto State, and I always enjoy a trip up there.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Lift Your Forks

Magnet # 247:  The Year of Alabama Food

Material:  Rubber

Purchased By:  Me

Thanks to all of the tasty and nutritious fruits and veggies that are now in season, May is National Salad Month.  It's a great way to take advantage of some of the freshest crops we'll have all year.  And I though this magnet, with its very stylish graphic design, would be perfect to post for the occasion.  Apparently, each year the Alabama Tourist Department picks one aspect of the state to feature, but this is the only one from which I've got a magnet.  I wouldn't mind another - really this design is just so striking.

There are so many different varieties and kinds of salads that it's almost impossible to not find one to like.  Obviously, there are the more traditional styles that start with a bed of lettuce and are topped off with other veggies and maybe meat.  But salads go much farther than that.  There are pasta salads, fruit salads, potato salads, egg salads, bean salads, coleslaw, dessert salads made with whipped cream or gelatin, and so many more.  Salads can often be packed with nutrients like Vitamin A and Vitamin C, and antioxidants, and they can also be lowfat and low in calories.  So try coming up with a salad that's just right for you.  You can go with a green one and start with whatever sort of lettuce you like best - just remember, romaine is not all that nutritious.  Then add whatever veggies or fruits you like best - perhaps more standard ones like tomatoes, carrots, and cucumber, or try some different kinds like artichokes, avocados, and asparagus.  Next, toss in some protein like beans, eggs, or meat.  For meat, you can use pretty much any type - fish, poultry, pork, beef.  And don't forget to top it off with ingredients like bacon bits, sunflower seeds, or croutons, perhaps with some salad dressing.  And if that's not what interests you, try one of the many other versions of salads that are out there - heck, there's even a cookie salad that uses fudge striped shortbread cookies.  But perhaps that one should be eaten in moderation.

I love salads. Really, they are one of my favorite dishes. I'll fix them at home, or order them when I'm out at a restaurant. I prefer variety in my salads, but I'll often get a Greek salad, Caesar salad, or Cobb salad (with cheddar cheese instead of Blue cheese). One trick I've learned over the years is to always ask for my dressing on the side, as the preparers at some establishments will pretty much drown the dish in it. I'd much rather decide how much I want for myself and avoid having a puddle of dressing in the bottom of my salad bowl. It's always a good idea to be careful about dressing, because it can add lots of fat and calories to your meal.  Just remember, the lighter dressings that feature olive oil and vinegar tend to be better for your body than the creamy ones.  If you don't usually order a salad when you're out, perhaps giving it a try - even just once - might be a good idea to find out how tasty and satisfying they can be.

May is also National Barbecue Month, but, let's face it, it's really better for your health to have a salad. So if you want to celebrate this carnivorous event, perhaps you could start off with a salad or top your bed of lettuce with some barbecue. Your cardiologist will thank you. Yes, salads may never be as mouthwatering as a rack of ribs or a pile of pulled pork, but there are ways to make them as enjoyable for your tastebuds as they are for the rest of your body.  And creating a truly enjoyable salad that's just right for you may be easier than you ever imagined.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Greatest Show On Earth

Magnet # 246:  Seal Balancing Ball

Material:  Plastic

Purchased By:  Gina

Well, grab the kids and head out to the big top, if you've got one nearby - it's Circus Day! This occasion is set on the anniversary of the day of the first Ringling Brothers performance back in 1884. There were seven Ringling Brothers in all, and five of them started performing in their own backyard in Baraboo, Wisconsin, after they were inspired while watching a circus being unloaded from a steamboat. They raised funds with a few initial performances that were more dancing and signing, then set out with a wagon, a horse they had rented, and a more experienced showman. They kept working hard, raising the money to buy a donkey and a Shetland pony, and improving their act. Eventually, all seven brothers had joined in, each with his own particular task, be it publicity, advertising, management, producing the show, or overseeing transportation from one locale to another. While there were many other traveling circuses, the Ringling Brothers were able to set themselves apart simply by being honest and refusing to rip off their customers. With a sterling reputation, they were able to rise through the ranks, eventually purchasing their own railroad cars that allowed them to move quickly from one large venue to another, greatly increasing their revenue. And when James Bailey of Barnum and Bailey passed away, they were able to purchase that competitor. They kept the two circuses separate until World War I, when there was a sharp decline in attendance. By creating The Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus, they were able to keep the United States' largest circuses alive. And it's still around nowadays, for although the Ringling family sold it in 1967, the name is still used and is beloved by children and adults the world over.

Circuses actually date all the way back to the Romans, who may have gotten the idea from the Greeks. They had tiered levels of seats for spectators to occupy while watching acrobats, trained animals, jugglers, and staged battles. Rome's first and most important circus was Circus Maximus, although there were several others of note. Unlike more modern circuses, these did not travel and occupied set areas. After Rome fell, circuses faded away for some time. Gypsies carried on the tradition in a small way, traveling and performing with their unusual abilities and trained animals for crowds, but it wasn't until the late 18th century that circuses really made a comeback. That was when Philip Astley began holding performances of his circus in London. Soon, others were copying his success, taking circuses all over the world. In fact, George Washington even attended one in Philadelphia. As circuses spread around the world, many countries took their own, unique spin on them. The huge circuses with massive tents and exhibitions of skill and strength are believed to have been developed in the United States. In Russia, with Lenin's encouragement, circuses were elevated to an art form and Chinese circuses focused on the country's ancient acrobatic traditions. Later, in the 1970s, the circus began to evolve into a more dramatic form fusing street performance techniques with those of circus performers. The results, Contemporary circuses like Cirque de Soleil, have proven to be popular with audiences. And now, many countries around the globe have their own circuses, proof that the ancient form of entertainment has truly been integrated into the modern world.

Well, if you can't celebrate Circus Day under the big top, you can always watch a film that's centered around the circus, like Disney's Dumbo or Circus World, which features John Wayne. And there's even a real-life Circus World Museum in Baraboo, Wisconsin, home of the Ringling Brothers. There, visitors can learn about the history of the circus at have a look at artifacts like posters, circus wagons, and photos and even attend a circus performance at certain times of the year. Sounds like fun to me. And if you've never seen a circus for yourself or haven't been in awhile, you should consider attending one. After all, they don't call it the Greatest Show on Earth for nothing!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

A Man of Might and Mercy

Magnet # 245:  Uruguayan Home

Material:  Clay

Purchased By:  The Schulz Family

Today, Uruguay celebrates one of the most important dates in its history, when revolutionary fighters won the highly important Battle of Las Piedras in 1811.  Although they had not yet gained independence from the Spanish, the revolutionaries had received an important boost in morale that would keep them fighting until they won it.  The victory was so great that the Battle of Las Piedras Day is still an official holiday in the country.

The Spanish were the first Europeans to reach what would become Uruguay, but because it didn't have the gold and other resources that existed in other parts of South America, they pretty much left the area alone.  But when the Portuguese who established the first settlement there, they suddenly became interested in the territory again, creating Montevideo to try to curb Portuguese expansion.  Eventually, the two nations began to fight for control of the area and Portugal was driven out.  So when the settlers decided to rise up for their independence, they would face Spain.  By then, most of the natives had been killed off or driven away by the Europeans, so the colonists living there were mainly from Europe.  And it was Jose Gervasio Artigas who stepped up to lead the revolutionaries.  He was born to a wealthy family of landowners in Montevideo and grew up to be a talented rider and shooter, even smuggling for a little while before turning to more honest pursuits guarding the border at Brazil. At first, he fought on the side of the Spanish and was even captured during a battle.  But when his countrymen rose up to fight the Spanish, Artigas appealed to the Government of Buenos Aires and was given a force of 180 fighters.  He soon gained control of the revolution, commanding a force of over one thousand to victory at the Battle of Las Piedras.  And even though his nephew was killed in the conflict, Artigas still chose to treat the wounded and prisoners of war humanely, proclaiming his famous line "Clemencia para los vencidos," or mercy on the vanquished.  Although victory over the Spanish would be achieved, the Portguese would later become a threat, capturing Artigas and sending him into exile.  It's believed he stayed a soldier to the end, demanding to be placed in a saddle on his horse when he was dying in 1850. And although he was gone, the memory of his bravery and leadership continued to inspire the citizens of Uruguay.

Uruguay is now one of the most one of the most developed countries in South America as well as one of the least corrupt. Most of its citizens are of European descent, from both the original settlers of centuries ago and more recent immigrants. In fact, Montevideo, the capital, almost resembles Western Europe more than South America. Thus, there are also a great variety of Mediterranean cuisines there including Spanish, Italian, French, and even German. And the country has no official religion and a complete freedom of worship. All in all, it's a pretty nice place to visit or live in Latin America. And they owe a great deal to Artigas and the men he led - in fact, he's the national hero of Uruguay.  Unlike other historical figures in the country, he's not tied to a political party that makes him unpopular with a fair amount of the population.  There are all sorts of places named in is honor, images of him on display, and his birthday is even celebrated on June 19.  When his country needed a hero, Arigas rose to the task and even if he didn't completely gain their independence, he inspired his countrymen to keep fighting and to show mercy to their enemies after victory was achieved.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Hello, Yellow Brick Road

Magnet # 244:  The Wonderful Wizard of Oz Illustration

Material:  Metal

Purchased By:  Me

Here's to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, which is now turning 110 years old. Yep, it was first published on this day back in 1900 and the world of Oz has expanded ever since, gaining new characters and stories in its creator's days and being re-imagined in more modern times.

L. Frank Baum was the author and creator of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and he came from a wealthy New York family.  His father was a self-made oil baron and his mother a women's rights activist.  For his youth, he lived a happy life tutored at his family's estate with his many siblings.  But when he was sent to a military academy at the age of twelve to toughen up, but after being miserable there for two years, he was finally able to return home.  Baum was a dreamer, finding one pursuit after another but when his father gave him a printing press, he began to publish his own journal.  But his interests were widespread and he also dabbled in breeding chickens, writing and producing theatre, owning a store, reporting, and traveling as a salesman.  Truth be told, Baum had as many failures as successes - perhaps even more.  Baum published his first book, Mother Goose in Prose, in 1897, complete with illustrations by the great Maxfield Parrish.  It achieved a moderate success and another one of his books, Father Goose, His Book, became the best-selling children's book of 1899.  But it was the book that appeared in 1900 that would change Baum's life - and children's literature - permanently.  Yep, it was The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.  In this work, Baum drew from earlier fairy tales, like those of the Brothers Grimm, but he tried to create his own modern versions that lacked the gruesomeness and scary details of those older stories.  His story proved to be popular with both audiences and critics and Baum would go on to write another thirteen novels centered in the magical world of Oz.  But he also pursued other interests, like novels that had nothing to do with his magical world and financing musicals.  But the failures of these endeavors usually drew him back to Oz, where he could recover financially.  Braum even considered building the first theme park ever near Los Angeles, but he was never able to realize that dream, although Walt Disney later did.  And even though he died before filming of the Judy Garland film The Wizard of Oz began in 1938, Braum still figured into the production.  The film's costumers traveled to a local thrift store looking for a somewhat tattered jacket for Professor Marvel, who later becomes the Wizard, to wear.  When they gave the one they chose to actor Frank Morgan, he ended up discovering the name of the last owner in a pocket - L. Frank Baum.  And, yes, it was confirmed by both his widow and tailor that the coat was once Baum's.  So he did contribute a little extra to the film version of his most beloved tale, and I think that would have pleased him.

Nowadays, it's almost hard to imagine there was a time before Oz.  Baum's stories as well as those of his followers abound and there are plenty of other, more recent, adaptations on the world of Oz and its citizens.  Perhaps the most popular is Wicked, The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, which was published in 1995 and told the tale from the villain's perspective.  Later, it was made into a hugely successful Broadway play.  And both the Muppets have gone to Oz in a 2005 film as well as Diana Ross and Michael Jackson in the 1975 film The Wiz.  It's also been adapted into Japanese manga comics and a sci-fi miniseries called Tin Man.  A man of many interests, Braum has left behind a plethora of stories that continue to inspire generations as he once was by previous storytellers.  And it's just a matter of time before his classic tales are updated for a new audience.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Bring in the Clones

Magnet # 243:  Star Wars Episode II:  Attack of the Clones Poster

Material:  Metal, Paper, Mylar Shell

Purchased By:  Me

Whenever I see this magnet, I can't help but think have two thoughts - one, what a beautiful magnet, and two, what an ugly film.  Okay, Warsies, or whatever name you Star Wars fans prefer, don't gang up and come after me.  After the first trilogy, I was pretty into Star Wars and I still enjoy those original films.  So when the time came for the prequels to finally be released, I was very excited.  And I saw The Phantom Menace twice in theaters and, despite Jar-Jar Binks, told myself that I liked it.  Was I in denial?  I don't know, but I have to admit that while I do have one DVD set of the original trilogy, that film has not made it into my pretty large collection - and I don't see myself ever buying it.  But I think it was seeing Attack of the Clones in the theater that finally did it for me with the prequels.  Once again, I was eager to see it, this time on opening day - this very day back in 2002 - with my one of my art classes, and I even sat outside the theater to help buy the tickets.  But somewhere in the middle of the film, it just hit me that I was not having a good time.  First, there was the terrible love story between Padme and Anakin.  The dialogue was terrible, the actors were wooden, and there was no chemistry whatsoever.  And when you compare it to the terrific energy that Han and Leia had, it just got that much worse.  And the rest of the story really wasn't that good - even great actors like Ewan McGregor and Samuel L. Jackson were having a tough time trudging through it.  And then there were the special effects.  Lucas had enthusiastically added in more computer-generated scenes in this film than any of his previous ones, but after one massively impressive shot after another, they kind of burned me out.  I ended up longing for the charming simplicity of a period or indie flick that relies on actually incredible backgrounds on their own merit, and sticks more with the actors.  That many jaw-dropping establishing scenes gave me a headache, but perhaps I'm one of the few.  The film certainly did well, but it's still one of the least-grossing in the Star Wars saga.  And a few years later, when it aired on Thanksgiving night, I turned it on, just to see if maybe it would be better the second time.  I ended up having to mute it and my Mom walked in during the colosseum battle scene and asked me what B-movie I had on.  Yep, that did it for me.  And I still haven't seen the final prequel - I just have no desire to.

But as far as this stunning image goes, I have to put it among the best of any Star Wars film poster.  Like many of them, it was painted by the incredibly talented artist Drew Struzan.  While Struzan has produced posters for some truly great films like the Back to the Future films, Big Trouble in Little China, Coming to America, The Shawshank Redemption, the Indiana Jones films, the Muppet films, and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, most moviegoers know him as the painter for the Star Wars film posters.  It was on these films that he got his big break back in 1977.  That was when that his friend Charles White III, an accomplished artist in his own right, approached him to paint the figures of Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, and Han Solo on a poster that was going to be used for the re-release of the incredibly popular film.  White would concentrate on the more mechanical elements of the image, like Darth Vader, the ships, and the androids.  The result was a striking image that was eventually made to look like a vintage circus poster, peeling off of a wooden fence with an image of Obi Wan Kenobi on the side and the credits below.  It went on to become George Lucas' favorite and he owns the original.  With his knack for portraiture and producing a gripping image, Struzan soon became the principal artist for the Star Wars film posters, as well as a painter for album covers, book cover, and ads, but he never stopped being grateful to White for helping him get his start.  He's now retired, but has left behind a fantastic body of work.  If you'd like to see more of his great work, there's an impressive collection at http://www.drewstruzan.com/.

Even if I'm not too fond of the prequels, I will never stop enjoying the original three Star Wars films.  And to those out there who think me a blasphemer, I'll ask this:  if Lucas had shot and released the prequels before the original trilogy, would they have been half the success they managed to be?  And would the fourth to sixth films have even gotten filmed?  We'll never know for sure, but I know where my preferences lie.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Get Amused

Magnet # 242:  Montgomery Museum of Fine Art Photo

Material:  Plastic

Purchased By:  Me

Here's a head's up - International Museum Day is coming up next week, on May 18. This is a great time to check out any nearby museums you've been curious about. The theme for this year is "Museums for Social Harmony," and museums from all around the world will be participating, with some even offering free admission.  Have a look at http://icom.museum/doc/imd2010_links.html if you'd like to learn more.  This is a great time to figure out which museum to check out if you want to join in on the fun.

One fact that has been driven into me ever since I started this blog is that while most museums tend to be centered around art and history, there are still quite a few museums with more unusual collections.  For example, there are some that are completely centered around food and drinks, like Austin, Minnesota's Spam Museum, a free stop where visitors can learn about the history and production of the bizarre, yet popular, meat product.  New Orleans, Louisiana is home to the Southern Food and Beverage Museum, where folks can learn about all sorts of southern cuisine, including Big Easy favorites like po'boys and and beignets.  And let's not forget about condiments - Mount Horeb,  Wisconsin is home to the Mount Horeb Mustard Museum.  It was founded by the local attorney general, who decided to amass the largest collection of mustard ever to cheer himself up.  You can wash your meal down with a trip to the World of Coca-Cola Museum, a popular tourist destination in Atlanta, Georgia, where visitors can try out samples of the soft drink from all over the world.  I went there years ago, and had a pretty fun time.  And for dessert, try the Jell-O Museum in Le Roy, New York, which is filled with all sorts of memorabilia of the sweet treat, or the nearby Hershey Museum in the appropriately named Hershey, Pennsylvania.  There, they can learn about the life of founder Milton Hershey and see how his chocolate treats are made.  There are also museums devoted to all sorts of famous folks that aren't really historically significant the way political leaders or military generals are, but are beloved nonetheless.  For example, there's the Mary Kay Museum in Addison, Texas that's devoted to the lady and her makeup.  I've mentioned Richmond, Virginia's Edgar Allen Poe Museum on here before, but the city of Baltimore, Maryland has its own museum dedicated to the horror writer.  Smithfield, North Carolina, the birthplace of actress Ava Gardner, has an Ava Gardner Museum that pays homage to its most famous resident.  The "Unsinkable" Molly Brown's former home in Denver, Colorado has been converted into a museum about her life, as has author Margaret Mitchell's old home in Atlanta, Georgia.  And there are still so many more museums centering on so many different interests - music, cars, dolls, animals, ships - the list goes on and on.  Pretty much, if you have an interest, there's probably someplace that has a collection surrounding it.  Hmm - I wonder if Louise Greenfarb, owner of the world's largest magnet collection, would be interested in opening a museum sometime?

The Montgomery Museum of Fine Art, which is featured on this magnet, is more of a traditional museum, but it's still a pretty nice place to visit.  It's free and has a nice collection of works from artists such as John Singer Sargent, Winslow Homer, and Edward Hopper.  It dates all the way back to 1930, but the museum moved to its very impressive current location in 1988.  It has played an important role in my life - I visited its old location and was at that groundbreaking ceremony and still have a balloon from it (yep, I collect lots of stuff).  But just after my high school graduation, I was visiting the MMFA with my family and happened to get into a conversation with one of its workers in the children's section of the museum, ARTWORKS.  When she learned I was an art student, she encouraged me to apply for a job there.  I got it and spent the next few years overseeing ARTWORKS and doing art projects with its young visitors.  I had a really great time meeting nice people and learning quite a bit.  So when I moved to Savannah, of course I wanted a magnet from the MMFA to proudly display on my fridge.  But they didn't have any, so the nice lady in the Museum Shop had to put up with me begging for them on subsequent trips there.  Finally, she told me that they'd created some new magnets of the museum - and yes, my persistence might have been a factor.  But I'm so pleased to have a magnet of a place that's been so important to me.  The Montgomery Museum of Fine Art is an excellent place to visit on International Museum Day, if you're anywhere nearby.  If not, consider checking out a local museum near where you are.  Museums are great places to learn all sorts of new facts and just have fun, so get out this Tuesday and try a new one.  You should have a great time finding out what sort of interesting collections are available right in your backyard!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

In Bloom

Magnet # 241:  Basket of Tulips

Material:  Clay

Purchased By:  Mom & Dad

Today is Tulip Day, so I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to post this magnet, which is one of my Mom's favorites. She and my Dad picked it up at the airport in Amsterdam while they were switching planes. Yes, I do prefer to have where my magnets are from printed on them, but this is a pretty neat one nonetheless, capable of brightening up a day, particularly if it's Tulip Day.

I'm not quite sure how Tulip Day came about, but it's not a bad idea to have a day that recognizes these lovely flowers. Although nearly everyone associates them with Holland, it was actually the Ottoman Empire that first latched onto the bloom, first cultivating it over two thousand years ago. According to their legend, the first tulips came about when they bloomed from drops of blood shed by a lover and to them, this flower was a symbol of love. It's believed that the word actually came from the Turkish word for turban, as they resemble them a little, and the empire's most prosperous time is referred to as the Tulip Era.  By the time the bulbs were imported to Northern Europe in the 1500's, they were regarded as the symbol of the Ottoman Empire.  Of course, in England and Holland they rose to even greater prominence, eclipsing every other flower in both countries.  For three years in the 1630's the tulip craze reached its peak during a time known a tulipomania.  The bulbs sold for absurdly high prices and the flowers became a form of currency.  People invested their fortunes in the bloom and lost them when the bubble burst.  But, even then, tulips continued to be popular and they are one of Holland's most recognizable symbols.  Over the years, they have brought tourists and commerce to the country and even kept its citizens alive in hard times when they had nothing else to eat.  And people still flock to Keukenhof in the Netherlands, home to the largest collection of tulip in the word, and other colder areas like Ottowa, Canada, Holland, Michigan, and even parts of Australia for tulip festivals.  And for the Northern Hemisphere, April is the best time of the year to view these beauties.  I suppose that's why Tulip Day falls during this month.

If you'd like to see some tulips in person, but live in a warmer climate, you're in luck. Wayne Daniels in Southern California has figured out the trick for growing tulips in a hot climate. For 30 years, he has been growing the flowers in his front yard, much to the delight of his neighbors and others who drive from all over the area to see them. With their encouragement, he continues to add more blooms every year and has gotten up to over three thousand. Even better, Daniels is very generous about the secret of his success - tricking his bulbs into thinking they're in a colder environment. For weeks prior to planting, he stores them in the refrigerator in his garage, making them feel like they're in a northern area. So when he plants them, one by one, magic happens. Tulip lovers in Southern California have made his home a very popular spot, but if you can't make it there to check out the tulips, you can always see if Daniels' tip can work in your own yard next year. Isn't it great that, thanks to him, tulips are even more accessible to people all over the world.

So stop and smell the tulips, or perhaps tiptoe through them, if you're able.  There are over 2,000 varieties of this beautiful bloom and they can be shaded in nearly every color.  I saw the Netherland's tulips for myself when I was younger and even if I don't really remember it, we still have photos of me seated amongst them.  And now, other children are in those same fields, discovering the lovely flowers for themselves.  The tulip craze may be long over, but its popularity will never fade away.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

A Desperate Romantic

Magnet # 240: Dante Gabriel Rossetti's Il Ramoscello

Material: Metal, Paper, Mylar Shell

Purchased By: Mom & Dad

Once again, we're going from one end of the spectrum to the other, this time in the world of art. Today marks the anniversary of Dante Gabriel Rossetti's birth in 1828. Like Dali, he was a talented artist and an intriguing character. And Rossetti would also be strongly associated with a group of artists, although they had little in common with the Surrealists. He was a founding member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, who strove to achieve the simple, romantic aesthetics of artists from times past.

Rossetti was born into a very intelligent and creative family. They even had ties to another poet who refused to conform to society - his uncle had been Lord Byron's physician. His father was an Italian scholar so obsessed with the works of Dante that he named his second-born son after him. He rarely spoke English at their London home, so Rosetti grew up speaking Italian as well as English. His younger sister Christina would go on to become a famous poet and Rosetti himself became both a poet and a painter. He studied briefly at the Antique School of the Royal Academy before leaving to study with an established painter, Ford Maddox Brown. With six other artists, he formed the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, which believed that the artist Raphael had corrupted art with his stiff, classical poses and wanted to follow the style of art that had been prominent before his time. They kept the existence of their group secret and mysteriously signed their paintings with the initials P.R.B. They often modeled for one another and shared models and one of their most important was a young woman named Lizzie Siddal, who became an artist herself. Rossetti came particularly close to her and they were happy for a time, eventually marring. But she was also very frail and, as her health worsened, she slowly became addicted to laudanum, which most likely accounted for her having a stillborn birth. Her condition worsened and she eventually passed away, devastating her husband, who placed all of his poems into her coffin in a particularly romantic gesture. The Rossetti paintings which Lizzie posed for are held to be a more ethereal, idealized view of the pure, chaste wife. Rossetti's second major muse was Fanny Cornforth, a much coarser, even vulgar, woman who worked as both a maidservant and housekeeper and perhaps even a prostitute. The images for which she modeled are much earthier and erotic than those of Siddal's and one is featured on this magnet. But his final muse was said to combine both the qualities of Siddal and Conforth into one figure who embodied both the pure and sensual on Rossetti's canvases. Her name was Jane Morris and she was married to William Morris, another artist who was Rossetti's friend. Because of this, he could not have an open relationship with Burden as he did with his other two muses, but it's believed that the two may have been clandestine lovers and she appeared in many of his paintings. Later in life, Rossetti came to regret his impulsive act of burying all of his poems with his wife and had them dug up under the cover of night. When he published them, they established him as an important poet, but they also offended many with their erotic nature, although this did not stop Rossetti from publishing a second volume of poems. But his health continued to fade and, as his wife had become addicted to laudanum, he became addicted to choral and slowly dwindled away, dying on Easter Sunday. Per his wishes, he was not interred beside Lizzie in London, but laid to rest far away from her in Birchington-On-Sea.

One of the facts about Rossetti which has struck me the most is that, although he rarely exhibited his work for the public, he was still a majorly influential artist in his time. Because of negative reviews he received from critics early in his career, he simply refused to show his work in galleries or shows almost completely for the rest of his life. This decision might have doomed many an artist, but not Rossetti. Thanks to his friendship with other artists, he was able to show his work to a select group of followers and still gain patrons and influence younger painters. Not many artists can ignore the general public and art community and still dominate an entire art movement, but Rossetti managed to influence artists such as William Morris, Edward Burne-Jones, Simeon Solomon, and Frederick Sandys. Although, like most painters of his time, his work fell out of favor for some time, they are now experiencing a renewed interest and many of his admirers now visit his grave, adorning it with flowers. In his own way, Rossetti has managed to capture the attention of art lovers both in his day and many generations after.