All / Originally Posted on Skirt

The Ringling Museum

My Mom and I took a trip to Naples, Florida over the weekend for three purposes: first, to attend an alumni event hosted by Sarah Lawrence, second, to visit her aunt and uncle (my great-aunt and great-uncle), and third, to stop at the Ringling Museum in Sarasota on the way home to see their traveling exhibit of kimonos.

Sarah Lawrence provides faculty members with small grants to travel around the country and give talks to alumni on whatever research they’re doing at the time.  This talk was by Judith Rodenbeck on “The Participatory in Contemporary Art.”  I deeply enjoyed her talk but what I enjoyed even more was seeing where all these graduates of my college had ended up.  I spoke for a while to a woman from the class of ‘42 or ‘47 who told me she’d recently gotten back into writing after basically abandoning it since she graduated from SLC.  Among other things, she produced a memoir about seeing President Roosevelt’s inauguration.  She spoke about how similar the time in which he was elected was to now: the sense of chaos and despair, the economic low and the global instability.  Also, the sense of renewed hope when Roosevelt was elected and the anticipation of change for the better when he came into office.  What an amazing perspective she has on the current state of affairs.  I didn’t get a chance to speak in-depth with any of the other women, but from their graduating classes we surmised that the were all at least in their late 70s or early 80s.  With that in mind they were all amazingly robust.  I hope I have that much energy, stamina and engagement with the world when I am such a longtime graduate.

Our second stop was to see my mother’s family.  They live in an amazing assisted-living facility near where we attended the talk.  It’s kind of like a giant country club.  The food is really good (we stayed overnight and had dinner in the dining room), they have amazing activity rooms including one with a miniature train (this always makes my day) and we got to stay in our very own little guest suite while we were there.  My great-uncle is unfortunately suffering from Alzheimer’s, which is a great drain on the energy and resources of my great-aunt.  The best I can say is that he is still in good spirits, and his favorite thing to do when he gets confused is to start dancing, either alone or with a partner.  While it’s hard to witness the inevitable decline of someone with so mcuh vivacity, it is a comfort to know that they are both surrounded by a caring community. 

We took a small detour out to Siesta Key on the way home, staying overnight in a great little motel.  It was over the bridge from the beach but a lot cheaper and certainly just as nice as the options we’d considered on the other side – in the morning we drove over and walked around and didn’t feel we’d missed anything by staying a few blocks away!  Then we proceeded to the Ringling Museum.

The museum has changed a lot since I first saw it a few years ago, and it is definitely worth a trip if you are ever in the area.  There are now four seperate buildings to see: the art collection of John and Mabel Ringling, the giant and gorgeous house in which they used to live (they used it  as Miss Havisham’s house in that modern adaptation of Great Expectations with Gwyneth Paltrow in it), the Circus Museum (yes, it’s those Ringlings) and a brand-new education center. 

We were just going to the art museum (free entry to the art museum Mondays!), which in addition to the Kimonos we’d come to see has one of my favorite paintings in the world: the Blue Madonna.­

There are also two very interesting and different depictions of the story of Perseus and Andromeda.  The museum generally favors classical art, particularly Medieval religious art with a slight (though thoroughly gruesome) focus on martyr images.  Perseus and Andromeda are obviously not the latter, though they are indeed very classical.  I won’t summarize the whole tale here, so in very, very brief: Andromeda was tied to a rock (nevermind why) and about to be eaten by a sea monster.  Perseus was flying overhead (cue superman theme) and saw her in distress.  He happened to have on him the head of Medusa the gorgon, whom he had fortunately just killed, so he turned the monster to stone by showing it the head.  Yay!

Back to the Ringling Museum.  They have at least two paintings of this scene.  The first is a very small image painted on a curved piece of glass (it looks like Andromeda is in a bowl, basically.)  This image was very small, maybe five or six inches across in total.  Andromeda was the focus of the scene; if Perseus is there at all he’s hidden in a corner.  The sea monster is a tiny, delicate gold dragon.  This depiction, so small and gilded, is like a small and secret fear, the kind of thing you wouldn’t want to admit but you can’t quite let go. 

The second painting is large, a few feet across and maybe four or five feet tall.  The dragon looks more like a giant, scaly bulldog in this one (seriously, it has jowls.)  Perseus is also very much more in evidence, sweeping out of the sky sword drawn on a gallant steed.  Every time I look at it, the Mighty Mouse tune plays in my head: HEERE I COME TO SAVE THE DAAAY!!  The other image is much more subtle.  This one looks more like a cartoon to me – not because of the technique; it’s a technically brilliant painting, but the bold clarities of Right vs. Wrong and Hero vs. Damsel in Distress in this image are all drawn with much bolder lines.  It always amazes me how differently people can imagine and depict the same story. 

I’m currently sitting outside a cafe and it is slowly growing dark.  The time has come to point my shoes homeward. 

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