After so many hours spent in Arlington National Cemetery, we decided to treat ourselves to a restaurant meal. Mr Pict and I had fond memories of eating in a Southern food restaurant in Alexandria, called Southside 851, so we headed there. When we ate there in 2002, it was the first time I had had fried green tomatoes and I absolutely loved them. We, therefore, ordered those as a shared starter. They were just as delicious as I remembered them. The other courses we ate were flavoursome and good quality but far too greasy for our palates. Still, the calories had been well-earned and our full bellies set us up for an evening exploring some of the monuments and memorials of Washington DC at night.
We started at the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial because I remembered being impressed by how it looked at night and because my kids had never visited it at any time of day at all. I have to confess, however, that I was disappointed this time. The lighting appeared weaker than I recalled, with some of the statues so poorly lit that they were almost obscured by the darkness, and definitely much less dramatic. Between the dim lighting and the hordes of school groups clambering all over everything, my kids were distinctly unimpressed by what is actually a very striking memorial full of historical references and symbolism. What was most aggravating, however, was that none of the water features were in action. These obviously have aesthetic and sensory appeal but they also symbolise various aspects of FDR’s presidency so there absence undermined the impact of the whole memorial. I actually felt annoyed that this was my kids’ first introduction to this memorial.
A statue that was definitely as striking by night as it was by day was the memorial to Martin Luther King Jr. This was my first time viewing it in the dark and the lighting was just spot on. It’s an incredible melding of portraiture, symbolism, and messaging, and really very moving.
Our group split up after that with Mr Pict taking some of the boys to the Lincoln Memorial (our 13 year old’s favourite) while I took our youngest son and the grandparents back to the car. Once we were all back together again, we decided to visit one last memorial. It has been over a quarter of a century since I last visited the Iwo Jima Marine Memorial and I had never seen it at night so I thought this was a good opportunity to show it to the kids, given they are familiar with the iconic photograph from which it takes its inspiration. I think it is a memorial that really needs to be seen by daylight as too much of the detail is lost when it is not as well lit.
This has been a horrible winter. It has not actually snowed much but instead we have had to contend with various pestilences and too many rainy, miserable weekends. While I do enjoy hibernating a bit over winter, cabin fever definitely set in. I desperately needed some fresh air and exploration for the sake of my mental wellbeing. This past weekend, therefore, we took advantage of a dry day to go and visit the Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton, New Jersey. We had previously attempted a visit there but it was Labour Day weekend and all of the tickets for the day were gone by the time we arrived. This time we prebooked to be assured of entry, though in reality it was pretty quiet.
The Grounds for Sculpture is essentially an outdoor exhibition space for sculptures by a variety of artists. The museum was founded by artist Seward Johnson. I must confess that his was not a name I knew but it turned out I did know some of his sculptures. The one most people can probably recall to their mind’s eye is ‘Double Check’ which depicts a seated businessman looking through his briefcase. It was captured in an iconic photo of 9/11 as, covered in dust and debris, it looked no different from the real people making their way through the streets after the towers collapsed. A replica of that statue greeted us as we entered the Visitor Center.
The Visitor Center showcased some of Johnson’s other works too, such as his Marilyn Monroe based on the famous photo of her from ‘The Seven Year Itch’, a group of musicians, and a styrofoam sculpture of a reclining girl that was painted to look like it was made from marble and chrome. What was a big hit with the boys, however, was a room made to look like Van Gogh’s painting of his ‘Bedroom in Arles’. We all enjoyed the feeling of having stepped inside the painting and be seeing such a famous work from a different perspective.
The vast outdoor space contained hundreds of sculptures. Every pathway brought us to a different art work and we enjoyed the almost “treasure hunt” aspect of finding some of the statues that were partially concealed behind bushes or were only accessible by following a small path. Some statues made the kids chortle, including one of a man urinating into bushes and a very phallic obelisk. I enjoyed the variety of art works on display, from the abstract to the kitsch, from the ones hewn from natural materials to the brightly coloured ones crafted from manmade materials. We all enjoyed the oversized, three dimensional versions of famous Impressionist paintings because of that feeling of being able to magically step inside a painting. We also enjoyed the celebration of kitsch and the fact that many of the statues could be touched and interacted with as adjacent signs specified that they could be respectfully touched or even climbed on. I believe one of the mission statements of the Grounds for Sculpture is to engage more people in public art so it was great to be able to let the kids feel the texture of a bronze sculpture or hang out with Renoir’s party-goers.
The grounds themselves were lovely, very peaceful, filled with trees and plants, and peacocks. There were also some nice buildings dotted around and bodies of water and arching bridges. I can imagine that the whole place looks even more appealing in other seasons when there is more colour and leaves on the trees. Since the Grounds are spread over 42 acres, we had lots of opportunity to wander and run around and explore. However, even though we were there for a few hours, we did not manage to see everything. We will absolutely have to go back some time.