My 10-month-old son and I recently went on a three-week road trip down Route 66, from Chicago to Santa Monica. We stayed in an array of accommodations, from boutique hotels to roadside motels, from Wigwams to Wagon Wheel cabins. One of our favorite nights was spent at the Pasfield House Inn in Springfield, Illinois. As a history buff I was pretty excited to visit Springfield, former home of Lincoln (easily in my top 5 of U.S. Presidents) and a slew of iconic Route 66 spots like the Cozy Dog Drive-In (home of the world's best corn dogs). Oh, and the chilli. Mustn't forget the chilli. Springfield actually passed a resolution in the early '90s declaring itself the "Chilli Capital of the Civilized World."
When we arrived it was very late, but the owner of the Pasfield House, local historian Tony Leone, didn't just leave a light on to make us feel welcome, he personally greeted us with that famous Prairie State hospitality. We felt immediately at home. Then we walked into the Georgian inn, a Springfield Landmark, and were blown away by its well-appointed antebellum style. The home was built in 1896, by the grandson of one of Springfield's most wealthiest citizens, and it's been lovingly preserved, under the care of Mr. Leone since he purchased it in 1996. The massive renovation undertaking was finally completed in 2002. It's now a 6-suite bed and breakfast that just oozes charm.
From the granite-top kitchenettes to the the relaxing jacuzzie baths, every detail has been meticulously thought-out and well-considered by Mr. Leone. I could have easily spent an entire week there, and I was informed that in fact the inn sees quite a lot of visitors, especially repeat guests, who visit while on a Lincoln-inspired pilgrimage. You see, there's a veritable "cult of Lincoln" comprised of history buffs who follow in the footsteps of the sixteenth President and learn as much about his life as possible.
The connection between the Pasfield House and Lincoln is interesting. George Pasfield was a banker who met Lincoln when they both lived in Springfield. They bonded over their experiences aboard a New Orleans flatboat. Pasfield and Lincoln were both involved in establishing the state capital in Springfield and Pafield became the patriarch of one of the wealthiest families in Springfield. Owning acres upon acres of land around the State Capitol.
Talk about location! The inn is within walking distance to the Illinois State Capitol and downtown Springfield. It was also close to the Cozy Dog, so we had corn dogs and french fries for breakfast, because when in Rome... Next time, I'm also going to definitely do the Lincoln Ghost Walk Tour, a spirited 90-minute, 10-block tour of Lincoln's life and death.
Leone has been accumulating accolades for this impressive restoration, as it reflects on the grandeur of Springfield's bygone time, helps encourage and inspire others to rehab historic buildings, and serves as a "catalyst for reinvestment in the once declining neighborhood near the State Capitol."
A little about Leone:
Tony is a local fixture in the Springfield community and for many years he participated in state and local politics. He was the Republican Caucus Clerk of the Illinois General Assembly for over 14 years, during which time he was involved in political fundraising and event planning. This certainly served him well once he started making his foray into the hospitality business. The Pasfield House is a popular venue for weddings, themed dinner parties, fundraising galas, cooking classes under the tutelage of gourmet chefs, and other events.
Leone is a charming character who loves Springfield and wants to promote it to the world. His incredible bed and breakfast is, in my opinion, reason enough to get tourists to the town, and once there, they'll be pleasantly surprised at just how great the Illinois town is. It's got a little something for everyone. Lovers of Lincoln, history buffs, Route 66 aficionados, and foodies will all find something to fall in love with.
Speaking of charming, here's Shelby Stouffe, Assistant Manager at the Pasfield House. She's a fabulous local girl, who's a delight to chat with.
From its landscaped gardens to its lush interior design, the Pasfield House Inn is a destination in and of itself. I can't wait to go back.
Recall the famous New Yorker cover “View of the World from 9th Avenue,” by Saul Steinberg. All of America is shown from the vantage point of western Manhattan. In the distance lies the country’s West coast and not much else. New York City, naturally, is dead center.
This is the cartographic delusion that rules the art world. At this year’s Whitney Biennial — a powerful commercial launching pad for young artists, in much the same way “Saturday Night Live” is for comedians — more than 70 of the 100 or so chosen painters, sculptors, videographers and the like worked either in California or New York.
The following artists all hail from a different corner of America. None of them had been exhibited outside of their region before the Crystal Bridges show.
This “Steinbergian view of the country” is anathema to Don Bacigalupi, president of Crystal Bridges, the ambitious museum of American art in tiny Bentonville, Arkansas, founded in 2011 by Walmart heiress Alice Walton. Speaking from his vast, glass-walled place of employment, Bacigalupi discussed the museum’s new counterpoint to the Steinbergian worldview, an exhibit instantly coined “the anti-Whitney Biennial” by the press upon its opening last month. The elevator pitch for State of the Art: one hundred works, no big names and an insane road trip.
In concert, the three elements make the exhibit nothing short of historic. For 10 months, Bacigalupi and curator Chad Alligood crisscrossed the country, dropping into the studios of 960 artists. The studio visit is a mythologized rite of passage — portrayed in movies as the moment an artist’s fortune changes — and most of Bacigalupi’s and Alligood’s hosts had never experienced one. “They didn’t know how to comport themselves,” Bacigalupi told The Huffington Post a few days after the opening of the exhibit. “Many were shocked and curious as to why we’d traveled across the country.”
With good reason. “This is not the way exhibitions of contemporary art are curated,” Alligood admitted, citing “a bit of fear” in the curatorial community and in museum leadership. The risks lie not only in the process (just try explaining a year of slow emails with “We’re not going to be in the office, because we’ll be in Idaho or Omaha,” as Alligood put it), but in shirking the typical approach to museum fundraising, where a star artist or piece is used to entice sponsors. Instead, Alligood said, “I had to say ‘Trust us.’”
Crystal Bridges, designed by the renowned architect Moshe Safdie, differs fundamentally from other museums of its size in that it is privately owned. Funded by Walton, it operates in service of her stated goal to transform a region. And indeed, Bentonville — a city nestled in the Ozarks, an area known primarily for its natural beauty — has changed around the museum. Where once the big attraction was the Walmart Museum, featuring a five-and-dime styled after Sam Walton’s original store, the downtown now brims with pint-size galleries, posh restaurants and an outpost of the boutique art-themed hotel chain 21c. A representative for the city’s chamber of commerce said that hotel and restaurant tax collection has increased by more than 12 percent each year since Crystal Bridges opened its doors.
The tourists aren’t your average art fiends. More than 1 million people have visited Crystal Bridges so far, and according to museum records, a good number of them have been real first-timers — meaning they've never stepped into a museum before in their lives. This statistic informed Bacigalupi’s vision for State of the Art, which he sees as a chance to do justice to contemporary art, a field he believes is unfairly maligned. “If we think about the stereotypes that attend it,” he said, “that it’s difficult to understand, that it’s something a child could do, that it may not have anything to say to us as a society — we wanted to counter all of those notions.”
He also expanded an idea he’d floated to Alice Walton while interviewing for his current post. At the time, Bacigalupi was director of the Toledo Museum in Ohio, the epicenter of “a very lively and very deeply rooted art scene,” he said. “I thought with this new museum, there might be an opportunity to focus the lens around practice happening in all parts of the country.”
Walton is seen as something of a hawk in the art world — keen-eyed and dangerous, with a tendency to buy from insolvent institutions with beloved collections. She’s a natural disruptor, according to Alligood. Where some founders might have bristled at a long road trip toward a dream, Walton welcomed the plan. Omnipotence helps. “At other institutions, you have to convince a lot more people to make the gears turn,” Alligood noted.
From the start, the exhibit demanded a new process. Bacigalupi and Alligood canvassed hundreds of art professionals embedded in local scenes for names. From a total of 10,000 promising artists they chiseled a short list of 1,000. These they partitioned into four regions: Northeast, Northwest, South and West. Every week for nearly a year, the two men flew to a hub in one of these regions, rented a car and got going. Often, they visited a dozen or more studios in a day, capturing video and audio footage of the artist at each stop. They drove into dodgy city neighborhoods and one-road towns where the GPS didn’t work. No two studio spaces were alike, from front porches to basements to an overgrown bay in an abandoned Coca-Cola factory. The oldest artist they visited was in her eighties, the youngest a 10-year-old boy whose mother was on the list. (When he heard who was coming, he left his work out where the men couldn’t miss it, before leaving for school.) Another artist died a few weeks after the visit.
After each stop, the men composed a code they could later use to remember the work they saw, a process Bacigalupi likens in the exhibit catalogue to writing a haiku. The phrases, each three words long, describe the essentials of an artist’s work. (The catalogue lists some tantalizing ones — for example, “psychotropic video travelogues.”) The duo also scored the artists, Olympics-style, on a 10-point scale measuring qualities chosen with the audience in mind: virtuosity, engagement and appeal.
Bacigalupi considers this travelogue as vital as the exhibit, calling it “a database for the future about research at this moment in American practice.”
HuffPost’s look into State of the Art interweaves some of this data with our own profiles of four artists, none of whose work had been shown outside their geographical region before Crystal Bridges swooped in. Justin Favela, a Las Vegas artist, mines his Chicano heritage, as well as the high-low culture of Sin City, to produce outsized piñatas that wouldn’t look out of place in a photo shoot by David LaChapelle. In Florida, Hiromi Moneyhun uses only an X-Acto knife and memories of the paper-cut illustrations she loved as a girl in Japan to turn out large, mind-bendingly intricate structures. Twin Cities artist Andy DuCett turns the old trope of “Minnesota nice” into performance art, with a cast of actual moms. And Vanessa L. German makes "power figures" from trash for the children in the depressed Homewood neighborhood of Pittsburgh, where she lives.
The concerns of these artists are at once regional and global. Together, they form what Bacigalupi calls “a truer image of the country.” Even Saul Steinberg might agree: It’s a fine view.
"UKIYO Floating World," paper. Courtesy of the artist.
Regular paper. At first it was a hobby, and I just used whatever was lying around the house. I had an X-Acto knife already, so I used that and I’m still using it today. My supplies haven’t really changed. But as time passed, my figures became more intricate. At the very beginning, it was simple, only outlines. Now, it’s a lot of line patterns. My figurative images are all of my daughter. She’s 10 now, but I use images of her when she was a baby.
I feel other people take me seriously for my art, so that’s changing, but as for myself, I feel no change. I just want to keep on making progress.
"White Naptha Soap or, Contemporary Lessons in Shapeshifting," 2013; mixed media assemblage.
Courtesy of Pavel Zoubok Gallery, New York
I live in the 'hood. People do renovations and literally dump everything in the alleyway, so I can find great materials off the street. People are always dropping things off at my front porch. Somebody’s grandma died and she collected those travel spoons, and they gave me her collection. Somebody else, his partner was a drag queen and she left all her drag shoes. Huge, beautiful, glittery, stacked drag queen shoes.
It was something I’d never heard of before, Crystal Bridges. I honestly thought it sounded like the name of a country music singer.”
I talked to them about all the parts of the process, about how I pick objects that look like artifacts, like precious objects from 100 years ago. I think because I work in a basement and I go down to work, I have this idea that it’s like my secret world. There’s something about having someone there, something really affirming about it to me. You can imagine, getting visited and then getting an email that says, “We’d like you to be in this exhibition,” with a link to a New York Times article.
DuCett with the moms of "Mom Booth," 2013/2014, interactive installation. Photo by Marc Henning.
“I did mom training when I was down in Arkansas. They had earnest questions. I really appreciated it, but I told them... I can’t tell you how to be a mom.”
I did mom training when I was down in Arkansas. They had earnest questions. I really appreciated it, but I told them [...] ‘I can’t tell you how to be a mom.’ It was more like set design, where I provided a place for them to perform. I heard that one of them brought in her clean laundry that needed to be folded. And visitors would be walking around, and she’d be like, ‘I’m really busy. Could you help me?’ Or one would throw Legos on the ground, and when someone would walk by, she’d wag her fingers and say, ‘Why did you drop those?’ Some would sit and knit, just stare ahead, smile over their glasses. Maybe that look was more than saying things.
"Lowrider Piñata," 2014. Paper, cardboard, and glue. Photo by Steve Marcus
“When I found out I’m the only person from the whole state that made it into the show, it was just overwhelming. I almost threw up.”
This has given me the confidence to say, “Yes, I’m an artist.” Yes, I want to be an artist, and I want to do whatever it takes to be an artist.