Stone Sculptures

These wonderful sculptures were part of the collection at the now defunct Chinqua Penn Plantation near Reidsville, North Carolina.  Built in the 1920s by tobacco magnate Thomas Jefferson Penn and his wife Betsy, it was once one of the best preserved early twentieth homes in North Carolina.  Eventually, the financial failures of the last owner led to the foreclosure of the property and the sale, at auction, to all of the wonderful art that had been collected by the Penns.

We were able to visit the home a few years before it was sold, while it was still a tourist attraction.  The Penns had collected many works of art from around the world.  These  particular sculptures were outside the gift shop and winery.  I love the expressions on the faces.

Asheville Urban Trail

The Asheville Urban Trail is a 1.7 mile self-guided walking tour that celebrates the art, architecture and history of Asheville.  There are 30 stops on the tour that loops through the historic downtown area.  The entire tour takes about two hours, and there’s a lot more to see along the tour besides the designated stops.

There are five sections of the tour, each marked with its own unique symbol carved into pink granite and embedded in the side walks.  This is the beautiful angel symbol that marks the Thomas Wolfe section.

Asheville Sidewalk Angel

The first section of the tour celebrates the city’s pre-depression boom.  A few of the highlights are the Grove Arcade, the Basilica of Saint Lawrence and the huge Flat Iron sculpture.

Another section of the trail celebrates Asheville’s most famous son, Thomas Wolfe.  Among the stops in this section are the “Dixieland,” a bronze replica of Wolfe’s size thirteen shoes, a wonderful abstract sculpture on the side of the Asheville Community Theater, and a beautiful art deco sculpture honoring the history of transportation.  The central wheel on this sculpture can be rotated.

There are also many places and items of interest that are not official stops on the trail.  The Buncombe County Courthouse is a beautiful art deco structure and you’ll pass The Old Kentucky Home, Thomas Wolfe’s mother’s boarding house where the author spent much of his youth.  Also, keep your eyes out for the street art, which is everywhere in the city.

Asheville is a wonderful little city.  The art and architecture are just one aspect of the city.  The food scene is remarkable for a relatively small town.  It’s one of our favorite places and I’m looking forward to our next visit.

 

Painter Essentials 6, by Corel

I recently upgraded from Paint Shop Pro X9 Ultimate to the new Paint Shop Pro 2019 Ultimate.  The Ultimate version of the software comes with a “bonus collection” of software applications that work hand in hand with PSP.  One of them is Painter Essentials 6, a hobbyist, or “lite’ version of the professional design software Painter X.

Painter Essentials 6 allows you to take a create painting-like images.  It’s designed to be used by users with a drawing tablet.  Since I’m using a traditional laptop with a touchpad and keyboard, I’m a bit limited, but it still allowed me to use templates to convert a couple of my photos into “paintings.”

The software allows you to load an image, select templates such as “Impressionist,” “Oil,” “Modern,” “Pastel” and several others.  Once you select your template, you click “Start” and sit back as the software creates your painting.  It’s pretty interesting to watch.  Here’s a before and after view of a photo I converted to an “impressionist” painting.

Of course, you can do a lot more than just let the software create the image for you.  You can use a tablet and stylus to paint your own images.  Painter Essentials 6 allows you to simulate various “surfaces” such as canvas, woodcut, and rough paper.  It also allows you to control the brush strokes.  It will be fun to play with, and I can see the possibility of saving so-so photographs by turning them into virtual paintings.

It’s an interesting tool.  I look forward to learning to use it.

Dukes of Braganza Palace, Guimaraes

The Palace of the Dukes of Braganza has seen a lot throughout its history.  Originally built in the 15th century as the residence of Afonso, the first Duke of Braganza, it remained in the family until the end of the century, when it was closed.

Several years later the palace was passed to the House of Aziz, when it was given as dowry to Isabel of Braganza when she wed the Infante Edward, the sixth son of King Manuel I.  For many years it remained unused.

Over the next few centuries, the abandoned palace fell into ruins, as stone from the structure was taken to build or repair roads and structures in the area.  By the beginning of the twentieth century, the palace was deemed beyond repair.

During the 1930s, plans were created for the restoration of the palace.  The reconstructed palace was based on an analysis of various medieval palaces across Europe.  The restoration was completed and the Palace of the Dukes of the Braganzas was opened to the public in 1959.

The restored palace was probably much more ornate than the original structure.  The palace served for many years as the Presidential Palace during Antonio Salazar’s Estado Novo regime.

The palace is a beautiful place and well worth a tour.  We spend a couple hours exploring the building and its many beautiful possessions.  In addition to the historical rooms and belongings, there are a couple really nice modern art displays, including a Paolo Neves sculpture and an exhibit of art by local artist José de Guimarães.

Here are a few of the photos from our tour.

River Arts District, Asheville, NC

One of my favorite aspects of the River Arts District is the outdoor art.  Whether you call it graffiti, murals, or street art, just walking through the warehouses of the River Arts District is fun.  Here are a few of my favorites.

This wall on the back side of Summit Coffee has been turned into a beautiful work of art.

RAD Wall Portrait

This work by Asheville artist Dustin Spagnola has a different kind of beauty.  Spagnola has works of art displayed around the world, including in NYC, Japan and Nepal.

Dustin Spagnola Mural

This portrait of the late singer Charles Bradley is another of my favorites.

Charles Bradley

Even storage sheds have been turned into works of art.

RAD Art Shed

Asheville’s River Arts District is a treasure trove for art lovers.  It’s not just the building exteriors.  Over 200 local artists have studio space in the warehouses and buildings of the River Arts District.  It’s a great place to wander through the studios and, if you’re so inclined, to take home a work of art.

Photography and the Art of Seeing

One of my favorite photography books is Photography and the Art of Seeing, by Freeman Patterson.  Patterson presents simple exercises designed to develop a sense of awareness by photographing familiar things and by thinking outside the box.  The book teaches the photographer to observe our surroundings.

On one of my recent morning walks with the dog, I carried my camera and slowed down our walk while trying to be aware of what I had passed countless times over the years.  These are the best of the photographs I returned with.

We live on a couple acres with a really nice section of woods, but Freeman’s point is you can find interesting and beautiful things anywhere.  The exercise of carry my camera and photographing familiar objects is one I like to do from time to time.  It helps keep me observant of everyday things.

On a side note, we’ve been dealing with Hurricane Florence today.  We were located on the northern edge of the storm, so the worst seems to have passed us by.  We’ve had a lot of rain and wind, with a lot of yard debris from the woods, but no damage and no danger to us.  We’ve been lucky.  There are a lot of people that are seeing much worse, so please keep them in your thoughts over the next few days.  Here’s a screenshot of the storm, with our location marked on the map.

Hurricane Screen Shot

Jackson Building, Asheville, NC

When I was young, I wanted to be an architect.  Now, half a century later, I’m still fascinated by great architecture.

Built by developer Lynwood B. Jackson and architect Ronald Greene, the Neo-Gothic Jackson Building is a fascinating structure.  Jackson had purchased a small 27-by-60 foot lot on Pack Square previously owned Tobias Wolfe, father of Asheville’s favorite son, author Thomas Wolfe.  The lot was considered too small for a skyscraper, but Jackson didn’t let that stop him.  He instructed architect Greene to build the tallest building possible and to “go nuts at the top.”  Greene succeeded on both points.

The thirteen story structure holds the record as the world’s tallest building on the smallest lot.  What initially attracted me to the building was its ornate top.  The tower at the top, with its spires, seems more suited to a cathedral than a skyscraper, but it works.  Then there are the four grotesques that jut out from the buildings top corners.  It’s a fascinating building.

Interestingly, the eight-story building next to the Jackson Building, also built by Lynwood Jackson,  was too small for an elevator.  Because of this, the Westall Building shares an elevator with its taller neighbor.

There are so many interesting aspects to the little city of Asheville that it keeps me coming back.  It’s one of my favorite places to visit.

Jackson Building

 

Dollhouses, Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum

The Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum, in Williamsburg, Virginia, is the world’s oldest continually-operated museum for the exhibition of American folk art.   The museum has been collecting and exhibiting folk art since it opened in 1957 and now holds over 7,000 pieces of folk art.

On our last visit to Williamsburg, we were lucky to be able to view their dollhouse collection.  The dollhouses ranged from a dollhouse constructed from a wooden crate and filled with handmade furniture to an elaborate, and huge, dollhouse White House.  The dollhouses were made to be played with.  There’s a little farm, complete with animals and fences, and a wonderful cardboard castle.

While the White House was quite impressive, I was much more taken with the more “play friendly” pieces.  They were designed to be played with, not as a display piece.  If I were a child, I’d want something I could actually touch rather than just look at.

The museum is full of wonderful works of art.  We’ve been there several times and there’s always things we haven’t seen before.  If you visit Williamsburg, I highly recommend a visit to the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum.  You won’t regret it.

Café Guarany, Porto Portugal

My wife and I could be called foodies.  We enjoy a good meal and love to visit highly rated restaurants and eateries of all kinds.  We made a point, during our Portugal trip, to explore the many great foods and restaurants available.  Café Guarany was one of our stops.

Guarany Exterior

Located on Avenida dos Aliados, in the heart of Porto, Café Guarany has been a popular gathering place for Portuenses since 1933.  It’s a beautiful restaurant.Named for a Brazilian indigenous people,   Renovated in 2003, the interior’s centerpiece are two paintings, “The Lords of Amazonia” by University of Porto alum Graça Morais.

Cafe Guarany

We had a wonderful breakfast at Guarany.  Ann Marie had the ubiquitous tosta mista, which is basically a grilled ham and cheese sandwich.  The tosta mista is very tasty and we had several of these during our Portugal trip.  We had a version of it in Coimbra with grilled chicken which was very good as well.

I ordered a crepe Alaska.  I completely missed that it had a scoop of ice cream on top.  Ice cream for breakfast?  Yep, and it worked.  The crepe was great, pineapple, berries, whipped cream and an orange slice, and a scoop of tangerine ice cream to top it off.  It was really good and the tangerine ice cream was a nice touch.

Tosta Mista and Ice Cream

Later we decided to stop in again for dessert, port and coffee. On the way there, the bus stopped and the driver said that something was happening ahead and that we would all have to to exit the bus and walk to another stop.  We were just a short walk from the restaurant so we set out on foot.

We were at the restaurant before the dinner crowd so we had a nice leisurely dessert, accompanied by a glass of port and a coffee.  While we were enjoying our meal, we noticed a policeman just outside the door, putting a police border across the road.  Soon, a crowd began to gather and a news crew showed up.  We watched with interest as we ate.  I took this photo once we were done and had left Guarany.  It was taken no more than 20 feet from the front door of the restaurant.

Bomb Scare

We made our way back to our hotel and followed the drama on the local television news.  I’ve been learning the Portuguese language for a few months and we were able to understand that an unidentified black automobile was found abandoned on Avenida dos Aliados.  Fearing that there could be a bomb in the vehicle, the police had cordoned the area off and had brought in the bomb squad.  The news showed, in an endless loop, two policemen releasing a bomb sniffing dog to investigate the car as they watched, crouching behind the monument to Dom Pedro IV for protection against the potential blast.

About three hours later, the drama came to an end.  Someone had finally thought to run the tags and contact the car’s owner.  Apparently the car had stopped running and the owner simply left it there and took the bus home.  The car was towed and the story was over.  The event added an interesting and unique memory of our trip to Portugal.

 

Great Hall of Acts, Coimbra University

The Great Hall of Acts is arguably the most important space at the University of Coimbra.  Once the Throne Room when the University was the Royal Palace, this room was where all the Portuguese kings of the First Dynasty lived and was where John I was proclaimed King of Portugal in 1385.

Today, the room is where Doctoral candidates face their PhD. thesis defense, a formal oral examination required to obtain the degree of Doctor.  Other ceremonies taking place in the Great Hall of Acts are the Official Opening of the School Year, the Investiture of the Rector, and the awarding of honorary degrees.

The large paintings hung around the room are portraits of the kings of Portugal, beginning with Dom Afonso Henriques, the first king of Portugal.  Interestingly, there’s a 60 year gap in the chronology.  The kings who ruled during the Iberian Union, Philip II, Philip III and Philip IV, are not included in the room.  During this period, Portugal was under Spanish control and, 400 years later, this is still a sore spot with the Portuguese people.  Hence, the omission of the three kings.

There are many beautiful spaces in the old University.  A tour of Coimbra University is a required stop on any visit to Coimbra.  It’s well worth the time.Great Hall