Museums/Galleries: the artist behind the artwork

How often do you go to a museum to marvel at the works of art showcased and wonder about the artist behind the art work? As I travel the world, I find it revealing to check out the museum listings. It gives me a sense to the cultural awareness and interest of a place. The museum may or may not reveal the actual culture of a given area, but more that the city has a healthy curiosity to the multiple ways people look at life in the world around them.

A museum is defined as a place where important things are preserved. This place may be created for the specific display to share with the public like The Metropolitan Museum of Art or The Louvre. Or it might be a gallery in a private home. The medium can be anything from painting to sculpture to photos to artifacts. These pieces are the brainchild of an individual and their desire to create a tangible form of passion.

Passion is the catalyst of every artist I have had the pleasure of meeting, and others I have read about. Very seldom does an artist set out to create with the sole purpose to make money. Hence the starving artist mantra we so often hear. Even those who set out to make money from their artwork, create from a passion or deep interest in a process. An artist is born with an innate desire to craft something that speaks to them. It often isn’t until a friend or colleague see’s a piece of artwork, is wowed and convinces the artist they need to share their work with others.

Artists are often a school teacher or doctor by day and an artist by night. Or it’s their weekend anecdote to their hectic weekday life. Of course there are those artists who set out to be artists very young in life and are able to achieve a level of success early enough they can rely on the income from their artwork to live comfortably.

I believe there is an artist in all of us, and that is a major reason I am so drawn to museums or seeing artists in the throes of their passion. It is inspiring to see such commitment and desire and release of emotions into an object. And no piece of artwork has the same reaction to every person. I love watching people sit and ogle over a piece of artwork. If you ask them what they see it is often something that had not dawned on you as you looked at the same piece.

Evolution seems to be a constant for artists. One element of design leads to trying something new. Creating a new texture or color or light. Or even creating new tools to achieve a certain look or quality. I love looking at artists work tables to see everyday utensils turned into tools of the trade. Or going as far as designing and building equipment to allow the artist to take their craft to another level. I think it is all these elements why true artists are artists for life. It is generally not a passing fancy, even if you just “…dabble in it…” you usually dabble throughout your whole life.

Following are some artists I have had the pleasure of meeting and watch them create:

Seguin Poirier: born 1949; learned metal enamel artistry at age 17; designed the world’s largest kiln to bake his enamel on copper pieces. With exhibits in Rockfellar Center, NYC to collections at The Bank of Montreal, Montreal and a Royal Palace, Saudi Arabia, Monsieur Poirier has earned an international mark with his work.

Seguin Poirier working on an original for our group

Seguin Poirier working on an original with ideas he got from the audience.


Seguin Poirier enamel original made especially for our group with our input

The Seguin Poirier finished enamel original from above.

Specially designed kiln, created by Seguin Poirier to fire oversized pieces. Only kiln like it in the world.

Kiln designed by Seguin Poirier so that he could expand his work to large format pieces.

Randy Strong: started off in photography, having worked with the likes of Ansel Adams, Strong moved on to glass blowing in the 1970’s where he has worked with Dale Chihuly. His work has been on display in The Corning Museum, in New York City and The Louvre, Paris. Strong still creates, designs and teaches this waning form of artwork.

Randy Strong, world renowned glass blower, San Francisco

Randy Strong, world-renowned glass blower, San Francisco

Some of Randy Strong's masterpieces for sale at the demonstration.

Some of Randy Strong’s masterpieces including his famous flower where different colored petals are interchangeable.

Vicki O’Connornew to the world of public art display, O’Connor has been a passionate artist her whole life. But it was a bout with the often debilitating disease, Valley Fever, that Vicki gave a focus to her love of creating art on a level that finds her showcasing and selling her art with 500 other artisans (booth D-11) November 14th-16th at the Fountain Festival of Arts and Crafts (, Fountain Hills, AZ. Her works have found their way into public locations, Starbucks, Fountain Hills, and private homes.

See more of Vicki’s growing gallery of artwork:

Budding new artist Vicki O'Connor may not have exhibits and collections all over the world - yet, but her passion for the art creates is no less passionate than those have achieved widespread acclaim.

Budding new artist Vicki O’Connor may not have exhibits and collections all over the world – yet, but her passion for the art creates is no less passionate than those who  have achieved widespread acclaim.

The key to Vicki's works of art are her one-liner or one word messages. She says what we all think, or what we should all think more about.

The key to Vicki’s colorful works of art are her one-liner or one word messages. She says what we all think, or what we should all think more about.

Following are the listing of museums I have visited and artists I have learned about because of these visits:

The Metropolitan Museum of Art: New York City; classic architecture; one of the expansive and diversified exhibits in the world; historical to modern. Check out the Cloisters in Harlem.

The Guggenheim Museum: New York City; modern architecture; exhibits displayed from the ceiling and/or along walls of this multi-tiered spiral walkway overlooking an open center; modern and contemporary art.

The Frick Museum: New York City; Frick residence turned into a museum; Renaissance to the late 19th century artwork.

The Neue Galerie: New York City; once a Vanderbilt residence; now a museum to early 20th century German and Austrian art and design.

Museum of Modern Art: New York City; modern architecture; the name says it all – generally showcases some the most thought proving exhibits in the city.

American Museum of Natural History: New York City; classic architecture; natural exhibits and scientific collections; great place to take the kids.

New Museum: New York City; modern architecture; new work by living artists; five plus floors of open floor plan that encircles the freight size lime green and mirrored elevator.

The Morgan Library and Museum: New York City; classic architecture and once private library of Pierpont Morgan, father to J. P. Morgan, Jr.; collection of rare printed manuscripts and works of art, Egyptian to Renaissance to Chinese art and artifacts.

Whitney Museum of American Art: New York City; modern architecture; 20th and 21st century American art – many living artists. Whitney is presently closed while they prepare to move into a new building in 2015.

Brooklyn Museum: Brooklyn, NYC; classic architecture; diverse collection and exhibits ranging from ancient Egypt to cutting edge modern.

Walker Art Center: Minneapolis; modern architecture; modern concept art pushing for creative expression of art, some with audience participation. Check out the outdoor Sculpture Garden.

Minneapolis Institute of Arts: Minneapolis; classic and modern architecture; one of the finest wide-ranging art collections in the country – from Matisse to Monet, from Africa to Asia, 40,000 year old artifacts to world-renowned pieces.

SmithsonianWashington D.C.; classic and modern architecture; inclusive of 19 museum and galleries – what doesn’t it include? Obviously a great place to take kids – of all ages.

Montreal Museum of Fine ArtsMontreal; classic and modern architecture; diverse forms of art from antiquity to today.

The Louvre: Paris; classic with a small touch of modern architecture; one of the world’s most renowned museums because of it’s history and collection of Masterpieces such as: the Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo and King Louis XIV.

Musee de l’Orangerie: Paris; classic architecture with simple oval interior galleries. Claude Monet designed this museum to showcase the huge panels of his Water Lilies collection.

Belvedere Museum: Vienna; classic architecture for this one-time palace that is a piece of artwork in itself; Austrian art dating from Middle Ages to present day, most notably Gustav Klimt.

Some of my favorite artists are: Claude Monet, Gustav Klimt, Edouard Manet, Vincent Van Gogh, Renoir, Dale Chihuly. I’ve always been drawn to the traditional painter whether from the Renaissance era or Impressionist era, but I am learning to appreciate some of the modern forms of art that really make you think and imagine. So turn off the TV and head to your local art museum or gallery and expand your horizons! And take time to get into the passionate mind of the artist!

Napa redux!

It had been 27 years since my husband and I had visited the Napa Valley when we took a trip there last fall. I assumed that it would be several more years before we made a return trip. But that Napa wine experience got under our skin, and when my husband learned he had a conference to attend in San Francisco that pull for a return trip to Napa was too strong to resist. It certainly isn’t that we have become learned wine connoisseurs. But we have become fans of the area, especially the upper Napa Valley – from the southern town of Yountville to Calistoga in the north and all points in between.

The Napa Valley

We could travel to Napa another twenty times and not even come close to seeing all there is to see. Along with developing a mature wine tasting palette, we are learning how to get the most out of spending a couple of days in this amazing region. Amazing because of the moderate temperatures, pretty much year round. Amazing because of the beautiful wineries that dot both sides of Highway 29 and Silverado Trail. Amazing because of the quaint small towns that emerge out of the acres upon acres of vines that line both roadways. Amazing because of the interesting, entertaining and informational wine tours.

It is hard to control the desire to hire a driver and see as many wineries in a day as opening hours allow. But we have quickly learned that patience truly is a virtue when experiencing the finished product of the efforts of vintners who have devoted years if not decades to the amazing craft of wine-making.

A beautiful view of the valley below the castle and it's own vineyards flowing out in every direction

A beautiful view of the valley of vineyards below the Castello di Amorosa and its own vineyards flowing out in every direction

There are many ways to visit wineries, and each winery has their own style they prefer to use to share their end products with the public. One thing we find amazing in Napa is how many wineries do not sell to retail outlets. A good many we visit sell only to their members or to favorite restaurants of their choosing. They prefer not to have their wines’ value diminished by selling mass quantities. So they sell less for more. Is their wine any better than those sold in mass quantities? What and who get to distinguish that comparison? We have certainly tried our share of wines over the last 30 years, but what we have found out is our taste buds are integral to us and what tastes good us. And even at that, my husband and I do not share the same tastes. We can sit with 5 glasses of wine in front of us and not agree on any one of them.

For us, we have discovered the niche of finding wineries that offer up a personal one-on-one experience vs group tastings. We learn more about the specific winery, the wines they make and the story behind the wine and wine makers. And for us this has value, as well as it is neat to showcase wines in our wine cellar that you can’t just run down to the local liquor store and pick up.

Private tasting room at Fantesca Winery - where we were treated to a one-on-one presentation of Fantesca wines

Private tasting room at Fantesca Winery – where we were treated to a one-on-one presentation of Fantesca wines

Instead of Napa becoming a once in a while post, it looks as though my husband and I are going to make a great effort to get to Napa at least once a year, so this will be an ongoing post, where I will review the wineries we drink at, the restaurants we eat at, the little towns we walk around and any other activities each new trip to Napa affords us.

We are learning that it is not only okay, but important to not give into the urge to drink every last drop poured for you at the wine tastings. There is a clay pot there for a reason – taste what you need to get a flavor of the wine and then toss out the rest. It is a sad waste of a lot of great wine, but your head will thank you in the morning. It also helps to have a fairly clean palette so that when we get to the final winery of the day my tongue is not numb and my head not swirling.

Whether you do or don’t watch your intake of wine, I still highly recommend hiring a car service. Not only is it nice to be dropped off and picked up at the front entrance of each winery, but many of these drivers have lived in the area for years, moved here because of a love of the region and wine-making or something to do with wine, and often have some great local stories or stats that you probably won’t get at the wineries, restaurants or lodging.

This time we stayed at the Calistoga Ranch, an Auberge Resort property. Most of the wineries we wanted to visit were in Calistoga. It is a resort built along a roadway that creeps up into the hillsides of this part of the valley. Each unit is like a glorified treehouse, that are tucked into a heavily wooded area. The units are quiet, and much to my husband’s pleasure have an outdoor shower! Apparently even in invigorating 55 degree temps the shower was a refreshing change of pace. This wimp stuck to the warm cozy indoor shower.

Unit #141 - the highest most unit in the development. Very quiet and serene.

Unit #141 – the highest unit at the Calistoga Ranch. Very quiet and serene.

Chateau Montelena. On our last visit to Napa, every winery we stopped at asked if we had watched a movie entitled, “Bottleshock.” Based strongly on the story of how the Napa Valley outpaced the dyed in the wool French wine market in the 1976 wine tasting competition. In a blind test of chardonnay’s the Chateau Montelana was picked unanimously by a mainly French wine judging panel over a strong line-up of French chardonnays. When the results were read the outrage was so palpable that some of the judges tried to rescind their vote once they learned what they had done because they could not conceive that an American/Californian wine had beat out their beloved French wines.

The winery is beautiful with an old world charm of a French Chateau facade replete with ivy starting to turn vibrant fall colors. Below sits a naturalized area with a pathway winding around lush greens spaces and a pond with beautiful local fauna and flora. And a red bridge tying the whole scene together. Inside the winery there are three beautifully hand carved wood bars for patrons to step up to and be served a flight of several wines of their choosing. No appointment necessary here, so pick off-peak times to visit as it is a highly sought after winery to visit. We went at opening on a Saturday morning at 9:30 am and had the place to ourselves and the attention of everyone working.

Our first winery - Chateau Montelena. Looks like it has been there for four centuries not four decades.

Our first winery – Chateau Montelena. Looks like it has been there for four centuries not four decades.














Another angle of the grounds at Chateau Montelena - need to leave more time on our next visit so we can fully walk the grounds.

Another angle of the grounds at Chateau Montelena – need to leave more time on our next visit so we can fully walk the grounds.

















Fantesca Estate and WineryNext we were off to a special treat when it comes to how to really enjoy a wine tasting tour – in our humble opinion. We arrived at Fantesca Winery at about 10:30 and for the next 90 minutes we were spoiled with the knowledge and charm of a young wine expert. She was new at Fantesca, but had been in the wine business for nearly a decade. We started with a viewing of the Fantesca vineyard that flows down from the base of the winery into the rolling hills below. After a quick peak into the caves dug out of the hillside to store the newly barreled wine, we headed up into a beautifully appointed wine tasting room.

The etched argyle pattern on the Fantesca bottles comes from the owners idea to use a carnival theme based on the cirque du soleil theme

The etched argyle pattern on the Fantesca bottles comes from the owners idea to use a carnival theme based on an old Italian comedy troupe that inspired cirque du soleil and the outfits they wore

Fantesca Winery hired the apparent Queen of wine makers, Heidi Peterson Barrett, to create their wines. Heidi is said to have a palette for wine that maybe one in a billion people are born with. She is the most highly sought after vintner and is the only vintner, male or female, to score four perfect 100-point ratings  on wines she has created. And has her name attached to the most expensive bottle of wine sold in this region – a 6-litre bottle of Screaming Eagle – that had scored one of those 100 point ratings. This certainly was a tipping point for us when deciding whether to purchase Fantesca wines.

And once we tasted, even their young wines, we could truly tell the difference between wine being made by somebody with Heidi Barrett’s talents vs an average run of the mill vintner, whose only talent is a love for the craft of making wine. The smoothness and robust flavor of even Fantesca’s young wines outpaced any other wine we have tried – even those that have had ample aging time.

Castello di AmorosaOur third and final winery of the day was a place the locals call, “the castle.” And as the following pictures show, it is just that – a castle. A replica of an Italian 13th century castle that was built stone by stone in the same style that was used all those centuries ago. It is certainly a site to behold, but it has also become a huge tourist trap and wine tours can consist of a couple of dozen people per tour, with several tours going on at the same time. The wine is good, but the tour is equally about the castle and how it was built and all of its special attractions including a torture chamber in the dungeon. The vistas from the turrets offer views of amazing scenery and several of the large, more well-known wineries in the area.

Hard to believe this castle isn't somewhere in Italy and isn't several centuries old!

Hard to believe this castle isn’t somewhere in Italy and isn’t several centuries old!

Several reasons pull you to a winery, and those same reasons may entice you to choose to buy their wines – everything from the creativity of the wine labels or the bottles themselves, to the wine tour experience, to the actual taste of the wines. We have bought wines based on all of those reasons and more, and the desire to continue the journey only becomes more tantalizing with each visit. Just as I will never be completely sated by a single glass of wine, I will never be sated with a single visit to the Napa Valley.

We flew into the quieter Sacramento Airport, rented a car and drove the two lane state Highway 128 which winds tightly through the countryside, along creeks, past lakes, through a heavily treed and then a heavily burned out area, eventually morphing into Silverado Trail in the upper Napa Valley about two hours later.

After our visit in Napa, we made our way into San Francisco. My husband had meetings while I took in the sites and sounds of a bustling San Fran. Experienced a glass blowing demonstration by world-renowned Randy Strong, lunch at the historic Claremont Hotel Club and Spa sitting up high in the hills of Berkeley, and some wonderful dinners of local fresh seafood.

Check out more pictures under Napa Redux in the Global Gallery!


I will highlight the where we ate in the new “end of the month – where to eat” posts I’m starting this month.