Monday, July 29, 2013

Day 12: Culture in Fargo


So we thought we would just have a rest break in boring old Fargo, maybe spend an hour or two at the Plains Art Museum. This is how it turned out.

First it was necessary to make a stop at Target. As we were unloading the night before, the handle on one of my suitcases broke, so I wanted a replacement—plus soda and other stuff. We found a cheap suitcase plus a small plastic crate to hold Dan's hats in the car, as they were endanger of getting crushed by other things.

From there we drove straight to the art museum. Our route was important. On the way from the freeway to the motel the previous night, we drove a long boulevard lined with auto repair shops, machine shops, various light industry and construction, and lots of pawn shops—unrelieved utilitarian ugliness for miles. What an awful town, I thought. Good place for a movie like Fargo. However, when we drove from Target to the museum, we took a parallel street through a very pleasant, tree-lined residential area, so I was relieved to see a real town.

It was nearly 1 p.m. by the time we got to the museum, so we started with lunch. The lunch counter was small but the food was tasty. We enjoyed the architecture: an old brick warehouse has been converted to a museum.

Dan at Plains Art Museum
The big deal at the Plains Art Museum was a retrospective of the work of George Morrison. Morrison has some respect in the world of New York abstract painting, but his real strength is in using wood, and he is a hero among Native American Artists. His most beautiful works are flat collages of small pieces of wood, rather like some work by Louise Nevelson, except that he uses woods with different colors. He also makes small totem-like structures out of pieces of wood fit together like a jigsaw; they have a fine finish like furniture. Morrison tried to escape or transcend his Indian heritage in his youth, but as he aged he bought property in his ancestral homeland and accepted Native influence in his work, without ever crassly exploiting obvious symbols. Absolutely no photos allowed.

There was also a photography exhibit by Wing Young Huie—images of the residents of Fargo and adjacent Moorhead. What made it interesting was that he gave them small chalk boards on which they wrote statements about themselves to include in their portraits. I managed to steal a couple of examples, despite the reflections.

Wing Young Huie, photographer

Exhibit called "Hidden Fargo"

The regular collection was mainly of regional interest.

As we were leaving we ran into the curator of the museum, who had just returned from the local farmers' market with paper bags of fruit for his lunch.

Curator of Plains Art Museum

Fargo is on the Red River, which marks the border between North Dakota and Minnesota. Just across the river in Moorhead is Hjemkomst Park, a lovely place with a broad green lawn and huge shade trees. The Hjemkomst Center includes recreations of a Viking ship and a Norse church as well as various historical exhibits.

We started with a documentary about the Viking ship. A fellow named Aslo decided he would build a Viking type ship and sail it to Norway. He lived long enough to see the boat launched but not to make the voyage. His adult children and several other people united to make the craft more seaworthy and then to complete the sail to Norway. They had quite a hard time and they developed a serious crack in the hull, but they completed the trip in pretty good health. The building had been designed for display of the ship, and a tent-like ceiling extends above the masts.

Recreated Viking Ship made voyage to Norway

The ceiling is shaped to accommodate the sail

Then we had a guided tour of the Hopperstad Stave Church replica. The guide explained how it employed the Roman basilica style of architecture, and what the various symbols meant.

Hopperstad Stave Church Replica

Although the construction is nail-free, the style emulates a Roman basilica.

The museum had an interesting exhibit on two women artists from pioneer days in the Red River Valley, Annie Stein and Orabel Thortvedt. Both tried various art forms, from writing to painting to crochet to photography. Here's the theme of the show: "It was said that men broke the sod but women settled the frontier. With women came homes and schools, churches and manners, culture and art. In our community, painters came not long after the plow."

Annie Stein, 1872-1923
Annie Stein, "The Stein Farm"
Orabel Thortvedt, 1896-1983
Grandma Tone, 1965, by Orabel Thortvedt

When we got kicked out at 5 p.m., I had had it. We drove a few blocks across the river to our motel. I had a quick meal at the Sidestreet Bar and Grill in the hotel, then hit the hay. After Dan uploaded his photos, he also went down to the hotel grill, once again having steak. After dinner he walked down to Broadway, the old-time center of town, and enjoyed having a look around.