Favorites: Extended Family Edition

Well, I wore jeans yesterday. And a sweatshirt the day before that. It seems summer is inching toward the door, but not without a good-bye. This Labor Day weekend was one of the best I’ve ever had. My whole family was up north and even though it seemed every house on the lake except ours caught the Northern Lights, my days were just as bright and thrilling. In large part because my whole family was there AND a handful of my beloved cousins, aunts, and uncles. Some of whom I haven’t seen since before Covid. It was a happy, happy reunion.

We celebrated by letting the patriarchs (my dad and his brother) make us a pancake breakfast. Delighted chatter bubbled and bounced, a dozen conversations happening at once, but you know I managed to ask a few people about their favorite art. As per usual, they all reserve the right to change their minds or add to their list at any time.

Amy: Amy didn’t hem or haw. “The first thing that comes to mind is The Pissing Boy in Belgium,” she laughed. (We were all a little giddy with togetherness.) The statue is aptly titled Manneken Pis (Dutch for “Little Pissing Man.”) She appreciates its humor, but semi-seriously noted there’s more to it if you think about it. The boy commemorates our basic need for water and relief. Repeat. Our cousin Tom chimed in to inform us the statue is in honor of a little boy who reportedly saved the town when it was on fire by… using the fire as a urinal. The statue has become a symbol of perseverance. Through war, theft, vandalism… still he stands. For over 400 years the boy has been peeing before tourists and Belgians alike, refreshing the people with his unassuming posture and cool, clear stream.

His expression is so chill. It says, “I’m just going with the flow.”

Tom: Tom loves the fine arts. He is a writer and dancer and appreciator of all creativity, so I was not surprised that he had an answer at the ready: The Kiss by Auguste Rodin. “It is romantic and sensual. The subjects are only focused on each other. Nothing else exists to them in that moment.” The statue depicts a scene from Dante’s Inferno, in which a woman falls in love with her brother-in-law. The sculpture was scandalous when it was first unveiled. Many argued it was too scandalous and tried to ban it, but its beauty along with Rodin’s talent, could not be denied. Rodin ended up making multiple versions of it for the many art collectors (and finally) museums who recognized the piece as passionate and skillful rather than obscene.

Like Dante’s Inferno, this piece is hot.

Amit: I was unfamiliar with the artist Amit mentioned as one of his favorites, so he pulled up some of Alex Grey’s work and passed his phone around. None of us knew of him (except my brother who immediately recognized Grey’s work from Tool’s album cover.) What a fantastic treat to learn about this guy (and over delicious blueberry pancakes, no less!) His work is intricate and a little trippy. We all loved the tree shown below, leading to a sidebar conversation about other trees in art. Is a penchant for colorful trees genetic? It would seem so.

If it’s possible to like something while also feeling a little uncomfortable, Gaia nails it for me.

Jamie: Jamie is an architecture and interior design person. She loves buildings and structure and the aesthetics that go with them. She has a fantastic eye for beauty, which not everybody does. Me, for instance. (I’m looking at you, entire collection of Goya paintings. Are you beautiful? Ugly? Both?) Jamie always, always knows if something is lovely or not. Here she is holding her favorite paintings du jour: the one on the right was done by our grandma and the smaller one on the left is one she found at a thrift store to feature by our grandma’s painting. Jamie loved how beautifully the gold background of the thrift store painting complimented the few bits of gold in our grandma’s.

Jamie: My personal color professional.

As with my friends featured in the last post, asking “what’s your favorite piece of art?” initiated fantastic conversation within my family. Everyone chimed in! Comments like “I don’t care for impressionism.” and “I prefer 3D art.” and “We just went to a great art museum in Denver!” swirled around like steam off our coffee and warmed me just as much. Family, friends, art… all my favorites!

Art Favorites: Friends Edition

Did you know the Mona Lisa has her own mailbox? She gets thousands of love letters from fans every year! In this second installment of “Favorites,” I asked some of my favorite friends what their favorite pieces of art are. They aren’t sending fanmail to these artworks as far as I know, but we sure did have fun waxing poetic about our favorite pieces!

Kate: Kate verbalized a problem we all face with art, “I seem to love everything I see.” Same! The struggle is real. But when push came to shove, she was able to name a few pieces that hold a special place in her heart.

Kate saw each of these pieces in person. Don’t you think there is something about seeing art in real life that connects us to it forever? Kate said seeing David birthed her love of art. “Standing next to the beautiful marble sculpture knowing that one of the greatest artists in the world created it, evoked such awe and appreciation for me I will always remember it.” At the Vatican, upon seeing School of Athens, she noted that “next to all the other pieces of artwork the detail and brighness of Raphael’s paintings really spoke to me. They were just so much above the other artists.” And finally, one of Van Gogh’s sunflower paintings. “The color that Van Gogh used in this painting evokes happy and even calming feelings for me and it means even more because of my passion for working with flowers.” Kate evokes happy and calming feelings too! To see some of her incredible flower arrangements visit her website here!

Suzie: Suzie knows a lot about art. She is married to an art teacher, has two artist children, and is an amazing artist in her own right. You remember her from the incredible butter sculpture at my birthday party last year.

Suzie emailed me the picture on the left, done by an artist I’d never heard of, but now love for all time (Bright colors! Animals! Yay!) She learned of Monika Forsberg from a puzzle Forsberg designed, proving art does not have to be a huge financial investment or hanging in a museum. Art can be in pieces on the kitchen table! The puzzle, for instance, is (in Suzie’s words) “colorful and fun and almost musical to the eye.” Suzie actually replicated one of Forsberg’s paintings in her kitchen so she can look at it every day. (I told you- she’s an artist!) She also sent a picture of this piggy she loves because it’s “simple and unpretentious.” We all agreed the pig is adorable (I told her I especially love its ear. So sweet!) Thank goodness Suzie rescued it from her parents’ “give away” pile!

Carla: You know Carla from other blog posts because she is always game for exploring art with me! Stay tuned for a post on ArtPrize when we visit later in September! I knew she’d rise to this challenge not only because she loves art, but because she is a champ at any version of “Favorites.”

Carla’s mom has a replica painting of Ginevra de’ Benci in her home, so she already had a soft-spot for the portrait. Then she was able to see the original at the National Gallery. She said when she spotted Ginevra, “it was like seeing a familiar face, oh- I know her!” She added that like her mom, she could stare at Ginevra’s glowing face and unique expression for hours. The Bean (and big, interactive pieces like it!) is also among Carla’s favorites. Cloud Gate acts as a mirror for different people all the time, so it’s constantly changing, which is awesome. Plus, who doesn’t love being part of an exhibit? Incidentally, the third art piece Carla mentioned as a favorite is also interactive: Patrick Dougherty’s Standing Room is a stick structure at WMU, where Carla often passed it, went in it, and admired it. Carla loves nature and art, so it’s no surprise she has an appreciation for the marriage of the two!

Moriah: I love that Moriah pointed out lots of people feel art is only for those with an “eye” for it, but art is for us all! It’s personal and important and not right or wrong. I used to feel this way about wine. It turns out the finest wine is…. whatever tastes good to the drinker! Likewise, the best art is whatever a person thinks is best! Isn’t that the beauty of it?

Moriah noted Monet’s garden paintings and how they make her want to breathe deeply, which made me smile because she is a yoga instructor and of course paying attention to her breathing. 🙂 I’m so happy she brought up Monet’s gardens, because I mostly remember his lilypads when I think Monet, but how stunning are the colors in this painting of his garden? The vibrancy makes me want to crawl into the canvas and stroll around. Moriah also noted da Vinci’s exquisite ability to draw the human form, and isn’t that the truth? Has anybody since da Vinci been able to capture humans so intricately? Incidentally, the hands pictured above are believed to be “practice hands” da Vinci drew for Ginevra de’Benci!

I have to tell you, I sent these friends a casual text one afternoon asking for their favorite artwork and the loveliest text thread bloomed. If you are looking for a great conversation with your friend group, let me suggest asking “What’s your favorite piece of art? PLEASE DON’T FEEL OBLIGATED!” If your friends are half as awesome as mine, they’ll deliver!

Mitchell Family Favorites: Art Edition

One of our favorite games to play around here when there’s a lull in the conversation (almost never), the girls have a new friend over (all the time!), we’re trying to distract somebody (usually Charlotte, usually from pain caused by some injury), or long car rides (pretty much daily) is “Favorites.” You know the game: one person gives a category and the others say their favorite. It might be something like “Favorite boy’s name” or “Favorite breakfast food” or “Favorite summer activity.” Sometimes the categories are a little obscure. Here’s a conversation we had just today:

Me: “Favorite kitchen utensil!”

Charlotte: “Spatula!”

Adrienne: “Tongs!”

Jim (pulls out a spatula): “This exact spatula. It’s the perfect width, all its proportions are just right.”

Me (pulls out a different spatula): “What about this one? I put it in your stocking because it’s perfect for flipping pancakes.”

Jim: “It’s not though. It’s too short.”

Me (glaring): “Girls, Dad is losing at ‘Favorites.’”

You can see how much fun we have!! Anyway, I’d like to start a Nice and Easel installment of “Favorites” for a few weeks. Each week I’m going to select a few friends’ and/or family members’ favorite pieces of art to feature on the blog. Because I have easy access to my immediate family and they’re well-versed in how to play the game, I’ll start with them. Presenting… Mitchell family favorites (art edition!)

Jim: Unlike with the spatula situation, this time I accept Jim’s answer: Country Road by Terry Redlin. Jim grew up bird hunting in the country, so this reminds him of his childhood. I love it when art so blatantly evokes emotions. Tons of art makes me happy on a surface level. But every now and then something hits a little deeper, as this painting does for Jim. Do we have “Take Me Home Country Roads” stuck in our heads now? Maybe for eternity? One hundred percent. Bonus points if you can name the singer. (Answer below.)

Watertown, SD is home to the Redlin Art Center. SD also boasts the highest pheasant population in the world!

Julie: I tease Adrienne for struggling with our Favorites game. She hates picking a favorite anything, but I make her because I’m a good parent who forces her children to make decisions against their will. My point is, I don’t want to pick a favorite art piece because that’s impossible! I’m a gamer though, so I’m saying Da Vinci’s Last Supper. I know, it sounds like a cop-out. But that fresco has it all: perfect technique, mystery, religious symbolism, a fascinating story of love, betrayal, and sacrifice. How can I not pick it?!

I never, ever get tired of staring at this one.

Molly: Molly is a stoic person, so I wasn’t surprised when she picked a stoic piece of art. You know it and love it… the Statue of Liberty. Molly explained she likes the idea of immigrants coming to Ellis Island and being greeted by the statue. She also really likes “The New Colossus” on the statue, which I’ve included because the written word is art too, right?!

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

Adrienne (aka “A”): A couldn’t decide on a favorite, so I let her pick two and promised that these don’t have to be her favorites forever. Don’t say I never do anything for my kids! First, she named Rebecca Humes’ dictionary dresses from last year’s Art Prize. I agree with A when she says, “It’s a neat way to do art!” (And, FYI, I see you can now book a photo session wearing one of the dictionary dresses! Click here for info!) Adrienne’s second choice is a classic: A Sunday on La Grande Jatte. Again, she appreciates Seurat’s innovation at a time when most artists were painting with strokes, to experiment with a new technique. And “I made a pointellism butterfly once. It’s hard.”

Charlotte: Charlotte immediately recalled her favorite piece from the Philadelphia Museum of Art: Fire (United States of the Americas) by Teresita Fernandez. It is one of the first pieces visitors see and takes up a huge wall- it’s hard to miss! I like it because of its largesse and am impressed with Fernandez’s ability to make the blurred charcoal states look 3D. Charlotte said she likes it because, “It makes me wonder. Like how did she make it? How do they move it around?”

There you have it! Our family’s art faves! *Subject to change at any moment.*

Answer: John Denver sings “Take Me Home, Country Roads.”

Seize the Day! Color the Day!

I read a very sad article: “The World is Literally Getting Less Colorful”. It shook me. Color is such a simple, perfect pleasure. A gift! Just ask Jonas in Lois Lowry’s The Giver. Nobody else in his community could see color, and it was oppressive, sad, depressing… and the people didn’t even know what they were missing. I was meditating on this article, worrying about our world getting grayer, duller, more drab. And then…

  1. My lilies bloomed and my petunias exploded! I know there’s a movement to only grow edible plants right now, but I think all this color in my yard does more for my soul than cucumbers do for my body.

2. My friend sent me a link to the Color Factory exhibit in Chicago (and Houston and NYC). How fun is this? Artists are still arting! This exhibit is just one of many ways artists are blasting color into our world!

3. My book club met on Michigan State’s campus. Across the road were new murals FULL of fantastic color!

Given all this vibrance I can’t believe the world is becoming more drab. But just in case I am recommitting to color. I bought a yellow (yellow!!) shirt the other day. I painted some frames bright yellow, purple, blue, green, and pink to hang on a boring gray wall in my snuggery. I ate the donut with rainbow sprinkles instead of the cake donut! Don’t tell me I’m not committed to color!

What are you doing to put a little color in your day??

Alaska and Art

Happy Summer! As soon as school was out we took off on an Alaskan cruise. It was amazing (you’d have to work really hard to have a bad time in Alaska OR on a cruise!) I didn’t go to a single art museum, but basked in all the natural beauty I could ever hope for. And the ship was surprisingly artsy! Is art plentiful on all cruise ships? I didn’t realize! Here are some of my favorite pieces from the boat.

I also loved all the totem poles in Alaska. I have fewer pictures of those because my head was on a swivel trying to take in everything I possible could of America’s Last Frontier. Totem poles usually tell a person or family’s story. They are read from bottom to top. The indigenous people sometimes place them at gravesites, but they might also be featured at a wedding, or to commemorate an important event (like the harnessing of the atom, as seen below). Certain animals are frequently used as symbols on the poles. Ancient-origins.net offers this little cheat sheet:

  • The Raven – creation, transformation, knowledge, and the subtlety of truth
  • The Wolf – supernatural powers and hunting abilities, loyalty, family ties, communication, education, and intelligence
  • The Frog – wealth, abundance, ancient wisdom, rebirth, good luck, healing, the bridge between the human and spirit worlds
  • The Eagle – focus, strength, peace, leadership, friendship, and ultimate prestige
  • The Killer Whale – family, romance, longevity, harmony, travel, community, and protection

This 15′ pole was in Juneau. It was made by Tlingit carver, Amos Wallace. I love the totem pole tradition. What life events would you put on your personal totem pole? Which symbols? I’d start with a cross because Jesus! Then I’d for sure have a killer whale because I love all it symbolizes (you can keep your wolf with its supernatural powers and intelligence! Ha!) I’d have to have three little female gender symbols for my girls, and…. (is this blasphemy?!) a little cup of coffee to really communicate to posterity my love for caffeine. Totem pole complete!

*Guess what. This was technically video art! Which, as you know, I normally hate! Tate recorded the eyes of loved ones who had watched over him, cared for him, provided for him at some point over the course of his life. They blinked and winked at me every day when I walked to dinner. And I liked it! Who AM I, even?!

Bonus Post: A Companion to “Having Your Cake and Throwing It Too”

Don’t you agree the Mona Lisa cake vandal owes the Louvre… da Vinci… somebody an apology? I read a book ages ago in which the main character took a cake to somebody as an apology. The recipe was included in the back of the book. I make it every now and then not so much to apologize, but because it’s a darn good cake. Here is the recipe in case all the news coming from the Louvre is making you hungry for cake!

Pology Cake (Lemon Cream Cake)*

½ cup shortening
1 cup white sugar
3 eggs
1 tsp. lemon juice
2 tsp. grated lemon peel
2 cups cake flour
3 ½ tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 cup sour cream

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and lightly flour two 9-inch round cake pans.
Beat all ingredients together for several minutes until smooth.
Bake for approximately 20 – 30 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.
Do not over cook. Cool completely before frosting.


½ cup butter, softened
4 cups confectioners sugar
4 – 5 Tbl. lemon juice

Cream butter and sugar. Add lemon juice one tablespoon at a time until desired consistency is achieved. Add a few drops of yellow food color if you feel like it.

Enjoy, friends!

*From Shelter Me by Juliette Fay.

Having Your Cake and Throwing It Too

Banana cream, German chocolate, apple, angel food, marble, cheese, pecan… of all the delicious cakes it was a plain white cream cake that was smeared on the Mona Lisa over the weekend. You’ve probably heard the story by now, a man disguised as an elderly woman in a wheelchair smashed a piece of cake onto the bulletproof glass protecting the Mona Lisa. Not only attacking the priceless piece of art but wasting perfectly good cake. All in the name of… the environment? I’m happy to report the not-so-sweet offender is being detained in a psychiatric hospital.

The Mona Lisa has been attacked before, but it isn’t the only famous piece of art vandals have targeted. Here are a few others:

Auguste Rodin’s Thinker outside the Cleveland Museum of Art lost its lower legs to a pipe bomb in 1970. Not what Rodin had in mind when he wanted to blow up the art scene.

Rembrandt’s Night Watch has inexplicably attracted several vandals, the most recent in 1990 when a visitor to the museum threw acid on it.

In 1986 another Rembrandt (hey vandals, what do you guys have against Rembrandt?!), Danae, had acid thrown on it. The attacker also slashed it a couple times with a knife. The painting was virtually destroyed.

Michelangelo’s Pieta in St. Peter’s Basilica was attacked by a very confused (read: insane) man claiming to be Jesus. Bystanders tackled him immediately, but the damage to Mary’s nose and elbow were already done.

Another (slightly less famous) da Vinci was shot in 1988. This was also supposed to be a political statement. Whatever happened to just writing an Op-Ed piece?

In 2012 Monet’s Argenteuil Basin with a Single Sailboat took a punch to the gut by an Irishman with a temper (wait, what?!) The hole was patched in less time it took for the guy to get out of jail.

Picasso’s Guernica was attacked in 1974 and (this is really wild) the attacker (Tony Shafrazi) is now a super successful art dealer in New York, making millions dealing art by Jean-Michel Basquiat, Francis Bacon, and the like. Apparently spray-painting “KILL ALL LIES” across a world-famous piece of art is not the monstrous crime we might guess it is. Maybe the Mona Lisa cake criminal could do an apprenticeship with Shafrazi.

Art stirs up emotions, no doubt about it, but when it comes to defacing priceless masterpieces, I think we can all agree these vandals should get their just deserts.

The Art of Biltmore

PSA: If you have a new Ford Explorer ST or a Ford Edge ST, it comes with driving school! And if you don’t have one of those, maybe your friend does! My carpool partner (who also happens to be one of my best friends) recently bought a Ford Explorer ST and let me tag along with her to Asheville, NC to learn its fun features. With all the driving we do in real life, we naturally crushed everyone on the racecourse. (Give us a challenge next time! Maybe a hot coffee to balance, or a kid’s backpack in our lap? At least some arguing children!) Driving school was a blast, but the real highlight was our tour of the Biltmore Estate.

I mean, it’s fine if you like that kind of thing.

Good golly. Those Vanderbilts were rich.

The entire house (mansion? castle?) was a thing of beauty, but there was a wide array of conventional art too, including (but not limited to) paintings by Renoir, Monet, and John Singer Sargent. I’ll share some of my super high-quality pictures with you in a moment, but first- some facts about Biltmore!

  • Their winery is the most visited in the United States! I brought back several bottles and tasted several while I was there. Biltmore = drink more!
  • Biltmore House spans 175,000 square feet. In the winter 65 fireplaces helped heat it. Or you could throw back some hot chocolates, then use one of the 43 bathrooms!
  • Is there at least one room with gold plated walls? Why yes, there is.
  • The grounds were designed by Frederick Law Olmstead, landscape architect to the stars! (And my 5th great-uncle!)
  • The Vanderbilt family was very hospitable. The Roosevelts were just one of the high-society families that frequented the Biltmore.
  • The Vanderbilts had tickets to sail home on the Titanic, but were a little homesick for Biltmore, and came back a week early instead. A close call!

Okay, now the moment you’ve been waiting for! Some Biltmore House pictures!

Even though my photos are the best of the best, I recommend seeing the Biltmore Estate in person. Bonus if you get to go to driving school while you’re there!

Ten Great Art Quotes and Two Stupid Ones

If you are looking for an artsy quote for your IG caption, or to impress your wine and cheese club, look no further! I have scoured history and the internet for ten beautiful, emotion-evoking quotes about art. There are a million lists like this on the internet, but good news! You found the best one.

10. “Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.”

Thomas Merton

9. “You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.”

Maya Angelou

8. “Happy are the painters, for they shall not be lonely. Light and colour, peace and hope, will keep them company to the end of the day.”

Winston Churchill

7. “If ever there’s a problem, I film it and it’s no longer a problem. It’s a film.”

Andy Warhol

6. “There is no ‘right’ way to make art. The only wrong is in not trying, not doing. Don’t put barriers up that aren’t there- just get to work and make something.”

Lisa Golightly

5. “If people would just look at the paintings, I don’t think they would have any trouble enjoying them. It’s like looking at a bed of flowers, you don’t tear your hair out over what it means.”

Jackson Pollock

4. “Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.”

Pablo Picasso

3. “Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.”


2. “… and then I have nature and art and poetry, and if that is not enough, what is enough?”

Vincent Van Gogh

1. “The world always seems brighter when you’ve just made something that wasn’t there before.”

Neil Gaiman

Two Stupid Quotes:

“Computers are useless. They only give you answers.”

Pablo Picasso

I see what he’s saying here. The stupid part is that I cannot wrap my brain around the fact that Pablo Picasso was alive at a time when computers existed.

“At the heart of all great art is an essential melancholy.”

Frederico Garcia Lorca

Disagree! I think joy, even giddiness, have been essential ingredients to some of the best art in the world.

Do you have a favorite quote about art (or anything, really!) that isn’t listed here? Share it in the comments!

Secunda None! A Museum Review

Carla: “I have the day off on Thursday. Let’s do something!”

Me: “Want to go to the Secunda Art Museum?”

Carla: “Yes.” Pause. “What’s that?”

Me: “I don’t know, but they have a little sign on I-96, and I’ve always wondered about it.”

It’s good to have friends who are game for anything. I figured if the Secunda Art Museum was really something special we would have heard of it. It’s less than an hour from my house, after all! But Carla was as curious as I and we agreed to get ice cream after the “museum” so if the “museum” was disappointing, at least we’d get dessert out of the deal.

The Secunda Art Museum is located at Cleary University in Howell, MI. We followed my GPS’ directions, parked, and stared at the building. No sign. No clue it was an art museum. Shrugging, we walked inside. Art! Art! Everywhere! In every sense of the word! The museum is named for Arthur (Art) Secunda who was a prolific, well-respected artist. We were so impressed by the first paintings we saw, we immediately looked up this mystery man.

Turns out he’s not such a mystery in the art world. He has pieces in the Detroit Institute of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, MoMA, and tons of other places. This guy is legit! The museum consists of several long halls and one or two rooms dedicated to his work. It also has classrooms peppered throughout. Carla and I whispered our delight as not to interrupt the lectures going on. We were the only ones there to see the art (some pamphlets on display indicated we may have been the only non-student people to visit since 2019.)

Arthur Secunda’s range was akin to Adele’s. He did everything! (Does? He’s 94 now and hopefully still creating!) You could line up three paintings and not tell the same person did them. For instance:

There was one section of the gallery that featured portraits. Carla and I covered the names and tried to guess who was who. We got each and every one wrong. Want to play?

Answer key at the bottom of the post!

Here are a few more pictures from our visit.

The Secunda Art Museum was a pleasant surprise! (Thanks, little sign on I-96!) Next time you find yourself in Howell, stop by! And don’t forget your ice cream after!

Shout out to M Street Bakery!

Answer key: 1. Vincent Van Gogh 2. Anne Frank 3. Michelangelo