Tag Archives: museums

Mose T’s Jick Jack Suzy to Tico Bird

I have a mini gallery in my breakfast room devoted to a special folk-artist friend from Alabama. His name was Mose Tolliver, or Mose T, as he was known, and although he’s no longer with us, his memory lives on, as “they” say. Mose was born on July forth somewhere between 1920 and 1925 (nobody really knows for sure), and he was one of twelve children. His schooling went as far as the third grade with dyslexia hampering his ability to read and write.

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In the 1940s, he married his childhood friend Willie Mae Thomas and they had 13 children, 11 of whom survived. He worked with plants and designed creative yard plans with an unusual flair and became a respected gardener.

He worked from time to time for McLendon Furniture Company (sweeping out the shipping and delivery area early each morning) and during the late 1960s he was severely injured when his legs were crushed by a load of shifting marble which fell from a forklift. The accident left him unable to walk without assistance. He was encouraged to try oil painting by his former employer, who offered to pay for lessons, but Mose decided to explore this idea on his own. Little did he know that his life was about to change, forever, again.

First, he painted birds, flowers and trees and later added people and animals, all the while developing his own unique style and sense of humor. Even the titles of his paintings were unique, as was his signature with a backward “s.” He used any surface he could find: wood scraps, metal trays, Masonite, furniture, cigar boxes, even a piano, and items that were given to him. He’d display his paintings in his yard and later on his front porch and in his living room and eventually they started selling.

Mitchell Kahan, a former curator at the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts in Montgomery, AL, admired Mose’s work and set up a one-man exhibition for him in 1981. After that, Mose shared an exhibition entitled, Black Folk Art in America 1930-1980, with another folk artist at the prestigious Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. First Lady Nancy Regan visited this exhibition and met Mose.

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A friend took me on my first visit to Mose’s home on Sayre Street back in the early 1980s. After that, I used to go often. I was fascinated listening to him tell stories and show me his current paintings on the walls and his “pure paint” in its cabinet at the foot of his bed, also there in the living room. I found out that “pure paint” was gallon cans of exterior house paint, first oil-based, then later, water-based latex, which dried faster. He was so prolific, he needed faster drying paint, and whatever colors were in the cabinet were the colors of his latest art pieces. He painted them while seated on his bed, his walker close at hand.

mose & coco

As time passed, I started taking him pieces of wood left over from my neighborhood construction sites and he seemed pleased to have some unusual shapes to use. In the early 1990s, I redecorated my kitchen and asked Mose if he’d create a painting for me of strawberries to hang in that room. I brought a bowl full for him to use as a guide, but he was more interested in eating them. Several weeks later, I visited again and there was my strawberry painting. I think it may be one of a kind. I really cherish it. But, more than that, I cherish my times visiting with this gentle man, hearing his stories and witnessing his love of life. He was truly inspirational. I was saddened to hear of his passing in 2006 at the age of 82.

Mose Tolliver’s work has appeared at such renowned institutions as the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, The American Folk Art Museum in New York, The American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, The New Orleans Museum of Art, The Milwaukee Art Museum and many more throughout the world.

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Romantic Transylvania by Coco Ihle

I’ve traveled to many countries, but my favorite is Romania, in particular, the republic of Transylvania. Many people who go to Transylvania want, especially, to see Bran Castle, associated with the stories of Vlad the Impaler and the novel Dracula, created by the Irish writer, Bram Stoker, over a century ago.

Bran Castle, Transylvania

Although Bran was fascinating, I felt my imagination soar in Sinaia (pronounced “Sin-EYE-ah); a village nestled deep in the Carpathian pine forests. It seemed to me a timeless place right out of a fairytale with its unique cross-timbered buildings tucked against lush steep mountain slopes.

I remember, one clear night as darkness settled, I unlatched my window and leaned out. It was so quiet I could hear the sighing of the trees in the forest. I don’t know how long I lingered there listening, but after a
while, I became aware of the howling of wolves echoing in the mountains. Before long, dogs in the village joined in the eerie chorus. I’ll never forget that stillness and those haunting sounds. They were both beautiful and frightening; conjuring up images and memories of the tales I’d heard or read of this exotic land of vampires and nocturnal creatures.

The next day, I visited Peles Castle at the edge of the village. It is truly the most exquisite building I’ve ever seen. Both inside and out. While not a new castle as castles go, its building was begun in 1883 by Romania’s longest serving monarch, King Carol I, as a summer residence. I was amazed to learn this magnificent royal palace, with its fairytale turrets and pointed towers rising above acres of green meadows, was the first castle in Europe to have central heating and electricity.

Peles Castle, Sinaia, Transylvania

The characteristic features of the external architecture are specific to the German neo-Renaissance style. The interior is dominated by the same elements, but have combined various styles: Italian and Gothic Renaissance, German Baroque, the rococo, Hispanic, Moorish and Turkish styles. The architects used an abundance of wooden decoration both inside and out, which gives the building that fairytale quality.

Quite outstanding are the big Armory Room, the small Armory Room, the Florentine Room, the Reception Room, the Moresque Room, the French Room, the Turkish Room, the Council Room, the Concert Room and the Imperial Suite, 160 rooms in all.

Interior of Peles Castle, Sinaia, Transylvania

The library conceals a secret passage leading to the second floor of the castle. There is a gallery of mirrors and the dining room has a leather clad ceiling. Scenes from age old Romanian fairytales adorn the stained glass windows in the Poetry Room. Paintings, sculptures, silver, gold and marble are everywhere.

During Ceausescu’s era, the castle was used as a private retreat for leading communists and statesmen from around the globe. U.S. presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, Libyan leader Moamar Gaddafi and Yasser Arafat were all entertained by the Romanian dictator in Pele’s fanciful rooms, each furnished to reflect a different European country.

Peles Castle truly took my breath away. If you ever travel to Romania, I cannot recommend highly enough, a visit to Peles Castle and Sinaia.

Have you visited a place whose very essence made your imagination soar?

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My Handy Research Tools by Coco Ihle

I’ve found being a pack rat isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Some of my trips to the U.K. were family vacations and because these were special occurrences, I didn’t want to forget anything. Taking photos, saving receipts, keeping a trip diary, buying brochures and even audio recording various tours and people became the norm for me.

This collection came in handy while compiling photo albums to share with the family later. I didn’t have to wonder where the heck a certain mystery photo was taken or try to remember an itinerary or timeline. I was so glad I had documented everything.

Since trip planning fell to me, I wanted to make the experience as rich as possible. One year, my (former) husband and I, his parents, and our son went to the U.K., rented a car, and set out touring England, Scotland and Wales on a six-weeks adventure. Since we had three generations in the car, my goal was to include sights that would interest everyone.

We saw battlefields, military monuments and museums, visited Brands Hatch British Grand Prix Race Track and had pints in local pubs to satisfy the guys. Madam Tussaud’s, the planetarium, taking a class in brass rubbing, listening to bagpipers in Scotland and seeing suits of armor up close were fun for our son. Visiting and staying in historic manor homes and castles, attending medieval banquets with the Ladies of the Court in period costumes and strolling in topiary gardens were treats for my mother-in-law and me. We all enjoyed driving through the lush countryside and stopping in quaint villages with their thatched roof cottages; and speaking with the locals gave us different perspectives on the things we had seen and experienced.  At every turn, we tried to make each day interesting and unforgettable.

One night, we stayed in the thirteenth-century House of Agnes Hotel in Canterbury, mentioned in Charles Dicken’s, David Copperfield. Another, in the The Feathers Hotel in Ludlow, a seventeenth-century coaching inn. Lord Crewe Arms in Blanchland was once an eleventh-century monastery and is said to be haunted. Lord Dalhousie at Dalhousie Castle flirted with my mother-in-law during our postprandial cocktails, and she blushed for weeks afterwards. I could go on and on.

To help refresh my cherished memories, I have shelves full of brochures, audio tapes, photo albums, music, artwork, you name it. When I began writing my book, SHE HAD TO KNOW, set primarily in Scotland, I needed details for descriptions of castles and the countryside, on people in the villages, their personalities and their speech patterns. Even though I had Scottish friends at this point, and the Internet, I relied heavily on my experiences and documentation of the many trips I had taken.

I’m so glad I am a pack rat! Any of you, pack rats, too? Has it been good, bad?

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