Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Day Trippers (Peoria, IL)

Wurlitzer Music clock +
House Rules at the Adams
Street Cafe: no fussin', no
whinin', no back talkin'.
Recently Dear Husband and I took a day trip with another couple to Peoria, Illinois. Our destination was the Peoria Riverfront Museum for "Chihuly and Friends," an exhibition of art glass by Dale Chihuly, Lino Tagliapietra, and Vittorio Costantini. The exhibit has run all winter, but we were hoping for a nice spring day for the drive over. No so luck: it was maybe 40 degrees, gray, and blustery. Thankfully there was plenty to do inside.

Peoria Riverfront Museum

Before diving into the museum, however, we needed some lunch. Abe's Deli got great reviews online, but when we had finally braved the wind up the hill to the Chase Bank building, the security guard inside said it had closed before the winter holidays! Hoping for a local's recommendation, I asked where else we could eat, but he claimed to have no idea. This despite the fact that we had plainly seen there were two restaurants across the street from the bank. It turned out that Sully's Irish Pub had closed about the same time, but the Adam's Street Cafe was open and hopping.

N. and I ordered paninis with homemade chips while the menfolk tried the Cheesy Cheeseburger Soup. Our orders were ready in the time it took to make a pit stop and wash our hands. The paninis were good, although not really large enough to share, as the cashier had suggested when we asked. The chips were acceptable, but I'm not sure the plates were worth $8 each. The unusual soup was indeed cheesy (and had red bell peppers in it), but the guys were unimpressed with what they described as its "homeopathic amounts of meat." We split that hulking cinnamon bun in the center for dessert.

Once at the museum, we started with the art-glass exhibition. All of the pieces come from the private collection of American businessman George R. Stroemple, and you can see many of them on the collection's website. Since several accidents back in the 1970s weakened Dale Chihuly and blinded him in the left eye, he has always worked with other artists to realize his ideas. For display at the Riverfront were samples from two different collaborative series. The Macchia are a series of "spotted" bowls and vases with solid interiors and mottled exteriors for which Chihuly wants to use all 300 colors of glass. This is tricky, because the different inclusions that lend the silica its color also change its melting point, but somehow it manages to all work together. You can see below that some of the Maccia look a little like the mollusks we saw in the IMAX show later.

These were on display in the lobby. Upon inquiry in the Gift Shop, we learned
that they are available for purchase to the tune of $7,000 and $8,000, respectively.
You know what they say: If you have to ask, then you can't afford it!
The Venetian series, created in that city in the late 1980s and early 1990s, consists of vases with wild color combinations, painted sketches, and my favorites, large glass "bottlestoppers" with putti (secular cherubs without wings). The putti were sculpted from hot glass with flecks of gold in it. Part of this series is an enormous "chandelier"--really five pieces in one. You really should click to see photos of the Laguna Murano Chandelier. With milky white sea creatures nestled among snaky arms of "seaweed," it is the masterpiece of a public art display Chihuly did in the mid-1990s, of chandeliers hung around Venice. S. and N. saw some of them in person while they were vacationing there.

Clock from the 1876
courthouse, torn down
in 1962 to make way for a
modern limestone building
with all of the ... character
you can imagine in an
edifice from that era.
There was also S.'s favorites, the Tagliapietra goblets with all manner of stems and bowls, and an entomologist's case of Costantini's glass insects, including praying mantises, a bunch of different kinds of beetles, and a swarm of delicate little bees.

Next door was a room devoted to origami. In addition to some impressive animal figures, there were abstract pieces of paper art, including tessallations, intricately pleated or coiled shapes, and modular sculptures. The display was rounded out by examples of folding in fashion, architecture, and technology. Origami has inspired engineers trying to fold things into smaller packages, such as coronary artery stents, vehicle airbags, and telescope lenses for transport into outer space.

We walked through "The Street," dedicated to the history of Peoria; sat in on a good planetarium show about constellations ("Stars over Peoria"); and ended with a 3D "giant screen" viewing of The Last Reef, a documentary about coral reefs. The videography was gorgeous--the sea slugs were my favorite--but we agreed afterward that the editing was muddled. The film began with the astonishing fact that the coral reef around Bikini Atoll has (mostly) regenerated in the half century since atomic bomb testing ended in 1958, then it warned that reefs are bleaching and dying because modern cities and energy use acidify the water--but maybe the coral are adaptive and will outlast us anyway. It was as if the writers couldn't decide whether to chastise or encourage viewers.

Old Abe the War Eagle,
mascot of the 8th Wisconsin
Volunteer Infantry Regiment
during the American Civil War.
They never lost a battle with
him; he visited Peoria in 1866.
While researching what to do in Peoria, I had downloaded what turned out to be a 1-hour, 2.5-mile walking tour around the downtown, which we decided to do after finishing at the museum. Thankfully the weather was so poor that we didn't attempt to walk it but rather drove around (and around) while I narrated from the backseat. Who knew that Peoria had such interesting architecture? For instance, Horace Trumbauer of Philadelphia designed the Hotel Pere Marquette in 1927 and hired George Mathews Harding--only the most famous muralist in the country at the time--to paint murals of various Europeans interacting with Native Americans. One of the last buildings made by Chicago architect William Lebaron Jenney--"the Father of the Skyscraper"--was the Jefferson Building, billed as "Peoria's first fireproof building" when it was built with a steel frame in 1910. And the next time you're there, look for the half-naked female postal worker on the side of the 1937 Post Office & Federal Courthouse, courtesy of Chicago-based WPA sculptor Freeman Schoolcraft. Finally, Philip Johnson designed the glass-fronted Peoria Civic Center as "a necklace of jewels." It opened in 1982 with an arena, exhibit hall, and theater. After about half an hour we were satiated, and it was time to head north for dinner anyway.

Dinner was a jolly affair at the Lindenhof, where the German-American Central Society hosts a weekly dinner on Friday nights, complete with live accordion entertainment and German beers on tap. On the menu that night was fried fish, breaded chicken, roast beef, green beans, red cabbage, spaetzle, mashed potatoes, gravy, green salad, and rye bread. For an extra donation you could get a soup and/or dessert. It was the perfect mix of German (three meats!) and American. The walls are decorated with flags, coats of arms, other kitsch. On the wall behind us hung a sign with the German adage "Food and drink keep body and soul together" (Essen und Trinken hält Leib und Seele zusammen).

Food, drink--and conversation. For dinner we met an old friend of DH's and mine from Baltimore, MN, who has come back to Central Illinois. It was really good to share her company again. After much food, drink, and conviviality we all piled in the car. DH drove, and I fell asleep. Day trippers indeed.

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