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  • Linda Verbeck

REFLECTIONS: Dressed by Nature and Van Gogh Stop & Chat

I had been looking forward to doing the Stop & Chat and was not disappointed. My shifts were on Sundays so there tended to be many visitors from out of state, visiting family, or coming back from their own experience immersed in nature Up North.

Dressed by Nature: Textiles of Japan and Van Gogh and the Olive Groves Stop & Chat with Mia Guides Lyn Mierswa and Deb Baumer.

Visitors were excited to have the opportunity to touch the finished textiles related to Dressed by Nature: Textiles of Japan. The fireman's jacket was a great hit. Visitors were also very interested in touching the samples we had related to the elm bark, banana plant, and indigo. There were many expressions of admiration and even awe about the skill and hard work of these creators. And a number of visitors with their own deep knowledge, including textile artists and professors, were generous in sharing their knowledge. Many visitors were also very interested in the connections between Ainu, Tibetan, Inuit, and Northwest Coast art, including their survival in the face of attempts to destroy their cultures.

Olive Trees, from 1889, with the are of the fingerprint indicated. Collection of the Minneapolis Institute of Art.

I found myself wanting to highlight Van Gogh and the Olive Trees, as well. Visitors were interested in seeing the whole series of olive grove paintings, but not very interested in talking about the technical advances. I had found the catalog Through Vincent's Eyes: Van Gogh and His Sources from a recent show at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art. These topics are also covered in the excellent catalog for our own exhibit. I talked with visitors about some of the reasons artists might want to paint in series, nature series as an analogy for the seasons of life as well as the seasons of nature, and the importance of Millet and the Barbizon school to Van Gogh. I had not realized that the Yellow House was an attempt to recreate a Barbizonian retreat that Van Gogh admired. I took great pleasure when a few visitors asked directions to that area in our museum.

Many of us had not realized that Van Gogh had also painted Starry Night while at St. Remy. But he found the experience exacerbated his symptoms. He felt he had trodden too far onto “enchanted grounds,” so he returned to nature painting to protect himself from a new “fit of religious exaltation.” He found great spirituality and healing in nature, as we know.

I was grateful that a number of visitors talked about the importance of art to themselves in facing life challenges. Both the making art and seeing art have such power. Which reminds me of a visit to the Art Institute of Chicago when I was in college. I was in a bit of a life crisis and went to see my favorite Monet for comfort and inspiration. But, alas, it was gone! Only a blank wall! I burst into tears in despair and a kindly guard came up to me and asked if he could help in any way. I wailed “My painting! It's gone! Where is it?” He calmly told me it was in an exhibition in Paris. Well, I knew I had to share it with others, and at least it was Paris. “Well, are they going to take good care of it while it's gone?” And he reassured me they would. I still remember how much I appreciated his standing with me gazing at the blank wall for a few more seconds before we both moved on.

I am so appreciative of our guards. And, of course, that our Van Gogh is safely home.

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