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Saturday, March 29, 2008

COOL FLORIDA DAY AT THE NORTON MUSEUM

Despite the promise of Florida sunshine, sometimes the temperatures plummet, and here we are at the Palm Beach Shores Resort with promises of 30° weather tonight. It is in the low 60s today, so we dress in long pants, long-sleeves, and head not to the beach but to the Norton Museum in West Palm Beach to view its Florida treasures.

The Norton Museum was founded in 1941 by transplanted Chicagoan Ralph Hubbard Norton who commissioned the Art Deco/Neo Classical building as a way to share his extensive collection. The Norton Museum's collection consists of over 5000 works of American, Chinese, Contemporary, European and Photographic art. The building is impressive with wings added to the original to house the growing expansion of the collection, and the museum also includes gardens.

Rob and I begin exploring the American Collection. I particularly enjoy paintings from the Ashcan School, that group of artists dedicated to recreating an unflinching depiction of life on New York’s lower east side. I always am drawn to New York anything, so these paintings and others such as George Bellows’ "Winter Afternoon," a 1909 view over the Hudson River from Riverside Park warms my heart. Another favorite of mine, Childe Hassam's "Melting Snow on Fifth Avenue" holds me for a few minutes of appreciative viewing.

Wherever there's an American collection, watch for the Norman Rockwell. Here is "Tea Time," another example of this illustrator's philosophy to "paint life as I would like it to be." Delightful. For the real Rockwell treat, however, visit the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, MA.

Andrew Wyeth's "Road Cut" looks just like Warwick to me, but I also am moved by his words," I prefer winter and fall when you feel the bone structure in the landscape."

Walking through one archway, we pass, with a jolt, one of the most unusual examples of contemporary art by Duane Hanson. This is "Young Worker," a statue standing in a small alcove. Made with real hair and clothing, at first glance this seems a real person Hanson creates these statues, always having the character gaze up, sideways or down, never straight ahead.

Then off to the European collection, spending much of the time with the Impressionists. Here is an impressive collection with works by most of the great artists. I enjoy a Sorollo, "Child on a Beach," a small work but sparkling with the light on the teal water. The joy is just standing there and absorbing. As Paul Cezanne said, "If I think, everything is lost." That's something to think about.

Then off to enjoy some Chagall who said, "Art seems to me to be above all a state of the soul." I like that.

We stop for lunch in Cafe 1451 (the address of the Norton on S. Olive Ave.) where the items on the menu are named after artists, works of art, etc. The Cafe is a pretty room reminiscent of the Corcoran Gallery's restaurant in DC. Rob and I chose Paul Strand--roasted turkey/mango butter/ficelle bread + side salad and Richard Avedon--California avocado/cucumber/tomato/mango chutney/sprouts/whole-grained bread + side salad. Very pleasant. If you go to the Norton, do lunch there.

After lunch we visit some of the other galleries. The extensive Chinese Art holdings include many Buddha sculptures, and it is interesting to see the different depictions. Some of the pieces on display date to the Tang dynasty--618-906. Very impressive and very beautiful.

The museum also houses a very representative photographic selection. In fact the museum owns 2,200 photographs. I always enjoy looking at photographs, so this was just another good time for me.

A friend from New York, Gail, told me about the Norton after a trip down here, and I am passing on that recommendation to you. Does it beat the beach for a winter-weary Yankee? Not really, but it is a great place for a rainy, cold, pull-out-Plan-B day.

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