Brainy Cultural Paradise

Side View

Most beautiful libraries focus on what’s inside. Our downtown library both in Pasadena and in Los Angeles are just that. I love a vaulted ceilings and overflowing bookshelves, but I’d have to say for me, the grounds and the facades are just as important. From structures steeped in design history, libraries prove that free books and internet access aren’t the only reason to visit an architectural gem. But the one I love going to the most is a short drive away. Having discovered it when I lived in Los Feliz, it’s still as wonderful now as it was then. There aren’t many things that can claim that sort of history.

Front of Bldg. taken at angle

The Brand Library in Glendale, is unique, most likely because it was a home. Leslie Coombs Brand built his residence on a lot at the base of the Verdugo Mountains. His beloved Miradero—a Spanish word meaning “a high place overlooking an extensive view.” is a 5,000 square foot Moorish mansion. Its design interest lies in a Saracenic inspired exterior with minarets and repeating scalloped arches.  And it’s contrasting late-Victorian style interior gives it warmth. Together these two elements denote a rare sort of beauty and grandeur.  When Brand died in 1925 he left his home and adjacent land to the City for use as a public park and library.


As an Art and Music Library, The Brand Library has  Galleries and a Recital Hall, where art exhibitions are hosted and classical concert performances are given. The setting is surrounded by a magnificent verdant park, hiking trails, and a Japanese garden. So not only does it foster beauty and literacy but it inspires intellectual curiosity and stimulates the imagination. My, oh my, a treasure for my heart and mind!

A Muse or a Whim

For Christmas I received a little fictional bon bon for the discerning literary palate.  As  my friend pointed out, Griffin and Sabine by Nick Bantock is a trilogy of strange and delightful images, and a story-line with a mystery.

The entire set of books are inventive and imaginative and wonderful…especially for someone like me who lives to write letters.

It has beautiful, sometimes disturbing artwork that only adds to the postcard and letters that have been written between a couple.  I could spend hours just looking at the artwork, finding something new with each glance. It’s that wonderful.

Throughout the trilogy, there is the slightly guilty thrill of opening an envelope addressed to someone else and reading the letters.

Equal parts Romantic (in the Byron sense), Impressionist and Surrealist, Griffin and Sabine is a memorable experience. I read a book each day, while it rained and took my time savoring each book; wrapping myself up in this charming, intriguing, simple yet incredibly layered piece of art.

Its best feature is that it is a very non-traditional book. As an experiment in artificial “found” literature, the book follows the correspondence of two random people separated by miles and culture who are tied together by an inexplicable link. This book is a window into that connection and their discovery of one another.

Sabine has the gift of second -sight and begins to correspond with Griffin since she can psychically see his artwork. She too is an artist. Griffin feels threatened by her knowledge but eventually out of loneliness and her emotional support forms a friendship.  Despite his emotional wall, he falls in love first.  She reciprocates his feelings, and we sense they are soul-mates.

In the second volume it’s Sabine’s turn, like a treasure hunt, to find the answer to the ultimate question, or maybe to find the question of self. She travels to meet Griffin.  Scared that Sabine isn’t just a figment of his imagination, but a real person, Griffin flees.  Now their letters and cards are coming from all around the globe. Is it real? Is it love? Is someone else watching them?

The artistically beautiful poetic declarations of love are worth reading over and over again.  And every medium is used to its finest and fullest potential from collage, watercolor, print, to script.

A bit darker than the first in this trilogy. The second book ends with another bit of mystery.

In the final book, Griffin is back in England and Sabine returns home. It looks as though they are back to where they began, but they remain determined to meet one another.

And, we are introduced to a third character, who appears to have something to do with their inability to actually meet, but who he is and what his actual intentions are is  somewhat vague.

The writing this time around is a bit more grounded, perhaps because of the very real interference in the physical world. And Sabine’s’ psychic gift is waning. The consideration given to the correspondents’ strange connection is played down, with more emphasis given not only to the danger they’re suspecting in their world(s) but also to the physical longing they both now feel after missing each other in transit.

The art feels similarly placed on solid ground, particularly after the trans-global mysticism that seemed to have gotten in with Griffin’s travels last volume. We see less outright experimentation on both sides,and indeed one of the cards this time is simply a color negative of a previous one.

The series could have ended here, and indeed it appears we have seen the end of the extraordinary correspondence between Griffin and Sabine.  But the story’s not quite over.  And the ending leaves much to the reader’s imagination as to what happens to the pair.

I’d like to think that they formed a union in some far away land and continued to do their art, living happily ever after.

If you’ve read the books please feel free to comment.

If not, I encourage you to do so, and be stirred by lovely art, wonderful prose, romanticism and the feeling of eternal love.

Museums Galore

Totem Pole-Southwest Museum
Totem Pole-Southwest Museum

Pasadena did it again- making art accessible to everyone. Yesterday I went to Museum of the Arroyo Day (MOTA) which celebrated art, architecture, and history of the Arroyo Seco area. Arroyo Seco, spanish for “dry stream,” is a seasonal river, watershed and canyon. You can read more about it here:

The day featured six museums open to the public with a shuttle service transporting passengers from one location to another. I started my journey taking the Gold Line directly to The Southwest Museum (I haven’t been there in ages). It holds an exquisite array of pottery and there were demonstrations of everyday life tasks that were performed by the Tongva Indians.

Then I went to Heritage Square.  With the guided tours of historic Victorian homes, it takes you back in time to an era when things like electricity were a novelty.

But the place that knocked my socks off was Lummis home and garden. Charles Fletcher Lummis built the house with his own hands over a 12-year period. It’s enormous and would be a pleasant home to live in by today’s standards.  Lummis went to Harvard and came out west by foot, kinda like Forrest Gump. A maverick, he was the first city editor for the Los Angeles Times and was an early activist fighting for Indian rights. But wait there’s more… he was also an author, anthropologist and photographer. To build his home, he used materials he found such as boulders to create cobblestone and each one of the doors is hand carved. He must have caught the architectural community by storm. Genius, sheer genius.

Front of House
Side of 3,000 sq ft house
Corner Detail

I left with a glimpse of the past and thought of how I like those who came before me, came to Southern California for the good life.

Portrait of an Old Man

The last time I looked at this, I remembered someone who had 24 years on me. We were from different generations but the need for aesthetic ran through our veins. Despite the age gap we shared the need for higher living with a sensibility and spirituality that often times only an artist understands. I painted then and don’t now. He didn’t play then but plays piano now. Some might call this interaction a past life connection. I call it a whisper of history that was heard above the noise of time.

We went to museums and I remember the Art we saw. One such work was by the painter Rembrandt.

Over the course of his life, Rembrandt painted more than ninety portraits of himself. One of the finest autobiographies in art history. The paintings were not accurate; they were true. He painted himself from within, freezing moments in time, capturing emotions, selves, and states. Creating a succession of vignettes so intimate, so brutally honest that looking at them almost feels intrusive. Laying bare, in all its vulnerability, a human life. There are no mistakes. Just a succession of frozen moments that capture the essence of being alive, while we can. A portrait of a life felt, and a life fully lived.

Ideas & Intimacies

fadeI once told a class, “It’s hell writing and it’s hell not writing. The only happy state is just having written.”

Even in non-fiction one has to distance themselves from the information to become objective and create a flow. You have to think, research, create a hook, think of the psychology behind your characters, think of how to strategize and all that takes time. Did I say think several times? Concentration is required.

It’s only an uninformed person who believes that once you have the material you simply speed away at the computer.

When I was a columnist writing on philanthropy and the arts, I once encountered technical problems. With a deadline approaching, I borrowed my brother’s home office. My sister-in-law was surprised that my 750 word column took me an hour and a half to complete. Being a reader she was right-on. Not everyone is that astute. What I didn’t tell her is that I had already spent 2 hours thinking and planning my strategy.

Over the years, I’ve come to experience the certainty of my statement. It doesn’t get easier or go any faster. It’s a process. If you’re a writer, you have to write. But writing can be difficult.

In fiction, the days when inspired beauty flows straight from the brain of God via your computer into the world are few. It has to come through you, which is why you need quiet, solitude and space to concentrate. Even then, it can be a lot of staring at the blank screen, or writing a sentence only to delete it, or trying to get into the head of a character who persists in remaining opaque.

New forms can be either very exciting or very challenging. The best time-out is to read. But then one has to be careful that what you write is authentically yours and not something that got buried into your unconscious as a recapitulization of another’s labor.

It takes truth to stay focused and commit to what you write on paper.

Unfortunately, despite their integrity, writers are not appreciated. Because it’s not a visible art form until it’s completed which takes time, and no one can see or connect with what’s going on in your head, it gets undermined. It’s not like speaking. Speaking tolerates mistakes, writing does not. Considered the most difficult art, as a human art, it takes logic, skill, practice and creativity. Both hemispheres of your brain have to perform and be adept. Writing requires that you use them systematically and intelligently. There is no cookie-cutter technique.

A painter may have before him the beauty of nature, the sculptor the figure or cast, the musician sheet music, a dancer their body, but a writer must relate sound wholly to a character. An imagination must be used to draw a mental picture and correlate language to move an audience emotionally. And that is why all artists need the writer. So that the writer can transmit their artistic message and form a mood.

Writing as the art of expression has to be easy to read and well executed. It’s got to have form and movement to create an entire world. The medium is wholly abstractrelying on visual symbols: words, you have a recipe for an art that takes a long time to learn and great labor to enact.

And just when you think you are done, you’re not. Just like death and taxes, you can always count on re-writes. No one is exempt except for the novice who mistakenly believes they are finished.

Finally, there is a massive amount of rejection, where you have to pick yourself up and go again, even when you feel fragile.

So there you have it, reader, not the easiest road but the one I chose and that I pledge my allegiance to, heart, mind and soul.

Do you agree or disagree with my statements and why? I’d love to hear your comments.


Dolores Del Rio as Ramona

Ironically today’s post ties in nicely with my last. That post not only narrated the remembrance of what I wore, and what I heard, and where I went but more so, the treasure of experiencing a historic art and cultural venue. And on Sunday afternoon, I got a chance to do just that.

The San Gabriel Mission Playhouse built in 1927 is a beautiful and lavish showplace. A magnificent and opulent theater steeped in history, complete with tapestries presented by the King of Spain, a beautifully carved and painted ceiling, a fully operational Wurlitzer Theatre Organ, and chandeliers that replicate the lanterns used on Spanish galleons which sailed around the tip of South America en route to California in the 1800’s, it was the perfect locale for the presentation of Ramona. The special screening was the 1928 silent film starring Dolores del Rio.

San Gabriel Mission Playhouse

Her performance was superb; so coquettish, and a pleasure to watch. Directed by Edwin Carewe, who was of Chickasaw descent, his version was sensitive to the racial undertones and was beautifully interpreted. Believed to be lost until it was found in 2010 in the Czech Republic, it was restored on 16mm film before another copy was digitally made.

The story was adapted from the novel written by Native American activist, Helen Hunt Jackson in 1884. It portrays the life of a mixed race Scottish -Native American girl who suffers racial discrimination and hardship. The novel’s influence on the culture and image of Southern California is considerable. Its’ portrayal of Mexican colonial life contributed to establishing a unique cultural identity for the region. More importantly, it speaks volumes of the inequalities that Native Americans endured simply for not being in the majority.

The film ran for two hours and the organist evoked all the emotions of the film playing the score from memory.

Later on, film historians offered the audience an appreciation of the journey the film took on.  As the only remaining copy of the film, it was sent to the Czech Republic where it fell into the hands of the Nazis, and when they were conquered by the Soviet Union, it lay collecting dust; until the Cold War when it was returned to the Czech Republic and was rediscovered, restored, translated and finally came to us.

Outside the venue were classic cars.

1928 Model A Ford
1928 Model A Ford
Bovard House on Broadway

As I was walking to my car I spotted this small Victorian house that ironically I have never seen before. Had I not walked this path I would have missed it! It also has a unique history. You can read more about it here:

I was bursting from joy. I felt like skipping! A fascinating ecstatic day full of art, cinema, cultural awareness, music, antiques, and of finding and appreciating long lost treasures.