This Weekend: Snow sculpting and more in Lake Geneva

A winning sculpture from a few years ago

A winning sculpture from a few years ago

Take a snow day to get away from political campaigns and shrug off Super Bowl 50 hype.

Lake Geneva, WI annual hosts the US Snow Sculpting Competition the first week in February. Teams from across the country that already won their local championships are now competing for national recognition.

And it doesn’t matter what Mother Nature has in store. Snow blocks are made at the Grand Geneva Resort because it needs the machines for its ski slopes.

The blocks are dropped off in the park near the Riviera on Geneva Lake (no typo, the lake really is a reverse of the town name).

Teams start carving their snow blocks this week to be ready for the judging this Saturday, Feb. 6, 2016. There are professional judges but visitors also get to vote for the “People’s Choice Award.”

You really have to see the snow sculptures to believe how incredible they look and the skill it takes to make them.

But snow sculpting isn’t all that is happening at this vacation town this weekend. The competition is part of Winterfest which includes helicopter rides, ice skating on a nearby lake, skiing and a slew of other activities at the Grand Geneva Resort plus open houses at several stores and galleries in town.

Parking is free for the week but there also is a shuttle bus from the nearby Home Depot.

Lake Geneva is a charming town about an hour’s drive northwest of Chicago just over the Wisconsin border. However, there is enough to see and do to it make it an overnight getaway. Check Visit Lake Geneva for accommodations and full list of activities.

“China – Portrait of a People” reveals a diverse land

"China - Portrait of a People" unveils a diverse people and land

"China - Portrait of a People"

Amazing what can be found when cleaning one’s desk. Sitting in a pile of I-will get-to-this-tomorrow items was photographer Tom Carter’s astonishing book “China – A Portrait of a People.”

Published in Hong Kong by Blacksmith Books in 2008 and re-released in 2012, “China” is way more than a coffee-table book. Photographed while backpacking over two years, it captures people, landscapes and structures in the country’s 33 provinces.

It is not a book to peruse in one sitting. Composed of 800 color photographs across 638 pages, it is an honest reveal of life in cities, back roads, desert climes and subtropical jungles.

The book is available from Amazon. To see and hear Carter, check out this video. It starts with him in a classroom where he was teaching English. From it you understand he has a sense of humor and appreciates the importance of the individual.

Art and architecture make The Broad museum memorable

The Broad experience begins in an unusual lobby

The Broad experience begins in an unusual lobby

What do you try to visit when you travel?

Certainly scenic views are high on my list as well as most travelers’. But next to nature’s wonders I seek out art museums. So luckily our California daughter picked up tickets for The Broad, a new museum downtown LA where visitors may wait in line for hours for a ticket if not reserved in advance.

And yes, it is worth the wait if need be. But if going to LA, reserve tickets ahead of time. Admission is free but the museum just opened in September 2015 so is still on everyone’s to-do list.

BTW, the building and art collection is a gift of Eli and Edythe Broad (pronounced Brode with a long o) to the public, thus the free admission. However, special exhibits and programs will have fees. Check programs.

Much of the free museum collection is on the first and second floor. The third floor will have special installations.

So why all the excitement? First, the building, itself, is an architectural attraction. Described as a “veil and vault” construction, it was designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro with Gensler for about $140 million. Indeed, as visitors descend from the second floor they can peer through a window into the vault that holds more art works. The veil is the building’s honeycombed-style roof and sides.

Another $200 million has been put in trust by the Broads to cover maintenance, operating expenses and acquisitions. The “docents” there will tell you they really are paid staff with art backgrounds and not volunteers.

Peek through a window to see the vault

Peek through a window to see the vault

Secondly, the collection is an art history lesson of some of the best examples of works from the 1950s to now. Not all pieces in the 2,000 work collection are up at one time. To see some of the collection and its artists on line click here.

Among them are works by Henry Moore, Ed Ruscha, Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, Andy Warhol, Jeff Koons and Cy Twombly. Chicagoans who have recently seen the “New Contemporary” exhibit recently donated to the Art Institute of Chicago will recognize editions of some of the same and similar pieces.

If you go, stop in a darkened room to see “The Visitors,” a video installation by Ragnar Kjartansson that shows eight musicians in different places and on different screens but all playing the same music.

The other must-do stop is “Infinity.” To go in to it you have to sign in at a registration screen in the lobby because only one person is allowed entry at a time so entrance is a time slot.

A Roy Lichtenstein sculpture is set off by the honeycomb's reflected light

A Roy Lichtenstein sculpture is set off by the honeycomb's reflected light

The Broad is a don’t miss experience no matter what style or period of art peaks your interest. For more information visit The Broad.

Fun holiday shopping ideas

First, toss away the idea that museums visits are just for occasional drop-ins to see current exhibits. Their gift shops are a treasure trove of unique, artistic items.

Secondly, think two-for-one when shopping at a museum store. You are getting a special item and a portion of the price goes to the museum so you are helping a not-for profit place you enjoy visiting.

Third, you can go in person to spend some fun hours browsing or shop at the museum store online.

Here are three museums with fun and fascinating gifts for the holidays.

Find artistic gifts at the Art Institute of Chicago

Find artistic gifts at the Art Institute of Chicago

The Art Institute of Chicago, 111 S, Michigan Ave., Chicago, IL 60603

It’s fun to walk through the main store in the original building to see cases of jewelry, shelves of ties, stationery, cards and books and displays of pottery and art glass. But don’t forget the shop in the Modern Wing for its home decorative items. Many of the items are online so you can go to art institute shop and call 1-855-301-9612. If you go in person be sure to stop downstairs to see how some of the Thorne Rooms are decorated for the holidays.

The Field Museum, 1400 S. Lake Shore Drive, Chicago, IL 60605

The museum is always worth a visit to see dinosaurs, American Indian artifacts and wander inside an Egyptian pyramid tomb. But for the holidays also go to lose yourself in The Field Museum’s huge shop where you roam among large stuffed animals, exotic art items, out-of-the-ordinary jewelry and clothing and fun t-shirts. Best plan is to visit in person but when time doesn’t allow go to fieldstore.

Museum of Science and Industry, 5700 S. Lake Shore Drive, Chicago, IL 60637

Go to see the museum’s Grand Tree in the Rotunda and the 50 smaller trees that for years are a holiday tradition because they are decorated by Chicago’s ethnic communities. While there go through the museum’s Mirror Maze and visit the robots currently moving around a special exhibit area. However, the museum store is also a good place to find a great gift for your budding scientist or an historic photo for someone’s wall from the photography store.

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