First of all, were you aware that the name “Chicago” is derived from a French interpretation of the Native American (Miami-Illinois language) word shikaakwa, a plant known to botanists as Allium ticoccum? More commonly referred to as ramps by Vermonters, Allium ticoccum is a species of wild onion with garlicky overtones that is a spring specialty here, soon to be foraged and served on home and restaurant tables all over our state.
The genesis of the city’s name as we know it today appears to be French explorer Robert de LaSalle’s September 1687 journal, in which he noted, “…we arrived at the said place called Chicagou which, according to what we were able to learn of it, has taken this name because of the quantity of garlic which grows in the forests in this region.” Now that’s my kind of place!
A decade ago our daughter moved to Chicago for school and never left, so at this point we’ve visited enough times that it has become comfortably familiar while still maintaining plenty of novel opportunities and sites to explore. Just back from a long spring weekend where the forsythia is already starting to bloom (but no ramp sightings), I’ve been thinking this week how great it is to have a place to visit just frequently/infrequently enough to maintain a list of favorites to see time and again, which still somehow always seem fresh.
Marc Chagall’s large stained glass America Windows at the Art Institute of Chicago always take my breath away and are well-worth the hike to the farthest corner of the museum to see. Secular in theme, they bring together symbols of American history, the Chicago skyline, and a representation of the arts. Please save ten minutes to watch this wonderful video from the Art Institute about the history, creation, conservation and reinstallation of this treasure.
Arrangement in Grey and Black No. 1 * (Whistler’s Mother) by James McNeill Whistler has returned to Chicago for the first time in 60 years. As I found was also true of the Mona Lisa, its subject appears warmer and lovelier in person. Contrary to the Mona Lisa, which was much smaller than I’d expected, it was a surprise that Whistler’s Mother is almost life-size. All that said, I was much more attracted to this relatively small painting of Whistler’s brother, appreciating it for its painterly brushstrokes and unconventional placement of the figure. The added bonus was I had it all to myself while everyone else crowded around Mrs. Whistler.
It’s hard to resist a visit to Dick Blick even if just to wander the aisles, but I usually keep any purchases to a minimum because of the hefty Chicago 10.25% sales tax. I’ve been on the lookout for a larger format, soft-cover sketchbook that would open flat for a double spread, yet be thin and light enough to easily tuck into a carry-on. I found two possibilities. The staplebound Fabriano EcoQua is really meant for writing, but the paper is pretty similar to a Moleskine and takes the ink from a Micron pen without bleeding.
The other selection I brought home is the 8.5″x11″ RendR Lay Flat sketchbook made by Crescent. It boasts ‘no show thru’ paper, which was a major attraction, and I also liked the idea that it is supposed to accept all media. Despite promising a lot, now that I’ve had a chance to try it I don’t think it was worth the cost. Perhaps acrylics work better than watercolors as a wet media, but I found the paper tends to buckle and it’s hard to move wet pigment around on the page. The paper is a nice weight, has a smooth surface for pen or pencil, and doesn’t bleed. But overall, I don’t think I would buy one again.
There wasn’t much time to sketch over the weekend – too many other fun things to see and do. But once back on the plane to fly home, I could bring out my trusty OPUS sketchbook, purchased on another trip in another city, and get back in the saddle.
* Worth a read: 14 Things You Might Not Know About Whistler’s Mother