Monticello Road is a community arts project in Charlottesville, Virginia. Through photography and a series of public events and conversations, we explore how an art can be an essential, integral and everyday part of a healthy community.

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Sunday, September 27, 2009

Wandering Eyes

The mist was gone by the time I got home to my camera, but here's a view from the top of one of those mountains, where we hike later in the afternoon.

It is not terribly unusual for me to have near-misses with telephone poles or lampposts while running—usually on account of some super-attractive female going the other direction. On this day, however, I nearly drifted into traffic while ogling a different sort of beauty.

I was finishing up a long run and booking down West Main in Charlottesville, near the railroad bridge. When I topped the rise, I saw the mountains that surround the city all cloaked in high fog, with the sun streaming all around them.

I had been back C-ville for three days and it had done nothing but rain, and this morning started without precip but not entirely promising either. During the course of the run, the Heavens seemed to be mulling their options between bright sun and black clouds.

By the time I hit Main Street though, a decision had been reached: Sun in full force. It would be a glorious day, like the one after Noah’s flood. It was primeval: the mists drawn away from the mountains as curtains from a window. A bright sun was shining through.

Sunday mornings are quiet in Charlottesville—the better to keep one eye fixed on the mountains, needing just one for navigation.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Outside Help

Whether you are superstitious or not, if you find a four-leaf clover, you take it. So when I was running in Central Park yesterday, which happened to be the Autumnal Equinox, and found a half-buried horseshoe, I had to pick it up. I’m not sure if it will bring me good luck or not but I’ll take any help I can get. I’ll hang it securely over the doorway of my new house and hope it catches some blessings.

I am already mightily blessed, and not in wealth or talismans. You see, I have powerful friends--not the you'll-never-work-in-this-town-again or break-your-kneecaps-if-you-mess-with-me types. I have that kind of friend too but now I'm speaking of two radiant and wholly benovolent souls in John Adaster and Anki King, who have been hosting me this autumn in New York. More than providing me with shelter, they have been great sources of emotional strength.

They have made me feel very welcome in their midst. How often can anyone say that they feel truly and positively welcome in their environment? Moreover, this is not simply a "make yourself at home," situation. Anki and John actively project an aura of goodwill that invigorates.

I knew it would be pretty great to spend time with them, but I had no idea that they would be such food for the soul. Even though they are extremely serious-minded people, there is a nimbus of joy in their home which is positively invigorating, like the oxygen-rich air you find next to a waterfall. It is a waterfall that has its source in a very deep pool of kindness.

They have many interests and are fascinating conversationalists and we have stayed up late talking about art and a million other things. They're dedicated workers and accomplished artists; one cannot help being inspired by their example. They motivate me to be a better artist and a more graceful host when the opportunity arises.

Being away from home and family is emotionally taxing, and anyone associated with the marathon knows what a crazy atmosphere it can be. Despite it all I have felt calm and steady throughout, ready to thrive, largely through the graces of my angelic hosts.

Thank you.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Open Season

Everywhere I looked I saw work related to my own. When it wasn't the trees, it was the chairs. More invisible connections, more elegies for Arcadia...

On September 10, a horn sounded that was audible only in the Art World and the hounds went abounding over to Chelsea for the season’s first Thursday Gallery Crawl as the annual beacons of light thrust into the sky above Ground Zero

I went to see my friend Simen’s opening at Yossi Milo. It was packed, just like the streets outside. His work re-imagines naturalist taxidermy of the kind one finds in the Natural History Museum. It’s a great show, though far too many of the people there were just sprinting from gallery to gallery and not really looking at any of the art along the way.

It’s true that there was a lot to see, and it would be impossible to more than scratch the surface of an abundant ocean of art. I saw quite a few friends swimming along as well. It was a beautiful evening with an electricity that is reserved for Opening Night and this was the unanimous—if undeclared—premiere of a season of opening nights.

If what I saw was an indication, I will have plenty of company as an artist interested in the Natural World and in trees in particular. I saw very much work quite related to my own. See, for example, this. I’ve been doing it for a long time and I’m no slave to fashion and many of the others would state the same thing. So, we’re working together on something and it’s comforting for an artist to know that he is sawing on a string that has some resonance.

With my love for growing things fully aroused, I figured the best way to close the evening would be to stroll along the High Line, for I had not yet been there. It was just gorgeous but it also gave me a strange sensation that I hadn’t felt since Christo’s Gates. For some reason, it felt like I was in an architectural rendering of the High Line as much as in the actual place. There’s an extreme cleanliness of fabrication as if there’s little--if any--deviation from design to execution. Which begs the question: Why not just look at the designs and save the trip?

I would not go so far as to say that the High Line is not worth the trip, quite the opposite, but the over-the-top (if you’ll pardon the pun) attention the detail in execution seems misplaced to me. The place is supposed to be a garden, a little strip of Nature drawn across the concrete grid of the City. But without disorder, what’s left of Nature?

As I reached my stepping-off point at Fourteenth Street, I caught a glimpse of a short film playing up there on the High Line. It was Andrew Zuckerman’s “Bird,” which shows a series of beautiful and regal birds posed (or perched) in front of a white backdrop. It’s quite lovely, if heartbreakingly clinical. Kind of like the High Line really: a little piece of Nature, brought from someplace else, inserted neatly into a space that is so clean as to be nearly sterile.

If you can get past the American Apparel aesthetic, it is a lovely elegy for the Natural World, and it fit perfectly with the other art I had seen that night. I cannot think of a more fitting way to close the evening and perhaps the most beautiful thing of all is how all the experiences fit together without being coordinated or planned.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Northbound Again

I'm really getting to know the Starlight Express. Photo Essay.

I’m back on the bus to NYC to work the Marathon. One would think that it would get slightly easier each time. That is true on the logistical side: I know the ins-and-outs of bus and train travel and I’m getting to be a very speedy packer. In some ways it gets harder. I was extra-sad to say goodbye to my family this time around. Maybe it’s partly my annual end-of-summer blues. Maybe it’s watching Sebastian progress through school that reminds me that he’s getting older, and so am I. I don’t know why I am so sad this time.

Fortunately I’m going to be staying with my friends Anki and John and I’m really looking forward to being around them. They’re cheerful and hard-working artists full of fun ideas and lots of positive energy and big reservoirs of inspiration. I’m really grateful to them for taking me in.

And let’s face it: I’m not exactly going to Cleveland. New York in the autumn is a wonderland for an artist. And the reason I’m going there is extremely cool too: the New ING York City Marathon is an amazing event. It’s extremely energizing (and exhausting). Plus I get to work in my studio for a change. I will have a lot of fun in the City and work hard and earn my keep.

And then I’ll scoot back home.

Friday, September 4, 2009


To better understand the title of this offering, please click over to Liz Robbins' posting about on-the-run hydration on the New York Times' RunWell blog.

Notwithstanding its porn-star title, Dick Woods Road is a beautiful and wholesome place to run--and a very challenging Long Run.

Maybe it's just the time of year but I feel like I'm living in some kind of Arcadian Paradise. Simple pleasures like the morning run seem simply sublime during these last days of summer. It doesn't hurt of course, that Piedmont Virginia is stunningly beautiful. And the region is living up to its hype as a destination for runners.

Take, for example, my most basic can't-be-bothered-to-think-where-to-go run. It's an eight miler out-and-back that winds up the side of a mountain to Monticello. Half the run is through the lavishly (and expensively) landscaped Saunders-Monticello Trail. That portion is crushed gravel and about a mile of boardwalk, which allows the many seniors in the area to enjoy the Mountain Laurel, Rhododendron, and towering oaks. There is one gnarly interstate cloverleaf to negotiate at peril and a killer hill back to the front door. But on balance, what better way to start a day than a prance through the woods and a sip from the fountain at Thomas Jefferson's place?

That route is one of dozens in my quiver, each with its charms and challenges.

Today I needed a long run and I wanted to try something new, so I rode out to Dick Woods Road, a dirt country lane where the UVA runners like to train. Outrageous. Rolling hills and winding curves through the horse stable, pastures, and pocket woodlands that make this region so special. Up and down it meanders to the very feet of the Blue Ridge--a magnificent backdrop for training. The soft gravel surface leaves the body remarkably ache-free at the end, yet it also adds to the strength required to traverse its length (eight miles out and eight miles back).

All inspired from being quoted in Liz' piece referenced above (yes, I want you to read it), I decided to practice what I preach and stash a fluid bottle at the quarter-way point, which I would revisit and retrieve at the three-quarters point on the way back. That sets up a nice epilogue, quoted straight from my follow-up email to Liz:
So I did a long run today on a breathtaking dirt road that ended right at the toes of the Blue Ridge. On the way back I caught up with a fairly hot female runner and chatted with her for a while as we ran. Soon we pulled up to a crossroad where I had stashed a fluid bottle, I offered her a drink as it's a beautiful but very dry day and we had both already run about 12 miles at that point. Just then, she pulled up short, stooped down and seemingly out of nowhere she produced a bottle of her own from the tall grass alongside the road. We both laughed and went our separate ways (or, rather, paces).

Later, after as I drove back along the course to take pictures (I would not be caught dead running with a camera or cell-phone), I saw her going by in her super-dusty truck, fresh from retrieving her hidden bottle. We both smiled and waved.
All charged up from the lovely symmetry of life, flush from an invigorating run, and delightfully mellow with endorphins and some shockingly good Mexican food I picked up at gas station on the road to Ivy (who would have expected that?), I came home, cranked out this blog entry and am now ready for a delightful day full of beauty and happy surprises.