Last Conversation Piece says a lot

I must admit this series of rotund statues makes me laugh. Like it’s a Weight Watchers meeting and a dispute breaks out as one says, “Who you calling fat?”

That’s the great part of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden whose many modern art pieces can be whatever you want them to be. While I have no idea what most of these things are, I enjoy the outdoor bronze statues.

The Last Conversation Piece was created by Spanish artist Juan Munoz in 1994-95 and quickly purchased by the Hirshhorn. It’s five bronze statues on the Independence Ave. side of the building. Three of them are together as if in a huddle for a little 2-2 touch football.

Munoz was an interesting cat who disdained his family’s wealth to become a New York waiter until breaking through as an artist in the 1980s. He was known for his theme of isolation. Like I said, I don’t understand most of the Hirshhorn but I know what I like. Munoz died in 2001 of a heart attack at age 48 so we can’t get his version.

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High atop National Cathedral

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Simon Bolivar – ‘The George Washington of South America’























I often wonder why other countries send statues of their heroes to our city. I mean, what do Washingtonians or even Americans care about the king of this country or the wise man of that nation? Wouldn’t it be better to erect statues where passersby know who they were, much less appreciate them?

But Simon Bolivar deserves notice anywhere. He might be the baddest man among Washington’s monuments.

Bolivar liberated not one country, but six in Latin America. Kicked the Spanish out of what’s now Venezuela, Bolivia, Peru, Columbia, Panama and Ecuador. Imagine – the liberator of six countries.

Felix W. de Weldon, who also created the Iwo Jima Memorial, built one of the bigger memorials in town at 18th St. and Virginia Ave. N.W. The 27-foot equestrian statue is so heavy it was shipped from New York in five pieces because bridges and trucks couldn’t handle the 40-ton load.

The bronze statue sits atop a black marble base. Bolivar is wearing a gold medallion given to him by the Marquis de Lafayette. There are six nearby fountains representing the six countries he liberated.

Ironically, Bolivar’s vast fortune was spent during the wars. He died in 1830 of tuberculosis.

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El Maiz is not corny

Sometimes sculptures are like a detective story.

Thanks to the fine folks at the Museum of Modern Art of Latin America located on the 18th St. side of the Organization of American States, and a Yahoo translator, I finally figured out this sculpture is El Maiz by Edgar Negret of Columbia.

The towering yellow steel structure was donated by Negret in 1996 because maiz (corn) is a crucial symbol of the Latino culture.

OK, it’s a short detective story. One of those chapter books. At least we know what it is.

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Footsteps on the moon at National Cathedral

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Mountain and Clouds will blow your mind

My first thought when entering the lobby of the Senate Hart Office Building – was it this big piece of junk?

A few minutes later when viewing it from the seventh of nine floors, my second thought – Oh, I get it now.

My final thought – Mountains and Clouds is a pretty cool sculpture. Too bad it’s hidden in a government office building that the public rarely sees and few will appreciate from ground level.

It was the final piece created by Alexander Calder, one of the leading 20th-century American sculptors known for creating suspending moving parts called “mobiles.” This piece has four clouds hanging from the roof and five triangular mountains underneath. It’s painted black to contrast with the surrounding white marble.

Ironically, Calder’s final day was spent meeting with the Architect of the Capitol over the sculpture. He even used a pair of pliers to adjust the model. Calder then returned to his New York City home where he died that night. Mountain and Clouds was later dedicated in 1987.

Ironically, I didn’t realize my photo was from the rear until cleaning it up in Photoshop. I was photographing from up high and the lighting hid the rear. But, if I can appreciate it from the back, it sure must be a nice piece.

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The Polish general in Lafayette Square

General Thaddeus Kosciuszko was an American hero in so many ways.

The Polish-born general of the Revolutionary War is one of four foreign-born general in the park largely for winning the battle of Saratoga, N.Y.

The statue reflects Kosiuszko fighting for both his Polish homeland and adopted America. Wearing a Continental Army general’s uniform, he holds a map in his right hand of the fortifications of Saratoga. Underneath is simply his name and at the base is Saratoga.

Below Kosciuszko is an eagle whose spread wings protect a globe where the new nation lies underneath as well as a flag, shield and sword. On the right is a wounded Kosciuszko in a Polish uniform giving orders to a Polish peasant. On the left, he’s in an American uniform freeing a bound soldier, which symbolizes the American army. Kosciuszko has a flag in his left hand while a fallen musket and overturned drum are at the youth’s feet. In the rear is the dedication from the Polish people.

Kosciuszko later returned to Poland to fight the Russians. He donated his Ohio lands awarded by Congress to fund a school for African-American children in New Jersey.

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Wordless Wednesday: Bill Shoemaker

Bill Shoemaker at American Portrait Gallery

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The woman behind the man – Queen Isabella

We always know Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 14 hundred and 92. But, we rarely talk about the woman who funded the trip to the new world – Queen Isabella.

The Spanish monarch is in front of the Organization of American States on 17th St. The bronze life-sized statue has her holding a pomegrate with a dove emerging and wearing the crown of Castille. It was dedicated in 1966 as a gift from the Institute of Hispanic Culture of Madrid.

Isabella sold her jewels to pay for the expedition, which certainly was repaid many times over by discovering America. The Catholic ruler also created the Spanish Inquisition.

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Balinese Demons on Embassy Row

As regular readers know, I’m an average photographer. And sometimes it’s hard to get a good shot, especially when the gates are locked at an Embassy Row showstopper. Hence this photo.

But here’s one of two Balinese Demons who guard the front doors of the Indonesian Embassy, which was once the home of Evalyn Walsh McLean, a super rich heiress who owned the Hope Diamond Bali is part of Indonesia and known for its artisans. There are many statues like these in temples on Bali.

These demons are five feet tall and made from volcanic rock more than a century ago. They were purchased by the Indonesian ambassador, who spotted them in Rockerfeller Center.

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Happy New Year

Goodbye 2019

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Monumental Thoughts turns 9

Lincoln Memorial

Happy birthday to us once more. Nine years of blogging about the daily sights, sounds and scenes of Washington from a tour guide’s perspective.

I haven’t walked 1,000 tours yet, but it’s getting close. I can tell by my poor feet. They no longer want to do the Arlington National Cemetery-Mount Vernon daily double as much.

Monumental Thoughts drew 14,752 visitors in 2019, bringing the overall total to 174,559. Huffington Post once called us a “Top 5 Read” and I recently co-wrote a Washingtonian magazine piece on the city’s hidden gems. It’s nice to think the knowledge of my hometown is being passed along to another generation. Statues aren’t exactly sexy reading.

The most read story for the ninth straight year was why rocks are atop stones at Arlington National Cemetery. But, my list of my 100 favorite Smithsonian exhibits was No. 2. An update on the man with a dog on the Korean War Memorial wall was No. 3.

Readers came from 120 countries with the U.S. nearly 90 percent. The U.K., Canada and France fill out the top four. All 50 states and two territories contributed readers with D.C. the leader over Virginia and Maryland respectively.

So what’s next? An interesting thought. Change is ever present my life. In the past six months, I was layed off from a media job for the third time in six years, but it led me to a lifetime dream of writing for Sports Illustrated as part of the Redskins/Maven network. I’m also writing for Sport out of London and other groups. My tour business saw the loss of one steady client while adding others so in the end things are good.

In 2020, you’ll see me offering more tours at National Cathedral plus a new tour that I’ll keep undisclosed until starting in March. Keeps my competitors guessing, but you’re going to like it. I’ll still do the National Mall, too, just not as often. Turning 60 in 2020 has me rethinking some priorities and health goals.

So thanks for reading all these years. Hopefully, I’ll still be doing it in 2030.

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St. Ignatius Church in Southern Maryland

St. Ignatius Church

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Jefferson in gingerbread

Jefferson in gingerbread

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Merry Christmas in Washington

White House Christmas tree 2019

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State trees by the White House

State trees by White House

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Christmastime in Washington

Jefferson Memorial in gingerbread at Mandarin Oriental Hotel

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Northern lights in Washington?

Art show in Washington

Ever wanted to see the Northern lights or make trees sway? Artechouse offers both at its grand art space just steps from the Mandarin Oriental Hotel.

“Aurora: The Spirit of Northern Lights” is currently shown at Artechouse. The interactive show not only provides a look at the Northern Lights that can’t be seen in Washington, but also an interactive ability to move trees and create frosty views on walls.

I’m not an artsy person, but it’s a pretty cool experience. See more at Artechouse.

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Mount Vernon back to original color

Mount Vernon 2019

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Patience is key to better photos

Sunset at St. Ignatius Church

Everyone is a photographer nowadays with iPhones. And, the phones take great photos like the one above. This was with the new iPhone 11 that is a real game-changer with 12-pixel quality.

But, one advantage I learned as a young newspaper reporter/photographer in the 1970s was framing a shot. We used actual film then and editors frowned upon excessive photos. It was expensive and lost time in a dark room. You learned to frame your shot for that one great photo rather than a dozen that people now take on phones before picking one. And as a sports photographer, I learned to anticipate movement.

So I teach patience when showing photographers around different venues. Look for the photo in your mind, frame it in the lens rather than relying on Photoshop.

I took three photos of the one above at St. Ignatious Church in Chapel Point, Md. before choosing this one. Line up the subject and wait for the sun. It’s not easy because the sun sets quickly, but the wait is worth it.

Remember, it’s not about the camera. It’s about the photographer. Take a breath, feel the image and your photos will improve greatly.

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