A Night at the Met: an After Hours Visit with Michelangelo

This is my kind of Night at the Museum — Michelangelo, me, and very few other people! A review of an after hours VIP visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to see the Michelangelo exhibit.

Metropolitan Museum facade at night during the Michelangelo exhibit
My After Hours visit to the Michelangelo exhibit: very special! Photograph, Ann Fisher

This is my kind of Night at the Museum — Michelangelo, me, and very few other people!

Michelangelo's sketch of Masaccio's fresco Expulsion from the Garden displayed in the exhibit Michelangelo Divine Draftsman and Designer exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York
Michelangelo’s sketch of Masaccio’s fresco Expulsion from the Garden. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

The Met show, Michelangelo: Divine Draftsman and Designer, contains over 200 works of art by Michelangelo and his colleagues (133 drawings by the master himself), including chalk drawings, paintings, and works of charcoal on paper, along with bronze and marble sculptures.

The exhibit was eight years in the making. The exhibition’s curator, Carmen C. Bambach, started with a tour to Europe to visit the different works under consideration, and once a list was developed — then came the arduous process of soliciting the artwork.

Many of the drawings are rarely seen at all, and certainly not together. On the left is a very early sketch — the young Michelangelo’s Study of Adam and Eve after The Expulsion from the Garden fresco by Masaccio. It’s fascinating to see drawings from this period in the artist’s life.

In an interview with Artsy, Bambach said, “This is a drawing that hardly anybody has seen in the original other than the specialists,” says Bambach. “Though it’s housed in the Louvre’s collection, it is rarely seen. Having that very powerful drawing in red chalk and in the company of all [other] late 15th-century works…is really a first,” she says.

The exhibit is an extraordinary opportunity to see Michelangelo’s evolution from a young artist into a sculptor, then into a painter, and finally into an architect, through works of art that have never been displayed together at one time. Sadly, the exhibit runs only three months . . . and the clock is ticking: the end is coming quickly. It closes February 12, 2018.

In late January, about three weeks before the exhibit is set to close, The Met announced that over 500,000 people had already visited Michelangelo: Divine Draftsman and Designer.

This is, of course, the problem.

My daughter Catherine went to see the exhibit in the fall, and although she was there when the museum opened, the Michelangelo exhibit was quickly swamped. It’s hard to feel a personal relationship with a work of art when you’re standing eight people deep trying to look at the same drawing.

And the crowds aren’t just for the Michelangelo exhibit. According to the New York Times, over the last 13 years attendance at the Met has soared from 4.7 million to over 7 million annual visitors.

Entrance to displayed in the exhibit Michelangelo Divine Draftsman and Designer exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York
Entrance to the Michelangelo Exhibit. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

One of the most beautiful rooms in the exhibit was the space devoted to the Sistine Chapel ceiling. The illuminated copy of the ceiling in a 1:4 scale is displayed along with the master’s sketches of many of the figures in the fresco.

The Sistine Chapel ceiling: an illuminated copy at 1:4 scale of the original displayed in the exhibit Michelangelo Divine Draftsman and Designer exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York
The Sistine Chapel ceiling: an illuminated copy at 1:4 scale of the original. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

As our world becomes more crowded, and more people travel, personal and quiet access to places like the Metropolitan Museum of Art is one of the things I value most highly, and that I am willing to pay to have.

Second to last room in the displayed in the exhibit Michelangelo Divine Draftsman and Designer exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York
In an increasingly crowded world, access and quiet may be our greatest luxuries. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

A closing photograph from the Michelangelo exhibit, the Young Archer.

If you are not going to get to see the exhibit before it closes, consider getting the catalogue, which is one of the finest I’ve ever seen: you can find it here in the Met shop online.

Detail of the Young Archer, by Michelangelo displayed in the exhibit Michelangelo Divine Draftsman and Designer exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York
Detail of the Young Archer, by Michelangelo. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

Practical Information about my After Hours viewing

Wonderful story about two children who run away from home and live in the Metropolitan Museum. As an adult, I STILL love this book! From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler

The ticket I purchased through Viator granted access to both the Michelangelo and Hockney exhibits. I arrived twenty minutes ahead of my 6:00 admission, and entered the museum at a street level door at 81st Street, an area reserved for groups. They checked the After Hours ticket holders off the list, and whisked us up in two elevators.

We walked through a couple of rooms on the way to the Hockney and Michelangelo exhibits. No, you can’t just go rambling through the museum! All side rooms were cordoned off.

I have to admit, I was having twitchy feelings about sneaking away and trying to spend the night at the Met 🙂 . If you’ve ever had a desire to live at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and you haven’t read From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, it’s wonderful.

Empty Rodin gallery on my way to A Night at the Met with the Michelangelo exhibit
I passed through several galleries on the way to the Michelangelo exhibit. Here is the empty Rodin gallery that I enjoyed looking around on my way out of the museum.

The night I went, there were three entry times to choose from: 6:00, 6:30, or 7:00 pm. At each entry time, according to what I read, entry was limited to 150 people over the whole evening — staggered out fifty at a time, so that not everyone entered at once.

After Hours Viewings at the Met  — Availability for this will come and go. The After Hours viewing nights of the Michelangelo show are finished, but look for them to happen from time to time for exhibits that are particularly popular and crowded.

Viator VIP Empty Met  Regularly available: a 1.5 hour tour before the Met opens to the public. Note, you will be with a guide for the tour, but then you can stay for as long as you like, and see anything you like on your own, once the museum opens.

Viator VIP: Mornings at MoMa  A similar tour is available at the Museum of Modern Art.

Other Tips for Visiting the Met

While the strategies listed below may not work as well for special exhibits like Michelangelo, the entire Metropolitan Museum is SO HUGE that you can definitely have a quieter experience without paying a premium price:

  • Go on the weekdays, not the weekend. A no-brainer, right?
  • Go early, or stay late –Be there when the museum opens, or choose to visit one of the several nights each week that the museum is open late. Check out the Met’s hours.
  • Become a Met member . . . did you know that there are special early hours and evenings, only for members of the Met? Check out the schedule for upcoming members-only hours and events.
  • Try a concert — yes, you will have to pay extra for these, but there are always interesting performances happening at the Met and the Cloisters that allow you experience them in an entirely different way.
  • Dine at the Met. Somehow, there’s something pretty special about wine, food, and art. Take a look at the different eating and drinking venues at the Met on Fifth Avenue.
  • And really all of this means — do your homework. If visiting this amazing museum is an important part of your visit to NYC, look at the Met calendar as you are planning your trip!

Disclaimer: While I paid to take this tour, I do have an affiliate relationship with Viator, which means that if you book through one of my links, I will receive a small commission at no additional cost to you, my reader. I use Viator’s services — and I particularly love the VIP access to museums, which I’ll be buying again. I never recommend things that I don’t love, believe in, and do. Thank you for your support! It makes this my work and this web site possible.

Additional info: I first found Viator VIP experiences when I was in Rome a couple of years ago. My friend Joyce had never been to Italy, and we had to do all of the crowded Roman sights. Since we were going to be there in the summer, I started doing research to find ways to see the Colosseum and the Vatican without lines — and without dying of heat.

The VIP experiences I have had with Viator in Rome have been very special: Breakfast at the Vatican, and Night Tour of the Coliseum with a rooftop dinner, both so good I did them twice: once with Joyce, and then the following year when my sister and I were in Rome. You can read about those here — Rome: Beating the Crowds.

Ghost Ranch

In the great wide open places, I can see the forever.

The sky enfolds you, and then you are inside it. Whatever small place you came from is no more because you are part of that sky and the big beyond, and the rest isn’t important.

When the Spanish first rode into this valley in northern New Mexico, they called it Piedre Lumbre — the shining stone.

Behind Chimney Rock, looking across the valley towards Cerro Pedernal. Photograph, iStock Photos.

In the great wide open places, I can see the forever.

The sky enfolds you, and then you are inside it. Whatever small place you came from is no more because you are part of that sky and the big beyond, and the rest isn’t important.

When the Spanish first rode into this valley in northern New Mexico, they called it Piedre Lumbre — the shining stone. Ghost Ranch is a part of territory known as the Piedre Lumbre land grant.

In March, I visited Ghost Ranch on a day trip from Santa Fe. I was so immediately taken with the physical beauty of the valley that I stayed two days, then returned a month later for a full week. Once the red rocks are part of you, you will always go back, always seek out these places.

Panoramic view, looking towards the red rock formations at Ghost Ranch.
Panoramic view, looking towards the red rock formations at Ghost Ranch. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

On my first night back, I spent time thinking about where I wanted to shoot at sunrise, and decided on the cabin which has been used in a number of films. I set my alarm for early — then made the mistake of hitting the snooze button. Twice, I think. Then it was rush, rush, rush!  Make quick coffee, grab my gear, and hit it.

Grey morning light, coffee threatening to splash out of the paper cup, and I drive down off the mesa. But I want to see that first warm light break across the grass. To see the light on the little cabin and the Pedernal.

It was a damned cold morning, but you can’t manipulate camera controls with your gloves on. Just doesn’t work. Oddly, after shooting for thirty minutes, my fingers were so frozen they didn’t work anyway. I sat on my hands in the car for a few minutes and drank cold coffee.

I got back out, and went back at it for another twenty minutes before heading to breakfast.

Early morning sun hits the cabin, the mountain Cerro Pedernal in the distance.
Early morning sun hits the cabin, the mountain Cerro Pedernal in the distance. Photograph, Ann Fisher.
City Slickers Cabin on Ghost Ranch at sunrise, Pedernal mountain in the distance.
Here’s the cabin again, this time in color. Photograph, Ann Fisher

This shot was my favorite. I liked the way the cabin’s roof line and chimney ran along with the Pedernal and the mountains lining the horizon.

The black and white version (above) worked best for me, but the color image is good as well, the grass golden in the morning light — and the whole thing seeming much warmer than it felt!

I love the editing process — dumping everything into the computer and having a look in LightRoom.

But here’s the trick. You only get to pick one picture. Maybe two. I remember the days of watching a neighbor’s slide show from a trip. Some of you know what I’m talking about — when you had to sit and watch 200 slides. Seemed like 20,000. Let me slit my wrists with a dull butter knife! No one wants to see all of those pictures — I don’t care where you went! Pick a small group of images that tell the story.

So, what is Ghost Ranch?

It’s surprising how few people know anything about Ghost Ranch.

I was talking to someone the other day who didn’t know who Georgia O’Keeffe was. “I’ve just come back from Ghost Ranch.”

“Was it scary?”

I cocked my head to the side. “No . . . you know — it’s the place that Georgia O’Keeffe lived and painted.”

“Who is Georgia O’Keeffe?”

I blinked. As someone with a degree in Art History, I forget that knowledge of artists, even major ones, isn’t a given. So I told her, and looked up several paintings on my phone so that she could see.

“Oh, yeah. I’ve seen that one before.”

Seen that one before . . .

Ram's Head with Hollyhock-Hills. Georgia O'Keeffe. 1935.
Ram’s Head with Hollyhock-Hills. Georgia O’Keeffe. 1935.

The history of Ghost Ranch is a rich one — whether you want to talk about the dinosaurs that roamed here in the Triassic period, the native peoples who lived here before the arrival of the Spanish, or the murderous, cattle-rustling Archuleta brothers of the late 1800’s when the property was known as the Rancho de los Brujos — Ranch of the Witches.

Ansel Adam's photograph of O'Keeffe painting inside her car on Ghost Ranch.
Georgia O’Keeffe painting in her car at Ghost Ranch. 1937 photograph by Ansel Adams, who was a good friend of O’Keeffe’s.

The two museums on the ranch, Florence Hawley Ellis Museum of Anthropology, and Ruth Hall Museum of Paleontology, help tell the stories of the dinosaurs and the native peoples who lived on this land. For the soap-opera stories of the cattle rustlers, you could take the History Tour, or pick up the Ghost Ranch book by Lesley Poling-Kempes from the trading post.

By the time Georgia O’Keeffe first found her way to Ghost Ranch in 1934, it was owned by Arthur Pack and operated as a dude ranch, much to O’Keeffe’s chagrin.

Georgia was so taken with the landscape that she put up with the dudes and dudettes, renting a little cottage the first year, and then the house called Ranchos de los Burros which was further removed from the other guests. O’Keeffe finally bought the house and the few acres around it from Arthur Pack in 1940.

Later in his life, Arthur Pack donated Ghost Ranch (over 21,000 acres) to the Presbyterian Church, and it has operated retreat center for more than fifty-five years.

The House I Live In. Painting, 1937. Georgia O'Keeffe.
The House I Live In. 1937. Georgia O’Keeffe.

So, you’re making a trip to New Mexico, and you want to tour the house where Georgia O’Keeffe lived?

Which one? There is definitely some confusion about the difference between Ghost Ranch, and the O’Keeffe houses.

You can visit O’Keeffe’s house in Abiquiu, but only on a guided tour through the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum. If you want to do the Abiquiu house tour, contact the Museum the minute you know you’re going. I’ve been to New Mexico twice in two months, and still have not gotten to see the house.

O’Keeffe’s house at Ghost Ranch is owned by the O’Keeffe museum as well, but is not currently open to the public. At some point in the future, the Museum indicates it will be, but there is no firm date set. You can see her Ghost Ranch house from a distance on one the the O’Keeffe tours.

Photograph of the real landscape O'Keeffe used for Red Hills with Pedernal
O’Keeffe walked through the red hills in her “backyard” almost daily when she lived at Ghost Ranch. Following in the artist’s footsteps is a wonderful experience. Red hills with Pedernal in the background. Photograph, Ann Fisher.
Red Hills with Pedernal, White Clouds. 1936. Georgia O'Keeffe.
Red Hills with Pedernal, White Clouds. 1936. Georgia O’Keeffe.

O’Keeffe Landscape Tours

In 2004, the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum put on an exhibition called Georgia O’Keeffe and New Mexico: A Sense of Place. A book by Barbara Buehler Lynes of the same name was also published in 2004.

Public interest in being in the landscapes that the artist painted grew.

Suddenly people were showing up at Ghost Ranch wanting to walk into the painting landscapes, which was both good and bad. Great because Ghost Ranch needs the income that visitors bring, and dangerous in the potential for destroying the red hills O’Keeffe painted.

The solution? Restrict public access to the O’Keeffe portion of the ranch. Why? If thousands of visitors go tromping up, over, around and through O’Keeffe’s red hills, they will no longer look the her hills. Footprints in this dry landscape take months, sometimes years to disappear.

O'Keeffe Landscape tour
Walking into O’Keeffe’s landscapes and having a chance to photograph her painting locations was an amazing experience. This is my favorite tour at Ghost Ranch.

I applaud Ghost Ranch for working to preserve this special place. There are only three ways to see this part of the ranch: on horseback, on a small shuttle bus, or on a walking tour. These tours limit impact by either staying on the gravel road (shuttle bus), or following two standard, single file paths. The walking tour is limited to eight guests, and when I was there, only ran twice a week.

O'Keeffe Landscape tour looking towards yellow cliffs
O’Keeffe Landscape small bus tour at Ghost Ranch. This tour takes you closer to the yellow and white cliffs that O’Keeffe loved so much.

Each tour is a little different — obviously — but so is what you’ll see. I went on the shuttle bus tour three times. Yes, three. The light and clouds were different each time. Then I took the walking tour. Maybe next time, I’ll saddle up and head out on the trail ride . . . Read more about the O’Keeffe Landscape tours and horseback trail riding on the Ghost Ranch web site.

If you are only at Ghost Ranch for the day, the bus tour or the trail ride are your best options, since they run every day, and in the busy season, several times a day. On the bus tour, guests get out at several stops to take photographs

Georgia O’Keeffe and her relationship with her lover/mentor/husband/promoter Alfred Stieglitz is a fascinating part of the artist’s life.

Alfred Stieglitz and Georgia O'Keeffe. c. 1939. Ansel Adams
Alfred Stieglitz and Georgia O’Keeffe. c. 1939. Ansel Adams

If you don’t know much O’Keeffe and Stieglitz, there are a couple O’Keeffe biographies from which to choose. Portrait of an Artist: A Biography of Georgia O’Keeffe by Laurie Lisle is my favorite. Another to consider is Full Bloom by Hunter Drohojowska-Philp; this one a very full biography, but I find the writing style dull.

I also recommend watching the 2009 film Georgia O’Keeffe, starring Joan Allen as O’Keeffe and Jeremy Irons as Alfred Stieglitz, and partially filmed at Ghost Ranch. It is as well done as a two hour bio-pic could be, in my opinion. O’Keeffe lived to be nearly one hundred years old, and this film would arguably have made a better mini-series to do justice to her life. I found Jeremy Irons particularly brilliant as Stieglitz.

Joan Allen as O'Keeffe and Jeremy Irons as Stieglitz in the 2009 film, Georgia O'Keeffe.
Joan Allen as O’Keeffe and Jeremy Irons as Stieglitz in the 2009 film, Georgia O’Keeffe.

Ghost Ranch Goes Hollywood

If you think that parts of Ghost Ranch seem familiar to you, well, you’re probably right.

Between 1985 and 2016, ten major motion pictures filmed in New Mexico used Ghost Ranch as a filming location. This doesn’t mean the entirety of each film was shot here; the amount of Ghost Ranch footage varies in each picture.

Movie Poster from all the movies filmed at Ghost Ranch
Ghost Ranch is a popular filming location. Here are the movie posters for Silverado, Young Guns, City Slickers, Wyatt Earp, All the Pretty Horses, Missing, 310 to Yuma, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Cowboys and Aliens, and The Magnificent Seven.
Byung-hun Lee at the Ghost Ranch City Slickers Cabin. Magnificent 7 film.
South Korean star Byung-hun Lee, shows off his mad knife throwing skills in The Magnificent Seven. Note the Ghost Ranch cabin in the background.

Movies that used Ghost Ranch as a location for for scenes include: Silverado (1985), Young Guns (1988), City Slickers (1991),Wyatt Earp (1994), All the Pretty Horses (2000), Missing (2003),  310 to Yuma (2007), Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008), Cowboys & Aliens (2010), The Magnificent Seven (2016).

If you’re a movie buff, Ghost Ranch does give a Movie Location Tour, but it is by reservation only. Be sure to call a week or more before your visit to make the arrangements so you don’t miss out while you’re there. Summer is Ghost Ranch’s busiest season, so I’d plan even further even out if that’s when you are going to visit.

You do not need to go on the Movie Location Tour to see the City Slickers cabin (in the photographs above). That site is right off the dirt road leading into Ghost Ranch — so very easy access.

Day Trip

Ghost Ranch makes a great day trip from either Santa Fe or from Taos. I warn you, it’s very hard to leave Ghost Ranch after spending a single day, but it’s better than not seeing this beautiful place at all. From Santa Fe, it took me about one hour and fifteen minutes to reach Ghost Ranch. Google Maps show a drive time of 1.5 hours from Taos to Ghost Ranch. You’ll pay a $5 Conservation fee at the Welcome Center that gives you access to the ranch and the museums.

I’d plan on a full day. Read about the hikes, tours, and museums, and call ahead to reserve space if you choose to do a tour. Plan to have lunch (12:00 – 1:00) at the ranch, and possibly dinner as well, to give you as much time as possible to explore this special place.

View toward Kitchen Mesa from the Matrimonial Mesa hike at sunset, Ghost Ranch New Mexico
View toward Kitchen Mesa from the Matrimonial Mesa hike at sunset. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

Hiking

Hiking at Ghost Ranch is a favorite past time for many people. Read about the different hiking trails on ranch’s website, and choose one that suits your abilities and time. Use the sign in sheet at the Welcome Center before you go and after you return. Borrow a walking stick.

Retreats and Workshops

Ghost Ranch has a full set of retreat and workshop offerings that run all year long. Whether you’re interested in spiritual retreats, an art, photography, or writing workshops, outdoor adventure, you almost certain to find one that you’d enjoy.

Accommodations and Food

You can stay at Ghost Ranch overnight — which I heartily recommend. There are a range of room types, some with shared restrooms, many with private restrooms. They also have a campground with spaces for both RVs and tents.

Room in the Coyote building on the upper mesa at Ghost Ranch.
Room in the Coyote building on the upper mesa at Ghost Ranch.

What are the rooms like? They are basic, but clean and comfortable. You need to remember this is a retreat center, not a hotel, and certainly not a resort. There are no televisions or in-room phones, and the only wi-fi at Ghost Ranch is in the Library. When you come here, it is to be with and in the amazing landscape.

One important thing to note: the rooms have heaters, but are NOT air-conditioned. In the summer, temperatures in the day are hot, but cool down to around 60 °F (15.5 °C) the evening (check average temperatures and rainfall for Abiquiu here).

What did I think about the rooms? I stayed two nights in March (Aspen building), and loved Ghost Ranch so much I returned for a full week in April (Coyote building, upper mesa). I had a sitting room and a bedroom. I was very comfortable, and I loved sitting outside my room in Coyote on the upper mesa and watching the sun go down while I had a drink. I will certainly return and stay again.

View of the Coyote building on upper mesa, Ghost Ranch.
View of the Coyote building on upper mesa, walking back up from breakfast. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

Personally, I would have a difficult time handling the heat in the summer. I like to retreat to my room during the afternoon, particularly in hot climates, to read, edit pictures, and write. I couldn’t do this here in the summer. I think the evenings would be fine, since the temperatures drop to near 60 °F, the windows are screened, and there are small fans. If lack of AC is a problem for you, then consider staying at the Abiquiu Inn.

The Dining Hall at Ghost Ranch serves three meals a day in a cafeteria set up. The menu changes daily. You buy meal tickets at the Welcome Center, and you can eat at the Dining Hall, even if you’re just at Ghost Ranch for a day trip. Meals are served for ONE hour only. Be sure you get the schedule at the Welcome Center, and be there, or be square!

The food is good, and there is plenty of it. The menus change daily. At dinner, the hot food line includes two main meal offerings, one of which is always vegetarian, along with vegetables. If you have problems with gluten or soy, or are vegan, please call Ghost Ranch directly to find out what options there are. At lunch, the main food line may have sandwich makings, or it may be a hot meal. There is always a good salad bar, and I saw vegetable proteins and cheese available each day I was there.  At breakfast, the hot food line may feature an egg dish, or perhaps pancakes. There is always oatmeal, and cold cereal. At breakfast, the salad bar turns into a fruit bar that also has yogurt.


What more can I say? I found Ghost Ranch to be one of the most beautiful parts of New Mexico. I know I’ll return many times to this special place.

View towards the mountain Pedernal from the Kitchen Mesa hike at. Ghost Ranch. Photograph, Erin Vanelle
View towards the mountain Pedernal from the Kitchen Mesa hike at. Ghost Ranch. Photograph, Erin Vanella.

** It’s important to note that while the Presbyterian Church owns Ghost Ranch, it no longer contributes financially to support it. The Ghost Ranch Foundation is now responsible for care, preservation, and maintenance of the ranch and its facilities. Through out this article, I have linked to books at the Ghost Ranch trading post. If you are thinking about purchasing books on Ghost Ranch or Georgia O’Keeffe, please consider buying from the ranch website. To find out more about the Ghost Ranch Foundation, link here.

Embracing Santa Fe

Each time I return to New Mexico, my affection for this state grows . . . Doc looked like he came straight out of central casting. Film order: we need a quirky old man to play a part in a Coen brothers film set it Santa Fe.

Doc Murray of Santa Fe
I met Doc on my first trip to Santa Fe in 2009. He was a kind and quirky man, and we had a wonderful afternoon with good coffee and interesting conversation. RIP Doc. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

Each time I return to New Mexico, my affection for this state grows.

It really started on my second trip in 2009, when I visited Santa Fe and did many of the standard things one does around the square. Saw the Cathedral, had lunch, hit the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum.

During one long summer afternoon, I tucked into a coffee shop to get out of the noon-day heat and to do some writing. I was the only customer there, and before long, I was visiting with the barista who looked to be in his late thirties, a native American named De.

An old man swung in through the door.

“Hi, Doc. How’s the day?”

“Good enough, De. But I’m wanting some coffee.”

Doc looked like he came straight out of central casting. Film order: we need a quirky old man to play a part in a Coen brothers film set it Santa Fe.

Check. Enter Doc Murray.

Doc’s grey-and-white beard was lush and his eyebrows had a life of their own. He wore a neat chambray shirt and jeans. A wide leather bracelet on his left wrist was secured with three buckled straps, and he had heavy silver rings on his fingers. A fur hat-band and a tail adorned his felt hat. It may have been a fox’s tail. I don’t remember, and it doesn’t really matter anymore anyway.

He paused and tipped his hat to me. “Seems the neighborhood is improving.”

“We’ve been invaded,” De said. “She’s from Texas.”

I laughed, shook his hand, and introduced myself.

We passed a couple of hours talking about the state of the world, Texas, and New Mexico. About tourism and Santa Fe, and how the city had changed over Doc’s lifetime. About De, working as a barista to make some extra cash, and what he might do next, and about the difficulties that came along with being Native American.

Doc and I had another coffee, and De joined in. The two told me about the best route to drive to Taos, and talked about the high mountain meadows, and how pretty they’d be covered in grass flowers.

Near the end of our visit, Doc turned his head to look at someone passing on the street, and I saw the picture — his profile lit.

I have a hard time asking people to pose. But I did ask, and Doc, quite accommodating, looked at me and smiled. I have that picture, and it’s not bad. But then I asked him to turn just slightly towards the window and to hold very, very still.

So here is my Doc Murray. On a quiet afternoon in the heat of the summer, there was this moment, and I was honored to capture it.

By the end of the afternoon, Doc and De said I’d be welcome to move to Santa Fe anytime I wanted. And they wouldn’t even hold it against me that I was a Texan.

I found the wildflowers on my way to Taos.

Expedia.com

Santa Fe, Again

I might have stayed in many places in Santa Fe. I chose to stay in a Tiny House in an RV park, right next to my good friend Joyce.

I’ve been to Santa Fe before and done the whole nice-hotel-near-the-square thing. For this trip, I looked at renting a casita near the square through VRBO — and there are some lovely ones . . . but in the end, I wanted to visit with my friend above anything else. Besides, I’ve been intrigued with the whole Tiny House movement, and I thought it would be fun.

My cabin at the Los Suenos RV Park. Always fun to try something new.
My cabin at the Los Suenos RV Park. Always fun to try something new. So, what did I think? The cabin was cute and comfortable, and the folks at Los Suenos were friendly. Here’s the thing, though. If you are planning to stay in Santa Fe for a month, the rate is very good. Anything less than that, and frankly, I would rent a house in closer to the square. You can get something more interesting for the same price.

Joyce and I cooked, visiting back and forth in our tiny houses. We tried new recipes out on one another. I rose early in my tiny house to write while she slept late in hers. Then  we would convene for a museum visit or a ramble downtown, followed by a great meal. I love green chile sauce.

We spent two days on Museum Hill, exploring the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian and the Museum of International Folk Art. Both of these museums were outstanding: great collections beautifully displayed. We had two meals at the Museum Hill Cafe that were outstanding — and what beautiful views across the valley towards the mountains!

What was I most excited about? Returning to the Georgia O’Keeffe museum.

I See You

Tony Vaccaro’s 1960 photograph of Georgia O’Keeffe, holding her Pelvis Series, Red and Yellow, painted in 1945.

“Art can die of overfamiliarity.” — Jay Tolson

What happens when we can no longer see a painting, because it has become as common as the McDonald’s logo?

In a 2005 article for U.S. News and World Report, Jay Tolson makes the point that O’Keeffe’s flowers and skulls are “images that have been ‘posterized’ to the point of invisibility.”

Humans filter out noise – both visual and aural. We have to — otherwise we’d be overwhelmed. O’Keeffe’s flowers and skulls, Monet’s bridge at Giverny, Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa . . . pick any over-reproduced work of art you’d like — all of them can turn into background wallpaper.

I was guilty of this with Georgia O’Keeffe’s work.

In an undergraduate class in 20th century American art, I had studied several of her paintings, but I didn’t know very much about her. Frankly, I wasn’t that interested.

I hadn’t looked closer – I’d just written her off.

Verandah of the Adobe and Pines Inn in Taos New Mexico
I sat for hours on the verandah at the Adobe and Pines in reading the O’Keeffe biography. Photograph, Ann Fisher

My first visit to the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum changed my perception and understanding of the artist — and made me come into her work in a visceral and meaningful way I had not anticipated.

That first day in the O’Keeffe Museum, it was her abstract paintings that were the initial hook in for me. I simply and suddenly saw all of her work with new eyes, and I was excited.

I left the museum with Portrait of an Artist: A Biography of Georgia O’Keeffe, which I took to Taos and read for long hours. This book by Laurie Lisle is well-written and an easy read, and I found myself immersed in the stormy and passionate relationship between O’Keeffe and Stieglitz.

I realized that I had never really known Georgia O’Keeffe. And the woman I came to know, I like so very much.

I feel a kinship with her, with her passionate feelings about the big, western landscape of Ghost Ranch, seeing in it all of the feelings I’ve had out in Big Bend west Texas — a compulsion that drove me out to the big sky time and again over the last twenty-five years.

It was a great joy to return to the Georgia O’Keefe Museum, which is an intimate space, all simple white.

When it opened in 1997, the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum owned fewer than 100 works by the artist. In 2006, the Georgia O’Keeffe Foundation dissolved and transferred all of its artwork to the museum. The Georgia O’Keeffe Museum now owns 1,149 works by O’Keeffe, which represents more than half of her artistic output, as well as 1,840 works by other artists and photographers. Only a fraction of the collection is on display at any time.

Additionally, the museum owns both of her houses — the house at Abiquiu, and the house at Ghost Ranch. Visitors can see O’Keeffe’s house at Abiquiu, but only by reserving space on a limited number of tours. The house at Ghost Ranch is not currently open to the public, but will be at some point in the future. Those wanting to see the house at Abiquiu MUST plan ahead; go to Georgia O’Keeffe Museum Tickets and Tours to read about the three different options.

Georgia O'Keeffe in chemise, 1918. Photograph, Alfred Stieglitz.
Georgia O’Keeffe in chemise, 1918. Photograph, Alfred Stieglitz.
Two galleries at the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum
The Georgia O’Keeffe Museum owns more than half of all work created by the artist. Photographs, Ann Fisher.


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Finding Ghost Ranch

We took a day trip to Ghost Ranch, and I got my foot caught in the door —  I had arrived at one of those unexpected places that just blew me away and that I didn’t want to leave.

When we dropped down from the plateau at Abiquiu, the Pedernal lay to my left, quiet and blue. An orange, yellow, and purple rockscape stretched in front of me. Before we reached the gravel road for the ranch, the road turned us through towering red rock cliffs.

Cerro Pedernal Abiqui New Mexico

It caught my breath. My heart expanded and I thought I might cry.

When we stopped at the Visitor’s Center at Ghost Ranch, I immediately booked a room for later in the week. Before we left, I stopped again and asked if I could stay two nights instead of just one.

Panoramic view, looking towards the red rock formations at Ghost Ranch.
Panoramic view, looking towards the red rock formations at Ghost Ranch. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

At the end of my two days, I was not ready to leave, but the clock was ticking.

I had reached my furthest point out, that point where you can go no further, stay no longer, and still make it back in time. In time for whatever holds you.

All road trips have those points.

With Ghost Ranch in my rearview mirror, I began my way back, then stopped in the post office in Abiquiu and sent a tiny O’Keeffe to a friend.

O'Keeffe Gift Card

 


Ghost Ranch is an Education and Retreat Center that has been owned by the Presbyterian Church for over 55 years. They offer many different kinds of workshops and retreats, but visitors can also simply book a room. There are two museums, trail riding, hiking trails, and guided tours — one of my favorites being a tour through many of the landscapes Georgia O’Keeffe painted.

My return is already planned. I go back to Ghost Ranch in seven days, and yes, I will share that visit with you in my third article on New Mexico, focused on Ghost Ranch.

Embracing Santa Fe is the second in a series of three posts on New Mexico.

The first is Road Trip to New Mexico:

Screenshot of post Road trip to New Mexico

And you’ll find the third part in the series here:


Ann in Castolon in Big Bend National Park. Photograph, Jim Stevens

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Learning to Love Museums

Girl standing in front of a Picasso
My daughter Catherine at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston. My work here is done — she now goes to the museum and takes her friends.

Want to make someone hate you?

Find a person who doesn’t know much about art and force them to spend hours as you drag them to every painting in every gallery in a museum while you read every placard as they fidget next to you.

Yep. I guarantee that by the end of the day, not only will they hate you, they’ll be damned sure they never get close to another museum again.

I can say this with authority.

You see, I have a degree in Art History, and I might be considered to be a very dangerous person when it comes to death by museum. Except for one thing. My mother taught me to love art, and she taught me a method for helping others to do the same.

Cafe at the Uffizi
Taking a caffeine break midway through touring the Uffizi in Florence.

It’s not rocket science. If you want someone to love something — make it pleasant, make it fun. Don’t punish them with it!

When my Mom took us to museums – the National Gallery in Washington, The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, or the National Gallery in London — she would do this simple thing.

She usually had one or two artists, or perhaps an art period that she wanted to see. We would arrive at the museum, go to the shop and pick up a museum catalogue, then go sit and have coffee or tea and browse through the catalogue. My sister and I would both choose things we wanted to see, and then the three of us would set off to find those things. At other times, we would buy an audio tour and use that instead.

man using the audio guide: the British Museum My Way.
My husband Drew using the audio guide: the British Museum My Way.

Plan a Rational Museum Visit

I’ve spent most of my life teaching at the college level, and when I create lesson plans, human attention span is critically important. I work with 10 – 20 minute blocks, changing what we are doing — and being sure to involve my students. Then every 50 minutes to an hour, they need a break.

That’s the way I approach going with someone to a museum — whether it’s my daughter Catherine, my sister, my good friend Joyce, or my husband Drew.

With the internet, it’s easier than ever now  to do some pre-planning. If you are going to a world-class museum during a heavy tourist season, find out about getting tickets ahead — nothing makes a non-museum person grouchier than standing in line for an hour before your visit starts.

It’s also important to agree on about how long you’re going to spend at the museum so that everyone is on the same page.

Unless someone is heavily into art — you should limit the visit to 2 to 3 hours. If you are taking young children, or a really antsy adult, the time should be shorter.

Try to go to the museum early in the day — before it gets too crowded, and while you are still fresh. We all know that the more tired someone gets, the more difficult it is to pay attention.

Catherine with Autumn Landscape, Tiffany Studios.
I love the The Charles Engelhard Court in the American Wing. Here’s Cat with the Autumn Landscape, Tiffany Studios.

When Drew and I went to the British Museum, we got the audio guide The British Museum Your Way. Then we also used one of the museums object trails: 3 Hours at the British Museum — great set of highlights with things we both wanted to see. We had lunch in the museum cafe halfway through. Stopping for a rest and refreshment is key. It does several things; most importantly, it allows you to process some of the things you have seen. My husband and I watched people. We chatted about the Ashurbanipal lion hunt. Then we picked up with renewed energy and went on to the next gallery.

When I took my daughter to The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York for the first time, she was fifteen. Before we went, we stopped and had coffee and Catherine thumbed through the Met website on my iPad. When we entered the museum we had a plan — and it was a great experience for her. We did the same thing on our next two trips to the city. Since then, Catherine’s been back to New York for a mock trial trip and to visit a university — and she has taken her friends and her Dad to The Met. I love museums, and it brings me great happiness to see I’ve raised another museum lover.

Catherine viewing Death Becomes Her, A Century of Mourning Attire.
Death Becomes Her, A Century of Mourning Attire. Catherine chose this exhibit to visit on her first trip to The Met.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art now has a smartphone app, The Met App, that can help you plan your visit. Another way to tour the Metropolitan is new to me — there is now Viator’s EmptyMet tour that I’d like to try the next time I’m in the city — the chance to visit the Metropolitan when it is closed to the general public.

But I Want to Spend ALL DAY at the Museum!

Yes, darling. I know that there is an art lover out there right now reading this and feeling very put out.

What if you’re in Paris for the first time and you think you may never see the Louvre again? And you just want to spend the WHOLE DAY wandering the galleries of the Louvre.

My advice? Do a short visit with the other person, then send them back to the hotel in a cab — afterwards, you can geek out with your art to your heart’s content. Obviously, if you have small children, this won’t work — but then you know that already.

The big thing is this — if you exhaust someone who doesn’t have the same level of interest you do — and make them hate museums, then you’ve done everyone a disservice.


Ann in Castolon in Big Bend National Park. Photograph, Jim Stevens

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Monochrome Madness and a day on Vancouver Island

Writing here on WordPress has given me many gifts, the chief among them is some of the wonderful writers and photographers I’ve had the chance to meet. One of my favorite sites is The Runes of the Gatekeeper’s Daughter — beautiful photography, haunting imagery. I invite you to discover Cybele Moon, aka the Dune Mouse.

the runes of the gatekeeper's daughter

For Leanne’s Marvelous Madness Gallery (3-9)

A journey through a summer’s day on the island

 take a stroll in “The Alchemist’s Garden”

garden of the alchemist

on the Gorge estuary in Victoria

Nothing happens, unless first a dream! -C Sandburg

gorge infra with the alchemist’s glasses

 Rose Bowers and daisy fields

chemainus house a bygone era

Stop for tea in the charming town of Chemainus by the sea

Get lost in a field of daisies

daisy field

outside Parksville

and visit  the Rain Forest

MacMillan Forestold growth forest jpg

The woods were meant for the hunters of dreams! – S.Foss

MacMillan Forest info:

The Cathedral Grove area of the MacMillan Park rain forest on Vancouver Island is protected by designated paths only.   You walk among giant ferns and the majestic pillars of Fir trees that can grow to nine meters in circumference and 76 meters high.   Named by Botanist David Douglas in the 1800’s they range in age from  300 years to  800 years old.

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