Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Storm that Brought Good Fortune

Road Trip

“This was not even on my bucket list,” I said to my daughter, Elaine, as we drove out of Detroit in a large U-Haul truck, pulling a trailer behind us. To me, this was the equivalent of a big rig. We had rented the second largest U Haul truck available in order to have room to pack my daughter’s art work that she had done over the past two years at Cranbrook Academy of Art. Her work included “wax totems” of varying heights and sizes, objects molded from concrete, towers made of tea bags, and two large monoliths that had been her graduate installation at the Spring Art Show. We were pulling the Subaru behind us, and since it is all-wheel drive, we could not just tow it – we had to rent a trailer to load the car on, hitched to the back of the truck. It was not just a little unsettling to suddenly find oneself in the role of a “big-rig truck driver.”

And a long haul it was from Detroit to Birmingham. We left under cloudy skies and a light rain. Every city we drove through will apparently have better roads someday soon – I say that because every city had major roadwork projects under way which required detours and road alterations resulting in narrow lanes and long stretches of concrete barriers on either side. All we could do was to remain on high-alert as we navigated our rig through mazes that would have unnerved me in the past, even in our small Toyota Corolla. Sometimes one must steel the heart and gird the loins and simply determine to take on the task at hand. I just hope that those future drivers appreciate the new roadways once they are in place.

My daughter and I took turns driving the 14-hour trek, and I must say that I was impressed with how she handled that big rig on city streets as well as on the highway. Thankfully, we made it home without a scratch or a dent. We breathed a sigh of relief and were able to switch out of the high-alert mode.

But I am getting ahead of my story. Before the trip, there was the graduation ceremony celebrating two years of artistic endeavor and study which resulted in my daughter receiving her Master of Fine Arts degree (MFA). There was the process of packing up all of those art pieces. And then, there was the storm.

Europa and the Bull, (Carl Miles, sculptor)
Dramatic sculpture overlooking the reflecting pool in front of Cranbrook's art museum and library 

The Academy 

I had flown into Detroit to see Elaine graduate and to help her drive back home where she would begin her job search in her chosen field. My wife had gone up the month before for the opening of the art show, "The Stuff of Dreams," at the Forum Gallery where Cranbrook graduates displayed their work. She had told me how impressive it was, and I was looking forward to seeing it as well.

As I arrived on campus, memories of my first trip to Cranbrook swept about my psyche. Cranbrook Academy of Art is beautifully nestled in Bloomfield Hills about 20 minutes outside of Detroit. It offers only graduate degrees, and my daughter had applied there after completing a Bachelor of Arts degree at Birmingham-Southern College because Cranbrook was number one in the nation for fiber art, her chose field of artistic expression.

Cranbrook House

Looking out upon one of the many gardens at Cranbrook House

A view of the private high school across the lake

It was truly an idyllic setting with the old Cranbrook House of the original estate surrounded by lovely gardens, a large pond where one could see Cranbrook Boys and Girls Schools on the other side. The graduate school was graced with statuary, fountains, and a reflecting pool. My wife compared it to Hogwarts of Harry Potter fame.

Looking across the reflecting pool toward the art museum 

The Orpheus Fountain, by Swedish sculptor Carl Miles,
is one of many fountains on campus

When I arrived this last time to the campus, I was able to see the graduate art show and on the following day attended the inspiring and magnificent graduation ceremony held in Christ Church Cranbrook. It was indeed a grand occasion! The next day we began the mundane tasks of packing and loading up two years of artistic endeavor into the U Haul truck. Elaine had wanted us to spend Monday loading the truck and then go to tour the Detroit Institute of Arts on Tuesday before heading home on Wednesday.

Christ Church Cranbrook

Graduation ceremony inside Christ Church

The Ups and Downs of Moving

The most difficult part of our loading was moving my daughter’s monoliths from the art gallery to the truck. These were two huge structures, each over six feet tall and weighing 150 t0 160 pounds. They were an ingenious construction of layers of wax and spray insulation foam, resulting in quite a solid and magnificent display. To me, they resembled cave formations or stone formations seen in the desert Southwest. To move them we first had to wrap them in protective bubble wrap then tie each one in place to the hand trucks we had rented to help facilitate our moving. Just getting them on to the hand trucks and moving them out of the gallery was a major task requiring help from friends. Once we got out of the gallery with the first monolith we were met with an obstacle. The elevator had suddenly stopped working. Some students were having to carry their work down a flight of stairs, but with our load, that was not an option.

                                                             Monoliths of the Art Gallery 
                                            To view more of her art work visit the artist's website at

What to do? There was an industrial elevator at the other end of the building where the art studios were. It went down to a loading dock on the back of the building. That was our best option. I would mean navigating those weighty objects through the studio areas with some tight squeezes along the way. I pushed the monolith forward balancing its weight on the two wheels of the trucks while Elaine guided, since I couldn’t see around the object to tell where we were going. Once we got to the elevator and down to the loading dock we had to move the U Haul around to the loading dock. When we got the truck around, we were met with another obstacle. The loading dock was about a foot and a half to two feet higher than the truck bed, and the ramp that pulled out from the truck was not designed for upward inclines. What to do now?

My daughter spied a large 4’ X 8’ piece of heavy plywood propped against a wall.  It was large enough to form a ramp from the loading dock to the truck bed, but the problem was how to push the hand trucks onto the ramp since the plywood, of course did not rest flush against the floor when it was sloping downward.  The only way was to (don’t try this at home) position the plywood level with the loading dock floor so that the dolly could be rolled onto the board which was now extending out over the truck bed. The idea was to slowly push the monolith on the dolly across the plywood which would then tilt downward to come to rest on the truck bed, creating an incline to roll the piece onto the truck.

And so it began, with verbal cues once again from my daughter since I could not see around the monolith while I was pushing it forward. Taking it slowly, I prepared myself for the tilt as the makeshift ramp plopped down onto the truck bed. Thankfully, it all went as planned, but I was exhausted by the process. I got the first monolith positioned and lashed in securely to the side panel of the truck. We decided to take a lunch break before attempting the next monolith.

The second monolith went much like the first except it was a bit more top-heavy, making it more difficult to balance as we maneuvered our way along. Then we came to that final stage. As our plywood ramp once again tilted downward from the loading ramp to the truck bed, when it plopped down, I lost my footing as the dolly rolled forward a little faster than I would have liked. For a moment I was able to get a better handle on the monolith, but with it being more top heavy and my footing more unsure, I came down onto the plywood ramp landing on my back with the monolith on top of me. I was worried about the monolith while my daughter feared for a moment that she had lost her father. I lay there for a moment assessing my body. An aching hip, but the shock of the fall was wearing off. Everything was moving okay, so I slowly made my way out from under the art piece. I was still in one piece, but unfortunately, the monolith was in two pieces.

We had hoped to get our loading done and the U Haul ready to go and then tour the DIA the next day. The problem was that packing up and loading the truck took twice as long as anticipated. In fact, it was just before dark on Tuesday that we got the car mounted on the trailer and hitched to the truck. We were tired, but the job was complete. Check out time at the Radisson Hotel would be early Wednesday. We had not had the time to visit the DIA, a disappointment to be sure, but everything was in place for the journey home.

“Don’t know Why There’s No Sun up in the Sky, Stormy Weather”

When we awoke the next morning, as we got dressed and ready to leave, I turned to the Weather Channel on the hotel room TV. What we saw in the forecast was quite ominous. There was a long front moving through that extended from Ohio to Alabama. We would be driving through high winds and thunderstorms most of our way home. There was no way we wanted to drive that big truck and trailer with our untested big-rig skills through stormy weather like that. 

I called my wife at home to tell her we would hole up for another day at The Radisson, let the storms pass and then head out the next day. The next thing to do was to go down to the hotel desk to arrange a day’s extension to our stay. It was an added expense, but safety was our concern.  One good thing was that we had a day of rest to recover from the exhaustion of packing. Another good thing was that now we had the opportunity to visit the Detroit Institute of Arts!

Entrance hall at the Detroit Institute of Arts

Art on a Grand Scale

Even though Detroit has been dealing with population decline and economic hardship for a number of years since the heyday of the automobile industry, it is still a grand city in many ways. The DIA is one of those grand things in Detroit – a truly phenomenal institution. I was so glad to tour that place and to see some of the sights before leaving Detroit. Since our car was strapped on the trailer out in the hotel parking lot, we rented a cab to take us down Woodward Avenue to see the sights at Detroit's famed art museum. Though Elaine and I spent the afternoon there, there was not time to see everything, so I followed her lead in seeing the things that were at the top of her list. We saw some beautiful displays from ancient Mesopotamia, amazing tribal art form Africa, and brilliant paintings from the old masters as well as from the modern era.

Snake dragon symbol of Marduk
604 - 562 B.C.
Tiglath Pilaser II receiving homage
645 - 727 B.C.

                                            The Window by Matisse            Woman in an Armchair by Renoir

Perhaps the most impressive feature at the DIA is Rivera Court where there are the murals by Mexican artist Diego M. Rivera depicting industrial Detroit. The work consists of 27 fresco panels on the walls of the inner court of the museum. The work was done in the 1930s, commissioned by capitalist Edsel Ford, and conceived by socialist Diego Rivera as a tribute to Detroit's industry and labor force.

"Detroit Industry," by Diego M.Rivera
Rivera Court, DIA

South wall of Rivera Court

                                      A scene from the North wall              Workers at the Ford River Rouge plant

Another view of Rivera Court

Beautiful, magnificent, and grand are the words that come to mind when thinking back on that visit to the Detroit Institute of Arts. To have missed such sights would have been regrettable. To see those sights as a result of stormy weather is a reminder of the gifts that can arise when the journey is delayed. I must also add that had it not been for my daughter's artistic talent and knowledge, I would never have seen the beauties of the Cranbrook campus or the Detroit Institute of Arts. 

Driving that "big rig," as I called it, through some harrowing traffic may not have been on my "bucket list," but I found the road trip and all the attending sights to be unforgettable. When we raise our children, we want to enrich their lives as best we can. I am learning of the wonderful enrichment we can in turn receive from our children. The treasures of Cranbrook Academy of Art, the stunning beauty of the DIA, and the many sights of a part of the country I had never seen before are all things I am grateful for having experienced. All of those rich experiences came by way of being a bystander to my daughter's own incredible endeavors. 

All photographs of Cranbrook Academy of Art were taken by Charles Kinnaird 
The Monolith photo is from E.F. Kinnaird's website at 
The images of art and displays from the DIA were found on the DIA's website


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