Best-Selling Author Visits SHSU: Two days with Jeff Guinn

Best-selling author Jeff Guinn made his way to SHSU last week, spending time with local residents and many SHSU students.

Guinn has written 18 books, the best known of which are the NY Times bestsellers: “The Autobiography of Santa Claus,” “Go Down Together: The True Untold Story of Bonnie and Clyde,” “Manson: The Life and Times of Charles Manson,” and “The Last Gunfight: The Real Story of the Shootout at the OK Corral and How It Changed the American West.”

The lives and events in these books played a central in his discussions with Huntsville residents.  With Christmas around the corner, several asked about his work on Santa Claus, and Mr. Guinn provided some intriguing and entertaining responses.  Why does Santa Claus wear red and white trim, you may wonder?  Because the real St. Nicholas was a bishop, and red and white attire was customary for bishops.

Such conversations took began over dinner at the Homestead, with local residents and LEAP Ambassadors on hand.



For Megan Chapa, of greater interest was Guinn’s work on Bonnie and Clyde, which she read (twice) in class.  Guinn supplemented some of the information in the book with background stories about Warren Beatty, Faye Dunaway, and Estelle Parsons, who starred in the 1968 classic film, Bonnie And Clyde.  Interestingly, the duo had been known as “Clyde and Bonnie” until that time; it was the film that cemented “Bonnie and Clyde” into the nation’s consciousness.


Guinn also spoke to two of Professor Yawn’s classes.  One, an Introduction to Texas Government…


…heard much about Bonnie and Clyde, and the early days of law enforcement (and prison life) in Texas.  Interestingly, Clyde Barrow was imprisoned in both the Eastham Unit and the Walls Unit, giving him a direct connection to Huntsville.

In Yawn’s Politics and Media, the students heard more about the impact that Bonnie and Clyde, Charles Manson, and Jim Jones (his current book subject) had on the media.  Bonnie and Clyde, for example, were one of the first subjects to have photos of themselves wired across the nation.  In fact, without this technological development, they likely would have simply been locally known.  With the infamous photo of Bonnie Parker with cigar and gun…

…being wired across the US, however, the duo became nationally famous.  Similarly, Charles Manson and his high-profile attacks (of actress Sharon Tate) brought in Hollywood and seemed to typify the California lifestyle of the 1960s and 1970s.


Following classes, 25 students and faculty had a low-profile lunch with Mr. Guinn, who continued to discuss the impact of the subjects he has studied, much to the delight of those attending.


According to Bella Abril, who had also read “Go Down Together,” the meeting was “very interesting,” even if she finds hearing about Manson and Jim Jones a bit disturbing.

Interestingly, Guinn has a practice of including the names of people he meets into his novels (when not publishing books on biographical subjects, he publishes fiction such as Glorious and Buffalo Trail).  On this trip, LEAP Ambassador Austin Campbell was designated as a character in Guinn’s next novel.  This doesn’t mean, of course, that Austin will actually be in the novel, but his name will be given to a character, although (ominously) Guinn does not guarantee which character will get that name…

Also of interest is that Guinn offered several of the LEAP Ambassadors the opportunity to go with him to do research on his next book subject.  While the subject hasn’t been formally released, it will involved border towns in Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona.  The Ambassadors are packing for a future road trip!

On his way out of Huntsville, Mr. Guinn stopped by the Texas Prison Museum to visit old friends Sandy Rogers and Jim Willett, who provided information and access to Guinn when he wrote about Bonnie and Clyde.


He signed more than a dozen copies of his books for sale at the TPM, and headed out of town–eager, we hope, to return next year to Huntsville, Texas.

Midwest Trip, Day 9: Doing OK in Oklahoma


After nine days on the road, we were limping home somewhat, anxious to get back to our studies and our own beds.  But we ended our trip on another high note, and used the drive for time to reflect on a trip of epic proportions.

The high point was the Oklahoma City of Art Museum, which has one of the largest Chihuly collections in the United States.  You don’t have to wait long at the Museum to see a Chihuly.

OKCMA_Chihuly_Tower_WebIn fact, the Museum entrance has the largest Chihuly in the world.  It is more than 80 feet tall, composed of more than 2,100 pieces of glass, and it weighs more than 20,000 pounds.  It is equally imposing and impressive.

Although it might be difficult to top the entrance, the Chihuly exhibits are all impressive, displying “Reeds”…


OKCMA_Chihuly_Red_Bowls_Web…more bowls…


Chihuly_Row_Boats_Web…Chihuly ceilings…

OKCMA_Chihuly_Ceiling_Constance_Alex_Web…and Chihuly wall art…


Of course, the Art Museum had the traditional art as well…

OKCMA_Modern_Gallery_Floor_Web…including Constance’s favorite O’Keefe…

OKCMA_Okeefe_Calla_Lily_Web…one of the Dallas Nine, Alexandre Hogue…

OKCMA_Hogue_Soil_Subsoil_Web…and for Political Science students, a portrait of George Washington…

OKCMA_Peale_Washington_WebBut following a little play time…

OKCMA_Crafts_Alex_Constance_Web…it was time to go home.

It was a long drive back from OK City, but it gave us time to reflect on the trip and restructure our thinking about food, art, entertainment, livable cities, and life.  In so doing, we came up with a list of favorites we’d like to share.Old_Mill_Alex_Constance_Bridge_2_Web

Favorite Cities:

  1. Little Rock
  2. Chicago
  3. Kansas City (Constance); Madison, WI (Alex)

Favorite Restaurants:

  1. Grunauer’s (Austrian food in the heart of KC)
  2. Q39 (Our favorite of KC BBQ)
  3. DLUX (American food in Madison–great shakes!)

Favorite Attractions (Here, we had real disagreements!):

  • Constance
  1. Richard Haas Murals
  2. Union Station
  3. Lincoln Presidential Library
  • Alex
  1. Lincoln Presidential LibraryLincoln_Statue_Alex_Web
  2. Art Institute of Chicago
  3. Old Mill

Favorite Art:

  • Constance
  1. Red Hill with Flowers, O’Keefe
  2. Yellow Dancers, Degas
  3. Reeds, ChihulyOKCMA_Chiluly_Alex_Constance_1_Web
  • Alex
  1. Monet
  2. Pisarro
  3. Chihuly


Both Constance and I, however, agree that touring Loyola Law School with Daniel North was one of our most rewarding experiences.  He laid out the material very clearly, told us information we haven’t heard from others, and was genuinely nice.

Daniel_Constance_AlexIt was great to connect with a former Junior Fellow!

The whole trip was a great experience, whether walking the bridges of Little Rock…

Junction_Bridge_Sculpture_Night_Web…checking out City Garden in St. Louis…

City_Garden_Night_Constance_Alex_Web…hanging with President Lincoln in Springfield, IL…

Alex_Lincoln_4_Web…jumping at the bean in Chicago…

Bean_Alex_Jumping_Mike_Web…discovering the capitol in WI….

Capitol_Constance_Alex_2_Web…crawling the incline in Dubuque…

…playing American Gothic…

American_Gothic_Alex_Constance_2_Web…learning about a bit of everything in KC…

Da_Vinci_Exhibit_Last_Supper_Alex_Web…and chilling with Chihuly in OK City.

OKCMA_Chihuly_Tower_Constance_Alex_1_WebIt was a great ride!

Midwest Tour, Day 8: Kansas City, Home of the MLB Champs!

We began our Saturday morning exploring Kansas City’s own River Market. Although we arrived a bit early, we got a head start on all of the produce, cheeses, spices, and home goods that the farmers market had to offer. The brisk morning air refreshed us after a short night of sleep and we enjoyed strolling through the different vendors, smelling the fresh flowers, appreciating the colorful produce, and tasting different foods foreign to Texas.


With just a little over an hour to explore, we tried coffee at Quay Coffee and wandered through the shops open at the early hour. With our noses exhausted from the various smells permeating the market, we left to make it to our Segway tour reservation on time.

Led by Kelly, we hopped on the available segways like pros and began the tour of downtown Kansas City.


We started in an area called Westport, home to bars, shops, and many a hipster. The area prides itself on preserving its history, which we observed in the established community and some of the buildings being the oldest sanding in Kansas City. Founded in 1831 by Isaac McCoy, Westport originally sat three miles south of what is today downtown Kansas City. His son, John Calvin McCoy, is credited as the “Father of Kansas City” and we observed a statue of him during the first part of our tour. We left the area of Westport to continue our tour, segwaying past pedestrians and through a few linear parks. Kansas City, known as the least dense and city with the most green space in America, is home to many beautiful parks. We had the chance to enjoy these areas, albeit, on segway. We followed Kelly along a couple creeks, walking trails, and even spotted public work out equipment along the way. We ambled upon Kauffman Memorial Garden after visiting Westport, a clear juxtaposition to the hip, bar district we had just explored.


The garden, quiet and serene, serves as gravesite to Ewing and Muriel Kauffman, philanthropists to the city in the mid 1960s. We left the garden to continue on our tour, only after appreciating the giant chrysanthemums in the greenhouse.

Kansas City is known as the “City of Fountains,” and one of the more interesting fountains we encountered was a memorial to the Vietnam War.  It was laid out in a series of cascading waterfalls, a reference to the U.S’s cascading involvement in the war.  It culminates in two pools of water at the end, a symbol for the split in public opinion over the war.


We spent the most time on our tour on the grounds of the Nelson-Atkins museum, avoiding photographers and muses as best we could. We even had the chance to explore grounds unfamiliar to Professor Yawn, home to sculptures by Ursula von Rydingsvard (Three Bowls), Henry Moore, and Roxy Paine (Ferment).


We also had the chance to get off our segways and try out Robert Morris’ Glass Labyrinth, which we luckily made it out of without running into any of the glass walls.


We left the grounds, after quite a few photo opportunities, including the chance to see a Claes Oldenburg sculpture (a shuttlecock!)….

Segway_Sculpture_Garden_Constance_Alex_Shuttlecock_Web…and an unsettling sculpture titled “Standing Figures,” which is actually a sculpture of 30 headless men standing in rows.

Segway_Sculpture_Garden_30_Men_Standing_WebMeandering through the parks, we also encountered some yoga practitioners, taking advantage of the peacefulness of the park (other than the speeding Segways, of course)…


From there, we made it back to the Kemper Museum of Modern Art, which we had visited the evening before but had yet to observe in daylight.  We were re-acquainted with Louise Bourgeois’s “Spider”…



…as well as Tom Otterness’s “Crying Giant.”

Segway_Kemper_Crying_Giant_WebWe had previously seen Bourgeois’s work in Iowa and in New Orleans, and we had only recently seen Otterness’s work (City Garden, in St. Louis).

That being our last stop…

…we bid adieu to Kelly and her insightful information and headed to scrounge up some lunch.

Much to the recommendation of our tour guide, we decided to eat lunch at Q39, a local Kansas City barbeque joint. We found the restaurant to be very popular and were confronted with an hour wait. With that information, Professor Yawn and Stephanie decided to let us wait and enjoy lunch while they left to grab our bags at the hotel in preparation for our departure this evening. We finally got a table, which was worth every second of the wait, once we received our appetizer of fried onion strings and meals consisting of ribs, sausage, pulled pork, and even better Kansas City barbeque sauce.


Slightly tangy and very sweet, we enjoyed the barbeque that is so different than what we can enjoy in Texas. We left the restaurant full and ready to take on the rest of our afternoon.

We spent the first part of the rest of our afternoon exploring and learning at The National WWI Museum and Memorial. We arrived just in time to sit and watch the introductory video that left us wanting to learn more, so we ventured into the museum. We began with the WWI timeline that started with the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and led to Austria declaring war on Serbia.


This led to an entanglement of treaties and soon after, the five Great Powers were at war.


The museums timeline was easy to read and separated every year. The year of 1915 showed how the momentum of the war shifted to the east and highlighted the sinking of Lusitania by a German submarine. The year of 1916 on the timeline highlighted the Battle of Verdun and the Battle of the Somme. The timeline then moved on to the year of 1917, which is when Germany began to renew their unrestricted submarine warfare. One U-boat had cost American lives, which led to America severing its diplomatic relations with Germany and having to decide upon entering the war. The first American troops landed in France on June 25, 1917 and the spirits of France were renewed. The museum also features sections on Air warfare and others. As we walked through the museum we were able to watch another more interactive video about the war which then escorted us to the back portion of the museum that highlighted the America’s role in the War. The museum was very detailed and included many aspects of the war such as every branch of the military, a woman’s position in the war, civilian’s positions in the war, and an exhibit on war propaganda.

WWI_Propoganda_Alex_WebWe entered a reflections box where we were able to listen to voices from the War. We then took an elevator up to the Memorial where the tower commemorating the fallen soldiers stands. After enjoying the view, we walked back over the glass bridge hanging over the poppies that represent the fallen soldiers of the War.

We left the National World War I Museum to stroll down the hill in front of it, capturing the beautiful fall afternoon with a few photographs.


We loved feeling the breeze and seeing the burgundy leaves fly through the air off the trees preparing for the first winter frost.


We walked across the street, following the museum, to enter Union Station in search of the temporary Da Vinci exhibit that the train station holds.  We found the exhibit on the bottom floor of the station and proceeded to get in line, thrilled with the anticipation of learning about one of history’s most prominent inventors and scholars. We entered the exhibit and watched an introductory video about the Renaissance man. Following, we left the compression of the video space and were awed by the expansion of the rest of the exhibit, full of Da Vinci’s inventions.


We had the chance to read about his work in military science, flying machines, scientific diagrams about the human body, civil engineering, and inventions that would make everyday work easier and more efficient. We always knew about the inventor’s paintings, “Mona Lisa”…


…and “The Last Supper,”

Da_Vinci_Exhibit_Last_Supper_Alex_Web…but it was even more compelling to learn about all the musings that were found in his journals ranging from thoughts about poetry to the making of the ideal city. We even had the chance to touch multiple replicas of his inventions, like a pulley and a lock system.


Following the section about his inventions, we had the opportunity to read about his artwork, which about fifteen have survived to this day due to the precariousness of Da Vinci’s experiments with new techniques. It was interesting to read about his work with the golden ration, which can be seen in his paintings and in his drawing of the Vitruvian Man. We left the exhibit awed by a man that we knew very little about before and inspired to expand our horizons just as he did during his lifetime.

We also had a chance to return to the Nelson-Atkins and see the special Thomas Hart Benton exhibit.  The theme was Thomas Hart Benton and the Hollywood epic, highlighting styles that tied in with epic films, as well as the time that Benton spent working in Hollywood.

Nelson_Atkins_Benton_Exhibit_WebWhile in the Museum, we took an opportunity to see some of the pieces we had missed the day before, such as the beautiful gardens…

Segway_Sculpture_Garden_Thinker_Web…Rodin’s “Thinker” up close…

Nelson_Atkins_Thinker_Web…and the strange, intriguing folk art of Philip Haas…


Before leaving KC, we returned to Union Station to grab a few souvenirs before beginning the drive out of town.

After a while on the road we stopped at Pie Five Pizza Co., in Topeka, KS, for a quick dinner. Constance and I shared the biggest Greek salad that I had ever seen and a pesto chicken Alfredo pizza that was delicious. We left the restaurant, and took advantage of our stop in Topeka to see the state’s capitol and other sites.


We stopped at the capitol building, standing majestically in the middle of town. We weren’t able to go into the Capitol because it was late, but we did capture a few photos. Before getting back on the road we had to make one more stop. We stopped at the Brown V. Board of Education National Historic Site. Sadly it was closed by the time we arrived, but we were able to have a glimpse inside provided by the glass doors.


In the building we saw the labels “White” and “Color” that segregated the school. Even though we were not able to go inside, it was still a very sobering experience.

We hopped back in the van, en route to our last stop for the night, Wichita, to sleep before getting back on the road in the morning for the long trek back to Huntsville.

Midwest Tour, Day 7: Going to Kansas City, Kansas City Here We Come

We left Madison bright and early this morning to get a head start on the day’s heavy amount of driving. Before completely departing the capitol, however, we stopped by a “lost” Richard Haas mural.  Haas completed this mural in 1987 and it beautified an already beautiful city for almost a decade.  In the 1990s, however, Madison decided to revive a Frank Lloyd Wright design for the City–Monona Terrace.  In completing the Wright design, the Haas mural was relegated to the side of a tunnel wall.  Not made to be seen in tunnel, and obscured by newly installed load-bearing columns for the overpass, the Haas mural of Wisconsin’s history is all but destroyed.  Still, we discovered vestiges of it.


With that sad sight in mind, we began the winding drive to Dubuque, Iowa. Dubuque, a small town along the Mississippi, was founded in 1833 and is home to an incline that gives panoramic views of the surrounding area. We arrived at the bottom of the incline, nervous (editor’s note: mostly Constance was nervous) about the rickety tram that would take us up the steep embankment.


We piled in, however nervous we may have been, and slowly made it up the hill.

The anticipation was worth it in the end, as we were able to look out over the Iowa hillside and appreciate the breathtaking view…

Dubuque_Skyline_Web…and take photos…

…and more photos…

Dubuque_Incline_Constance_Alex_2_Web…and more photos…


…and to see how far we had come up the mountain.

Dubuque_Incline_Tracks_WebAfter a couple pictures, we rode down in the tram once more to find solace in the warmth of the minivan.

By the end, we (Constance, especially) were proud of the trip up and back!


We then drove to the gravesite of Dubuque’s founding father, Julien Dubuque. The grave, memorialized by a turret-like structure, sits on the edge of a mountain along the Mississippi.


We braved the semi-cold to appreciate the view of Dubuque and the fall colors of the area. Dubuque, who maintained a healthy relationship with the local Native American tribe, rests near the grave of Chief Peosta’s, leader of the Meskwaki tribe (and Dubuque’s father-in-law).

Dub uque_Peosta_Grave_Web

We snapped a couple pictures of the mighty Mississippi…

Dubuque_Monument_Constance_Alex_Web…with and without us…

Dubuque_Monument_Overlook_Web…and then headed back to the car for our next stop.


After a few hours, we stopped for lunch at Her Soup Kitchen. A small, local eatery, the restaurant boasts local, fresh ingredients, which we enjoyed immensely. The cold weather made the soup even more delectable, as we warmed up from the inside, out.


It was a neat place to eat, and we hope that the place thrives!

With a warm midwestern meal in our stomachs, we headed to not only an icon of the midwest, but an icon of the American scene: The American Gothic house.


Painted by Grant Wood, “American Gothic” remains a well-known art piece to Americans and foreigners alike. We were lucky enough to catch the piece at the Chicago Art Institute…


…and this made visiting the home all the more rewarding.  Although it rests in a small town, a visitor’s center and Grant Wood museum accompany the site of the home.

We walked in and promptly began putting on costumes to impersonate the couple in the photo. Once dressed, we posed in front of the home with the most convincing faces we could muster up which seemed a harder task than once originally expected!

American_Gothic_Alex_Constance_2_WebSwitching costumes, we continued the photo opportunity in opposite outfits but still finding it difficult to portray the seriousness Wood intended. All silliness aside, it was exciting being able to reenact history after seeing the original painting in Chicago.

We headed inside to the museum to learn a bit more about the artist himself. Born in 1891 in Anamosa, Iowa, Mr. Wood lived a very interesting life. A teacher, soldier, and artist at last, Grant Wood studied impressionism and post-impressionism in Europe and became the artist we know today under these occupations. Friend of Thomas Hart Benton and John Steuart Curry, Wood practiced the art of Regionalism with his colleagues, whom we have also had the chance of viewing at other museums this trip. Although posthumously famous, Wood lived a fairly middle-class life and supported his hometown through the Great Depression by opening the Stone City Art Colony. He married, divorced, and died one day away from fifty-one from pancreatic cancer. We left a bit more knowledgeable about the artist and having enjoyed the driving break, got back on the road to finish the drive to Kansas City.

Once we arrived in Kansas City, we took advantage of the late closing hours of the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art and The Nelson-Atkins Art Museum. While walking up to the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art we were greeted by one of Louise Bourgeois famous giant spider sculptures.

Segway_Kemper_Burgeoise_2_WebThe Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art had a “Dark Days, Bright Nights: Contemporary Paintings from Finland” exhibition while we were there that had a dark motif. As we walked through the temporary exhibit we had some group favorites such as “Canary” by Vesa-Pekka Rannikko ,which used ropes to complete its illusion. Another group favorite was “Cottage” by Nanna Susi.


Constance was pleased to see one of Georgia O’Keefe’s early paintings as well. I think that the highlight of the museum was the two Dale Chihuly pieces that were on displays at the Kemper Museum of contemporary Art.


We then walked over to the Nelson-Atkins Art Museum’s south entrance, which featured Rodin’s “Thinker”. With the museum closing soon, we were only able to walk through a part of the massive building. Even though we only had a short amount of time, we did spot some great pieces. We were able to see some more of Georgia O’Keefe’s floral paintings…


and another titled “Autumn Trees”.  One of Professor Yawn’s favored pieces included “Utah Highlands” painted by Thomas Hart Benton.


We also found an interesting transformation piece in the Asian art gallery that showed a mountainside changing seasons. We ended our self-guided tour of the museum in the Contemporary Art gallery where we saw Andy Warhol’s very famous “Campbell’s Soup Can” along with other interesting pieces.


Hungry, we raced down to Grunauer for dinner. We tried three different sausages and some pork belly before our main course.

Grunaeur_AppetizersConstance and I shared the A la Grunauer Schnitzel. The schnitzel was breaded pork stuffed with creamed spinach, and tasted amazing. Our entrees were delicious and we ended our dinner with an apple strudel.


After an amazing and very filling dinner, we walked over to Union Station.


We were able to stand on one of the walking bridges just in time for the train to speed right below us. After exploring and taking a few pictures in the beautiful building, we were ready for a good nights rest so that we could start our morning bright and early.

Midwest Tour, Day 6: More Marvelous Madison

We began our morning enjoying breakfast at a local favorite, Marigold’s. Known for their creative breakfast options, we loaded up on coffee, an omelet, some pancakes and fresh squeezed orange juice. It was, according to Alex, the best orange juice ever.  The food was good, too, a fact attested to by Constance, who breakfasted here last year, and now has two years’ worth of data on which to base her conclusion.

Hurrying back to the hotel, we made it back in time for the first session of the 2015 Film and History Conference.  Like last year, it was well organized by Loren Baybrook, Professor at University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh.

Alex and I chose the session titled, “Generational Dilemma: Situating Women and Young People, a Transitional Age of TV.” One of the first things we noticed is that the dress code is pretty relaxed for a professional conference.  We heard from three different panelists discussing young people on TV, domesticity in sitcoms, and utopia in 1960s television.  All of them read more or less directly from their papers.

First, Mr. Michael Cheyne read his paper about the power in domesticity, the gender inequality as a public problem in sitcoms, and the vindication women achieved in shows like “Father Knows Best,” once women finally embraced their role in the home as a housewife, further constraining them to society’s view. Second, Ms. Caryn Murphy spoke about attempted utopia in the 1960s sitcom “The New People.”  Finally, we heard from Daniel Long about “The Failure of Displacing the Young People on Network TV,” in which he discussed ABC’s efforts to gain influence amidst networks like NBC and CBS, while also identifying social issues and confronting them during programing like “The New People.”  Overall, we learned about the different issues important to our peers in the late 1960s, while also acknowledging the line networks had to balance in order to stay relevant.

Listening to the panelists speak certainly awoke our hunger, so we left the conference briefly to eat a truly Wisconsinite lunch at The Old Fashioned. We tried fried cheese curds…

Cheese_Curds_Web…beer and cheese soup (which, intriguingly, is sprinkled with popcorn)…

and three different types of sandwiches–pulled pork, grilled chicken, and grilled cheese.


Satisfied, we left the restaurant to hurry back to the conference for the afternoon.

Our second session of the afternoon was titled “Journeys of Love 1: Romantic Comedy”, which we definitely enjoyed. Before we attended this session, however, we ran to Professor Yawn’s presentation and took a photograph.

Film_History_Yawn_Presenting_WebWe then backed out, somewhat conspicuously, and returned to our regularly scheduled program.

Megan Miskiewicz from Northwestern University was the first speaker for the panel. She discussed marriage timing and economics in romantic comedy films from 1936-1941. To do this she had to answer three questions: who to marry, when to marry and what to do after marriage? She referenced the film “Ball of Fire”, which starred Gary Cooper and Barbara Stanwyck to answer the question of whom to marry. (Interestingly, Dana Andrews is in this film, and the LEAP Center presented a Dana Andrews film festival in 2009 and 2013.)

In this film, as with many films from the 1930s, the key question for women was, “Whom should I marry?”  She pointed out a concept that occurs repeatedly, which is “the hope that something better is just around the corner”.

Deborah Doderlein from the University of Oslo, Norway focused on the film “Guess who’s coming to Dinner,” which was about an interracial couple and all that they must overcome to marry. We enjoyed the romantic theme of this session greatly, which consequently meant we took a bit more away from the presentations.

We left the second session of the day to run across the street of the hotel and hop on the 2:00 o’clock tour of the Wisconsin Capitol building. Wisconsinites pride themselves on their state house and made a point of making it completely accessible to the public. There are no metal detectors, and all entrances are open to the public; that is, there are no “reserved sections” for “staff and elected officials only.”

We began the tour in the rotunda of the house…


…under the largest dome known to any capitol in the nation and also the largest granite dome in the world.

Capitol_Tour_2_WebThe dome makes for a beautiful rotunda scene, enhanced by murals reflecting the various branches of government, all of which were housed in the state capitol.


The walls, columns, and exterior of the capitol boast 43 different types of stones from six different countries and eight states. Completed in 1917, the building is the fifth to serve as the capitol building of Wisconsin and, more recently, underwent a 158.8 million dollar renovation that lasted fourteen years. Sitting at 284 feet and 5 inches from the ground, the magnitude of the building is offset by the quiet subtlety found inside. Alex noted that this might be her favorite capitol visited yet, a nice contrast to some of the more ostentatious capitols we’ve seen.

We walked up to the second floor to visit the House Chamber, which boasts a thirty-foot skylight…


…and another Blashfield mural depicting important events in Wisconsin’s history.

We moved on to the Senate Chamber, which sits in a circle and is technology free. Second to last, we visited the Supreme Court, with four murals by Albert Herter, who painted his son into one of the murals and whom later went on to be U.S. Secretary of State during the Eisenhower presidency.

Capitol_Court_Mural_Magna_Carta_WebFinally, we ascended multiple flights of stairs to enjoy the view of Madison from the observation deck.

Although both afraid of heights, we thoroughly enjoyed the multiple photo opportunities from the great vantage point.

Capitol_Observatory_Constance_Alex_Selfie_4_WebAlthough it was windy…

Capitol_Top_Constance_Alex_Web…and a bit cold…

…it was still a lot of fun.

Finishing up at the capitol, we walked around the square, past a few unnerving Guy Fawkes Day protesters…

…and arrived at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art. Sadly, we were unable to photograph the pieces we saw, but did enjoy the opportunity to experience a new channel of art. We were greeted by a horse sculpture by Deborah Butterfield made out of sticks and mud. We have previously seen Butterfield’s works at the New Orleans Museum of Art, UT’s Campus, and in Des Moines’ Papajohn Park.

We ascended glass stairs to enter the main exhibit hall, where we found work from artists like Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, and Diego Rivera. It was a small gallery, but we spent a bit of time learning about new artists and appreciating the social implications of such art before leaving the modern art museum and heading back to the hotel for the rest of the conference.

The last panel that we attended was titled “Indie Film II: Indie and performance: Changing contexts, Changing strategies”.  Diane Carson from Webster University spoke first about Independent Film director, John Sayles’, films. She focused on the fact that he refused to hollywoodize his films even though he knew that they would not make as much money. She also noted that race issues occur often in his films and that he said “ you can’t avoid it if you’re going to make a movie.” One additional point that Diane mentioned was that Sayles does not sugar coat real social issues and that she hoped that her presentation made us want to go watch his films. The second speaker was Cynthia Baron from Bowling Green State University, who focused on a film called “Set it Off” that focused on women editors in indie films. She noted that indie films used popular actors to gain more views like Queen Latifah and Jada Pinkett. To keep her presentation interesting, she showed a few video clips of the film. The third presenter was Chris Holmlund who focused on casing indie actors. She chose to talk about four main actors, John Cusack, Michelle Williams, Lupe Ontiveros and Giancarlo Esposito. She spoke about how actors play social roles because of whom they are and how they look. All performers are not created equal due to their race, body and other identifying characteristics that limit them to specific roles. An interesting way to show this was by informing us that Lupe Ontiveros’ roles were 90% of the time maids. She ended her presentation by arguing that independent films truly allow actors to work.

Following the afternoon of capitol touring and indie film education, we were ready for an adventurous dinner at “A Pig in a Fur Coat”, where we learned about the world of Tapa restaurants. We ordered two snack plates, Duck Fat Fries and Meatballs. All of the food served at A Pig in a Fur Coat was distinctive and different from anything that we had tried. The meatballs for example, included bone marrow, which at least two of us did not particularly enjoy. After our snack plates, our Small Plates arrived. We tried the Pork Belly with shrimp and butternut squash, filled with different and delicious flavors; it was on the smallish side.


the Ravioli filled with duck egg, and topped with bacon, Brussels sprouts and butter, and the Foie Gras Mousse, a bombolini with lard and fig. In the spirit of a Tapa restaurant, we all shared and had a taste of each other’s food. Alex was not a huge fan of the Foie Gras, and was even less so when she found it was made from fattened duck livers.

A Pig in a Fur Coat was much different from expected and was a great place to try new things.

After dinner we decided to return to DLUX for their amazing milkshakes! We sampled the toasted marshmallow with chocolate, Red Velvet Milkshake and the Salted Caramel milkshake.

On a full and satisfied stomach, we decided to walk around the Capitol building…

Capitol_Constance_Alex_Weband snap some photos in the cold weather (editor: it wasn’t cold) before…

Capitol_Constance_Alex_3_Web…retiring to the hotel in anticipation of a full day of driving tomorrow.




Midwest Tour, Day 5: Marvelous Madison!

We started our morning with a fun-filled trip to the admission-free Henry Vilas Zoo in Madison, Wisconsin. Because of its layout, when we first walked into the zoo, we thought that it was very small, but we soon learned that it was not. In fact, it kept expanding into a bigger area that we had anticipated. As we wandered the zoo, we were greeted by a furry-faced lion…

Zoo_Lion_Web…and some surprisingly active orangutans. Some of our favorite animals were the polar bears, otters, a white rhino…

the giraffes…


and polar bears.


The zoo even had a bird aviary where Alex was almost attacked by a parrot! (Okay, not exactly attacked…)


The zoo also abutted a pretty City park, where they had green space and Lake Wingra…

…along with many geese!

Zoo_Geese_WebBefore heading back, we took some time to enjoy the beautiful foliage in the area…

After that exciting stop, we were ready for lunch–at DLUX. Alex ordered the Farmhouse burger, a beef patty with a fried green tomato, Monterey jack cheese and bacon.

DLUX_Burger_WebThe burger was delicious, but what really gave it a different taste was the tomato jam that came on the side. Constance had the Sunrise burger which featured a fried egg and the tomato jam as well. Alongside the delectable burgers, we shared parmesan and truffle cream fries that were phenomenal. We then tried milkshakes—Salted Caramel, Apple Crisp, and Chocolate Peanut Butter Pretzel. All were awesome.

DLUX_Shakes_WebOur appetites satisfied, we made our way to Monona Terrace, via the farmers’ market, which was set up downtown. The market was stocked with locally grown vegetables, fruits, homemade sweets and breads, and of course, plenty of cheese. Some of us were able to sample the many cheeses in spite of our recent, filling lunch.

We ambled our way into Madison’s Monona Terrace, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Built posthumously in 1997, following Wright’s many unsuccessful attempts to get the design approved while he was alive.   Monona Terrace now serves as a convention center in downtown Madison, resting between the capitol and Lake Monona.

Monona_Terrace_Capitol_WebCapitol View from Monona Terrace

Wright designed the complete outside of the building, while Anthony Puttnam, an architect from Taliesin Associated Architects, designed some of the interior.

Viewed from the exterior, multiple curves are a defining element to Monona Terrace’s architecture, adding to an almost space-like futuristic feel. Inside, we passed photos of Wright’s work from all over the nation, while Professor Yawn shared his knowledge of the building. Wright’s theme of circles followed us inside as we observed in the use of lighting, signs, and even a round staircase corridor. The floor, covered in bright burgundy carpet in a leaf pattern, struck us right as we walked in.

Although very different from other works we have seen by Wright, Monona Terrace stands out in its majestic beauty and functionality for the city, two areas Wright strived to make exemplary.


Undeterred by the professionals attending a conference, we wandered the halls and even made it outside to the lake-edge to take pictures and enjoy the brisk breeze off the water.

Lake_Monona_Constance_Alex_WebWe also made our way to the terrace…

Monona_Terrace_Trees_Web…where we enjoyed the lake view.

Lake_Monona_Constance_Alex_Selfie_3_Web…and capitol view.

Mr. Wright would have been proud to see his work come to life, as the convention center served functionally a purpose as well as kept with his original design plans.

After finding our way through the streets crowded with thousands of students walking, biking, and running, we found the University of Wisconsin Law School, ready for our tour. We were guided by a law student who informed us of the strong alum community that the law school has, and described the general day of a typical law student at UW. Our tour guide showed us some class rooms, one of which was the constitutional law class room, and one in which the moot court team holds their practices. We also stopped by the much-occupied library and saw John Steuart Curry’s “The Freeing of the Slaves” mural.


Once our tour guide wrapped up his part, we explored the campus for a while before leaving.

After our enlightening tour at the UW School of Law, we regrouped and returned to another part of the UWM campus for some rec time. We evaded much traffic and many pedestrians en route to The Shell, where students at UWM have the opportunity to ice skate, among other activities, as part of their recreational fees.

Excited to do something not generally available in Texas, we grabbed skates and entered the small arena. What we did not expect was the experience of those who would be skating around us. Natural-born Texans, we both have ice-skated only a few times in our lives, combined, with those living in the North likely to learn to skate shortly after walking, as the tale would be told.

We sucked in our pride, put on our skates, and stepped out onto the slick ice. Close to the stress we encountered at the Willis Tower Sky Deck in Chicago, both of us clung to the sidewalls with death grips to avoid falling at all costs.

After a few times around the rink on the wall, Constance got a bit of a hand at it and slowly sped up and away from the safety net.

Alex, meanwhile, stayed closer to the wall, but made a few friends along the way – even one possible future hockey star, if he is to be believed…. We had less than an hour in the rink but had an absolute ball; and Alex insists she must come back in order to truly master the art of ice skating. (Or maybe to check up on that hockey star…)

Finally, after working up an appetite on the ice, we roved through traffic across Madison once more to find dinner. A cute restaurant tucked in a strip mall, Nile offered Mediterranean food that was very different from what we had tried previously. We began the meal with salad, soup, and an appetizer of Kibbee Balls, a fried meat and bulgur mix that had a great smoky flavor. Alex tried the Mediterranean Shrimp, served in a red sauce with a side of rice, while Constance enjoyed the beef kebab and hummus that was truly, otherworldly good. Overall, the meal satisfied our craving for Mediterranean and impressed us at the same time. It was a great day in Wisconsin; one that made us very happy that our paths had crossed with LEAP and Wisconsin!