photo: Judy Ferrara
Photo Credit: Tracy Raphaelson



January 2005

People go to museums, in the end, to have an experience unlike what they can get elsewhere, because works of art are not like everything else in life.
Michael Kimmelman [New York Times Arts & Leisure,
July 11, 2004, quoted in JUDY'S JOURNAL, Nov. 2004]


Museum Shoes

Dear Reader,

Cole Porter's feigned modesty ("At words poetic, I'm so pathetic...") made me chuckle as I listened to Ella Fitzgerald sing the prelude to "You're the Top," his list of "the best and most famous" in the world. The familiar lyrics struck me in an unfamiliar way, and I sat down in my studio and played the song again.

Courtesy of Mr. Porter, the Coliseum, the Louvre Museum, the Tower of Pisa, the Mona Lisa, Whistler's "Mama," and the National Gallery glided by, making me realize how travel to these icons of art and architecture was not even an option for much of my life. But by dint of hard work, intense desire, meager savings, and "special deals," I managed to go to each of those places and be just as overwhelmed as Cole Porter. And, more often than not, I was standing there in my clunky, old, beyond-comfortable, black museum shoes. I never could have predicted how this pair of plain, ankle-high boots would exceed their worth on museum trips to New York, Hartford, Chicago, Cambridge (Massachusetts and England), Boston, Rome, Paris, Florence, St. Petersburg, or London.

If my shoes could talk, they would tell about places I had begun to levitate or had gasped with astonishment. For the sake of space, I will limit myself to ten descriptions and hope that you will share your "the top" art experiences with me (

1. The Art Institute of Chicago: I rounded a corner and walked into a gallery, only to see Edward Hopper's "Nighthawks 1942" with its quartet of figures in a diner, wedged in yellow light. I think it was the surprise of suddenly encountering this icon of American art, as if coming upon someone famous in an elevator.

2. The Hermitage, St. Petersburg, Russia: It was a warm August day, and many windows had been opened. Screens and air conditioning were not part of the museum's standard operating equipment. While studying Goya's "Portrait of the Actress Antonia Zárate," I saw a fly land on it. My impulse to shoo the fly away from this priceless painting was hard to overcome, but I managed to control myself by thinking how the guards might interpret my movements.

3. The Sainte-Chapelle, Paris: Climbing the narrow corkscrew staircase from the lower chapel into the upper chapel, I was unprepared for the soaring, narrow space, with its seemingly unbroken expanses of stained glass. It literally took my breath away.

4. The Louvre, Paris: When I saw artists at their easels in galleries and sensed the confidence of their belonging, I became a witness to their part in the tradition of copying the masters. I began to imagine those who had set up their easels in earlier times.

5. The Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY: Standing in front of Matisse's "La Musique, " I remember how I had been entranced by it as a kid (Judy's Journal/November 2004). The leaves on the wall behind the figures were like nothing I had ever seen. I thought that they were imagined. A few years ago, on a visit to the Chapelle du Rosaire in Vence, France, I noticed the foliage outdoors and finally learned where Matisse found the shape of his leaves.

6. King's College Chapel, Cambridge, England: Our tour group was herded into Christopher Wren's masterpiece at a moment of sudden and sublime sunshine when the choir began to rehearse. I burst into tears.

7. Museo Nazionale Romano - Massimo, Rome: Years ago, I clipped a tiny picture from a magazine and put it in my scrapbook. I loved looking at the image. I didn't know where or what it was. Sitting in the corridor on the second floor of the museum, waiting for the guide to begin, I glanced into the gallery across from me and saw what turned out to be a fresco of the garden room from Livia's villa (30-20 BC), the very section I had in my scrapbook. I leaped up and started toward it, but was told politely and firmly, "Wait, Signora."

8. The Pantheon, Rome: This was a place I didn't think I needed to experience, but it was in the list of "must sees" in every guide book. When I walked into the space created by its vast hemispherical dome and looked up 140 feet at the blue sky showing through the oculus, I was spellbound. This 2000 year old building left me entirely at peace. I think about the Pantheon when I cannot sleep at night.

9. San Marco, Florence: First, it was Fra Angelico's "Annunciation" at the top of the stairs that rooted me to the spot. The colors in the Gabriel's wings were mesmerizing and begged to be closely scrutinized. Later, as we roamed through the former Dominican monastery, I was struck by how much Fra Angelico's scenes in the dormitories were reminiscent of 20th century surrealist paintings.

10. Mont Ste. Victoire, Aix-en-Provence, France: The mountain obsessed Paul Cézanne, and he painted it repeatedly, so I recognized it immediately when we rounded the curve on the super highway. I felt the same flash of recognition when Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis walked by me in a Boston hotel lobby---I knew that I knew that face. To give you some idea of the mountain's size, 200,000 German invaders were pinned against its base by the Romans in 100 BC. I will never understand why Cézanne wanted to tame it with his paintbrush.

Finally, I have to admit that I'd love to witness Cole Porter's "purple light/of a summer's night in Spain," because I know I'd finally get to the Prado in Madrid or see Gaudi's buildings in Barcelona. If I do get there, it will not be during high season when it's hot, expensive and crowded with other tourists, but in off-season, when I can slip on my museum shoes and board the plane.

February's journal will be about a particular creative phenomenon I call reciprocity, in which a painting and poem inspire each other. For poem/painting previews, go back to "Books, Poems, Articles" and click onto the second paragraph link. Have a happy and healthy New Year!