What comes to mind for me when I think of Dayton, Ohio?
To me it’s still good memories from late June when I had a good time there, looking at art from around the world at the museum, browsing furniture at an Ikea outlet on the outskirts, dancing at a friend’s wedding.
But I can’t ignore what’s happened. I procrastinated posting about that Ohio city until now. And now the first stories anyone sees about the city involve nine dead and 27 people injured.
I will always see the city as more than just the disaster associated with it. Just like Gatlinburg is more than just the fires. Indeed, Yvonne can recall visiting France just before the death of Princess Diana and then seeing the places she’d seen as a tourist on TV.
What follows are my very few impressions of Dayton Ohio from a very short visit. I hope that it can remain a place synonymous with great art and great times, even now.
I’ve barely set foot in Dayton. I came up there earlier this summer for a very old friend’s wedding, which took place out in a Dayton suburb. And it was just a good time: conversation with people from across the country I didn’t know, catching up with said old friend, however briefly, dancing to silly pop songs like the “Cha Cha Slide,” “Old Town Road” and even, for the kids, “Mama Shark.” But all that’s too personal for what this blog usually covers.
Yvonne and I had very little time to enjoy the city and settled, because we knew it was something we’d both like but wouldn’t take too long to explore, on the Dayton Art Institute. I had to stop for lunch and struggled to eat my leftover Cincinnati Chili without a fork on the Museum lawn, shoveling food into my mouth with the lid and still getting covered in cold cinnamon beef sauce.
Then, we entered. And what a museum! The entrance lobby, above a formal European-looking staircase features Andy Warhol’s portrait of Russell Means along with other American portraits, by lesser known but still impressive artists.
Hearing that we could see Claude Monet and other impressionist works, we headed downstairs to the special exhibit area.
Yvonne is never one to rush past things though. And so we found ourselves in a different kind of exhibit first: Civil Rights leader Dorothy Height’s hats. It’s no longer on display, but it was one of the more unusual parts of our visit.
Dorothy Height’s hats
Height (1912-2010) was one of the organizers for the famous March on Washington and an adviser on Civil Rights to presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower and Lyndon B. Johnson. An exhibit about her might seem like more of something for a history exhibit than an art one, but Height, like many of the women of her time loved headgear, which is a form of great visual art in and of itself. The colorful and varied fashions on display were as much a triumph of design as the paintings we headed to visit next.
Monet’s Waterloo Bridge is a case of profane made sacred. The first time I looked at it, it made me think of a Turkish city of misty minarets, even if it is just an industrial city. The special exhibit featured Monet’s water lilies, where he applied the same technique more famously to a quieter scene. Works from other impressionists, like Degas, Pissaro and Renoir adorned the room’s other walls. Yvonne wanted to just stay here for hours and I could understand why.
I, however, had an itch to keep exploring and headed through a series of Asian art exhibits, which varied in style, subject, country and century. Yvonne eventually joined me. I walked past allegorical Buddhist figures in amorous embrace, ornate snuff bottles owned by Chinese royalty, and my favorite: a large carving of two dragons looking at a pearl. An ornate suit of Japanese samurai armor that seemed too beautiful for battle greeted us later.
We then entered another room dedicated to art of long-ago South and Mesoamerican civilizations. While it was getting late, we could admire the artistry of people centuries ago, crafting small but detailed figures.
We ran out of time before we could see all of the collection. But I look forward to coming back.