My aunt is 101 years “old” and lives in St. Paul. I know, one-hundred-and-one, amazing! She’s my inspiration for aging well. She still resides in her own condo and is fairly self-sufficient. She’s cared for by my cousin.
Sometimes my cousin has other things she needs to do, so friends from the condo building or my relatives in the Twin Cities step in and visit my aunt in her stead.
The other weekend was one of those times for us to help. We needed to be at my aunt’s place early in the morning, so Russ and I meandered down from Duluth the night before. To make the trip more fun, we booked a stay in a bed and breakfast in an historic mansion near the Walker Arts Center in Minneapolis. We’d never been to the center or the sculpture garden near it, so this trip was going to fulfill those cultural deficits as well as getting in an Aunt Marguerite visit.
We booked a room in the carriage house of 300 Clifton, also known as the Eugene J. Carpenter Mansion. Carpenter was a lumber baron who totally overhauled the Queen Anne-style home, complete with turrets and gables, into a more rectangular Georgian-style mansion after purchasing it about a hundred years ago.
As we checked into the big house, we were greeted by the two resident great danes, Madonna and her grandson Clifton. I thought Madonna was big, but Clifton was even taller – his head came to about the middle of my chest and I’m 5-6. After the requisite petting and ear rubbing (I found the spot on Clifton that made him groan) the two mellow dogs returned to their spots by the hearth in the library.
Sorry, I have no pictures of the dogs. I was too busy petting them.
We were oriented by a knowledgeable young man who’s been working at the mansion for eight years. He told us the Carpenters were instrumental in creating the Minneapolis Institute of Art (MIA). At that point, we decided not to tell him about our desire to see the Walker Arts Center (we’d already seen the MIA). As it turns out, that might have been a good call. Later, reading an information sheet in our room, we found out that the Walker was established by someone who got disillusioned with the MIA project, a competitor of the Carpenters. I expect a rivalry must still exist between the two institutions to this day.
The nice young man (it’s so typical that we know the dogs’ names but not the human’s name!) took us back outside, past the large courtyard with a fountain and gardens, and showed us our room in the carriage house, explaining this was where all the men on the household staff slept because the Carpenters had a daughter they didn’t want sullied by male influences.
The ground level of the carriage house contains an antique taxi, a pool table, big-screen television, and arcade games. The building originally housed horses but then was renovated for cars. The floor even sports the original turntable used to point cars in the right direction for storage. Sleeping rooms are on the upper floor.
Our room was small, but totally adequate – full of nooks and crannies that you just don’t get in a modern hotel room, not to mention the Tiffany-style dragonfly lamp. Our room didn’t have the sound proofing you’d find in a modern building, but that is really the only criticism we have.
Once unpacked, we dropped back into the main house to explore its three floors. The interior is arts and craft style. It contains little of the original furnishings because it was made into a boarding house and offices in the past. However, there is a Georgian Room in the MIA that holds original furniture from the home and pieces collected by Carpenter during his travels.
The library (with its hearth and great danes) features original sconces that were moved from elsewhere in the house. The dining room sports an impressive painted ceiling. The music room, done in muted greens, feels like a place too nice for the likes of us to hang out.
The main staircase reminds me of the one in Duluth’s Glensheen Mansion, but it didn’t have the impressive window art found in Glensheen. The top floor features modern skylights and plants everywhere, including historic images and interpretive text.
Explorations over, we returned to our cozy room and slept while the wind whipped through the city, rattling the windowpanes.
The next morning, we ate our continental breakfast in the impressive dining room. If a person wants to spend $99 more, you can get a four-course breakfast, but we didn’t need that since we were going out for lunch with my aunt and cousin later that day.
We made it to my aunt’s and had a great visit. She brought out some of her old scrapbooks and we took trips down memory lane, which included some highly unflattering class photos of me in junior high, which made Russ laugh.
After lunch at the Tavern Grill in Arden Hills (delish!), we drove back in the direction of our bed and breakfast, which was three blocks away from the Walker Art Center. We could have parked at the B&B and walked to the art center, but a cold wind was still blowing, so we wimped out and parked at the center.
I really wanted to “walk to the Walker” because I like the sound of it, but it was not to be. Sorry for misleading everyone with the title of this post. I know, false advertising! (I’m just seeing if you are paying attention.) But, if you ever stay at 300 Clifton, be aware of this option.
Right now, entrance fees for the Walker are half-priced because many of their displays are closed for renovation, but there was plenty still there to keep us occupied for an hour-and-a-half. I especially enjoyed seeing an Edward Hopper painting (Office at Night) and an Andy Warhol (Sixteen Jackies). Some of the other art just made me scratch my head.
The bright sun made our quick walk in the sculpture garden across the street bearable despite the wind. We had watched television news stories with interest when the cherry from the iconic Spoonbridge and Cherry sculpture had been separated from its spoon and hauled to New York for cleaning earlier this year. The cherry is now back.
The fifty-foot sculpture is synonymous with the identity of Minneapolis. It was created in 1988 by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen a husband and wife team from Sweden and the Netherlands. It was inspired by a novelty item that Oldenburg collected, which featured a spoon resting on an “island” of plastic chocolate. The sign at the site says, “From this, the artists envisioned a gigantic utensil as a fanciful bridge over a pond. In considering Minnesota as a site, they compared the spoon’s raised bowl to a prow of a Viking ship or a duck bobbing in a lake. Van Bruggen added the cherry, a personal symbol recalling happy moments in a childhood clouded by World War II.”
The cherry was the first sculpture added to the garden, but there are many others, including a bright blue rooster, which also caught our attention. The rooster is called Hahn/Cock, created by Katharina Fritsch from Germany and it towers twenty-five feet over the garden.
Its sign says, “The rooster can be a symbol of pride, power and courage, or posturing and macho prowess. Fritsch has admitted that she enjoys ‘games with language,’ and the sculpture’s tongue-in-cheek title knowingly plays on its double meaning. Like Spoonbridge and Cherry, Hahn/Cock presents an unexpected take on the idea of a traditional public monument. Together, these two landmarks show how ordinary objects can become iconic and deeply symbolic.”
If you’re ever in Minneapolis, the sculpture garden is a must-see! Access to it is free and open to the public. You don’t need to walk to the Walker to see it.