Wednesday, September 2, 2015

CHASING MARY--First, Another Mary

This is part two in a series of posts about my quest to connect with my all-time favorite fictional character, Mary Richards from "The Mary Tyler Moore Show".

It’s a long, long way to Mary-land. Especially when my route requires a pit stop on the Oregon Coast first. It was summer, after all, and I figured the beaches along the Pacific might outshine any in Minneapolis. Just a hunch. Besides, going straight from Vancouver would have been too logical. This journey was about following whims and whimsy.  

Once I’d finished a seemingly obligatory cheese stop and an exploration of the coastal scenery in Oregon, I headed for Minneapolis. Still, Washington, Idaho, Montana and North Dakota stood between Mary Richards and me.

For the first day of the trek, I planned a road stop in the middle of nowhere: Maryhill, Washington. How “nowhere” is Maryhill? As I one leaves the area, there is a sign indicating the next gas station is 82 miles away. Not that one can fill up in Maryhill. It is barely a blip, described on Wikipedia as a “census-designated place (CDP)”, population 98. (I think someone’s counting sheep.)

My obsession with Mary did not lead me there. The name is a mere coincidence. Maryhill is not the sort of place for a cosmopolitan Ms. Richards.

So why Maryhill? Its existence can be attributed to two sites: a winery and an art museum. (There’s also a Stonehenge replica, but it fails to contribute to the population. It’s about dead people, a memorial for World War I soldiers. Yes, folks, Stonehenge in Washington state. And, yes, I stopped there too for practical reasons. It’s a lot closer than England.)

I passed on the wine as I am far from a connoisseur. (I recall from another ‘70s show, “Laverne & Shirley” that one must “sip, swirl, suck, swallow.” No thanks. I’ll stick with coffee, especially on a long road trip.) Art was the main draw. Amidst desert heat and strong winds in this barren land high above the Columbia River, a fellow by the name of Sam Hill built what was to be his home. Presumably he named the area for his wife, Mary Hill Hill—yes, her maiden name matched his. She had no interest in the far, far out of the way mansion and chose to remain in—get ready for a Mary Richards connection after all—Minneapolis-St. Paul.

Good on you, Mary Hill Hill!

I first learned of the Maryhill Museum of Art a couple of years ago in Sunset magazine. This is not your typical off the beaten path museum, filled with fishing rods of the area’s founder and his son’s comic book collection. No, Sam Hill connected with Loie Fuller who in turn connected with Auguste Rodin. Oui, that Rodin. A collection of Rodin sculptures in remote Washington? I had to see it.

Normally, I’m not one-track minded when I go to an art museum. But I’d driven an awfully long way to see Rodin sculptures and I wasn’t having any of the ornate gold plates from Romania, the dolls dressed in early twentieth century Parisian fashion or the wood-cut naturalist paintings on exhibit. Might as well have been fishing poles. Show me Rodin!

Strangely, I found nary a sculpture on the first or second floor. I questioned how well I’d read that one-column magazine article. Had it been a touring exhibit? As I glimpsed a window showcasing some of the collection not technically on display, I wondered if Rodin was on vacation—some prominent exhibit in some place more logical…like Marseilles or Lyon. I did not want to appear shallow as an art patron, blatantly skipping over room after room, but I began to lose it as I viewed impressively beaded moccasins in a display case in the museum’s basement. I’d reached the end of the tour, covered the entire space.

But thankfully my sense of direction constantly fails me. I thought I was headed back upstairs only to discover one more wing in the basement. One large open room filled entirely with sculptures, sketches and watercolors by Auguste Rodin!

I hadn’t realized that modern sculptors create molds and often prepare plaster and bronze versions of any “one” piece. For instance, there are twenty-eight bronze castings of Rodin’s “The Thinker”. The Maryhill has a smaller plaster version of the iconic sculpture. It sits there just, you know, thinking. Out of all the museums in the world, how did I end up here? It is a decent museum actually and I’m so glad popped in. Still, I’ll continue to scratch my head as to why its Thinker and eighty-six other sculptures and sketches by Rodin got relegated to the back room of the basement.

Mary’s hill made for a lovely side show. After a briefer pit stop to take in the American Stonehenge, I continued on the meandering road, still days away from Mary Richards and the sites of Minneapolis.

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