A Minute in the City 4-5-21: A Moment on the Bridge

Is it just me, or is everyone vowing to reorder their lives right now, pledging to live life differently on the other side of COVID? It feels like a pivotal time for all humanity.

But this illustration of the Clark Bridge was a pre-COVID endeavor. I took my reference shots in August of 2019 and completed the artwork the following January. My aim was to capture the bridge and the town of Alton in a single shot, because I found Alton every bit as interesting as the road to get there. Alton, with its brick streets so steep they seemed to rise right out of the river. Alton, with its grain elevator, century-old row houses and modern-day casino – all in a single block. Alton, with its eagle-sightings and legendary hauntings. I was really going to have to get into the weeds to tell that story.

And I did. My photos of Alton were taken from the banks of the river on the Missouri side. I had to actually climb down to the shore line to take them. But when I uploaded the pics to my computer some time later, I realized there wasn’t much “there there.” No one was going to see Alton in this picture. They were never going to get past the bridge.

Here’s the thing about bridges. You really can’t see much when you’re on them. What’s behind you is behind you, and there’s no looking back. What’s ahead is often obscured by the bridge’s arc. And that’s where I feel we are right now, standing in this place between the recent past and near future, trying to figure out who we’ll be when we get to the other side. What should carry with us moving forward? What should we leave behind? For once we’re aware of the magnitude of our decisions.

In many ways the pandemic has been like a bridge between two lifetimes, and I expect the memories of this time will always be poignant ones. For me, the pace of life has slowed, and I’ve come to savor that. Interactions with others have become rare, so I’ve found them even more joyful. The uncluttering of my personal space has given me a renewed sense of value. The loss of life has given me reason to appreciate those I still have.

As much as I long to return to a pre-COVID world, I am grateful for this moment. No matter what awaits on the other side, I don’t think I’ll ever get past the bridge.

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The Clark Bridge is the subject of my March 2021 calendar page. It is also available as a litho print. For a full listing of products, please see ayearinthecity.com.

A Minute in the City 1-10-21: Looking Up

I spent the last several months of 2020 like many people did…willing the year to be over. I even teased visitors to my social media pages with questions like “Want to make 2020 magically disappear?” and “Want to leave 2020 in the dust?” and “Ready to ride 2020 out on a rail?” I truly believed we were all in for better times ahead.

And why wouldn’t I think that? 2020 had been the worst year most of us could remember, and things had to right themselves eventually. So I tried to use my time wisely, clearing the clutter, resetting my compass, sharpening my vision for the new year.

In dark times, I suppose it’s only natural to look ahead. And frankly, when you’re in the calendar business, you have to. But, as my new calendar reminded me when I hung it up last week, it’s not always enough to look ahead. Sometimes you have to look up.

My illustration this month features Tom Friedman’s sculpture Looking Up at the entrance to McDonnell Planetarium. The 33-foot figure is made of stainless steel and has an anvil-shaped head tilted back almost 90 degrees to take in the entire night sky. But what I love even more than the statue itself are the kids standing underneath it in the January print. The kids are more interested in that tall skinny guy than they are in the moon and the stars, because that’s how children are. Literally and figuratively, they look up to us.

While looking up to others is not a quality that is unique to children, it does seem to lose some of its virtue as we get older. When I look up to others, I do so with full knowledge of the many ways I am failing to measure up. I am not just looking up in wonder. I am looking down in shame for the qualities I lack.

But there are a few people in my universe who seem to have the ability to return me to a childlike sense of awe. These “easy heroes” illuminate my path instead of darkening it, because they are not focused on their own achievements, but on the greater good. Like those gathered at their feet, these people continue looking up.

I created the planetarium artwork exactly one year ago, before COVID and political unrest descended on our country. But I must have had a premonition, because I felt strongly about including the yellow traffic sign, designating the planetarium as a safe place to go for help. In the past year, so many of us have been searching for such a place, a place where we might find protection, reason, guidance, care. Isn’t that where we want to go in 2021?

I was reflecting on this last week as I hovered over my birthday candles, formulating my most earnest wishes for the year that lay ahead. I can’t tell you what I wished for, though – if I did my wishes wouldn’t come true! – but I can tell you that I made wishes for all the people I look up to – those in the room with me, those in the neighborhood, those in the community, in the country. Those who light my path and make this world a safer place.

 

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McDonnell Planetarium is the featured subject of my January 2021 calendar page. It is also one of four images on my Forest Park Gems notecards. For more information, see ayearinthecity.com/products.

A Minute in the City 12-24-2020: Walk a Mile in My Neighborhood

Fifteen years ago, I took a job marketing the state of Missouri for new business development.  I toured dozens of towns during my first few years on the job, learning about different industries, universities, and attractions. It was always my goal to be able to highlight the one thing that made each community special, that one word or phrase that captured the very essence of the place. Chillicothe, for example, was the birthplace of sliced bread, and therefore “the best thing since…!” Columbia was College Town, USA. Hannibal was all about Mark Twain.

And then there was St. Louis, which, for all its educational and industrial assets, was primarily known for its 630-foot arch. But St. Louis was also known as a “city of neighborhoods.”

I am reminded of this often as I create art for A YEAR IN THE CITY. I’ll let my feet take me down a new street, around a new block, and come away recognizing that I’ve crossed some kind of invisible boundary. I am now on someone else’s turf, if only as a casual observer. And I love it.

I enjoyed the documentary America’s Last Little Italy: The Hill which debuted as part of The St. Louis International Film Festival this year. But it is the experience of dining and walking through The Hill neighborhood that I find really enriching, knowing that the culture of the Italian immigrants has remained largely intact.

I feel the same way when I walk through University City late on a Saturday alongside orthodox families on their way to temple. Or when I feast on cuisine that is totally new to me along South Grand. Or when I visit Soulard Market with restauranteurs and weekend chefs and casual shoppers standing side by side. Or when I duck onto Washington U’s campus just long enough to share space with citizens of the larger world.

It is my right, I tell myself, to walk alongside others, just so long as I respect them. And if something about them stays with me, if some memory is etched… well then, my universe expands just a little bit.

Like all of you, I will end this year a different person than the one who started it. My feet have taken me down some new streets, around some new blocks. Last week, I walked down Candy Cane Lane and was reminded of my last visit there on foot two years ago. I was finishing up the 2020 calendar at the time and needed some good shots of the sign, the carolers, the giant Santa sculpture. I was standing on the sidewalk with my camera when a homeowner asked if I’d like to see the street from her porch. I thanked her and went up her front steps to take a few pics. But, before I could return to my group, the woman invited me to sit with her for a while.

This struck me, because I’d always imagined it a bit of a drag to actually live on Candy Cane Lane. Every year you’d have to practically kill yourself stringing lights on every gable, then your electric bill would go through the roof. And to top it all off, you’d have people traipsing through your front yard for a solid month. I couldn’t imagine that this woman – or any of her neighbors – would have the energy left to actually engage visitors. I mean, these were real people. This was a real neighborhood. There were boundaries.

I am embarrassed to admit that I did not take the woman’s invitation to sit with her that night and watch the goings on down Candy Cane Lane. Rather, I let my rules about neighborhoods dictate how much I was willing to belong to hers. I have since learned that boundaries are only there until both sides are willing to step over them, and that we need each other far too much to ignore the invitation to connect. My hope for St. Louis in the coming year is that it grows from being a “city of neighborhoods” to being a “city of neighbors” as we learn to walk alongside one another in the best of places. This is what St. Louis could be known for.

 

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Candy Cane Lane was the featured subject of my December 2020 calendar page. It is also available as a holiday card and print. For more information, see ayearinthecity.com/products. 

A Minute in the City 12-9-2020: Take Note

In 2017, I had a few dozen notecards printed to send retailers who’d agreed to carry my YEAR IN THE CITY calendars. One of those retailers called me the following week to see if I might make the cards available for purchase. Three years later, notecards account for a nice little slice of my business the whole year through. But with notecards, as with everything else, it’s what’s inside that counts. I’d like to thank my customer Valery Welch for sharing her inspiring story of writing notes in the time of COVID. -jm

“I live in a condominium community with many retirees, some of whom live alone and struggle to get outside – even when there’s no pandemic to worry about. Now, some of our retirees are totally isolated, fearful about stepping outside their door to even collect the mail. Not all of us will make it to the other side of this pandemic, whether or not we get COVID-19. But that doesn’t mean we have to be alone.

My heart cannot bear to imagine this degree of utter loneliness, people going through their days thinking no one knows they exist. This summer, I began wondering how I could safely reach out to my neighbors. And then I started writing notes. I ordered cards from A Year in the City with images of St. Louis—Ted Drewes, the Gateway Arch, the Missouri History Museum, Candy Cane Lane. What better way to reach someone than with cheerful and artistic images from the past, with the places we all shared before the pandemic?  In each card, I wrote inspiring quotes, cheering my readers on, letting them know that I believed they could make it, assuring them they were not alone. With each card, I stapled a small bag containing a facemask lanyard that I had made by hand. I just wanted each person to know that someone knew they were there.

So far, I have quietly set out more than 75 cards at my neighbors’ front doors. I do not know their names; they do not know mine. I address the envelope simply, “To my dear neighbor…” I am so grateful to have this beautiful way of reaching out to others.”

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VALERY WELCH, BS, is Executive Assistant & Communications Director for Bette J. Welch, CPA. She has experience in marketing communications, rental property development, and neighborhood development and is serving on the board for the Webster Groves/Shrewsbury/Rock Hill Area Chamber of Commerce. Valery also chairs the Architecture Committee for Kenrick Parke Condominium Association and was Past President of the Webster Groves chapter of Toastmasters.

Valery graduated from New Mexico State University with a degree in Earth Sciences/Physical Geography with an emphasis on City and Regional Planning. She is a life member Phi Kappa Phi. Prior to the pandemic, she was a motor scooter and small camper trailer enthusiast, and she played trumpet and emceed for a community concert band. Since the pandemic, she has learned to make hard cider and has become an official urban red wiggler worm farmer!

 

A Minute in the City 11-17-2020: Let’s Take This Outside

I’ve had 10 St. Louis homes – 14 if you count my dorm rooms and apartments in college – and each one has opened up new worlds for me. When I lived in Olivette, for example, I had neighbors from around the world who had come here to study or teach. They were from Russia and South Africa and Romania. They worked as chemists and inventors and pilots. Their life stories and their intellectual curiosities created a community unlike any I had ever known.

Then there was the Holly Hills home, where my husband and I rediscovered the magic of our youth. We would get on our bikes on a Saturday morning and ride to the Y or Mom’s Deli or one time to Lowe’s to buy a new washing machine! We quickly assimilated into this community, because our neighbors made it clear that we belonged there. We talked over fences and yelled midnight greetings up and down the street on New Year’s Eve. We cared for our neighbors like they were family, not because of the people we were, but because of the people they were. We were simply following their example.

Then we moved out to the county and discovered a new and unexpected wonder less than a mile from our front door: Castlewood State Park.

Castlewood. It sounded so magical. But we soon learned that the park was as tough and gritty as it was beautiful, with trails that challenged the daringest of mountain bikers. You could walk the wide banks of the Meramec in Castlewood, you could climb to the cliff’s edge for a bird’s eye view. You could venture miles into the forest until you found yourself in neighboring Lone Elk Park.

When I choose sites for A YEAR IN THE CITY, I always make it a point to represent as many parts of the metro area as I can – city, county, Illinois – because, regardless of where we live, it is our shared spaces that bring us into community with one another. And I’ve learned that, in order to be part of that community, you have to open up the door and walk outside.

Of the 48 illustrations I have created to date, 42 take place outside, which means they can be enjoyed safely during COVID. And for every one of those places, there are dozens more waiting to be discovered. Even during stay-at-home, St. Louisans have a long and meandering leash.

For all our wandering, my husband and I are finally settled in our home, having put down roots as the trees – and the neighbors – have. But we’ll never forget how Olivette brought us the richness of a diverse community or how Holly Hills brought us into its family. And we’ll never quite get used to the majesty of the natural world right outside our door.

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Castlewood State Park was featured in my 2020 YEAR IN THE CITY calendar. Signed prints are available in St. Louis shops and online at ayearinthecity.com/shop. You will also find the 2021 calendar on my site with 11 new outside prints, suitable for framing.

 

A Minute in the City 10-6-20: Keep a light on

In May of 2018, my husband and I treated ourselves to a night at the Fox to see The Phantom of the Opera. It had been awhile since I’d set foot in the place, preferring smaller stages like the Rep. But once I stepped into the lobby, I was overcome by its…well, opulence. I turned to my husband and said, “This has got to go in next year’s calendar.”

But it wasn’t until I toured the theater six months later that I realized just how over-the-top it was. One of the three remaining movie palaces built by the late William Fox, the Fabulous Fox was designed in the dazzling – one might go so far as to say unsettling – Siamese-Byzantine style. There’s not a square inch of the theatre that escapes decoration, not a moment of the theatre experience that fails to overwhelm, and not a penny spared in its construction, renovation, or expansion. A trip to the Fox is a trip.

Here are a few takeaways from my bookend visits in 2018:

First, that carpet! The Fox’s carpet has an elephant motif woven into it, and each trunk is raised for good luck. That’s understandable, right? But did you know that each of those elephants must face the stage to wish the actors well? That means lots of extra carpet had to be ordered to keep all those trunks in alignment as they wound through the theatre and up the stairs!

Second, the Fox has ghosts. I chose William Fox’s widow, Eve Leo, to grace the October page of this year’s calendar, because it was her taste that dictated the theatre’s gaudy decor. Ms. Leo, who died in 1962, still pops in for a visit now and then, usually wearing a blue suit.

Finally, I learned that the Fox, like most theatres, keeps a “ghost light” burning, even when the theatre is dark. It stays lit to keep the ghosts happy between productions and to keep the living safe before the rest of the lights are turned on.

I’ve spent my theatre-going years on the “house” side of the stage, so the ghost light was a new concept to me. And in this dark year, I find that concept comforting. For the cast and crew members who rely on the theatre for employment, for the businesses that rely on a thriving economy, for the quarantined who rely on both business and the arts to keep their spirits aloft, it is critical to keep a light burning.

For seven months now, I’ve kept the lights on at A YEAR IN THE CITY, creating artwork for new cards and calendars, binding and boxing the products I already have, believing that somehow someday we’ll be back. Some mornings I feel like Eve Leo walking into the theatre when it’s dark. But as soon as I start working, my mood brightens. Creativity always lights the way.

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The Fabulous Fox Theatre is featured in my 2020 YEAR IN THE CITY calendar. Signed prints, calendars, and cards are available in St. Louis shops and online at ayearinthecity.com/shop.

A Minute in the City 7-21-2020: A New Class of Learners

Last fall I attended a recital of SLSO principal cellist Daniel Lee at the World Chess Hall of Fame. It was an amazing reminder of just how wealthy our city is in terms of talent. We have world class musicians here, chess champions, notable athletes, historians, authors. And spaces to honor and celebrate them all.

This spring many of those spaces went dark as COVID chased us into our homes continue. But celebrities of all stripes – some of them local – were kind enough to light up the internet with their talents. Last week, thousands of school children joined them, parked in front of their computers for their daily Zoom calls.

I had the distinct honor of hosting two of these children for their first week of school, and I will continue to do so for as long as I can. At eight and three, my grandkids are learning what it means not only to learn, but to be sociable during a pandemic. And, because their minds are young and malleable, they are figuring this out faster than the rest of us.

After all, they have spent a significant portion of their lives in quarantine – 1/16 and 1/7, respectively. As sad and weird as that seems to us, it has become almost normal to them. They are figuring it out. They are taking stock in the smallest victories. They are showing us how to stay open to the possibilities.

I watched with amazement this week as my grandson deftly shared his computer screen with his teacher to trouble-shoot a technical issue. During this exchange, teacher and learner talked about Legos and movies. (You know…all the important stuff that life is made of!) Down the hall, my husband – who works in IT – was also sharing his screen, also going over a problem with a colleague. The ­­­­­parallel was not lost on me.

It just isn’t that long a span between school and the working world. This historic year, as troubling as it is, may fast-track the process and give us a new class of self-starters, curiosity-seekers, and world-class talents. Future musicians, athletes, historians, and authors are stumbling over the building blocks of their crafts right now. Aspiring chess players are sitting over their boards with knitted brows, planning out plays and contingency plans. I am one of them.

At the very beginning of COVID, I begged my husband to teach me chess. We both needed something to push our anxieties out of the way, and I needed to connect with the game I was featuring in my 2021 calendar.

Our games are painfully slow. Sometimes hours turn into days. And sometimes we throw up our hands and say, “I don’t know!” because we just can’t see how it’s all going to play out.

Our chess game is a metaphor for COVID. But, like our grandchildren, we’re learning. We’re taking stock in the smallest victories. And we’re trying, trying, trying to stay open to the possibilities. Maybe that next move will take us to a better place.

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The World Chess Hall of Fame is featured in my 2021 YEAR IN THE CITY calendar and is also available as a print and a bookmark. All can be purchased through Q-Boutique at the World Chess Hall of Fame or online at ayearinthecity.com.

 

A Minute in the City 7-21-2020: Someone said YES

When I created the picture of the Eads Bridge for my calendar, I was struck by the fact that everything in it – from the horse and buggy to the steamboat to the bridge itself – looked pretty much the same as it had a century before. I never once thought of it as nostalgic. I only thought of it as timeless. James Eads’ signature project was – and is – one of the greatest engineering feats of all time.

Which is impossible if you consider the odds. The Mississippi River has always been known for ice floes in the winter, which had to make passage and bridge-building problematic during the seven years it took to build the Eads. The Mississippi also had a wicked current of 3.8 meters per second, which was pretty much off the charts. And then there was the fact that the chief engineer on the project had never built a bridge in his life. But someone said YES to James Eads.

Eads was 13 when his family lost everything in a steamboat fire. His dad suffered a business failure soon after and left the family. So young James dropped out of school to work at a dry goods store and was given access to the owner’s library, where he read everything he could get his hands on about physics, mechanics, and engineering.

When he was 22, Eads designed a salvage boat and presented it to two ship builders. He had no experience in building ships, and he had no capital for the project, but they said YES. Let’s do this thing.

Eads’ knowledge of the Mississippi earned him the nickname “Captain Eads” among river men https://farmacie-romania.com/viagra-pentru-femei-pret/.  He built diving bells from wine barrels and special boats to retrieve goods from sunken ships. He himself did most of the diving, having studied the currents for half his life. He really knew the river.

But a bridge. Really?

YES. Despite the fact that Eads did not hold a high school diploma, it was his design that would first cross the Mississippi to connect Missouri to its eastern neighbor. It was his design that would change the course of the industry, replacing wrought iron with steel as a primary load-carrying material. And it was his design that would earn him distinction as one of the top five engineers of all time, alongside Leonardo da Vinci, James Watt, Ferdinand de Lesseps, and Thomas Edison.

The accolades have continued for almost 150 years since the Eads Bridge was dedicated in July of 1874. But there were players beside Mr. Eads who made it happen: the shop owner who tapped his curious brain, the ship-builders who adopted his plan, the city of St. Louis, which chose a rookie for this world-class project.

I don’t know about you, but that’s the part of the story that makes the Eads Bridge such an icon for me. Patience and hard work can get you there, but it really helps when someone gives you the opportunity to up your game. The yea-sayers in the James Eads story were also heroes. I’ve been lucky to have a few of my own.

 

The Eads Bridge is the subject of my July 2020 calendar page. For prints of Eads Bridge and other St. Louis attractions or to buy the new 2021 A YEAR IN THE CITY calendar, please visit ayearinthecity.com.

A Minute in the City – June 5: The Show May or May Not Go On

It’s art show season! One of the few opportunities we have to meet artists and learn about their work. But this year, the pandemic has postponed or cancelled several high-profile shows at a time when we’re stuck at home, staring at blank walls.

As a regular exhibitor, I can tell you that there is still a way to bring new life to your walls, bookshelves and coffee tables. And there’s still a way to connect with artists who may see this time differently than you do.

If you feel reluctant to start a conversation with an artist, you’re not alone. Being face-to-face with the person who not only created the work, but is selling it, can be awkward https://farmacie-romania.com/viagra-pentru-femei-pret/. First, if you’re not an artist yourself – or sometimes, even if you are – you may feel uncertain about the medium or the lingo. So turn it over to the painter, the metalsmith, the textile artist. Most welcome the chance talk about their creations.

Second, you may like an artist’s style, but not the price tag. Don’t let that stop you from sharing what you like about their work. Money is not the only currency here. It really helps artists to understand their audience.

Finally, keep an open mind about the person behind the art. Artists are as different as the pieces they create. It is not unusual to meet executives or truck-drivers who have somehow managed to carve out time to do the thing they love most.

But how do you start a conversation with an artist when you don’t have a venue? How do you invest in their work during a pandemic?

  • First, visit event sites, such as explorestlouis.com and select a show. Even if the show is cancelled – and many are – you can still find links to artists’ galleries. Shop around!
  • If you find an artist you like, email them and line up a phone conversation. Talk to them about the pieces you’re interested in. Talk to them about the blank walls and shelves in your home. Ask about commissions.
  • If there’s a particular piece you have fallen in love with, get the dimensions from the artist. Measure your space to make sure it’s going to fit.
  • Finally, when your artwork is delivered, take stock. You now have a joyful remembrance of a most perplexing year. And you now have a friend in the arts who has brought new life into your home.

 

A YEAR IN THE CITY calendars, cards, and prints by Janet Muhm feature some of St. Louis’s most beloved places. Janet is currently scheduled to exhibit at Art Outside (Schlafly Bottle Works, Sept 4-6), Greentree Festival (Kirkwood Park, September 19-20), and Unique Boutique (John Burroughs School, November 21-22). You will find examples of her work at ayearinthecity.com or you may contact her directly at janet@ayearinthecity.com

A Minute in the City – April 20: Redefining yourself

Several years ago, my husband bought a really nice bike and started training for his first trans-state, multi-day ride. The only previous training he’d done was in his childhood, popping wheelies in the driveway with his friends. But he’d read a blog or two about distance cycling, and he seemed to think he was up to the challenge. Turns out, he was right. Over the course of the next several years, he would complete five state rides.

In this time of quarantine, you hear a lot about people taking up new hobbies, tackling new challenges, discovering gifts they never knew they had. In short, redefining themselves.

I prefer to think of the practice as un-defining. Whatever titles I may have listed on my resume, they have nothing to do with the hapless gardener, the reawakened musician, the late-night walker I am becoming. The boundaries imposed by my past titles are immaterial. Today I am like a child eating ice cream for the first time, without any idea of what it’s going to taste like.

The practice of un-defining is nothing new to me. I’ve broken my own boundaries many times to augment whatever was going on in my professional life. In 1994, I started swimming. In 2001, I wrote a novel. In 2014, I began learning Spanish موقعنا. I was driven by all of these things, but I had no goals or metrics to gauge my success. It was enough to engage in a new activity. It was enough to take the plunge and allow myself to fail.

My avocations have taught me a lot. First, they’ve given me an appreciation for the real swimmers and authors out there – and those who have mastered multiple languages. These people are my heroes. But my hobbies have also given me the courage to pursue things that I am not cut out for. Because, for once, it’s not about succeeding. It’s about living a fulfilled life.

Most of us have been hunkered down for a good month now, which is a challenge in itself. But, if 30 days makes a habit, it stands to reason that our stay at home orders may give us a long-awaited chance to redefine – or un-define – ourselves, removing those deeply-rutted barriers that keep us from exploring new things. Our new hobbies will not pad our resumes, but they will redirect our energy and bring unimaginable joy. That is my wish for our world.