A Day at The Albany Institute of History & Art

Museums are one of those places I never tire of going. They’re the curators of history, the keepers of knowledge and stories of the past for future generations.

So imagine how excited I was to see an exhibit dedicated to the Hudson River School painters. (I’ve been to both Thomas Cole’s and Frederic Edwin Church’s house and each was amazing in their own way. You can read about my time at Thomas Cole’s in this post — A Visit to Thomas Cole. And you can see pictures of Frederic Edwin Church’s house here.)

I spent somewhere between 2 and 2 1/2 hours with these paintings — staring at them, reading about them and their artist’s. It was worth every minute and, yet, I could’ve spent more time in that room. (And of course there were other exhibits, which I also looked at, but this was the one I was most excited about at the time.)

From Cole to Church to Kensett to Inness to Hart and everyone in-between, well-known and lesser-known artists were represented. As part of the Hudson River School, artists and their work were part of a mid-19th century American art movement where their landscapes were influenced by European Romanticism. They had a beautiful, majestic style and were celebrated for their realistic depictions of stunning and detailed landscapes.

As I stood there admiring the paintings, I was flooded with a sense of awe. These paintings had layers and depth. They had incredible details that made the image come alive. Close up there may have been a sighting of people or a deer or birds in the background. The rocks, ground and trees held texture and rivers or paths curved until they were out of sight. Far away the images came together and sometimes it felt as if it was possible to walk right into the scene being depicted.

Looking at Cole’s work, having been to his house and setting foot in his studio, I could invasion him with a canvas set up on the easel and a brush in his hand. But having an imagination like mine, I could easily picture any of these artists picking up a brush and stroking paint across the canvas.

It was amazing to me that art created decades ago could stand the test of time and survive. Not only that, but the paintings were in great conditions. Of course, up close, there were visible cracks in the paint and the frames clearly could tell a story or two of their own, but that’s not a bad thing. In fact, I loved it. It all came together and added to their character, giving the paintings more of a story to add to their already long history.

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Heavenly

The Beach (Overexposed)

dreams fade to reality
sometimes both seem heavenly
as darkness draws the dawn
blurry eyes wake
to the divine light of the sun
and morning’s melody

Ocean City, NJ — Day Five

Heavenly IIII stood on the beach in the early morning hours watching the waves break and rush toward the shore. The ocean continued it’s steady, rhythmic breathing — in. out, in, out. A mass of gray clouds covered the sky, but the sun was making a valiant attempt to break through. Rays were finding their way to the ocean, lighting the sky in pastels of purple, blue and pink.

It was me and the ocean that morning.

It was my last morning.

I started walking along the beach toward the pier, noticing the sudden appearance of seaweed and the abundance of broken shells. I paused, scanning the sand for a shell that might still be in one piece (or close to it), picking up pieces and putting most of them back. My feet carried me a little further down the beach before I decided to turn back. (I could’ve walked the whole beach that morning, every morning. There’s something so peaceful about the ocean and the smell of the salty sea air.)

Back on the other side of the pier, I stopped to watch the ocean dance. It curled into waves, folded back in on itself and spun toward the shore. I listened to it churn, breathing in its briny scent.

I didn’t want to leave, but the inevitable journey home was looming. (Even though the ocean has always felt like a second home to me.)

Halfway between going home and the ocean, I climbed into a lifeguard stand. I sat, watched, listened and stayed by the ocean awhile longer.

Reluctantly, after what seemed like hours, I climbed back down, my feet landing in the soft, grainy sand, and made my way back toward the boardwalk. I kept my head down, searching for shells. My eyes landed on a dark blue spiral buried in the sand. I’d never seen anything like it before and bent down to take a closer look. Figuring it was broken, I dug the piece out of the sand, but it wasn’t broken at all. There wasn’t even a chip in it or a scratch on it. In my hand I held a beautiful navy blue snail shell. Its spiral shape swirled with a light tan or white to give the impression of waves. I couldn’t believe what I had found. Putting in the pocket of my sweater, I looked back at the water once more. Something inside me said this was my parting gift from the ocean, until we meet again.

To see more photos please visit my website.

To see previous posts in this series follow the links below.

Ocean City, NJ – Day One

Ocean City, NJ – Day Two

Ocean City, NJ – Days Three and Four

Ocean City, NJ – Days Three and Four

Steppingstones to The SeaEach morning started with an early morning walk on the beach (with my camera of course). It was strange this time. There was no seaweed (and there’s usually tons). There were no shells (and they’re usually scattered all along the sand). Any shells that did happen to make it to land were so smashed they practically blended into their surroundings. I thought after the storms and the way the sea had been there would’ve been more than normal, but that wasn’t the case.

Still, I strolled along the beach, taking pictures and listening to the ocean as it crashed and raced toward the shore. (And I’ve been to this part of the ocean so many times, there were some moments where I shot film instead of digital. I love film, but that’s a story for another time.) There’s always something beautiful and peaceful about the ocean, especially in the morning while I was the only one down there.

The sand was cool on my bare feet and the water felt like ice. Dark clouds, threatening rain, covered the sky. Although, it never rained. They burned off in the late morning hours, but the water stayed colder than usual.

One day I walked into town. It’s old and quaint with a touch of modern. The sidewalks made a path pass old stone churches with steeples reaching for the heaven, beach hotels and motels with retro signs, homes and apartments, murals, small parks and gardens, restaurants and bookshops until reaching the center of town. This is where the streets are lined with boutiques, more restaurants, art galleries and other shops.

The next day I stuck to the boardwalk. I walked from the hotel to the very end where an amusement park still stands and is in use today. It was built in 1929 and still has that old-time feel, which I love. On my way back I stopped into some stores, did a little shopping and ate boardwalk food. I had the best pizza, funnel cake and french fries on the boardwalk and bought some of the best chocolate covered pretzels and saltwater taffy I’ve ever tasted. The chocolate is rich and the taffy practically melts in your mouth. (The pretzels and taffy to were bring home.)

At times I’d sit in a pavilion (sometimes eating and trying to avoid the seagulls who, quite frankly, had no interest in being friends and only wanted my food) and watch the ocean. I could look at the waves roll onto the shore and recede for hours. It’s calming, mesmerizing, beautiful.

Each evening I walked on the beach, the sand still warm from the sun as clouds gathered with the promise of rain. Once there was a quick passing thunderstorm, but afterward the sun began to break through the clouds in spindles of light. A slow appearing rainbow formed across the sky. At first it was dull, but then it was bright. The colors seemed to shine in the sky, if only for a few moments, before fading into the gray backdrop of clouds.

To see more photos please visit my website.

Ocean City, NJ – Day Two

It was a complete turnaround from the previous day. The gray skies that had brought rain were now burning off, letting the sun shine. It’s warm rays were gracing the earth and the temperature was rising. There was still a wind blowing inland, but by now it was more of a breeze over calmer waters.

Today was the perfect day to do some exploring. Today, I was headed down the coast to Cape May. There were many things I wanted to see — the Cape May Lighthouse, the WWII bunker, the S.S. Atlantus, Sunset Beach, the WWII Lookout Tower — and the list goes on.

The first place I stopped was the nature preserve. I wanted to walk the paths with my camera and see what kind of wildlife would enjoy making an appearance for a photo opportunity. Unfortunately, most of the birds, reptiles and other animals seemed to be camera shy. I only saw one turtle (who happened to be making his way across the hot asphalt of the parking lot and decided to rest in the shade produced by a car’s back bumper), several swans (who appeared elegant) and many other birds (of names I’m unsure of). I did, however, still enjoy the beauty of nature and the Cape May Lighthouse could be seen from different angles while on the paths.

WWII BunkerNext up was the remains of a WWII bunker, know as Battery 223, built in the 1940s. There was a straight path from the nature preserve to the beach where it sits. Upon seeing it, I thought about how big and strong it looked, but knew that it had changed drastically over time. I’ve seen photos of this bunker throughout the years and the changes are astounding. People used to be able to walk under it, but due to land transformation that’s become impossible. It used to sit on top of giant, strong pillars (and still might, although it’s hard to say for certain) and the ocean would rush up and surround it. Now the pillars can’t be seen and the bunker appears as if it’s sitting on top of sand. I believe there was also a time when people were able to climb a set of wooden steps, which were built after the war sometime in the 70s, to an observation deck and even walk inside. I have no proof or photos of these steps or an observation deck, only word of mouth from those who say they remember it from years ago. As for the inside, I’ve seen only a few photos and as amazing as it looks it’s unfortunately covered with graffiti. There’s a large part of me that wishes I could’ve seen the inside for myself, walked the halls and entered the rooms that so many brave souls did long ago, but today the entire structure is sealed off. People can still walk around the perimeter of the bunker and touch the concrete walls, which I did, gladly. I had a feeling of awe as my hands rubbed along the concrete. When it comes to old, historical places part of me can’t believe I’m actually seeing it while the other part can’t believe it’s still standing. And the whole time I’m playing its history in my head, as if I can see it for what it was back in its prime as well as what it is today — a wonderful piece of history.

The Cape May Lighthouse was next on my list of places to go. It was built in 1859, the Cape May Lighthouse (Black and White)same year it was first lit. In 1946 it was automated and is still operational today. As is the case with many lighthouses today, people are able to climb the stairs, like lighthouse keepers. There were 199 steps to the top of the lighthouse and I climbed every single one. My journey started at the bottom and continued in intervals, as I stopped briefly at each landing to observe the view. At the top, surrounded by bright red metal bars, what I saw was breathtaking. From one side I could see the entire beach, another side the town and from another side I thought I could see the remains of a sunken ship sticking out of the water.

SS Atlantus (Black and White)The S.S. Atlantus was launched in 1918, a month after WWI ended, but was used to bring American troops home from Europe as well as transport coal in New England. In 1920 the ship was retired and six years later (1926) the S.S. Atlantus was purchased. The plan was to use it as a ferry dock in Cape May, NJ along with two other concrete ships. So it was towed to Cape May where it was kept waiting, but when a storm hit the ship broke free and ran aground 150 feet off the coast. Any attempt to free the ship was unsuccessful. By the late 50s the S.S. Atlantus begun to break apart in its midsection. I’ve seen photos of the ship through the years, as it’s slowly broken apart and it’s striking how large it used to be verses what remains of it today. From what I can tell there’s barely anything left. Still, there’s something about seeing it in person. Maybe it’s the sight itself. Maybe it’s the history behind the ship. Maybe it’s a little of both. Whatever the reason, the S.S. Atlantus is still an amazing sight to see with a great history. Colored Stones and The Ocean

Since the remains of the S.S. Atlantus sits off the coast of Sunset Beach it was easy to see both (practically simultaneously.) While the beach is sandy there are more and more colorful rocks and pebbles closer to the water. The way the sun bounces off their surfaces makes them sparkle and shine. It was a beautiful sight to behold.

WWII Lookout Tower (Fire Control Tower No. 23)The WWII Lookout Tower (Fire Control Tower No. 23) was near Sunset Beach so it was my next, and last, stop of the day. Built in 1942 it was one of fifteen towers meant to aim batteries of coastal artillery from North Wildwood, NJ to Bethany Beach, DE. There used to be four of these towers in Cape May, but two were torn down while the other two still stand. However, the one I visited is said to be the last remaining restorable WWII tower in New Jersey. Behind the tower is a deck with an “All Veterans Memorial” and inside the tower, on the third floor, is a “Wall of Honor” which features photographs from over 100 area WWII veterans. Although, I didn’t see this wall for myself. Considering this was my last stop of the day and all the other walking and climbing I participated in, I asked my legs a very serious question — if they thought they could make it up the nearly 200 steps. Reluctantly they responded with a no. It was the day’s first disappointment for me, but definitely on my list of things to do on my next trip to Cape May.

I loved the history of Cape May along with its beauty. If you’re ever in the area and enjoy history I’d recommend checking these place out, or go for the simple beauty of the ocean.

To see more pictures please visit my website.

Ocean City, NJ – Day One

The sky was covered by a blanket of gray.

The wind howled.

The ocean seemed more restless than usual.

Eventually, the clouds let loose and it poured.

From my room I could see the ocean. The waves broke one after the other, practically on top of each other, far out at sea as well as close to shore. They were larger then usual and when they churned and folded back in on themselves the wind scattered the whitewash in every direction.

The door to the balcony was closed as big, thick raindrops tapped against the glass. It was one of those rainstorms where the wind whips constantly and drives the falling rain at an angle. Even with the door shut, if I listened closely, I could hear the ocean crashing.

Yet, there was something beautiful about watching the ocean churn and dance through the rain. The water appeared a deep, dark blue against the gray backdrop of the sky while the whitewash seemed to shine. There was something oddly peaceful about watching the ocean surge, still keeping its natural breathing rhythm — in, out, in, out.

I was mesmerized.

Maybe it’s my love for the ocean, but even in the storm I thought it possessed a quality that displayed its beauty.

Beautiful Things

Recently, I read a book set during WWI. Historical Fiction has always been interesting to me, but what I found most intriguing in this story was a detail that one of the characters discussed a couple times. In the middle of a war this particular character attempts find beautiful things throughout the land.

I thought about this concept and other novels I’ve read set during times of war, occupation, disasters, hardships and realized there’s usually always some form of beauty within those pages. Whether it comes in the form of a character, a sunrise or any number of things, there’s some type of positive light that shines in the darkness.

Stepping out of the literary world, I believe we can see this type of positive light in our own world. Think about it.

It’s a pretty simple idea — the idea that even among the darkest situations there’s beauty.

And the world has so much beauty to offer.