ACT I:

Weekends are rarely as relaxing as we would like. Housework, yardwork, baseball and soccer games, birthday parties, etcetera devour much of our free time. The little time that is left is often filled with recreational excursions such as hiking trips, concerts or dinners with friends. As much fun as these “play days” always are, it is often something that involves advanced planning and a filled-in square on a calendar.

So, imagine my surprise on a recent Sunday morning when Chris asked me a question that I have not heard in ages… “What should we do today”?

Seriously? We do not have anything planned? Neither of us is working, the lawn is mowed, the dishes are done and the laundry is all washed and put away? We are not due at somebody’s house at some time to celebrate somebody else’s something-or-another? How is God’s name did this happen?

Chris’s first idea was to take the dogs for a long walk. I cringed a bit since this sounded too much like “work” as our dogs are not the most disciplined creatures on four legs. I was quickly relieved, however, when she remembered that Rocco, our mentally feeble canine, chewed up his own leash and therefore a walk would require a trip to the Laurens Road Pet-Smart. On this particular morning, neither of us had time for that.

Conversation wandered as we lay in bed and I told her about an odd encounter I had a few days earlier. I was in front of our house getting something out of our car when a random older gentleman approached me and started telling me how nice our neighborhood was. Naturally I prepared myself for a sales pitch and silently debated how obnoxious or sarcastic I would be when I told him to take a hike. Naturally I was thrown for a bit of a loop when he turned out to be nothing more than an art lover from North Carolina who parked on my block and walked to the Greenville Museum of Art.

Instead of being a salesman, this guy was just a thrifty fan of art who did not want to pay for parking on his trip to the free museum. It made sense, too, because we live that close to the museum. On a nice day the short walk is totally worth the two or three dollars one might spend on paid parking. For some reason, though, it is a walk we have never made. Fortunately for me, this gentleman was more than happy to tell me what we were missing and insisted that I see the “amazing exhibit that leaves in September”. 

I would be willing to bet that my new friend named, and even described, the above-quoted exhibit in our conversation but I have to be honest: I am just not that attentive to total strangers. I was probably thinking about the weather, a drink, work or my family (hopefully not in that particular order). 

Anyways, several days after this odd encounter, it was decided on a rare, lazy Sunday morning… Let’s go to the museum.

ACT II:

First of all, check the hours before you go to the Greenville Art Museum. They open at one o’clock on Sundays, not noon like you may (or may not) assume. If you have to kill an hour, do not go to the Children’s Museum next door. They do not allow time-killing walkthroughs and, as a rule, adults are not allowed in without children because that would be “kind of creepy”.  As much as we did not consider this before walking in, it makes perfect sense. 

Instead we went to Roost, which was only two blocks away and enjoyed a Bloody Mary (for Chris) and a Quest Kaldi Imperial Coffee Stout (for me). I am 100% certain that Kaldi is the best breakfast beverage that has ever been invented but I suppose that is a story for another day. I digress…

Two blocks away from home, the Greenville Museum of Art is pretty damn impressive. I had some weird memories of being there as a child around Ivan’s age but this time I was actually interested in the art (as opposed to focusing on nagging my mom and dad about when we were leaving or why I had to whisper).  I would like to go back in time and whisper in that kids ear and tell him that one day he will grow up to appreciate this place. On the other hand, a strange adult whispering in the ear of a child is probably as creepy as strolling through the Children’s Museum without a child, even if you are a master of time travel. 

On to the actual art… The first floor featured an exhibit entitled “Wyeth Vs.” which compared works of Andrew Wyeth alongside comparable works of his contemporaries. I was reminded that I have known of Andrew Wyeth since I was a child but besides knowing him as an “artist from Greenville”, my education never evolved. We saw some great pieces but, as a whole, the point of the exhibit was kind of lost on me. 

Artistic Sophistication: 1                Brett: 0

Everything changed in the next room. “Southbound” takes a fascinating look at the evolution of Southern culture through the work of artists spanning the 20th century. Artistic works spanned from the early 1900’s, to examinations of the Civil Rights era, into various perspectives of racial identity in modern times. This exhibit grabs your attention in a big way. Some of these works moved us to second and third viewings, not just for the quality of the art itself, but for the story the work told. If our museum tour had ended here, we would have left fulfilled. Instead, we had three more rooms upstairs to visit.

Upstairs we stumbled on the exhibit the random stranger had recommended to me in the street earlier in the week. The “feature presentation” (or whatever they call it in the art world) was entitled “Masterpieces of American Landscape from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston”. That is pretty self explanatory, right? The Boston Museum of Fine Arts lent the little Greenville Museum of Art their collection of landscapes dating from the 19th century to today. To compliment this, the museum displayed “Landscapes from the Southern Collection” to add a more local feel to the main attraction. 

The work in both of these rooms was incredible and, in some cases, breathtaking. The final exhibit of the day got me, though. The last room we visited was dedicated to David Drake. Before I stepped foot in that room I did not have the first clue who David Drake was but now I am totally fascinated by him.

David Drake was a slave in South Carolina. Unlike many slaves, David was taught a skilled trade and worked in pottery. David further deviated from the norm by learning how to read and write. Apparently this knowledge was deemed dangerous and illegal at the time but David took things a step further… he openly and defiantly inscribed many of his works with poetry and his signature. To this day he is the only known slave to produce signed, identifiable works of art. 

I have to be honest – I am not a sophisticated art lover. If I see something I like, I can point at it and grunt “wow, look at that”. As far as art history and sophisticated analysis go, though, I am not much more educated or sophisticated than my eight-year-old. When I looked at David Drake’s pottery I saw some clay pots with some somewhat-legible scribbles on it.  Once I learned who he was, though, my appreciation swelled.

Of all the slaves that lived and died in America, all but a handful remain anonymous. Of all the members of that suffering populace, despite all talents, abilities and creativity, only one can be named as an artist. David Drake stands as the lone representative of artistic creativity for an entire culture. Once I read that, I realized that I was no longer looking at a clay pot but a rare artifact representing a lost chapter in American history.

This was way better than taking the dogs for a walk.

ACT III:

So, I lied a little bit earlier. We did have plans for Sunday but I had forgotten them when we were in bed making plans for Sunday. Whoops. 

Every summer The Warehouse Theater presents their Upstate Shakespeare Festival. The festival lasts most of the summer and is split between two plays every year that are performed every weekend at the amphitheatre in Falls Park. I have known about this for three or four years now but, for a variety of reasons that include hectic schedules, prior obligations, absentmindedness, and general stupidity, I have never made it to a single performance.

True to form, it came to pass that this particular Sunday marked the last Shakespeare performance of the season. I knew that if I missed it again than I was doomed to kick myself for the entire fall, winter and spring… I have done that the last several years and I resolved not to do it again. 

Now, I admit that I hated Shakespeare in high school as much or more than the next guy. Memorizing and reciting Romeo and Juliet with an assigned partner in front of my freshman English class was never my idea of a good time. It was only slightly worse than watching my classmates stumble through the same assignment. I maintain that whatever members of academia decided that this was an effective method of teaching kids an appreciation for Shakespeare should never be allowed around children again.

As an adult, though, I have different views on Shakespeare. Call it maturity or something…

I suppose that there are reasons that Shakespeare is still celebrated almost 400 years after his passing. Once us modern day ‘Mericans get past all the funny-speak, it becomes obvious that his plays are brilliantly scripted and superbly written. Most importantly, they are totally original which is a concept most modern day entertainers know very little about. 

For me the change came several years ago. Being that I am a total geek for Roman history, I revisited Shakespeare's Julius Caesar for the first time since 10th grade. I picked up the flow of the language in just a few pages and immediately found an appreciation for Shakespeare that I had never thought possible. I quickly realized that the animosity I had harbored since high school was unwarranted and I began to develop an interest in more of his work, be it print or on stage.

So, Chris and I packed up a cooler with wine (for her) and a Stone RuinTen IPA(for me) and headed downtown for a little extra culture on an artsy Sunday. The selected play was The Comedy of Errors which is about as an accurate title as one could give this production. Simply put, it was a comedy based on a series of mistaken identities. With the emphasis on comedy, this play was a far cry from any of the Shakespeare I was force-fed in high school.

I have no interest in recapping the story but I must say that The Warehouse Theater did an amazing job with this presentation. They followed the script and stayed true to the soul of Shakespeare’s story and inserted a healthy share of modern day twists and shenanigans along the way. We sipped our tasty beverages, laughed out of our folding chairs and tried not to kick ourselves for ignoring this production for the last too-many years.

So there you have it… from waking up without a clue to appreciating Shakespeare in 10 easy hours. With a couple hours at a museum somewhere in the middle of it all, we are now officially sophisticated, cultured, refined and, well, all sorts of other words that did not previously describe us. We will be back here in a few days to talk about a beer festival, which is typically more our style, but if you need us in the meantime you should probably check the local museums…

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