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Landlubbers ahoy! (07/26/2009)
By Janet Lewis Burns
We humans are forever seeking. We romanticize over journeys to exotic, faraway places. We plan and prepare, travel far and pay big, get lost and sore feet. When all is said, done, and paid for, we’re glad to get home – dragging our tales (and our home movies) behind us.

Personally, I just got back from paradise! There are walkways in every direction at this serene place, surrounding garden designs of 60,000 colorful flowers and wispy grasses, a delight in lavender, yellow, white, mauve, and shades of green. A long, paved patio, with its inviting tables and chairs, offers a bird’s eye view of the mighty Mississippi. I can picture a picnic here with me and Grandpa and our three grandchildren!

If you can find this wonderland, don’t miss a tour of the attractive, sprawling building on the grounds. Prepare to be intrigued by artifacts and documents of river excursions and nautical navigation of earlier times, woodcarvings depicting early American folklore, and old photographs of river towns. Drift out to sea with stirring paintings in a permanent display. Where is this place of enlightenment? For those who haven’t a clue, it’s not far from your own backdoor. Winona’s history as a riverboat town comes alive as one enters the aura of the Minnesota Marine Art Museum. The eight acres of fetching gardens and an engrossing museum are located at 800 Riverview Drive, down by the riverside, a busy waterway with boats and barges coming and going.

The museum excursion begins in a bright, expansive room that emits a poignant scent, like varnish on smoothed wood, where many types of kayaks and canoes are displayed. Local canoe builders, experts on the 13” birch bark canoe patterned after Native American design, display their various styled canoes built with birch bark, wood and canvas, and modern materials.

Mike Cichanowski of Winona built his first woodstrip canoe in his garage years back. He and wife Linda have since established the “We-no-nah” Canoe Company. Their black and white postcard collection is a nostalgic display of river travel from distant times.

Three additional galleries feature American folk art by Leo and Marilyn Smith of Winona. Their colorful, carved wood pieces and wall hangings throughout the river town journey are eye catching! A large “Blackbird” carving and “Mother Otter” with her offspring circling her body are examples of their work, all with corresponding plaques describing each piece.

Under glass, where the most knowledge-hungry landlubbers can’t get their hands on the weathered and worn, imagine the wealth of information in the “Old Nautical Almanac” of 1790 and “Practical Navigation - Being a Complete Epitome of Navigation,” dated 1814.

Navigational instruments on display include a 1909 marine chronometer, an octant from 1750, a 19th century ship captain’s gimbaled stick barometer, an 1880 Harbor Master telescope, and a Dutch, bronze rail gun with dolphin handles from 1640. These artifacts and more are eerie reminders of an age when sailing on troubled waters was tackled before radio communications and weather updates.

A new gallery is a maze of more than 60 paintings, gifted and loaned from the Burrichter/Kierlin art collections and landscape and marine paintings from the Impressionist and Hudson River School. With their bright gold, period frames, porthole views, and sails billowing against diverse skies, each painting expresses its unique message, like Frenchman Eugene Boudin’s ships flying their Norwegian flags, 1885. An enchanting hush seems to draw the observer’s full attention to each lit display. Seafaring crews who toiled to keep pitching vessels afloat are poignant reminders of hardships at sea.

Many framed, black and white photograph plates of Mississippi river towns take the visitor down a path of long ago. My favorite museum piece is a Titanic replica, constructed with exquisite detail and master craftsmanship. It was built by Harland Wolff, Belfast, between 1909 and 1912.

So ends the account of my first visit to the Minnesota Marine Art Museum, Winona, not to be my last. I’m snared - hook, line and sinker! So often we don’t pause to appreciate the treasures just beyond our own backdoor.

Don’t forget the picnic basket!

Janet Burns hails from Lewiston. She can be reached at patandjanburns@embarqmail.com.



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