Lately, I’ve been spending more time than ever in museums and cultural institutions. I truly believe that St. Louis is the most culturally – per capita – city in the country. We’re not New York or Chicago, but on a per capita basis, we really are culturally at the top of the pyramid.
A few thoughts continue to cross my mind as I visit and think about the art and culture in our city. The first thought is that we think of the Saint Louis Art Museum, the St. Louis Symphony, and the Missouri History Museum and tend not to include other very important institutions in our city in the mix.
A wonderful example of a very important institution that is overlooked in the scheme of things is the St. Louis Mercantile Library, located at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, which is the oldest library west of the Mississippi. The library was founded in 1846 and has just celebrated its 175th anniversary. It was founded as an athenaeum where scholars, scientists and explorers came from all over the country to research, gather and hear lectures. Scholars from all over still do this research in this gem which houses all manner of special collections and focuses on westward expansion and the history, development and growth of the St. Louis area and American experiences rail and river transport.
The art collection includes such luminaries as George Caleb Bingham, Harriet Hosmer, Oscar Berninghaus and Thomas Hart Benton. There are also early works and works up to the present day, including pieces such as Chuck Berry’s scrapbooks.
And the Laumeier Sculpture Park also attracts visitors from all over the world. One of the first sculpture parks in the country, Laumeier is also one of the largest. It is accredited by the American Alliance of Museums and operates in partnership with St. Louis County Parks.
Laumeier not only has an incredible collection of outdoor works, but exhibits works at the Aronson Museum on the grounds, allowing artists to display their works indoors as well.
The most recent exhibition fits into this year’s theme at Laumeier of health and well-being and is called Salutary Sculpture. Beneficial, an adjective, means to promote health and well-being. Eight artists exhibit their works which were influenced by artists who in many cases had health issues which either influenced their works or helped them in the healing process or in the creation of these works on all brackets.
The list of high quality arts institutions is endless. MOCRA, the Museum of Contemporary Religious Art, and the International Photography Hall of Fame were both on my list of hikes around art institutions and venues in recent weeks.
Another thought that keeps swirling around in my head is how often I visit an exhibition. For example, someone asked me if I had seen “St. Louis Sound”, an exhibit at the Missouri History Museum. I said yes, I had been there about five times. I forced myself to go back to the exhibits to get the full value of what the exhibits have to offer.
St. Louis Sound explores diverse music that has helped define the city of St. Louis, from the earliest recorded sounds to today. Visitors learn about famous stalwarts of St. Louis music like Scott Joplin, Miles Davis, Josephine Baker, and Nelly. The exhibit features a playlist of 100 songs that can be accessed via a QR code when visitors enter the exhibit. If all you can do is a one-time walk, it’s better than nothing, but the more you can come and watch, the happier you’ll be.
And Judith Mann, senior curator of European art until 1800 at the St. Louis Museum of Art, brought St. Louis to the world’s attention for “Paintings on Stone – Science and the Sacred – 1530 to 1800”.
This magnificent exhibit took Dr Mann 15 years to put together and can be seen as a simple display of fine works or however you wish. Everyone loves a story and mythological stories are exciting, or one could focus on portraits or landscapes, or look at religious themes or look at painting techniques on different surfaces of all kinds of stones, from slate to amethyst. Anyway, I’ve been to the exhibition six times and attended two lectures at the museum.
I also saw the musical “Hamilton” at Fox for the third time. When you go to the symphony or the Muny, you often revisit the art for the umpteenth time and often return to listen to the work in one of our not-so-large halls.
The point of this somewhat rambling comment is that we have the highest quality art and culture in our beautiful city for us to enjoy again and again.
Nancy Kranzberg has been involved in the arts community for over forty years on numerous arts-related councils.