I hadn’t planned to be out in the front garden entryway of the Norton Simon the evening of November 2nd. But it’s not really that unusual as one of my sketching groups always meets there the first Friday of the month. This month our leader suggested we sketch the altars that would be on display at the Day of the Dead exhibit in downtown Pasadena that evening. I drove into town with the express purpose of going to that event, but couldn’t find parking anywhere near the displays. So my car just navigated itself the few extra blocks west on Colorado and I found myself pulling into the parking lot at the Norton Simon Museum. There were plenty of places to park! For this sketching visit I decided I wasn’t going into the museum, for a reason I will later divulge, and I wandered around the front garden instead. I’m always happy to wander around the Norton Simon, so missing out on Pasadena’s Day of the Dead didn’t seem to matter much. (The leader of our group did find parking and she posted a wonderful watercolor she did of one of the altars that she entitled, Viva las mujeres!)
But I had my own kind of dead moment going on there as I decided that the Rodin sculptures all around the front entrance seemed to be coming to life. Since I had already decided I wasn’t going inside I planned sit out there and sketch them, watching for any kind of “Twilight Zone” movement moment. It was almost twilight and the evening lights were just coming on and highlighting the statues. I could swear fingers, shoulders and necks were moving ever so slightly. It didn’t seem as though any feet had moved—that would have been silly as they were attached to stone pediments. If you look closely at my sketch, can you tell which are the Rodin Sculptures and which are the humans hanging around? Of course you can. The Rodin twilight army is the ones not looking at cell phones, right?
Since I hadn’t actually crossed the threshold of the actual building, I wondered if technically I was at the museum. Of course I soon found out I was. While looking for the perfect view I noticed that one whole corner of the museum, next to the parking lot, was surrounded with connecting concrete benches. I was very excited at the prospect of so many places I could sit on my bit of bubble wrap and draw. I soon found the view you see here and I unfolded my bubble wrap on just the right concrete bench and sat down. As I began taking out a few sketching materials from my backpack I thought I saw someone off in the distance coming towards me. Was it a rogue Rodin statue? No, it was just a very officious museum employee lumbering over to tell me I was doing something wrong. (It was at this point that I realized I was actually at the museum. I had had run ins with other officious Norton Simon guards before, but never before entering the front door.) What could it be this time? I was beginning to wish I had tried harder to commune with the “dead” in downtown rather than anticipating a boring lecture from the “living” here in the garden. I stopped taking my sketching things from my bag and waited for her.
She told me I couldn’t sit on the bench because I might fall off and hurt myself on the concrete gutter under my feet. She added that they had this rule to keep kids from playing on the benches. I thought I looked old enough to refrain from such behavior. And I thought I could convince her of my arty earnestness and opened my sketchpad to show her 4 or 5 sketches I had done of the sculpture garden in the back. She said she liked the sketches, but wasn’t having any of my cozy chatter. So, I stood up and dropped the bubble wrap down into the gutter below the bench and slunk down so I was then sitting in this slim bit of bubble wrap in the gutter with my back against the bench. She said it was OK if I leaned against the bench. Well that was a mercy anyway.
I told her I hadn’t actually been out front very often to draw and that I usually went right through the front door directly to the back garden. But I said that I had brought my backpack, because I thought I was going to the Day of the Dead Celebration in downtown. I knew backpacks were not allowed inside the museum. I think the Norton Simon powers at be worried that those of us carrying backpacks would bump into something, or someone, as it was clear I was someone who played on benches and would run through their museum willy nilly with a backpack full of live bats. Oh, she was adamant that I most definitely could go in the back garden as long as I checked my backpack full of bats at the coat check counter, transferring my art items that included a small sketchpad and zipper bag of pens and pencils, slim metal container of 12 colored pencils, 12 inch by 24 inch sheet of bubble wrap and a small kitchen towel into one of their bags. I was just imagining all the bats escaping into the museum as I made the transfer (and that would be all her doing), but I said nothing. (Actually our conversation was no small feat as I was sitting in a narrow gutter at her feet, looking directly at her knees.) You know, you can stand at the front entrance of the Norton Simon and look directly through the front glass doors to the back glass doors, maybe 30 paces away. But I still needed to transfer my materials to another bag. She kept going on and on about how simple that would be. Of course it would have been much simpler for me to walk those few steps without stopping. I’m sure it wouldn’t have taken more than 10 or 12 seconds.
By now I was done with all this nonsense and hoped she would finally leave me alone. But she wasn’t quite done with me and continued the conversation, telling me that she couldn’t believe that the original 1970s or 80s architect of the museum exterior had made such an unsafe design blunder right out there in front of God and everybody. She seemed horrified that someone would create permanent benches around Rodin’s sculpture garden at the front of the Norton Simon. And all the while I’m thinking, “the fiend!” It was about now I knew I was going to start giggling. Besides, I really wanted to sketch something.
Finally, she started walking away, but turned briefly to ask me if I had brought any kind of wet media with me. I remember thinking of saying something like, I am sitting in a concrete gutter out front of an art museum with patches of grass that look like they could use some water. Was she hoping I had a huge bag of water, along with everything else, in my backpack so I could help out with the drought? But I knew what she meant and I had no intention of going inside to clean Rembrandt’s face on his self-portrait with some of my dirty watercolor water. But the moment was saved as I could see just over her shoulder a friend sketcher/painter hurrying up the steps towards the front doors of the museum. (She must not have been able to get a parking spot either. She and I are often sketching/painting out in that back garden there on these wonderful Friday evenings.) Did I say painting? Why yes I did! I happen to know she definitely does watercolors (very wet and loose I might add) out there and is very fond of brushing on permanent inks as well! Ooh, this was delicious revenge. I was somehow getting a kind of revenge for all the nonsense I had been listening to for the past 10 minutes. But I immortalized my officious museum acquaintance. She is the tiniest person standing guard near the front of the museum to the left of the naked Rodin statue against the front wall. He had probably heard her droning on and on as well and was gesturing her to come closer so he could tell her to “leave off!” Of course maybe he was actually trying to muster another hand gesture. Ah, but we’ll never know…
My uncle (my dad’s only sibling) doesn’t have anything to do with computers, but it’s his birthday today anyway. So Happy Birthday Uncle R! 11/17/18