Traveling The Route 66 “Art Gallery”

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Who knew America’s “Mother Road would be one of the best places to find off-beat interactive art installations, folk art and urban street art? All photos by Rick Tate.

Historic Route 66 is a veritable treasure trove for historians, classic car buffs, and nostalgia lovers no doubt, but

Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, Texas.

Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, Texas.

the route is also an eclectic, colorful and quirky roadside art exhibition filled with everything from world-famous folk art pieces to interactive street art style installations.

Here are some of examples of art found on the historic byway that make Route 66 not only America’s Mother Road, but also America’s Best Public Art Gallery:

Cadillac Ranch. Amarillo, Texas’s world-famous installation of upended classic Cadillacs was commissioned in 1974 by art aficionado Stan Marsh 3, and created by an art co-op called Ant Farm. It attracts a steady stream of visitors, from curious travelers

Bug Ranch in Conway, Texas.

Bug Ranch in Conway, Texas.

armed with cameras, to would-be street artists armed with brightly-colored spray paint. The installation even inspired a similar attraction, Bug Ranch, just off the road in nearby Conway. Bug Ranch has also attracted its share of amateur graffiti artists.

Dinosaurs! There’s dinosaur and fossil art to be found along the entire route, but they seem tostatues to upscaled “junk” sculptures. Some are designated, “roadside attractions,” while others just pop up out of nowhere on the edges of businesses and private residences. Half the fun is discovering them.

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“Dinosaurs” near Grand Canyon Caverns, Arizona.

Standin’ On The Corner Park. Anyone who drives through or by Winslow, Ariz. has at least a brief passing thought of The Eagles’ classic “Take it Easy,” and the lyrics that helped make Winslow famous. Visitors along 66 can be part of the song with the installation created in 1999 . The park is prominently marked by a highway-shaped shield with the words “Standin’ on the Corner,” but even without it, it isn’t hard to miss. Look for the lone lifesized bronze guitarist statue, with a restored classic red flatbed Ford on the corner. Best time to visit is as night, as the corner is well lit and quieter, except for the classic Eagles music playing from across the street.

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‘Standin’ On The Corner’ Park, Winslow, Arizona.

Bottle Tree Forest. It may not be the oldest, most historic site along the road, but is encompasses everything that makes Route 66 unique, off-beat creativity and out-of-the-way artistic innovation. Located in Oro Grande, Calif. , this site features several poles of “bottle tree art.” These metal poles consist of several bottles, bowls, glass transformers and anything and everything placed upon a pole. Walking through these can be a surreal and peaceful experience, but remember this “ranch” is actually the home of Elmer Long, the creator of these folk art figures. Be respectful and go inside

Street art along 66.

Street art along 66.

only when the gates are open and welcoming guests.

Roadside Landscape Graffiti. Travelers who didn’t think to bring along their paint cans, can still leave their personal artistic signature along the route, by using rocks, debris, tire remnants and anything else they can find. The barren desert areas in California bear the highest concentration of this art where people have left their initials, names and other messages for future travelers. There’s also another community graffiti art opportunity on the ruins of one former town, as well as a “shoe tree” adorned with cast off

Bottle Tree Ranch in Oro Grande, California.

Bottle Tree Ranch in Oro Grande, California.

footwear. Much of the route along the Mojave Desert seems to welcome this kind of “do-it-yourself” art, so bring some gel markers, crafts spray paint, extra shoes and imagination.

Murals. Murals are by far the most plentiful form of public art along Route 66. Nearly every town along Route 66 has one, even the ghost towns. Unlike Cadillac Ranch and the Mojave Desert stretch, these works of art are the result of hard work from the artist or artists. Tucumcari, New Mexico even offers maps of their plentiful selection of murals. Some are faded remnants of advertisements on crumbling walls, and some are fresh, new urban creations.  Others are site specific large scale ways of welcoming visitors and passers-by into a historic community. Either way, they are everywhere, and many are impressive works of art. Some are even the last remaining reminder of the glory days of the route: more than enough reason to stop and take a photo.

For other Route 66 attractions, see the National Park Service’s site at nps.gov.

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Murals at the famed Blue Swallow Motel in Tucumcari, N.M.

Originally published August, 2014.

Four Kid-Friendly Ways To Make The Fourth Doctor’s Scarf (Even if You Can’t Knit)

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Beginning crafters don’t have to be great with needlecrafts to make their own tributes to the Fourth Doctor’s iconic scarf.

Everyone loves the Fourth Doctor’s scarf, even kids who may have never seen a Classic Doctor Who episode.

There’s just something about Tom Baker’s over-sized yarn accessory that brings a smile to anyone’s face, even more than jelly babies.

Unfortunately, not everyone who wants to make one has the ability to knit or crochet, especially these aforementioned younger Whovians who haven’t yet learned these skills.

Until they do, here are some tips in making a tribute to Fourth Doctor’s scarf, even if for those who never picked up a needle or hook.

Before we get started on the final two tips, here are a few fun bits of trivia about the scarf.

• The Fourth Doctor’s Bohemian look is said to be inspired by Toulouse-Lautrec’s Ambassadeurs-Aristide Bruant (1892).
• In Season 12 of the Classic Who era, in the episode The Ark In Space, The Doctor said his scarf had been knitted for him by Madame Nostradamous, whom he called a “witty little knitter.”  FYI: According to TARDIS Data Core, current Doctor Who writer Steven Moffat considers The Ark in Space to be the best Fourth Doctor episode.
• During the Fourth Doctor’s reign, the scarf has been used as rope to help companions climb out of spaces, as a leash for he robot pooch, K9, as a ruler to measure a puzzle, and to trip enemies on two different occasions. The newly, regenerated Fifth Doctor unraveled the scarf to help his companions follow him down the TARDIS corridors.
• The longest of all the Fourth Doctors scarves was about 24 feet long.
• The scarf’s most recent appearance has been in the 50th anniversary series, Day of the Doctor, worn by asthmatic U.N.I.T. technician, Osgood. Whovians know this episode is also Tom Baker’s latest (albeit uncredited) appearance in  as well.

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The secret is in the unique color and pattern. Seasoned Whovians and practiced knitters know there is more than just a random sampling of colors to match the Fourth Doctor’s scarves, but for beginning crafters, kids in particular, it’s okay to improvise and have fun with it.

Suggested colors, according to several fan sites like doctorwhoscarf.com are:
Red (or Rust)
Green (or Olive)
Goldenrod (or yellow)
Tan
Brown
Purple
Grey (or Blue if you want it more colorful)

Tip #1: Loom Band Scarf.

Combine the loom band craze with Whovian sensibilities.

Combine the loom band craze with Whovian sensibilities.Tip #1: Loom Band Bracelet.

It’s hard to find a young crafter today who hasn’t made at least one item with loom bands. Use the basic single band pattern, and make it as long as you want. Make several bracelets or one long necklace in the Doctor’s favorite color. Don’t shy away from being “extreme” and exaggerated. The Doctor never has.

Tip #2: Felt Patch Scarf.

This is a simple beginner sewer’s project, and takes only letter-size sheets of felt and strong thread. Cut each piece of felt in half lengthwise, and cut each half into strips, mimicking the scarf pattern you want. Simply sew these together with a simple straight stitch or overcast stitch, until you get the length you

Felt pieces cut into strips to make an easy mini scarf for kids.

Felt pieces cut into strips to make an easy mini scarf for kids.

want. When completed, snip the two “end pieces” across the bottom to make the “fringe.”

Depending on the length, this project could take just a couple of hours or be an ongoing project. Not exactly knitted, but a great project for learning sewers of all ages.

Many sites and crafting forums have pattern suggestions, but beginning crafters can get an idea of the scarf they want just from looking at a photo, or using their own imagination.

Tip #3: Melted Pony Bead Scarf Art. Pony bead suncatchers and charms are popping up all over crafts sites, as well as social media like Pinterest, and YouTube.  This is an easy craft, and pony beadsgreat way to use up excess pony beads.

Simply line the beads up in a scarf pattern on a cookie sheet (about four beads across makes a nice with for a suncatcher), and carefully place it in the oven for 25 minutes at 400°F (205°C). The beads will melt together for a mock stained glass project. Let them cool for about 15 minutes before removing from the cookie sheet.

It isn’t essential, but it’s a good idea to line the pan with a smooth layer of aluminum foil. The beads will come off easily, either way.

Once cooled, use a drill bit to gently bore a hole in the end, or set in on a desktop or bookshelf.

This is only tip that can’t actually be worn, but will still be a fun addition to the Whovian home.

jewelryTip #4: Beaded Scarf accessories. Using a basic bead loom, and regular seed beads, the Fourth Doctor’s scarf can be transformed into bracelet, choker-length or longer necklace, hatband, headband, or any or beaded sash. This depends primarily on the length and width of the desired “scarf” pattern.  This craft can make use of any pre-existing scarf pattern intended for knitting or crochet. More advanced beaders can also use a basic loom bead template to draw their own pattern.

Once the pattern is determined, this craft is just the bare-bones basic bead weaving method, known as a “weft thread.”

Even those don’t have a bead loom can make small ring-size versions with beading wire using this simple method of “weaving” rows of around four beads together on thin beading wire (26mm). For those with younger beaders, this method is often much easier than crafting on a loom, and they can make several rings in a short amount of town.

Matching hair pieces can be made by simply stringing beads on the beading wire and “wrapping” it around a barrette.potter version

Note to Potterheads! These tips  work fine with any of the Hogwarts house scarves! Again the key is in the color. Here’s a Hogwarts House color refresher:
• Gryffindor: Red and Yellow (gold)
• Slytherin: Green and Grey (silver)
• Hufflepuff: Black and Yellow
• Ravenclaw: Blue and Silver (grey)

Even those serious knitters out there might channel their inner child and enjoy these different ways of looking at the most famous scarf in science fiction.

“What’s the point of being grown up,” The Fourth Doctor says, “if you can’t be childish sometimes?”

First published  as two pieces in June, 2014.

 

Five Offbeat Books To Help Readers Discover The Bard

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Battle of the Jungle Books

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Originally ran in GeekMom Jan. 13, 2016.

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Image: ©Walt Disney Studios, 2016.

Rudyard Kipling’s beloved short story collection, The Jungle Book, was written in the 1890s, but is still the inspiration for big screen interpretations today. Currently, there are two notable versions coming in the next two years, including the much-anticipated Disney production this month.

The new Disney project is actually the second live action Jungle Book film Walt Disney Studios has done in recent years. Brandon Lee starred in the 1994 live action version, but the best known is still the original 1967 animated masterpiece. The 2003 animated sequel Jungle Book 2, was pretty forgettable.

This latest Disney version comes out April 15, keeping with their trend of large-scale live-action reimaginings and reboots of their own animated classics, from Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland to Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella.

Following in October of 2017 is the Warner Bros. film Jungle Book: Origins, which also promises to be a larger-than-life effort, judging from the cast list.

As far as the story, which is really the important part when taking on the work of Kipling, the Disney version will remain true to its own earlier adaptation, based loosely on The Jungle Book chapter known as “Mowgli’s Brothers.” Although there has been no official announcement on the story’s plot, the Warner Bros. looks to follow a similar story.

Here are some interesting things that should make both of these versions worth seeing on the big screen:

John Favreau and Andy Serkis. Images: ©Disney (left), and Gage Skidmore.

The Directors. This pair of directors is enough to make any movie fan want to see both of these versions. Actor and director Jon Favreau helms the latest Disney film, as well as serves as a producer. He already has some experience under his belt as not only the director of Iron Man and Iron Man 2, but for portraying Happy Hogan in all three Iron Man films.

Jungle Book: Origins serves as Serkis’s directorial debut, but he will also voice and perform as fan favorite bear Baloo, who will be portrayed in the Disney version by fan favorite actor Bill Murray.

Who has the edge: Favreau. Serkis has proven himself an incredible actor and comedian, and  was able to handle secondary directing duties in The Hobbit trilogy, but it’s his first time in the main director chair. Favreau has some great successes to draw from.

There is one element that Serkis has over Favreau. Not only is Serkis himself master of performance capture work, as demonstrated with his portrayals as Gollum (Lord of the Rings), Caesar (Planet of the Apes) and Supreme Leader Snoke (Star Wars: The Force Awakens), but The Imaginarium, Europe’s leading Performance Capture studio co-founded by Serkis, will partner with Warner Bros. on their film.

The Female Kaas. In the original Kipling book, Kaa is a male 100-year-old python, but even more interesting Kaa is one of Mowgli’s friends and mentors. In the original animated Disney film Kaa is a manipulative side-villain voiced by Disney regular Sterling Holloway (Winnie The Pooh, Cheshire Cat).

Both new Jungle Book projects will feature a female-voiced Kaa. Disney’s will be portrayed by Scarlett Johansson and Warner Bros.’s will feature Cate Blanchett.

Based on Disney’s trailer and description of the new film, Kaa is “a python whose seductive voice and gazes hypnotizes the man-cub,” but is one of the creatures who don’t “have his best interests at heart.” It looks like Kaa will still be a bit of an antagonist in the new Disney version. No news on how Kaa will be portrayed in the 2017 story.

Who has the edge: Blanchett. As popular as Johansson is right now, and as sultry as her voice can be, Blanchett will add a touch of sophistication to this character that will go far beyond just a femme fatale.

A fantastically-cast Shere Khan. The story’s primary villain, the large, man-fearing tiger, Shere Khan, will be voiced by two of Great Britain’s most formidable voices: Idris Elba for Disney and Benedict Cumberbatch for Warner Bros. Elba and Cumberbatch are responsible for two of the BBC’s most popular detectives, Luther (Elba) and Sherlock (Cumberbatch).

In addition, both Elba and Cumberbatch share the honors of portraying major villains in the new Star Trek movie series, with Elba in the role of Krall in the upcoming Star Trek Beyond and Cumberbatch as, well, Khan, in Star Trek: Into The Darkness.

Who has the edge: This one is a draw, as both these actors have incredible, deep and imposing tones perfect for the intimidating tiger villain. Please, oh, please don’t make us choose.

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Lupita Nyong’o and Naomi Harris. Images: ©Disney (left), and ShareAlike.

An equally wonderfully cast for Mother Wolf. Mother Wolf has always been an important, yet underrated character in the Jungle Book movies, although she is the primary reason Mowgli survived past his infancy in the jungle. In the Disney version, Academy Award winner Lupita Nyong’o will play the Mother Wolf, known as “Raksha.” This character in the Warner Bros. version will go by the name “Nisha,” with James Bond’s current Moneypenny, Naomi Harris, as her voice.

Who has the edge: Nyong’o. Naomi Harris a great actress, and is no stranger to Disney fans (Tia Dalma in Pirates of the Caribbean series), but if Nyong’o’s voice work in The Force Awakens is any indication, her Mother Wolf will be simply outstanding.

Other voice notables will be Sir Ben Kingsley as Bagheera in the Disney version, and Christian Bale in the Warner Bros. version, and Christopher Walken should be a hilarious King Louie. King Louie is a Disney creation, which was not part of Kipling’s original tale, so there will be no King Louie in the Warner Bros. version.

Young actors Neel Sethi and Rohan Chand, both natives of a different “jungle,” New York City, will portray Mowgli in the Disney and Warner Bros. films respectively.

The big question is, which version will do better with fans and in the box office? Disney is certainly on a roll with their new live action storybook tales, but the Serkis production stands to properly capture the sensibilities of fans of the India-born British favorite Kipling.

No matter what the box office ultimately decides, as long as they both stay true to the exotic lure of adventure Kipling always envisioned, there should easily be reason to return to the jungle more than once in the near future.

Find That Prop!: This is a Dead Parrot!!

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In honor of National Humor Month, here’s a look series that I originally ran in 2014 on the “props” of Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

maindeadparrotThe Prop: The Dead Parrot:

At last! The Dead Parrot Sketch. One of Monty Python’s most beloved, and likely the most quoted, sketch.

The ideas behind for the actually sketch pre-date the existence of Monty Python itself. Before Python, John Cleese and Graham Chapman were working on a special called How to Irritate People in 1969, and one idea for the special was a sketch known as “Car Salesman,” in which an unsatisfied customer tries to convey to an salesman the trouble with his vehicle. The salesman, of course, just kept uttering things like “lovely car” tributes-300x255despite the fact the vehicle was busted. Later, after the formation of Monty Python, Cleese took elements of the sketch, changed the garage to a pet shop and inserted one dead parrot in place of a faulty automobile.

The sketch, soon became an audience favorite. It has been done again and again, including on Saturday Night Live when Cleese and Palin did a guest appearance, and as recently as their live reunion show 2014. Participants in a reader’s poll in the British radio and television magazine Radio Times voted it the “top alternative sketch.”

South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone created a tribute to this sketch, “The Dead Friend Sketch” featuring Kyle, Cartman and the the repeatedly-killed Kenny,” for Monty Python’s 30th anniversary special in 1999. This sketch ended in true South Park form, with Parker and Stone kidnapping Terry Gilliam’s mom, Beatrice, until the Gilliam comes and works for them.

Dead or not, the parrot’s legacy lives on today.

The 2014 return of the Pythons to the live stage was also marked with a 50-foot-tall fiberglass Dead Parrot statue. Created for UKTV’s Gold Channel by sculptor Iain Prendergast, the “pinin’” was placed in London’s Potters Field that year.

Most fans would probably admit, however, that the best thing about this bit is trying to remember all the ways Cleese described the poor bird’s state, without actually saying the word “dead:”

“He’s bleedin’ demised….He’s not pinin’! He’s passed on! This parrot is no more! He has ceased to be! He’s expired and gone to meet his maker! He’s a stiff! Bereft of life, he rests in peace! If you hadn’t nailed him to the perch he’d be pushing up the daisies! His metabolic processes are now history! He’s off the twig! He’s kicked the bucket, He’s shuffled off his mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin’ choir invisible!! This is an EX-PARROT!”

Where to Find It:

licensedparrots-300x236Unless you’re studying forensics, I wouldn’t recommend trying to get a hold of a real dead parrot. I won’t even go there. Instead, let’s look for a good make believe “dead bird.”  Yes, there was an officially licensed dead parrot, as well as an inflatable dead parrot in a can, but production of these has also “ceased to be.” They can still be found in collectible shops and on eBay from time to time for upwards of $50.

There is a Dead Parrot Sketch talking keychain currently available from various novelty and gag gift shops for around $7.

Of course, since most stuffed parrots simply lay there anyway, it’s not hard of find an artificial macaw. A full-sized one of these will run about $30 to $50. To make your bird look “dead,” find an inexpensive perch from pet store and hang the bird upside down by it’s feet. The bird can be attached with string or twist ties, rather than actually having to be “nailed” to the perch.

For a “cuddlier” version, plain old stuffed birds are easy to find, too. These are much less deadparrotshirts-290x300expensive; often less than $20.

Don’t forget the t-shirts. There are plenty of Python-inspired dead parrot tees, posters, decals and other items offered on sites like Zazzle, Cafe Press, Red Bubble and Stupid Tees. One company, Meer Image, even makes actually pretty Norwegian Blue-inspired rubber stamps.

What about an actual, “Not Dead Yet” parrot? Can you actually find a Norwegian Blue? Beautiful plumage. I’m afraid, these birds are, in a word…extinct! There were parrot-like fossils found in the Northern hemisphere, in what is Norway and Denmark that date back 55 million years (even before the formation of the fjords in the same region). However, if you look at the different prop parrots used by Cleese, they are really closer to a Blue and Gold (or Blue and Yellow) Macaw, or a Hyacinth Macaw. These macaws won’t pine for the “fjords,” either, as they are native to South America. To purchase one of these from a respectable pet shop, they are likely to run you well into the $1,000 to $5,000.

Remember, this is a real animal, unlike the plastic corpse in the sketch, so don’t run out and purchase a “parrot” just for the novelty. If you do make a serious decision to invest in this “remarkable bird,” however, you can actually teach your live parrot to “play dead.” There are a ton of attentive bird owners who are happy to show their trick on YouTube and other social media. Of course, it wouldn’t be a worthy Python sketch unless you can also teach your parrot to jump back up and say “I got better.”

How long do these parrots stay “not dead?” A well-cared for macaw can live a over 50 years, long enough to enjoy Monty Python’s 100th Anniversary!

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