The Holiday Train Show is always a spectacular reaffirmation of what is beautiful, shining and creative in the human spirit. This year seems more so against a backdrop of tumultuous, grimy political scandals and redundant “breaking news” moments that jar the nerves and chill one’s core. I heartily appreciate an escape from the unsettling thesis of chaos to the antithesis of children’s screams of laughter and twinkling, colorful Holiday lights of assurance. The felt innocence is more lovely than the low details of worldly goings on. And I am uplifted to remember that throughout the labored struggles of men and women who strive to retain power, there is something more worthy and spiritual in the human soul that the season reminds us to seek and direct our attention to.
Thus, for me especially this year, and for the friends I visit with, The Holiday Train Show in the New York Botanical Garden is a sanctuary of refinement, a haven of peace. Amidst the lovingly arranged pageantry, the plantings strike poses between the stunning miniature replicas of New York’s icons, historical landmarks and stupendous structures of the gilded age, made into museums or torn down because they were too expensive to maintain.
As I note the complexity of the constructions from plant parts as tiny as a barely seed and as large as a gourd, and wander slowly in amazement at the specificity of creation, solace is delivered in cupfuls and happiness in bushels. I take picture after picture, trying to stir my memories about the location of the recreations in previous years.
If I take my time without rushing to the show finale, my memory serves me. The Poe house is situated more prominently this year on the opposite side of the central theatrical showcase. I am glad because I am writing a play about Poe and I feel akin to this replica. For example, I know that Poe’s wife Virginia Clemm died of tuberculous in Poe Cottage which is in Fordham in the Bronx a few miles from the Garden. The replica is modest, a no frills structure which is a miniature facsimile of the real Poe Cottage. The Poes were impoverished for all of their marriage a terrific irony considering just one of Poe’s short handwritten letters brought in almost $100,000 at auction a few years ago.
I see that the New York Public Library (Stephen A Schwartzman building) is up front and center as it should be. The Fifth Avenue Manhattan library with the stentorian lions is under renovation and receiving technological updates that will be completed by 2020. I note that the Coney Island display is prominent with the Elephantine Colossus, Wonder Wheel (now a film of the same name by Woody Allen about Coney Island and gangsters), The Steeple Chase, Luna Park, the Cyclone (with moving parts) and more. These structures backdropped with waterfall and reflecting pools are encircled by sauntering trains lazily enjoying their pace in the 360 degree central showcase of the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory. Last year they were in the Palms of the World Gallery.
As I appreciate the Elephantine Colossus so carefully and brilliantly created out of variously shaped gourds and other plant pieces, I consider Leslie Salka’s (Director of Applied Imagination whose creations we love) comments about the construction of the replica of the Elephant shaped hotel. The unusual structure was an example of the period’s novelty architecture, designed by James V. Lafferty to bring in tourists. The seven-story building, which served as a hotel, concert hall and amusement bazaar, stood above Surf Avenue from 1885 to 1896 when it burned down. Leslie decided they should include the hotel in the Coney Island display in memoriam of Topsy the female elephant who was electrocuted in Coney Island’s Luna Park in 1903.
Topsy’s demise had been all but forgotten until someone noted a film had been made of her electrocution and clips of it were included in a Ric Burns documentary about Coney Island. After Burns’ film the subject of Topsy’s death has been featured in popular culture and media and has been the subject of poetry, fiction, songs and journalist Michael Daly’s book about her. Contrary to belief there is no purported direct association of Topsy’s death at Luna Park with Thomas Edison. Though Edison did electrocute animals 15 years earlier during the War of Currents when he was attempting to demonstrate the dangers of alternating current, he was not responsible for Topsy’s death. The Elephantine Colossus replica is gorgeous and the backstory of Topsy’s life and death, the preservation of the film clip, and her rise to celebrity is a notable piece of history found in The Holiday Train Show if you enjoy digging deeper.
What I particularly appreciate about The Holiday Train Show is that there is something for everyone young and ancient. Children see the trains and love to hear and watch them. Adults see the history, and depending upon their day and mood go deep or gloss over the displays. No one sees all of it during each visit. If you glean 20% of the entire production which pays homage to history, trains, New York, the five New York City boroughs and their landmarks interspersed fancifully throughout the Garden’s botanical kingdom, you will have walked away with a treasure.
The Show is overwhelming. So one may jaunt through it appreciating the overarching dazzling spectacle and briefly glance at the replicas, taking a few moments to identify the name of a particularly striking recreation. Or you may more closely observe, inspect and take a leisurely microscopic view of how each of the replicas was assembled ingeniously with twigs, varieties of flower and grain seeds, pine cones, stems, leaves, nut shells, acorn caps, pods, gourds, varieties of moss, mushrooms, flowers, herbs, spices and more.
And the trains? Use your phone video feature to capture the particularly cool passenger trains or trolleys flying over the Manhattan or Queensboro bridge high above your head. Most NYC bridges (five out of the nine) are featured. Or snap the cute novelty cars painted with butterflies or other insects trolling back and forth over the tracks. All of the trains are G-scale, whether ancient or modern, whether locomotives and freight cars or diesel engines, electrified passenger trains, trolleys and streetcars. There are over 25 full fledged train set ups clanging, whirling, zipping, steaming, chugging, purring and careening over 1/2 mile of track situated between rocks, over bridges and water features, through tree stump tunnels and under low hanging tree branches throughout the conservatory.
In the 3000 foot 360 degree display whose extension was added a few years ago, you’ll see a grand memorial to traindome. You’ll note various New York historical station replicas that are throwbacks to a time when travelers stayed at inns before they journeyed to relatives. These have since been torn down to make way for flat-looking, rectangular, unappealing buildings signifying what has been lost to progress. You will note Grand Central Station saved by Jacqueline Onassis and the magnificent station that developers couldn’t wait to get their grimy hands on, the Beaux Arts beauty, built in 1910, Pennsylvania Station. The Applied Imagination replica is a memorial to history, grand architectural effort that remains timeless though Penn Station itself was torn down in 1963. But there the miniature building stands for us to admire at The Holiday Train Show. Just consider that for a second or two.
The Palms of the World Gallery exhibit is the glorious conclusion that sends you out into the sterling night of stars if you go to Bar Car Nights (December 22, 23, 29, 30, January 6, 13) with a date, friends or are just slumming by yourself. Or if brushing by the palm fronds with goodbyes to Garden staff dressed as train engineers you slip from the tropical paradise into the bright, cold atmosphere and sunshine with a beaming smile on your face because the final exhibit is just…just. Well! You’ll have to go and see the show and come up with your own descriptors. Marvelous? Rising? Scintillating? Neat? Memorable? Illustrious?
It’s all of that and more as the display in the large reflecting pool glimmers and splits into double images which lengthen the buildings and set them skimming across the water. This segment in particular memorializes why Manhattan is its own tribute to itself: skyscraper-particular, iconic, architecturally astonishing, mesmerizing, glowing. Whether its Rockefeller Plaza, Ellis Island, the Statue of Liberty, the GE Building, the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building, St. Bartholomew’s Church, this is what tourists, natives and even botanical adventurers love about New York City. Take some time to especially view the last four replicas listed here, all of which are new.
I was struck by the extravagant details and was rather gobsmacked at the illusion which is created in this gallery. These buildings effect their namesakes, but are built with completely organic, sustainable materials, unlike their reality of concrete, glass and steel. The effect will draw you in as you remember the essence of the Applied Imagination’s vision to set a monument to nature’s ineffable and infinite botanical variety and the wonder of at plants’ creative usefulness as building blocks for humans. Read that sentence again, to ken the full meaning. Heart!
There is no leaving the Palms of the World Gallery after the first minute of arrival. You leave when you receive the full effect of the display upon your senses and decide that The Holiday Train Show is a celebration of the best of who we can be as creators and lovers of nature’s bounty of which we are an integral part.
For all the intriguing programming during the Train Show, from the Evergreen Express and family events, Billy Collins poetry reading and more, go to the Garden website HERE. For BAR CAR NIGHTS, HERE. To learn about Paul Busse artistic visionary, founder and 25 year creator of Applied Imagination replicas and themes with his team click HERE.
Last weekend at the New York Botanical Garden was my last time to say goodbye to the Chihuly Exhibit. I have visited the exhibit a number of times, but each time is fresh and different. One reason is because Dale Chihuly’s outdoor sculptures refract and reflect the changes in sunlight during the changing seasons, from spring to fall.
Another reason is because no matter how closely you look at a piece, you will notice something unique every time. Perhaps it is the way the colors merge into each other on some pieces or the way the glass curves or projects starkly upward. With the sculptures that are housed indoors at the Enid A. Haupt conservatory, for example Macchia Forest, 2017, Chihuly’s vibrant colors startle in multi-colored tulip-shaped cups arising from iron-like stems in the conservatory’s indoor pond and fountain gorgeously arranged with hanging flowering plantings. One could remain there all day or in the evening with a drink during Chihuly Nights. The rich ambience delights and the sounds of water splaying in the fountain soothe. As with all of Chihuly’s sculptures thoughtfully arranged in or around water, the reflections dazzle and enthrall with their multi-dimensional views.
I will sorely miss this exhibit which stirs the imagination toward infinite and graceful fantasies that one conjures up in brilliant dreams. I have become used to catching the falling sunlight at dusk as it stirs the effervescence and evolving, sparkling, deep blue, shimmering hues on Sapphire Star 2010, NYBG 2017 amidst the darkening shadowy green of the landscape and deepening black shapes of the trees. Sapphire Star 2010, installed at NYBG 2017 is my favorite. I enjoyed seeing it in high noon brilliance or in the surrounding darkness enhanced with a few ground lights along the Garden path that is out of the Chronicles of Narnia. My imagination runs wild. And if I were indeed alone without anyone near me, I would expect a unicorn or centaur to jump out from behind a tree and admiringly gaze at this groundling star whose other-worldy beauty beckons.
This past weekend I also strayed beyond the Everett Children’s Adventure Garden to visit the Native Plant Garden where Chihuly’s Float Boat and Koda Studies #1 and #2 herald all that might be accomplished when the creative spirit is allowed to run wild amidst a natural platform. Again, Dale Chihuly combines contrasting shapes, sizes and forms. There are the comforting huge glass balls of every shining hue imaginable displayed in a an oblong vessel held up by a flowing water pond.. In the nighttime, the view widens its depth. Which is is solid? Which is fluid? And indeed physics will explain that both are double images of each other for all contain infinitesimal atoms which spin at incredible speeds and play havoc with what appears to be real but which is something else entirely. A true mind-blast and pageantry of excellence.
That evening a guitar player shared his repertoire as we hailed the Chihuly’s Koda Studies # 1 and 2. Chihuly designed these specifically for the exhibit, honoring his original Artpark installation designed with friend Seaver Leslie in Lewiston, New York in 1975. That significant installation launched Dale Chihuly as a glass artisan and he has been flying into glory ever since.
As we sauntered along the path viewing Chihuly’s muted dark fuschia, red and yellow glass panes pinging off the lengthy water display in the Native Plant Garden, our senses were regaled. The native grasses, wild herbs, shrubs and dying foliage exuded gorgeous aromas released in the humid night air. There was a sense of freedom and exploration I felt. Tell me where else in New York City can one travel safely along landscaped, tree-lined paths in the nighttime breathing clean air with heavenly scents except at a NYBG evening exhibit.
During the daytime I walked amongst the still-green trees which are here and there beginning to prepare for fall and winter. I stepped into the fun-filled Everett Children’s Adventure Garden and watched the kids enjoy themselves everywhere they went. The Children’s Garden was packed. The humongous pumpkins patiently sat as children scrambled on top of them and families posed for pictures. Each of the gigantic specimens were record-breakers. (see below for stats) Families sought and found enormous pumpkins, gourds, and squashes – it was also Giant Pumpkin Weekend, and families came to see these incredible natural wonders.
Kids and parents took pictures standing on them, climbing them, sitting on them, and standing next to them. Giant Pumpkin Weekend, arranged in collaboration with the Great Pumpkin Commonwealth, showed off the growers’ skills at nurturing the hugest (I know that’s not a word), most fantabulous (or that either) pumpkins. Each of these record-breakers from around the world weighed in at more than a ton.
How these pumpkins’ DNA allows them to expand boggles the mind. Importantly, growers come to share how this happens in the growing process during Q&As.
Recapping the record-breakers and their growers for 2017.
This year’s largest pumpkin traveled from Sumner, Washington, bringing with it the North American all-time record. Nurtured by Joel Holland, the “Great Pumpkin” weighed in at 2,363 pounds.
The second-largest pumpkin ever grown came from the United Kingdom, with that country’s all-time record of 2,269 pounds. Ian Paton and Stuart Paton grew this lovely.
Finally, at the entrance of the Leon Levy Visitors Center you will find the largest squash grown in the world this year. This all-time record-breaker grown by Joe Jutras hails from North Scituate, Rhode Island. It weighs in at 2,118 pounds.
If you missed this annual fun event the weekend of 21-22 October, don’t worry. The display continues through 31 October. And if you can’t make it this year, next year the Garden will be hosting amazing record-breaking specimens again. You know they will be even larger.
Another fun event at the Everett Children’s Adventure Garden involved costumes and goodies. Children dressed in costumes visited the Whole Foods Market® Trick-or-Treat Trail. Since Whole Foods offered the treats, you know they had to be nutritious and delicious. No candy corn could be found anywhere on those Whole Foods Market tables. Additionally, children could decorate a bag to collect their goodies, which included a “children’s sized” baby spider plant anxious to receive a new home.
One event I particularly enjoyed took place at the Clay Family Picnic Pavilions. Kids and parents came curious to see what creepy, spooky creatures of Halloween might crawl around, fly, or calm down to be petted. The live animal presentation revealed interesting reptiles from everywhere, perhaps even some backyards upstate or in the South.
In the photos are the popular Wilma, a lizard who sustained the children petting her with peace and calm, and Skittles the milk snake who also was petted by the children and remained peaceful throughout. One can see the various creatures Saturdays and Sundays, 1 & 3 p.m. until 29 October.
The New York Botanical Garden contains a fabulous and beautiful world of treasures for everyone. If you can catch the Chihuly Exhibit during the day, you will be thrilled. Unfortunately, tickets to Chihuly Nights have been sold out for the last week. However, if you go during the day over the weekend, make sure to get there early. The parking is limited. And even if it is a bit colder, New Yorkers and out-of-towners want to take a last breathtaking look at the NYBG Chihuly exhibit before it leaves. Thankfully, I took many pictures in remembrance. When winter approaches in earnest in New York City, I will look back at this article and my pictures in fond remembrance.
For events at the NYGB, CLICK HERE.
‘Jazz and Chihuly, Songs of Protest & Reconciliation,’ New York Botanical Garden Summer Concert Series
Considering the Charlottesville, Virginia August 11th incidents and the tragic loss of one woman’s life, up through the president’s press conference of Tuesday, August 15th, these days of August have been tumultuous and divisive. Indeed, taking a stand to uphold human rights and decry hate groups that seek mainstream political power appears to be more vital than ever as protest marches this past weekend indicate. Symbolic action, whether it is through protest demonstrations or concerts is a reminder to all that Love trumps Hate. A great majority of Americans are committed to upholding the sanctity of every life, regardless of race or religion.
Serendipitiously, the final summer concert series at the New York Botanical Garden on Friday, 18 August was a majestic reminder of this citizen commitment. Despite the threatening thunderstorm and intermittent periods of rain throughout the day, the turnout to embrace Jazz and Chihuly, “Songs of Protest & Reconciliation” was overwhelming.
The tent was packed with a diverse crowd who were there to enjoy the all-star musical group led by award-winning pianist and vocalist, Damien Sneed, guest trumpeter Keyon Harrold and the other prodigiously talented musicians and vocal artists. Together, these individuals presented an evening of entertainment that was poignant and joyful. And after joining with them in celebrating some of the best songs created by greats of jazz, soul, gospel and contemporary music (including two composed by Damien Sneed), the audience was sent out into the night sans rain to appreciate the luminous Chihuly sculptures presented throughout the grounds and in the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory.
This final concert in the summer series was co-produced by the Catskill Jazz Factory and Absolutely Live Entertainment. The Catskill Jazz Factory encompasses a dynamic jazz program whose mission is to aid some of the finest young jazz artists with year-round workshops, concerts, residencies and world-class performances in the Hudson Valley. Absolutely Live Entertainment is a festival, tour and concert production company spearheaded by Danny Melnick. Malnick is the Producer of the Newport Jazz Festival and the Artistic Director of Carnegie Halls’ The Shape of Jazz series.
Damien Sneed is a master of practically every musical genre and a 2014 recipient of the Sphinx Medal of Excellence honor which is presented annually to emerging Black and Latino leaders in classical music. His facility with jazz, gospel, pop, R & B, opera and musical theater and his work with Aretha Franklin, Wynton Marsalis, Stevie Wonder and Diana Ross have served him in excellent stead.
Sneed facilely shepherded the ensemble of vocalists Chenee Campbell, Anitra McKinney, Djore Nance, Tiffany Stevenson, Matia Washington and musicians Stacy Dillard (saxophone) Corey Wilcox (trombone) Julius Rodriguez (Hammond B3 organ) John Matthew Clark (bass guitar), Mark Clark, Jr. (drums). The songs of protest “I Wish I knew How it Would Feel to Be Free” (Nina Simone), “Oh Freedom,” (African-American spiritual), “Follow the Drinking Gourd (Underground Railroad) and “Freedom (excerpt)” (Duke Ellington) for example, emphasized every individual’s yearning for freedom and what freedom means collectively and personally.
During the first half of the evening, an audience member brought up a T-Shirt and draped it on a music stand. The T-Shirt had the logo, “Black Lives Matter.” Her action was spontaneous and unstaged.
Interspersed with these songs of protest were the songs of reconciliation: “Bridge Over Troubled Water” (Simon and Garfunkel), “God Bless the Child, (Billie Holiday & Arthur Herzog, Jr., “Proud Mary,” (John Fogarty), “Is My Living in Vain,” (Twinkie Clark & The Clark Sisters) and more. Each number featured a powerful solo by one of the vocalists. The audience showed their appreciation with standing ovations.
During the second portion of the evening, Keyon Harrold performed a song he had composed. Harrold presented “When Will The Killing Stop?” as a dedication to Michael Brown and all the young, black men who have been killed for “no good reason.” His playing was at once soulful and poignant, his talent incredible. It is no wonder he has been featured on nearly 100 albums with a wide music range from jazz to R & B, from pop and gospel, to blues and hip-hop.
By the conclusion of the evening, the storm and rain had stopped and the audience had been refreshed and uplifted by the development of the program from seeking soul freedom to the process by which that freedom evolves: forgiveness, reconciliation and love.
On this night the evolution was inspired through music and exceptional artistry which united and uplifted a community of jazz, botanical and Chihuly enthusiasts. For audience members it was a clarification of the last few weeks and exemplification of all that is best in human hearts, further embodied by our wonderment at the fantastic, illuminated Chihuly sculptures.
For those of you who have visited Japan in the fall, you are familiar with kiku and will most probably have fond memories of kiku that you saw in amazing displays wherever you may have walked around Tokyo or other cities in the country. Kiku is the Japanese word for “chrysanthemum.” It is the most venerated of all Japanese fall flowering plants, not only for its beauty, but also for its medicinal qualities and ancient cultural tradition.
What is most amazing is how the Japanese for centuries have maintained what is now becoming the dying art of training and shaping liku into the most incredible designs. It is becoming a dying art because the process of training the growing, fragile Kiku into such lovely shapes requires great skill and is tremendously labor intensive. One false move, one mistake and the entire display may be ruined. Kiku are “no joke.” And it is for that reason they are celebrated in Japan as part of the traditional Japanese custom of enjoying the ephemeral beauty of flowers, known as hanami.
Kiku presentations in conceptualization and philosophy are perhaps one of the most fleeting flower arrangements of all. The displays cannot be preserved beyond a few weeks. They are original. They are easily damaged and during the process of the pruning and training, they are incredibly fragile. Considering that it takes 11 months to grow, train and shape kiku into a cascade design, for example, for 11 months of labor, one receives, if one is careful, two to three weeks of beauty that vanishes as if it never lived at all. It is that impermanence of life that is so captivating a reminder for us to appreciate all that is beautiful for a season, until it withers. The irony is that kiku cannot even regrow their shapes. So, the artistry required to get them to their state of loveliness is truly exceptional
Indeed, one wonders why, in our fast paced digital age, anyone cares about pinching the buds off some flowers to effect beauty. Precisely. When one understands the process and the effort, one appreciates their pageantry. Besides, like all craft and artistry, if it can be preserved, we stay connected with our historical past and the past of other countries and their cultures. In our blink-and-it’s gone current cultural oppression of time, kiku are at once given to us from the ancients and are made modern by having those who care bring the art into the 21st century.
The NYBG has taken on the laborious craft in order to insure that the art will continue to be enjoyed by visitors from Japan as well as those who are familiar with the fall chrysanthemums, but are unfamiliar with the ability of the plants to be trained and designed into magnificent trees, cascades, bridges and more. Each year the NYBG has its kiku exhibit in the fall, pioneered by the chrysanthemum masters at the Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden in Tokyo who educated Yukie Kurashina. Yukie has trained others like James Harkins in the fine art of floral theater. And under the supervision of Marc Hachadourian, Director of the Nolan Greenhouses for Living Collections, James (foreman of gardeners) and kiku expert Yukie with scores of volunteers have made the kiku exhibit at the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory into a place of refuge mirroring the past and merging it with the present.
During the exhibit Kiku: The Art of the Japanese Garden, you will see three traditional kiku styles:
- Ozukuri which means thousand bloom. A single stem of a chrysanthemum plant is trained to produce hundreds of simultaneous blossoms in a massive umbrella-shaped display.
- Kengai which means cascade. Small-flowered chrysanthemums are pruned and pinched to frameworks that flow downward like waterfalls for lengths up to six and one-half feet.
- Ogiku which means double and triple stem. These are enormous individual flowers presented at the end of stems that can reach up to six feet tall.
Kiku: The Art of the Japanese Garden is running from October 8 through October 30. For the full programming schedule that follows this exhibit, click HERE for the NYBG website.