Cleveland's Wade Oval provides easy path to visit several fine museums

Submitted by Charles Frost on Thu, 03/29/2007 - 07:19.

A nice write up on Wade Oval & the museums there,  from the Columbus Dispatch...

Great circle route: Cleveland's Wade Oval provides easy path to visit several fine museums
Sunday,  March 25, 2007 3:52 AM - By sstephens [at] dispatch [dot] com - THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH

CLEVELAND -- Most museums aren't for everyone.

But in Cleveland's University Circle district, there really is something sweet for any visitor, or at least any visitor interested in some aspect of art, music, history or nature.

Many visitors will start with the Cleveland Museum of Art. But those who don't appreciate fine art can move to the dinosaurs at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, the orchids at the Cleveland Botanical Garden, the Model Ts at the Western Reserve Historical Society Crawford Auto-Aviation Museum or the music at the Cleveland Orchestra's Severance Hall.
All of these wonderful institutions huddle around University Circle's Wade Oval, making for an easy, relaxing museum-hopping experience.

I recently spent two days in the district 4 miles east of downtown Cleveland in an effort to see all I could. The stops weren't uniformly to my taste, but I wasn't disappointed by any of the institutions.

The Cleveland Museum of Art is hosting an astounding traveling exhibit, "Monet in Normandy," which features a collection of more than 50 works by the French impressionist painter.

I've never been a big Monet fan, but seeing dozens of bright, life-filled paintings, especially on a dark, rainy day, gave me a new appreciation.

The paintings, gathered from museums and private collections throughout the world, all deal with subjects from Normandy, a region the artist apparently loved.

While visitors can learn about the influences on Monet's art, they also might come to understand the role that Normandy itself played. Monet moved as a child with his parents from Paris to Normandy, and the region of wild seascapes, serene fields and Gothic cathedrals was a major influence on his life and art.

From the artist's earlier paintings of tourists' beachfront frivolities to his later waterlilies, painted from life at his farm in Giverny, the Normandy theme keeps the exhibit from being just a Monet mishmash.

The exhibit is so monumental and yet so focused that visitors can even compare paintings of the same subject created under different conditions or at different times.
I was amazed at the variety of feeling evoked by three paintings of an oceanfront rock formation called the Manneporte. Others might prefer Monet's haunting paintings of grain stacks or those bright, ephemeral waterlilies.

The exhibit runs through May 20. Be warned, though: The museum's own eclectic collection is closed to the public because of a massive renovation project.

A different kind of art is on display at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History.
"John James Audubon: American Artist and Naturalist" explores Audubon's work, primarily through 60 huge hand-colored engravings taken from his book The Birds of America.
Fewer than 200 bound copies of the work were published, not surprising considering that it cost $1,000, a small fortune today -- let alone in the mid-19th century.

The exhibit also includes several smaller prints as well as letters, field notes and paintings.

Most of the exhibit comes from the John James Audubon Museum and State Park in Henderson, Ky., but includes the Cleveland museum's own first edition of Birds of America and several other unbound prints that help flesh out Audubon's career as an artist and naturalist.

The exhibit runs through April 28.

But don't worry if your taste doesn't run to bird pictures.
Also to be found at the natural-history museum is a full-size cast of "Sue," the biggest and most complete tyrannosaurus rex ever discovered. The cast is one of two made from "Sue," whose actual fossilized bones are displayed at the Field Museum in Chicago. The dinosaur will be displayed through April 15.

The museum's permanent exhibits include the Kirtland Hall of Prehistoric Life, with dinosaur, mastodon and other fossils; the Sears Hall of Human Ecology, featuring the native cultures of the world; and the Ralph Perkins II Wildlife Center and Woods Garden, with native Ohio plants and animals.

The museum also has a planetarium and a "discovery center" for younger visitors.
Spring flowers soon will be blooming at the Cleveland Botanical Garden's outdoor exhibits. But flowers are always in bloom at the garden's Eleanor Armstrong Smith Glasshouse conservatory. The conservatory re-creates two fragile ecosystems: the spiny desert of Madagascar and the cloud forest of Costa Rica. The Costa Rica exhibit features hundreds of exotic butterflies year-round.

I found my own museum nirvana at the Western Reserve Historical Society. The society has a huge collection of antique maps, and several were on display as part of the museum's "Treasures" exhibit.

I was awed by a 1573 atlas, Ortelius' Theatrum Orbis Terrarum but was even more impressed by unique items such as a 1796 manuscript map of northeastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania; and a 1797 manuscript plan of Cleveland by Seth Pease, who helped lay out the original city.

But again, the museum has something for any history lover, from early American quilts and gowns to a collection of quarter-inch reel-to-reel tapes recorded in the 1970s and '80s at the Cleveland Agora. (Visitors can don headphones and call up live performance tracks from artists such as Lou Reed, U2 and the Ramones.)

Also at the historical society is the Crawford Auto-Aviation Museum, which has temporarily lost some of its space to the traveling exhibit "Diana: A Celebration."

"Diana," which explores the life and accomplishments of the Princess of Wales, includes gowns, tiaras and other memorabilia. The exhibit runs through June 10 and undoubtedly will appeal to different visitors from those who come for the antique autos.

But the Crawford collection still has more than 100 beautifully restored antique or specialty automobiles on display, more than enough for even the die-hard car buff.

I topped off my visit with an evening performance of the Strauss comic operetta Die Fledermaus at the Cleveland Institute of Music. The English-language performance, with a mostly student cast from the institute, was delightful. Unfortunately, the opera's run is over.
However, many concerts and recitals, open to the public, are performed at the institute throughout the year.

And Severence Hall, home of the acclaimed Cleveland Orchestra, is also in University Circle just behind the Museum of Art. The symphony will offer a full slate of spring concerts. Highlights of upcoming concerts include the Beethoven Violin Concerto and Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 4.

And if opera or classical music isn't for you, take your iPod. Just don't claim you can't find anything to enjoy at University Circle.

sstephens [at] dispatch [dot] com

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