History of the Conquest

“I feel I stand in a desert with my hands outstretched, and you are raining down upon me.”
― Patricia Highsmith, The Price of Salt

History of the Conquest, Hank Willis Thomas, Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden
History of the Conquest, Hank Willis Thomas, Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden

I enjoyed this sculpture in particular because… well, for one it is funny and cute and a little different. But I loved it because it is a giant snail.

Titanic gastropods have interested me ever since I read that short story, Quest for the “Blank Claverengi” as a child. I’m not alone. Years ago I discovered the story was written by Patricia Highsmith and finding several copies, I wrote about it. Since then, quite a few people have contacted me to say they shared the childhood terror of giant man-eating snails.

Illustration by Jean L. Huens for the Saturday Evening Post. Done for the short story “The Snails,” by Patricia Highsmith.

I was interested enough to write my own sequel to the tale.

And now here is a sculpture of a giant snail. With a warrior riding on the back. That’s an angle I never thought of – an army of archers riding into battle, slowly, on the backs of huge armored gastropods. A compelling image – if not a very effective battle strategy.

Monumental Head

“The artist must create a spark before he can make a fire and before art is born, the artist must be ready to be consumed by the fire of his own creation.”

― Auguste Rodin

Monumental Head of Jean d’Aire (from The Burghers of Calais), Auguste Rodin, Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden

Venus and Hercules

“Live like a hero. That’s what the classics teach us. Be a main character. Otherwise what is life for?”

― J.M. Coetzee

Venus Victrix (The Judgement of Paris), Pierre Auguste Renoir & Hercules the Archer, Antoine Bourdelle, Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden

At the entrance to the Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden there is a wonderful ellipse of lawn under tall trees, bordered by thick vegitation and smattered with large, classic bronze sculptures. It is an awesome area – the feeling of time and genius distilled into molten metal and molded into immortal human shapes.

I wish I could spend every morning in a space like that, thinking about my day.

Ruth and Naomi

“Do not urge me to leave you or turn back from you; for where you go, I will go, and where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God.”

― Ruth 1:16

Ruth and Naomi, Leonard Baskin, 1979, Bronze, Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden, New Orleans

This wonderful sculpture is in the same little woodland alcove as yesterday’s Civitas.


““If you’re going to try, go all the way. Otherwise, don’t even start. This could mean losing girlfriends, wives, relatives and maybe even your mind. It could mean not eating for three or four days. It could mean freezing on a park bench. It could mean jail. It could mean derision. It could mean mockery–isolation. Isolation is the gift. All the others are a test of your endurance, of how much you really want to do it. And, you’ll do it, despite rejection and the worst odds. And it will be better than anything else you can imagine. If you’re going to try, go all the way. There is no other feeling like that. You will be alone with the gods, and the nights will flame with fire. You will ride life straight to perfect laughter. It’s the only good fight there is.”

― Charles Bukowski, Factotum

Civitas, Audrey Flack, 1988, Patinated and gilded bronze with cast glass flame and attached marble base, Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden

I found this attractive sculpture tucked away in a cool little alcove, framed by lush vegetation.

In looking it up online, I discovered that it was supposed to have a glass flame in her hands, over her head.

I like the sculpture without it – but I wonder what happened.

Travelin’ Light

“The object of terrorism is terrorism. The object of oppression is oppression. The object of torture is torture. The object of murder is murder. The object of power is power. Now do you begin to understand me?”

― George Orwell, 1984

Travelin’ Light, Alison Saar, Bronze, Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden

I have photographed and written about this sculpture before. I had forgotten what I had said, so I guess it’s OK to use my words again. Can you plagiarize against yourself?

From November 15, 2012:

Travelin’ Light presents a formally dressed man, hanging by his bare feet, a powerful but dignified reference to torture and abandonment. Saar has made the figure into a bell. When the chain on its back is pulled, a sonorous sound is heard, ringing for all victims of violence and terror.

I looked at Traveln’ Light and walked around it. I read the little nameplate and the blurb in the guidemap and discovered it was a bell. I thought about reaching out to the metal chain inside the hollow of the hanged man’s head and giving it a ring, but my reticence to actually touch artworks on display was greater than my curiosity as to its sound. A few minutes later, while I was a third of the way around the little pond, some guy with a gimme cap on backwards walked up to it and was ringing away with abandon. It had a dolorous sound, not bright like a church bell, more of a dull peal.

No human beings more dangerous than those who have suffered for a belief: the great persecutors are recruited from the martyrs not quite beheaded. Far from diminishing the appetite for power, suffering exasperates it.

—-Emil Cioran

Travelin’ Light, Alison Saar

Great Seated Cardinal

“Man is tormented by no greater anxiety than to find someone quickly to whom he can hand over that great gift of freedom with which the ill-fated creature is born.”
― Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Grand Inquisitor

Great Seated Cardinal (Grande Cardinal Seduto), Giacomo Manzù, 1983, Bronze, Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden, New Orleans

A detail photograph of Another cool sculpture from the Besthoff Sculpture Garden in New Orleans.

Tomorrow, I go back to work. In this weirdest and worst of all possible years I haven’t been off because of COVID – I am considered “essential.” As a matter of fact, up until two weeks ago I have been very busy at work – under plenty of pressure. Then, it let up a bit and I had a big backlog of PTO hours I had to take so, along with the Thanksgiving Holiday, I was off for two whole weeks. I haven’t done that on purpose for a long time (I was off for two weeks last year, but I was in the emergency room for a few days and recuperating until I felt strong enough to make it back home – so that doesn’t really count as vacation).

It feels odd – so wish me luck. I can’t remember any of my myriad passwords – so there will be some calls right off the bat.

Two Dreams About Him After He Died

“I had two dreams about him after he died. I don’t remember the first one all that well but it was about meetin’ him in town somewheres and he give me some money and I think I lost it. But the second one it was like we was both back in older times and I was on horseback goin’ through the mountains of a night. Goin’ through this pass in the mountains. It was cold and there was snow on the ground and he rode past me and kept on goin’. Never said nothin’. He just rode on past and he had this blanket wrapped around him and he had his head down and when he rode past I seen he was carryin’ fire in a horn the way people used to do and I could see the horn from the light inside of it. About the color of the moon. And in the dream I knew that he was goin’ on ahead and that he was fixin’ to make a fire somewhere out there in all that dark and all that cold and I knew that whenever I got there he would be there. And then I woke up.”
Cormac McCarthy, No Country for Old Men

Nightwatchman, Grapevine City Hall, Grapevine, Texas

Nightwatchman, Grapevine City Hall, Grapevine, Texas

     As we walked down Main Street in Grapevine taking photographs for the Winter Dallas Photowalk I couldn’t keep from looking ahead at a giant statue, The Grapevine Nightwatchman, on top of the Grapevine City Hall. It was a giant bronze man in a cowboy hat holding a lantern in the night. By the time we arrived at that part of the street the sun had long set and I couldn’t get a good photo of it – couldn’t do justice anyway. Sometimes it’s like that… you know you have to see it live – but you snap that shutter anyway.
     For some reason I kept thinking of that quote at the end of No Country for Old Men (the book and the movie) about the sheriff’s dream of his father going ahead on horseback carrying fire in a horn. I know the statue had a lantern… not a horn of coals and wasn’t on horseback, but he had that same look of ancient burden and longing – of stoic hopeless responsibility – that I imagine  the sheriff’s father had  in the dream.