PGI - Round 4

All week long, whenever I'd visit a local business to purchase something, the subject of the PGI convention would come up, whereupon the other person would invariably say, "I haven't seen the fireworks, but I've heard them!"  And that's a fair assessment because almost all pyros love the concussion of a loud booming report and there are a good many of them that can be heard form one end of town to the other, every day of the convention.  It's a good one if you can feel the pressure wave in your bones.  When I saw my coffee cup Wednesday morning, I wondered if we might be having a more profound effect on the sleepy little town of Mason City than I had previously thought.

Seen at the "Try Your Hand at Drawing!"
activity area at the MacNider Art Museum

As sleepy as the little town of Mason City is, it does boast a Fine Art museum which is truly a study in wide-ranging contrasts.  What attracted me to the Charles MacNider museum, though,, was the collection they host of marionettes created by local puppeteer made good Bill Baird.  Baird's puppets are iconic for us baby boomers, epitomizing as they do the distinct angular weirdness of the 60s.

If you've seen the movie Sound of Music, you've seen some of Baird's puppets - those darn adorable marionettes that Julie Andews uses to entertain the family von Trapp.  Remember the song, "High on a hill sat a lonely goat herd, Lady-o-lady-o-la-DEE-hoo...Well - at right is the herder of said lonely goats:

In addition to six Sound of Music puppets, there are a wide variety of marionettes Baird created for stage, film and advertising.  Here are a few of my favorites:


I chatted with a member of the museum staff for a bit before I departed, answering the usual questions about the convention and asking in return if there were any interesting local outsider art environments that I might have missed.  I figured that since he was in the field, he'd probably be familiar with the concept I was getting at, but the question didn't yield any suggestions.  I headed off, not exactly sure of where I was going since I really didn't need to be back at the convention just yet.  I began indulging a vague notion I had been harboring that I'd seen something interesting from the corner of my eye as I drove through the neighborhood earlier. I allowed the car to meander while I just felt it out.  Somehow, suddenly, boy howdy was there ever something! Out of nowhere a bicycle garden appeared at the end of the street!

I of course excitedly and hurriedly pulled over to investigate.  It's very rare that I find something that isn't listed in at least one of my two roadway bibles and I was certain this place was under the radar because I'd checked both sources for Mason City listings prior to arriving.  I had made a discovery!  Yahooooo!

I hadn't been walking around snapping pictures for long when I ran into two young men wearing work gloves and carrying large pieces of salvage.  I peppered them with questions and they answered meekly, "The guy that made this place is right over there - he can tell you about it."  Perfect!

I strode right over and introduced myself to Max Weaver, making sure he knew just how grateful I was to have found this place and how much I was enjoying it.  I expressed astonishment that I hadn't seen it listed on either of my favorite websites and offered to do something to help correct that gross oversight.  Max was obviously in the middle of unloading a bunch of stuff and after stopping to talk to me for a generous amount of time, he directed me to his wife who was busy taking care of the landscaping.  Max's wife Cindy filled me in on lots of details for my data base entries.  I really enjoyed talking to her. 

By Cindy's estimate, Max has been working on the Rancho Deluxe Bicycle Garden somewhere between 10 to 15 years.  Many years ago, he noticed a serpentine shape in a pile of gravel that he'd dumped on his lot and was inspired enough to hone the mound into a very definite snake.  And thus the seed was planted!  Max assembles salvaged items into elaborate gates and posts and finials and allows other area artists to contribute paintings to the large cement blocks that form the walls of the park,  Cindy said they'd had some problems with graffiti, but were trying not to worry about it too much.

In Max, I recognize a fellow carrier of magpie disease.  I can tell from the wonderful variety of charming elements that show up in installations around the garden.  Rancho Deluxe focuses on bicycles, but in between are elements as varied as shards of glass, discarded signs, pool balls and ceramic insulators.  I particularly liked this dazzling flower bent at a rakish angle:

It was obvious from what Max and Cindy said that there was some debate among folks in town as to whether Rancho Deluxe was "Art" or not and it made me a bit irritated with that fellow at the MacNider for not having told me about this place.  That sort of ridiculous elitism about what constitutes art is exactly what made me leave the fine art field after a couple of jobs I held at Houston museums.  I got no time for that crap, damn it.

I got the information I need to make entries on both the Roadside America and Atlas Obscura websites.  They'll both be happy to list Rancho Deluxe even if the local art community is foolish enough to snub it.  Not that it even needs a larger audience because there was a pretty steady stream of people while I was there.  But I want other folks to know about this wonderful place.

When I left Rancho Deluxe, I headed back to the convention for my last seminar. We would be making a table top device that uses electricity to expel a bunch of party favors out the end of a decorated tube.  Here are my parts:

The best part of this class was I got to make a filament!  We used nichrome wire coiled into tight turns and hooked it up to a battery to make it glow.  The mechanism for this effect is to put flash cotton (like flash paper, but wispy cotton instead) in the reservoir, and then when the battery is engaged, the coil starts to glow and ignites the flash cotton, sending a shower of goodies over the heads of the crowd.  Here's what the coil looked like when it was glowing:

We didn't end up setting the gift tubes off in class so I'm saving mine instead for the next time I need to hurl gifts at my friends at high velocity.

That evening was the third and final pyrotechnics show I'd be attending at the conference.  I felt off my mark on the photography measure and so have only a few favorites:

The very last pat of the final show I watched was put together by my favorite choreographers: A & M Pyro.  A & M's shows are extremely comet heavy (comets being my favorite) and overall, in my view, their shows are always at least one notch above those of the other presenters.  It was certainly the perfect note to finish on as I watched arc after graceful arc of glittering copper colored photons gently rain down in millions and millions of specks of light that slowly winked out and disappear into the darkened fields below.  Ahhhhhh-itch satisfied and just in the nick of time.

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