A great weekend’s journey is right inside our region. Here are some of our area’s excellent places to play.
The Quad Cities: Discover Works of Genius at the Figge
By Stephanie N. Grimoldby
The Figge Art Museum, located in the heart of Davenport, Iowa, plays host to world-class traveling exhibitions on a regular basis.
This winter, the museum hosts another stunning exhibit: “Self-Taught Genius: Treasures from the American Folk Art Museum,” which opened on Nov. 15. Coming directly from New York City, on its first stop of a national tour, the 115-piece exhibit is one that has something for everyone.
“It encompasses a pretty broad range of artists, and that’s kind of the concept of the self-taught artist,” says Tim Schiffer, Figge executive director. “It’s changed over time, but some elements remain constant, such as the idea of using materials at hand. A lot of the artists were craftspeople or tradespeople.”
“Self-Taught Genius” includes quilts, paintings, decorative furniture, drawings, ceramics and other artistic works, created by artists of all ages and backgrounds, and completed between the 18th and the 21st centuries.
There’s a ceramic jar made and signed by a slave, and several quilts, including one made by Kentucky plantation slaves. Also on display is a pre-American Revolution quilt made of printed fabric – an illegal practice in the colonies, because the British held a monopoly on cotton manufacturing, Schiffer says.
Curated by the American Folk Art Museum in New York, the exhibit provides a window into the historical and social trends shared by each particular artist and era. It also brings to question the definition of artistic genius and whether someone who is self-taught can aspire to be a great artist.
“The premise of the exhibit is the self-taught artist as a particularly American phenomenon,” Schiffer says. “All of the works in the show are by artists who did not have formal training. They’re identified as self-taught artists – they’re folk artists.”
The American Folk Art Museum mounted the exhibition not only for its historical and social value, but for the artistic impulse that reflects our national character. According to Schiffer, Adam Gopnik, a staff writer at The New Yorker Magazine, summed it up perfectly during a symposium dedicated to “Self-Taught Genius.”
“He said the show is a reflection that anyone can be anybody,” he says. “Anyone can grow up to be president. The common man can be anything he wants to be.”
And that’s precisely why Schiffer believes everyone will enjoy this exhibit, which runs through March 15, 2015.
The Figge has several additional exhibits available during the winter months, including its permanent collections. Of particular note is its Grant Wood Archive, dedicated to the Iowa-born painter who became famous for his portrayals of the Midwest. Perhaps his best-known work is “American Gothic,” which depicts a woman next to a man holding a pitchfork, in front of a wooden farmhouse with a window made in the Carpenter Gothic style. A part of our popular culture, it has come to represent rural American values.
Another reason to visit the museum, comprised of 65,000 square feet of glass overlooking the Mississippi River, is to enjoy the large bald eagle population that migrates here during cold weather, says Jessica Waytenick, public relations and marketing manager at the Quad Cities Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Whether from the museum lobby or the fourth floor, the views are spectacular. Visitors particularly interested in eagle watching also can check out Bald Eagle Days in nearby Rock Island. The QCCA Expo Center hosts the family-friendly event Jan. 9-11.
For more information on the Figge Art Museum, visit FiggeArtMuseum.org. To learn about events and attractions in the Quad Cities, go to VisitQuadCities.com.
Dubuque, Iowa: Top-Notch Skiing, in the Heart of the Midwest
By Stephanie N. Grimoldby
Think you need to head out West for a great ski trip? Well, you don’t have to travel as far as you might imagine.
In the heart of the Midwest, Dubuque, Iowa’s Sundown Mountain Resort is a family-owned, family-friendly ski resort that boasts 21 runs of varying difficulty, two terrain parks, four lifts and two conveyor carpets.
“It’s a pretty good size,” says Mark Gordon, general manager. “Local kids and people from nearby don’t feel like they’re doing the same runs. We have some great terrain parks – jumps, rails, boxes and tricks – they’re fantastic. One whole side of the mountain is catered more toward that [style of riding].”
The south terrain park covers more than nine acres with a variety of challenging kickers, boxes and rails, and the north park includes smaller features such as table tops, boxes and rails.
Sundown also offers one of the highest vertical lifts in the Midwest. At 475 feet high, it stands taller than anything you’ll find in Illinois, Missouri, Iowa, most of Wisconsin or Minnesota, up to Duluth.
At the same time, the mountain has plenty of charm. When the park was built, care was taken not to remove too many of the red cedar trees that fill the mountainside. “They were extremely careful when they set up the runs,” Gordon says. “It’s very naturally laid out – you’re skiing through the trees.”
What separates Sundown from many Midwest resorts is its ski school. “Our instructors are award-winning – many go out to Vail, Colo.,” Gordon says. “Ski school director Tony LoBianco is a legend. He’ll actually meet with you first in person, and he’ll determine which instructor is best for you.”
LoBianco, who has instructed at Sundown for nearly four decades, oversees the largest ski teams in the region – about 120 instructors in all. The school’s shorter-shaped equipment, 1.5-hour lessons and eight graduated slope stations are unique assets for skiers.
Families may want to consider Sundown’s Kids Park. Here, children ages 4-11 can get ski lessons, enjoy special activities and snack on cookies, while Mom and Dad enjoy a couple of hours alone on the slopes.
For hungry skiers, Sundown offers two mountain-top lodges that overlook the Iowa countryside. The north lodge has a full restaurant and bar that features live music every Saturday night. The south lodge is open on certain weekends and holidays, and features a full-service cafeteria and lounge.
Be sure to visit during the holidays to see unique twists, like shamrocks painted on the hill for St. Patrick’s Day. “We’re kind of known as the fun mountain,” Gordon says. “We have some really fun people here.”
Off the slopes, there’s plenty to experience in Dubuque, just a short drive away. Iowa’s oldest city embraces both its Old World charm and a modern entertainment vibe with bustling restaurants, engaging nightlife activities and entertainment for the entire family.
Dubuque is home to the Smithsonian-affiliated National Mississippi River Museum, with large freshwater aquariums, touching stations, historical exhibits and more. Adjacent to the museum is Diamond Jo Casino, which also features popular entertainers, great restaurants and even a bowling alley. The city boasts a professional symphony orchestra and live entertainment ranging from Sesame Street Live, the Oak Ridge Boys and Mannheim Steamroller to local theater and dance troupes.
“There are a ton of neat, old coffee shops, 1800s-era buildings,” Gordon says. “Dubuque is a pretty quaint, neat town. At a lot of resorts, you’re in a remote location and don’t get a chance to make it to a city,” Gordon says. “Here, after you’re done skiing, you have about a 12-minute drive to get to downtown.”
Sundown offers package deals that include many of the city’s hotels, shops and attractions. For winter vacation and ski ideas, visit SundownMTN.com and TravelDubuque.com.
Playing in Peoria: Smithsonian-Quality Fun at Riverfront Museum
Who says learning can’t be fun? Not Peoria Riverfront Museum, where family entertainment and personal enrichment are around every corner.
Opened in October 2012, this Smithsonian-affiliated museum celebrates art, science, history and achievement inside several attractions, from art and local history galleries to kid-friendly halls, an enormous movie screen and a planetarium.
“We’re trying to be edgier than we’ve been, and appeal to a wide variety of audiences,” says Cathie Neumiller, vice president of marketing and communications. “We want to appeal to families who want an experience, and to those who want a community gathering place. We’re focused on the experience, not just the parts.”
And oh, what parts there are. Kids are naturally attracted to the colorful IHSA Peak Performance gallery, where several game stations celebrate the accomplishments of Illinois’ record-setting high school athletes. Kids can test their might in more than 40 sports and after-school activities, through games like the chess challenge, the football throw-meter and the goalie reaction time test.
In that same gallery, kids can learn about the great Illinois River in the museum’s backyard.
“Kids can learn about the locks and dams on the river, and work an example,” says Neumiller. “We have two demonstrations, and each has a boat inside, so kids can make them rise and fall. And, there’s a stream table where kids can make their own river. They can change the force of the water and direction of the flow, and they can pile up the ‘dirt’ as obstacles to see how rivers form.”
The Giant Screen Theater puts a new spin on educational films, with a screen that stands five stories tall and seven stories wide. In addition to its regular run of shows like Great White Shark 3-D, the screen also hosts recently released blockbuster films.
“We have an unbelievable lineup,” says Ann Schmitt, vice president of programs. “Coming around the holidays, we’ll have The Vatican Museums 3-D, and it’s such a rare opportunity to see the treasures of the Vatican. You can get to experience the Sistine Chapel up close.”
This fall, the museum also welcomes an exhibit on American art’s transformation from Impressionism through Modernism. This showcase of works from 1880 to 1950 reflects the works of Chicago-area artists and includes paintings that have never before been on public display.
The local history gallery collects an impressive snapshot of life in Peoria through many time periods, from early American Indian settlers and French explorers through today’s downtown landscape. There’s an African-American Wall of Fame that celebrates significant achievements, and inside the Story Studio, visitors are encouraged to share their oral histories of Peoria.
“We’re making an appeal to veterans to tell their stories for Veterans Day,” says Neumiller. “And, for after last year’s tornado, we had a night for victims and responders to tell their stories.”
Finally, the Dome Planetarium offers a unique projection technology that shines more than 7,000 stars onto the ceiling. The four or five shows every weekend offer a glimpse of the night sky over Peoria.
“What we’re doing at Peoria Riverfront Museum isn’t all that different from a liberal arts college or university, in that we’re encouraging lifelong learning,” says Neumiller.
Plenty of other surprises, such as the museum’s sustainable construction tour, a sculpture garden, and a Peoria-built automobile, are hidden inside, but you’ll have to visit and find them for yourself.
For more information, visit peoriariverfrontmuseum.org or peoria.org.
Travel Wisconsin: Nothing But Fun Up North This Winter
Wisconsin is filled with fun activities to enjoy with the family this winter. Here are just a few things to watch out for, when planning your next visit.
Outdoor Winter Fun
Only two states have more downhill ski areas than Wisconsin, a state that maintains more than 30 downhill offerings. And, Wisconsin ranks third in the nation for snowboarding. These family-friendly slopes have plenty of offerings for skiers of all ages. Not sure if you’re coordinated enough for downhill skiing or courageous enough for snowboarding? Many Wisconsin slopes offer the option of plopping down on a snow tube for a frosty slide down the hill.
Snow Conditions Report
Savvy outdoor enthusiasts know the best way to keep up with the latest in ski and trail conditions across the state is with the Travel Wisconsin Snow Conditions Report. The report is the leading tool to track conditions for the state’s ski areas, snowmobile and cross-country ski trails. The report is the most popular page on TravelWisconsin.com during the winter season.
The report’s success and popularity are due in part to the more than 130 local snow condition reporters who cover all 72 Wisconsin counties and report “virtually live,” updating their area’s status as conditions change with each snowfall. At a minimum, reporters update once a week, making the Snow Conditions Report the most comprehensive and timely report available. Sign up to have the report emailed every Thursday – just in time to plan for weekend activities.
Indoor Winter Fun
Relaxing by the fire might be cozy at the start of winter, but a few months later, the cabin fever has set in. You don’t have to face the cold – all over Wisconsin, there’s fun to be found indoors. Here are a few favorite indoor escapes, from rock climbing to ballroom dancing, to get you off the couch and into the action.
Climbing the Walls? Give a real climbing wall a try – it’s a lot more fun. Boulder’s Climbing Gym in Madison gives you more than 8,000 square feet of climbing space, with routes and boulder problems to offer a new adventure every time. Rookies need not worry: you can learn to climb in as little as 15 minutes. Parents can bring the kids along for just $6 a day.
Ice Skating, Olympian Style: If you’re a runner or skater, you’ll love the Pettit National Ice Center in Milwaukee. This Olympic training complex is the largest ice center in the country. The Pettit offers public skating seven days a week, with admission from $5 to $7 and skate rental for $3. If sneakers are more your speed, get moving on the 433-meter indoor running track, which circles the ice rink and provides a great view of the action.
Back to Bowling: Of course, we can’t talk about Wisconsin’s indoor sports without saluting the granddaddy of them all: bowling. Local bowling alleys throughout the state offer lots of family fun, but Koz’s Mini Bowl, a Milwaukee favorite, is a must-see establishment. Its four miniaturized bowling lanes are the main attraction, but this spot is also popular for its pool table, dart boards and old-school jukebox. People travel to Koz’s from all over the Midwest to experience this one-of-kind bowling alley.
To learn more about Wisconsin’s winter destinations, visit TravelWisconsin.com.