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The first day of my vacation was dedicated to travel, the second to animals, and the third to the amusement park. My fourth day of vacation was dedicated to architecture.

Mansfield State Reformatory

We had passed the Ohio State Reformatory in Mansfield, Ohio, late on Tuesday, and on Thursday we returned for the full experience. Self-guided tours were only $9. That's a bargain to wander around a giant decaying prison unsupervised.

Don't look up: you might get falling lead-based paint in your eyes

Opened in 1896, Mansfield has the world's largest freestanding steel cell block. The tour route takes advantage of this and leads you through the chapel to the top of the cell block stack where you get to descend six stories to the floor. It's a long walk, and more than a little frightening when you think that you are only being supported by century-old, decaying metal.

The west block shower room has a nice wall to bend over

Periodic interactive displays on the tour describe the building's history. There's a heavy emphasis on Shawshank Redemption and Air Force One, both filmed here in the early 90s. Among other sights, you'll see the tunnel that Andy crawled through and the beam from which Brooks hanged himself. It's like visiting a studio backlot!

You can read more about the reformatory at

Cincinnati Union Terminal

Next stop was the Union Terminal in Cincinnati. This 1931 train station has been converted into a museum center. We arrived too late to go to the museums, but the building itself was worth the visit. (You may notice a similarity between this building and the Super Friends' Hall of Justice. That's no coincidence.)

Nothing beats deco

This was the second train station I visited in a 48-hour period. We had wandered through Tower City Center (formerly the Cleveland Union Terminal) on Tues. Tower City was significantly altered when adapted for use as a mall, but the Cincinnati Union Terminal maintains its original style (and many of the original fixtures). I don't think any photo can do full justice to its glorious Broadway-style signage or technicolor mosaics.

The future: mosaics of glass in a building of steel and concrete

When looking at the harsh geometrical shapes of a deco-styled building, I'm always left wondering why buildings aren't made this way anymore. Everyone needs a little art in their life. They might as well have some in their buildings, too.

You can read more about the Cincinnati Union Terminal at

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I spent this past weekend at a fine art opening in the Miller Gallery, located in the picturesque Hyde Park region of Cincinnati, Ohio. But before you congratulate me, let me say that it wasn't my opening. I was a tagalong. (The proverbial "third wheel," not the tasty Girl Scout Cookie.) This event was for real artists, not graphic/web designers. So what if I can write scripts in php so elegant that you could cry? You don't code with a paint brush. (If you did, it'd be really hard to see the monitor.)

Painters are a funny lot. On the whole, I don't suspect that we are any different than the rest of the population. Sure, most of us are driven by a desire to flee typical social conventions. And maybe more than our share have a fear of soap and water. But by and large, artists are exactly the same as anyone else: put enough of them in a room, and you'll get the spontaneously occurring artist's version of the pissing contest. With artists, it's always whose theory is best. The problem with this, of course, is that unlike the traditional pissing-contest arbitration method of comparing sexual conquests, which can be qualified and quantified, artists are forced to prove whose figurative brush is biggest by comparing their lifestyles: "I'm more artistically countercultural than you are!"

At a rather posh dinner this weekend one artist bragged that he didn't watch television, as it drained his creativity just as it does the millions of huddled masses who spend hour after hour on the couch. (He said this wearing a shirt that looked as though it had never seen an iron.) Not to be one-upped, another questioned everyone else's integrity by challenging their satisfaction and drive. (The only way to nirvana is through suffering. Not selling enough $2,000 paintings, it would seem, counts as very painful.) A third complained/boasted that long hours in the studio led to excessive loneliness. (Though you wouldn't have any idea that he was friendless based on the number of patron names he was dropping.)

If this sounds stupid, that's because it is. All of these artists are fantastically talented. However, having great technique is like having the most expensive car in your neighborhood: everyone knows, but that's not going to stop you from bragging.

Cincinnati sure looks good from this angle.

Meanwhile, I spent most of the weekend trying to stay out of their way to intermediate degrees of success. Still, every day is a learning opportunity, and following is a short list of information gathered while I was out of pocket:

  • If a Cinicinnatian offers to let you swim in their pool, do it. It's really the path of least resistance.
  • Speaking of Cincinnatians, word to the wise: they don't think that WKRP jokes are funny.
  • Chicks dig robots and doughnuts with sprinkles.
  • Unlike Paul Newman, if you're going to deface a parking meter, wait until after midnight and act like you know what you're doing.
  • Bicycle racing is like poetry: it's created only for the enjoyment of the writer/rider and is really, really boring to everyone else.

So a good time was had by all. Unlike most gallery owners, everyone associated with the Miller Gallery is a gem of a human being. (Read: Buy their art.) I'll have to go back one day soon, as I didn't find out until after the trip that Cincinnati's Union Terminal Train Station was the inspiration for the Super Friends' Hall of Justice. Sightseeing fail!

By the way, If you're an art fan, you may wish to check out the work of artists Jessica Hess, Eric Joyner, and Otto Lange. Be sure not to judge them by their web sites, though. After all, while they're fantastic painters and really great people, they're not graphic/web designers.

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It's the holidays, which of course means that I'm dog sitting. (Better than chicken sitting, I tell you.) Meet Ruby, the English Bulldog.

Ruby, the bulldog

Once you get past her hideous appearance, breed-defining stubbornness, and unchecked jealousy, she's actually quite sweet. Although at this moment, she's yelling at me because I won't let her play near the computer power cords. Did I mention the stubbornness?

Ruby, the painting

I had painted a picture of a younger Ruby last year for her owner. (Sorry that the camera flash above doesn't quite do it justice.) Now that I'm keeping her for a week, I'm rather impressed that I captured her "what you gonna do about it?" demeanor.

Now if you'll excuse me, Ruby says she has to go outside. Loudly.

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To be continued...


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