Monday, August 11, 2014

Naval Air Station Wildwood Aviation Museum

There is a short list of places and activities I recommend to people visiting Cape May County, and this is on top of that list. It meets my basic history requirement (it's authentic, not made up for tourists), and it is just plane (make that plain) interesting. It occurred to me recently while making such a recommendation that I hadn't been there for awhile. Yesterday I was happy to see that the museum takes up more of the space of its restored World War II hangar, and there are more planes and displays, including a tribute to the United States Coast Guard. By the way, I blogged about this museum back in 2011 for and you can read that piece here.

World War II-era Boeing-Stearman PT-17 Kaydet biplane
The National Air Station Wildwood (NASW) Aviation Museum is devoted to informing visitors about the WWII contributions of the Helldiver pilots. They trained at this airport during that war, and as you'll learn from the informative orientation video, 42 of them died during this intense training. Consider this: when things go right for these guys, they swoop down in their aircraft, drop the bomb, and then pull up immediately so that the exploding bomb doesn't catch their tail. That's dangerous enough, but what if something goes wrong while you're up there? What are you going to do?? So, that's the main thrust of this museum's message, but wait, there's more!

First let me explain that the NASW Aviation Museum is not in Wildwood as its name would have you suspect. It is closer to Rio Grande, NJ, but that name makes people think of Texas, and that would REALLY be confusing. The next closest municipality with a distinctive name was Wildwood. I guess "Cape May" was already taken by the then-Navy, now-USCG base. Wildwood was an entertainment hotspot even then, so the name probably had happy memories associated with it for the pilots who trained here.

The many military vehicles are set up so that visitors (YOU if you take my recommendation) can walk up to them, touch them, inspect some of their motors, and possibly even go inside them. You might recognize this big-bubbled Korean-War-era helicopter from the opening of M*A*S*H:

Bell 47 (H-13 Sioux in its military life)
The NASW Aviation Museum considers the TBM-3E Avenger torpedo bomber the centerpiece of its collection. This plane was built at the General Motors Eastern Aircraft Division in Trenton, New Jersey, and was used for training and patrol along the coast. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, as is the Museum itself.

Fred poses in front of the gigantic TBM-3E Avenger propeller to show you how enormous it is.
Not all of the aircraft here is WWII- or Korean War-era. Check out this helicopter, the AH-1 Cobra, which started production in 1967 and was used after the Vietnam war to the present day:

You get to check out the AH-1 Cobra's engine and look inside the cockpit.

Not all of the vehicles here fly. This is a newer display (at least since I last visited): a Ford. This regular sedan was painted to represent NASW (the paint is original) and it was used to drive bigwigs around the base.
1941 Ford Super Deluxe Fordor Sedan
The Ford's blackout headlight
Fred clowning around under the Ford's hood.
So how did I get that cool shot of the Ford from above? No, I was not sitting on top of one of the planes or hanging from the hangar's rafters. The museum now has a replica of an Air Traffic Control Tower which is delicious for photographers because we can get shots like this one of multiple planes and stuff:

A bird's eye view of the front of the museum
Be warned, photographers, that the light here is tricky, especially on a sunny day like yesterday, so have your photographic strategies ready!

Another nice touch yesterday was that the back door of the hangar was open. We weren't allowed to go out on the tarmac, but we could stand behind barricades and look out at more planes, and even watch a modern plane or two take off.

That's the Vultee BT-13 training plane poised by the back door, and the Russian Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15 with the red stars and '23' next to it.
And here's a small modern plane taking off.
Finally, there's the new US Coast Guard exhibit. The USCG Training Center where all recruits go for boot camp is nearby in Cape May, and that's the reason my parents settled in this region in the first place over sixty years ago. It was remote and wooded back then, and much of the human life had something to do with the Coast Guard. The helicopter below is original to the museum, but the Hummer, ship, and special exhibit are new.

HH-52A Seaguard, amphibious search-and-rescue helicopter

The only time you'll see me behind the wheel of a Hummer, in this case a USCG Hummer

"Always Ready"
Impressive collection, don't you think? And consider this: I didn't even show you the Bird Dog, the Tomcat, the Tiger II, the Skyhawk, the Thunderbird, the gyrocopter, or Fred's favorite spot, the display of jet engines! Highly recommended. (Eat at the Flight Deck Diner or Erma Deli, both also highly recommended and  nearby.)

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts

Pennsyvania Academy of the Fine Arts: Washington Foyer
Art Museums have cut back on the postcards they sell in gift shops. This disturbs me because I've always enjoyed taking pieces of the collection home, either to display somewhere (usually where I write), to include in a scrapbook, or maybe to file away in my official postcard box. That box is a museum of places, art, and whimsy just waiting for me to revisit.

PAFA: The Rotunda
The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA) does sell postcards, ten for $5.00, and I was pleased to find some of my favorites from the Academy's collection of art by Americans.

Washington Foyer, detail

  • Daniel Ridgway Knight's (1839-1924) "Hailing the Ferry" (1888) was my favorite in my favorite room, the Henry S. McNeil gallery of landscapes. It's a rather large (64.5" x 83") oil painting showing two girls hailing a ferry by a river much the same way we'd hail a taxi at Broad and Cherry Streets in Philadelphia. What knocked me out about this painting was the exquisite detail of the girls' faced and clothing, realistic enough to pass for a photograph. Ridgway painted this landscape thirty years after he was a student at PAFA, but still too early suspect this work to be a mashup of oil paint and photograph.
  • "George Washington (Lansdowne Portrait)" (1796) by Gilbert Stuart (1755-1828) is one of the many familiar portraits that greet the visitor around almost every corner. You've seen this portrait of Washington, looking like he does on our dollar bill, standing on an Oriental rug in front of a fancy red-velvet-upholstered side chair, gesturing toward a drapey red tablecloth with a quill and inkpot on top and big books underneath. A red drape is pulled back revealing an American nature scene outside. Is that a Colonial-dressed male doll slouched against the column by the window? It seems Mr. President has been to a Colonial Williamsburg gift shop!
  • I just read James McBride's National-Book-Award-winning The Good Lord Bird last month, so my eyes were drawn to the modern but primitive "John Brown Going to His Hanging" (1942) by Horace Pippin (1888-1946). It's a somber scene with cold white and gray buildings, black trees that have lost most of their leaves, and faceless people clad in shades of black and charcoal. The only colors are the scarves around the people's necks and the ropes binding John Brown's arms to his notice the scowling black woman down in the lower right, wearing a bright blue and white gingham skirt. She's the only black person in the painting, and none too happy about this execution. It turns out this is Pippin's own grumpy grandmother.
I didn't see a postcard of Benjamin West's (1738-1820) showstopper, "Christ Rejected," (1814). West was born in Springfield, which is now Swarthmore, and was one of the first American painters to win fame and respect outside of this country. This gigantic (200" x 260") painting was created near the end of West's life after he had been living in England for fifty-four years. Jane Austen looked at this very painting and said, " pleased me." That nugget of knowledge pleases me!

Looking from The Rotunda to the Washington Foyer
I wasn't allowed to shoot photos of the art (hence the links above--please click on them to see the art), but I was allowed to snap flashless photos of this glorious Frank Furness building from 1876. It's now called the Historic Landmark Building. (PAFA's newer, modern Samuel M.V. Hamilton Building is next door.) It's Victorian and Gothic and it represents Philadelphia and the Gilded Age. I didn't focus much on labels because I'd rather concentrate on focusing my Nikon.

PAFA exterior
PAFA puts their Mission ("PAFA promotes the transformative power of art and art making") on the free map along with the history of the Academy. Although the building didn't appear until 1876, the Academy was founded in 1805 by a group of Pennsylvanians including Charles Willson Peale, Rembrandt Peale, and Benjamin Rush. It's the country's first art museum and school of fine arts, right here at Broad and Cherry Streets in Center City Philadelphia.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Philadelphia Bricks (Not a Metaphor) and some Fancy Stuff in Sepia

Walking around Center City Philadelphia yesterday, with no particular place to go for a few hours, I found myself shooting photos of architectural details. I possess no special knowledge in this area; I was just focusing on parts of buildings I found interesting.

The icing on this cake is made of bricks.

Probably pretty old bricks on Locust Street
Yellow bricks, Walnut Street
Yellow bricks, different design, same building

Some thought went into this facade (Chestnut Street)
Holy Bricks (North Broad Street)
Paving Bricks (from Locust Street)
Painted bricks, 15th and Market Streets
A crazy sampler of brick technique at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art
Closer-up of PAFA
While bricks are there to hold up the buildings, there are some elements that exist just to be fancy. Viewed through my sepia filter, you'll be able to see the detail better than in the ordinary unfiltered shot. How many times have I walked past these gems and not really noticed them?

On Chestnut Street
Curtis Institute of Music, Locust Street

Also Curtis on Locust
15th Street (This building, which resembles the Medici Palace, has been repurposed as a gym.)
Your assignment: walk around and look for cool architectural details and shoot them! Imagine being the person who crafted this stuff and time-traveling one or two centuries into the future to see your craft still appreciated but in a whole new, modern, world.

PS Look closely at that arch: the stones alternate rough-smooth-rough-smooth. Would we notice that from the street? Hmmm.