11 Things You Learn at “Hopper Drawing: A Painter’s Process”

Nighthawks doesn’t depict an actual diner, but there was a New York diner that inspired it. The diner is gone now, which is probably just as well since walking into it would feel like walking into the actual Cheers in Boston: “This doesn’t look anything like it does on TV!”

Edward Hopper didn’t like abstract painting, but abstract painters dug him anyway.

Hopper liked open-ended narratives, tableaus that suggested a moment or encounter but left the circumstances ambiguous. In association with Hopper Drawing‘s tenure at the Walker Art Center, Kate Bernheimer and Laird Hunt have written a novella about Hopper’s painting Office at Nightit’s being published in serial installments.

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Hopper painted multiple offices at night, which is even eerier than diners at night because…what are people doing there?

Every detail of Hopper’s paintings was carefully chosen. In the drawings on display, you can see Hopper experimenting with different configurations of windows, figures, and furniture.

Hopper was way ahead of Minneapolis ad agencies in turning urban water towers into art.

The inn depicted in this Hopper painting does actually exist, in Massachusetts—and you can stay there for 85 bucks.

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Hopper’s work has been a major influence on filmmakers. Wim Wenders has said that with Hopper, “you can always tell where the camera is.”

Hopper was a late bloomer; his breakthrough as an artist happened in his 40s. Fortunately, more than half of his life was still ahead of him, and he continued to create major works until his death.

Hopper painted women gazing out windows in multiple settings, and it’s surprising how much the narrative seems to change based on whether the woman is looking out on a cityscape or a countryside.

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Almost all the naked ladies in Hopper’s work are his wife, with different faces.

Jay Gabler

Hopper Drawing: A Painter’s Process is on display at the Walker Art Center through June 20.

Cars and Bikers: How “Safe” is Safe Enough?

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When a bicyclist was tragically killed by a drunk driver last week in Minneapolis, much of the media attention focused on how the victim had been a “good” biker, a “safe” biker. Blogger Melody Hoffmann noted that the biker’s safety precautions even made it into headlines like “Bicyclist killed on Franklin Ave. Wore Helmet, Lights, Just Moved to Mpls.” and “Bicyclist fatally run over was new to Minneapolis, careful about bike safety.”

To Hoffmann, this kind of coverage illustrates an unspoken but pervasive cultural trope: “the lawless cyclist and victimized driver.” Hoffmann cites the research of Zack Furness, who found that media reports about bicyclists persistently frame bicyclists as maverick daredevils who thoughtlessly force motorists to go out of their way to avoid hitting the bikers.

My immediate thought upon reading Hoffmann’s post was that, well, actually, bikers are often pretty unsafe. Here I include myself, a frequent biker who’s no stranger to running a stoplight when I think I can get away with it, and who’s not always the best about using lights when I’m riding at night. (I know, I know.) I don’t know how other bikers justify this kind of behavior, but I think we sometimes feel a little entitled: we put up with boorish motorists all the time—every regular biker, including me, has harrowing tales of dangerous driving and open verbal abuse—so if we dodge a rule of the road here or there, well, we’ve earned it. It certainly seems disingenuous to deny that bikers aren’t always little angels out there.

Then, though, I thought more about the behavior of drivers—not just with respect to bikers, but with respect to one another. Since taking a new job a few months ago, I’ve been commuting daily on I-94, and I’ve been amazed at how reckless drivers can be out there. Common-sense precautions like not tailgating, using signals, and actually looking before changing lanes are routinely flouted. (Not to mention the incredibly dangerous practice of drunk driving, which one in ten drivers freely admit to having done in any given month; the actual incidence is unquestionably higher.) This is rude, dangerous, and sometimes borderline suicidal—but it happens all the time, on every freeway, every day. Bikers can be reckless, yeah—but as a group, car drivers aren’t really in a position to cast the first stone.

In a public context like the open road, safety is a complex issue. It’s up to each individual to take responsibility for himself or herself, but safety isn’t just about you: it’s about people who might be endangered by your behavior, and it’s about the costs we all bear when accidents happen. An accident is most directly harmful to the people involved, but it also sets off a cascade of consequences that can range from traffic jams to bankruptcies to lifelong grief. Your safety—everywhere, but especially on the road—is everyone’s business.

Yet “safety” can be a very slippery thing to define. The legal blood-alcohol limit for driving in Minnesota is 0.08%…should it be lower? Could it be higher? Even a single drink begins to compromise your reaction time, but we’ve decided as a society that having one strong beer before getting in the car is “safe” enough to be legally permissible. How “safe” is safe enough?

There are parallels in other debates about public safety. Should smoking be banned in public places—or even private ones? Should marijuana be legal? How many cops should be on the beat at any given time? Important safety issues are at stake in each case, but so are issues of personal freedom. Drunk walking is perfectly legal—in some places, you can even walk down the street drinking from an open container of alcohol—despite the fact that a third of pedestrian fatalities involve walkers who have been drinking. Drunk biking? In Minnesota, at least, that’s legal too.

It’s also legal to bike without a helmet, though Americans generally regard that as “unsafe” behavior, and many parents forbid their children to ride bareheaded. Shaun Murphy, bicycle and pedestrian coordinator for the City of Minneapolis, got in hot water a couple of years ago for telling a local newspaper that he didn’t think a helmet was mandatory. He wanted biking “to be seen as something a normal person can do,” he said; he compared Minneapolis to European cities where helmet-wearing is rare, because biking is more common, safer, and slower. People in those cities don’t see helmets as a necessary safety measure, in large part because it’s less common for bikers there to ride on streets like Franklin Avenue in Minneapolis, where bikers share a lane with cars flying past at 30-plus miles an hour.

What angers bikers like Hoffman about the “bike safety” discourse in America is that it puts so much of the responsibility for safety on the biker. The implication is that bikers have to look out for themselves if they’re going to choose such a hazardous pursuit. It’s a refrain I’ve heard a million times from people when they learn I’m a frequent biker: “That’s just so dangerous! I could never bike, especially at night.”

Of course it is incumbent on bikers to look for themselves, but putting all the responsibility for safety on bikers’ shoulders is a dodge. Individual motorists and pedestrians also have a responsibility to conduct themselves safely around bikes, and—here’s a controversial idea—all of us as a society have a responsibility for transportation safety, a responsibility to keep each other safe as we get from one place to another. That includes maintaining bridges and inspecting planes—why shouldn’t it include protected bike lanes? A helmet and lights couldn’t save a Minneapolis biker from an out-of-control drunk driver—but if his bike lane had been on the other side of the parked cars, chances are good that a senseless loss of life could have been prevented.

As with discussion of health care, discussion of public safety has to be honest about constraints. We don’t have infinite money to spend on health care, and we don’t have infinite resources to build and maintain bike trails. The health care comparison is apt in another way, though: it’s about individual responsibility, but it’s not only about individual responsibility. It’s about social responsibility. When discussions of transportation safety imagine our roads to be Mad-Max-like free-for-alls where every person is solely responsible for covering his or her own ass, we forsake our common humanity. We need to work together to keep ourselves safe, and that work begins with safe, responsible urban planning.

Jay Gabler

Minnesota: Why do we live in this godforsaken, freezing state?

One of the myths about Minnesotans—perpetuated, often, by Minnesotans ourselves—is that the cold is something we “adapt to” or “get used to.” It’s true at a certain level: we put plastic on our windows for insulation, and we carry scrapers and deicer in our cars. Subzero temperatures, though, aren’t something human beings can adapt to. There’s a reason humans sprang from Africa and not Minnesota, or Siberia—the only other place on earth with such vast seasonal temperature extremes.

Winter in Minnesota is always cold, but only about once a decade does it get this cold, for thislong. As has been widely reported, the governor has preemptively declared public schools closed on Monday, when the high temperature is forecast to be -14 degrees. Tomorrow is predicted to be just a few degrees warmer, and all week, except for a day or two of balmy temperatures in the tens and twenties, the temperature has hovered around zero.

The infrastructure here is built to handle cold winters, but when the temperature gets down to zero and stays there, you can feel how thin your layer of protection from the elements really is. That’s true of jackets—a thick wool coat feels like a windbreaker—but it’s also true of windows, many of which start to form rims of ice where the condensation trickles down and freezes.

Car ignitions fight to turn over, and every moving part creaks and sticks. You have to scrape your windshield before you start the car, and then you have to pull over a mile later and scrape it again because the defroster can’t keep up. At the sides of streets, where cars are parked, thaw-and-freeze cycles create choppy wave-like glaciers that are near impossible to parallel-park on. When you drop someone off at their house, you watch to make sure they get in, because, you know, there was that one time in Duluth when that girl lost her keys and…well, never mind the details, you don’t want that to happen.

Incredibly, this state has been inhabited for generations by people who had it even worse: from the American Indians and early European settlers, going stir-crazy in tiny mud huts while the snow piled up around them, to our parents, who used to have to run extension cords from the houses to their cars to power electric battery warmers. It also seems crazy to think that people live year-round in places that are even colder than this. How do they do it? How do we? Why do we?

Some people can’t handle it, and leave. Minnesotans who had always told themselves that they “like the seasons” discover that when they move to warmer climes, they suffer a twinge or two of nostalgia on Christmas Eve and then are happy as clams while those of us who stayed chatter our way through the interminable months of January and February, then unsuccessfully pray for the snow to stop in March, in April, and even in May. Then we’re finally granted a glorious spring, a month or two of heat that can get just as extreme as the cold does in winter, a few weeks of autumn, and then the snow starts again.

Yet, we stay. There are some decent objective reasons for this: the cost of living is relatively low, the employment situation is relatively good, and the quality of live is very decent if you can put up with the cold. Not everyone here is even from here: many people—a higher number, I think, than most Minnesotans realize—willingly come here and happily stay, whether from Iowa or from Somalia. Many of us, though, are here because of inertia: our families are here, our jobs are here, our homes are here. Thousands of years ago, migrants crossed what is now the Bering Strait and found their way downward, and some of them decided to hang out here. People are still coming, and still staying.

Absurd as it seems during weeks like this, millions of us have cast our lot here, and we’re resolved to make the best of it. We’re even, perversely, proud of ourselves for doing so. An out-of-state visitor once told me that Minnesotans are good at “rallying”: even on stupid cold days, we find our way to bars and theaters and each other’s houses (not to mention each other’s beds), and we party.

On Friday, when Governor Dayton’s decision to shut school down was announced, the radio station where I work spontaneously decided that we’d make Monday a tropical party day, with special music and games all day in defiance of the weather. Why not? We’re here in this ridiculous, beautiful, frigid state, and whether that’s really stupid of us or not, we’re not going anywhere—we’d better rally. Frozen margaritas, anyone?

Jay Gabler

When I Was 14, I Ran an Imaginary Conglomerate

Like a lot of kids, my younger siblings and I liked to play office. We—that is, I—just took it a little more seriously than most. When I was in third grade, I got in trouble with my teacher for showing up at school with a briefcase and trying to distribute letters inviting my classmates to apply for positions with the Duluth Savings and Loan, the imaginary business my sisters (ages 5 and 2) and I ran out of our basement.

My mom is now getting ready to sell her house, and in cleaning out the basement we discovered that apparently, when I was almost 15 years old I was still at it. Not only was I still at it, I’d conducted an imaginary takeover of the imaginary Duluth Savings and Loan by the imaginary Gabler-Lutzka Entertainment Network, the multimedia production and distribution business that my friend Nathan and I pretended to run. I’d apparently given the Duluth Savings and Loan presidency—which had been mine from ages 7 to 14—to our family friend Kim Litwinczak, and I wrote a page-long single-spaced letter informing her how things were going to be from here on out. Presented here, with annotations, is the text of that letter.

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[address redacted]
Saint Paul, Minnesota 55104
March 8, 1990

Miss Kimberly Litwinczak
President
The Duluth Savings and Loan
[same address, again redacted]
Saint Paul, Minnesota 55104

Miss Litwinczak:

Welcome to the new [imaginary] Duluth Savings and Loan! As you may or may not be aware of, the [imaginary] Gabler-Lutzka Entertainment Network recently purchased a majority of the [imaginary] stock in your [imaginary] company, and, as Co-President and holder of fifty percent of the [imaginary] G.L.E.N. stock, I am your new Chairman of the [imaginary] Board.

I think that you and your co-workers will find that being supported by a major [imaginary] company such as G.L.E.N. will greatly increase your [imaginary] company’s stability a great deal. I am anxious to work for you and with you.

You may have noticed a change in the look of your [actual] office. This is all on a scale with my grand plans for your [actual] office. My [actual] plan can perhaps be most easily described as having three steps:

1. Improve the office space’s look. I do not really want to change the look of your office so much as improve upon it. The new sign over the entrance to the office (which will be going up shortly) is a modification on the original sign, designed by award-winning [the award was probably imaginary] designer Jesse Osendorf [my actual cousin]. I intend to “spruce up” the walls with [actual] pictures and calendars depicting the city of Duluth, Minnesota, the mother city of your firm. I would also like to improve upon the desks and your personal decor. I will be doing this on a person-to-person basis. All modifications will be overseen by G.L.E.N.’s [imaginary] construction/remodeling division, which I am also the head of.

2. Extend the firm’s services. The major implement of this change will be the use of the adjacent space, which I have leased [in other words, my parents let me use sometimes], to contain the Superior Sports Arena [in other words, the place where we kept our ping-pong table], home of the Gabler Good Griefs table tennis team. The arena will be staffed and maintained by our [imaginary] sports division, which I am also the head of.

3. Increase the office’s efficiency. This will probably be the step that will be most felt by you and your co-workers. I intend to entirely re-organize the office’s inner mail system and position responsibilities. You will also feel dramatically the power of G.L.E.N.’s local 16-bit microprocessor [my TI-99/4A computer]. Particularly daunting tasks can be sent to our even-more-powerful Commodore 64 [belonging to Nathan’s parents] up in Duluth. I feel this is the step you will “get the most out of,” as it directly involves you and your personal productivity.

Of course, I will personally supervise all these steps. Please feel free to tell me about your feelings about this change. You may consult me freely when I am in the office, or you may call me at home at [phone number redacted]. My office number is [same phone number, again redacted].

Yours very truly,

Jason William Andrew Gabler
Chairman of the Board

JG:ti

Breakfast was a packet of three microwave pancakes, doused in Aunt Jemima. I’d crack the front door—a preview of the black-skied Hoth I’d soon have to spend 20 minutes walking through—and grab the morning’s St. Paul Pioneer Press. Being cosmopolitan, we also took the Minneapolis Star Tribune, but I’d go for the St. Paul paper because it had the best comic strips—including a Batman serial that was, in retrospect, more boring than Mark Trail—as well as both Dear Abby and Ann Landers.
My favorite feature, though, was the page where the paper printed call-in reader comments. These comments didn’t concern substantive news, like letters to the editor—they were chit-chat about trivia and lifestyle topics. The comments were contributed largely by the elderly population of St. Paul and, once, by me. I already had an adult voice—I’d occasionally call Fidelity Investments and inform them I was considering making an investment so they’d send a prospectus, just because I liked getting mail—and I’m sure I sounded just like all the rest of the day’s callers when I left a message complaining about those “gol darn pumpkin bags that people leave out way after Halloween.” I imagine the editor took the cause of my voice impediment to be dentures (it was a retainer), and he published my rant as a glamorous pull-out quote.
Then I’d make my lunch, which I’d carry in a reusable lunch bag (this being the 50 Simple Things You Can Do to Save the Earth era): an apple, a packaged snack, and a peanut-butter-and-honey sandwich that I’d deliberately smash up against my frozen juice box or (in my cusp-of-adulthood upperclass years) can of pop so that by lunchtime, the sandwich would essentially have become a big no-bake cookie.
Finally, I was ready to wrap myself up in my jacket, scarf, and hat and brace myself for the brisk four-block walk to my bus stop. Feet crunching in the snow, I’d walk past the houses of families I baby-sat, imagining the hip young parents hopping out of bed and into their fleece jackets and expensive Lands’ End slippers; past the houses of elderly couples, imagining them making coffee and listening to the crop prices; and past the house of a neighbor girl I had a crush on, imagining her stirring and stifling a pheromonal yawn as she lay in a four-poster bed wearing a skimpy silk negligee.
Then came the religious portion of my morning.
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Breakfast was a packet of three microwave pancakes, doused in Aunt Jemima. I’d crack the front door—a preview of the black-skied Hoth I’d soon have to spend 20 minutes walking through—and grab the morning’s St. Paul Pioneer Press. Being cosmopolitan, we also took the Minneapolis Star Tribune, but I’d go for the St. Paul paper because it had the best comic strips—including a Batman serial that was, in retrospect, more boring than Mark Trail—as well as both Dear Abby and Ann Landers.

My favorite feature, though, was the page where the paper printed call-in reader comments. These comments didn’t concern substantive news, like letters to the editor—they were chit-chat about trivia and lifestyle topics. The comments were contributed largely by the elderly population of St. Paul and, once, by me. I already had an adult voice—I’d occasionally call Fidelity Investments and inform them I was considering making an investment so they’d send a prospectus, just because I liked getting mail—and I’m sure I sounded just like all the rest of the day’s callers when I left a message complaining about those “gol darn pumpkin bags that people leave out way after Halloween.” I imagine the editor took the cause of my voice impediment to be dentures (it was a retainer), and he published my rant as a glamorous pull-out quote.

Then I’d make my lunch, which I’d carry in a reusable lunch bag (this being the 50 Simple Things You Can Do to Save the Earth era): an apple, a packaged snack, and a peanut-butter-and-honey sandwich that I’d deliberately smash up against my frozen juice box or (in my cusp-of-adulthood upperclass years) can of pop so that by lunchtime, the sandwich would essentially have become a big no-bake cookie.

Finally, I was ready to wrap myself up in my jacket, scarf, and hat and brace myself for the brisk four-block walk to my bus stop. Feet crunching in the snow, I’d walk past the houses of families I baby-sat, imagining the hip young parents hopping out of bed and into their fleece jackets and expensive Lands’ End slippers; past the houses of elderly couples, imagining them making coffee and listening to the crop prices; and past the house of a neighbor girl I had a crush on, imagining her stirring and stifling a pheromonal yawn as she lay in a four-poster bed wearing a skimpy silk negligee.

Then came the religious portion of my morning.

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mn70s

mn70s:

Rose Totino’s Pizza and the Patent that Made it Possible, 1979

Frozen pizza had always suffered from “cardboard” crust syndrome. Then Minneapolis’s Rose Totino came to the rescue. On October 9, 1979, Totino patented her new invention—the “Crisp Crust” pizza crust, which revolutionized the frozen pizza industry. She and her husband, Jim, had been selling frozen pizzas since 1962 and had sold their company, Totino’s Finer Foods, to Pillsbury in 1975. (In the process she became Pillsbury’s first female vice president.) Rose Totino kept tinkering with her recipe even after the sale to Pillsbury. The result was the “Crisp Crust,” a “delamination resistant fried dough product” that was granted U.S. Patent Number 4,170,659. The new crust helped make Totino’s “Party Pizza” the best-selling frozen pizza in the United States.

Learn from Katie Sisneros how to make a delicious Totino’s taco using a party pizza and pizza rolls.

Four Things I Learned From the Book Sale Shelves at the Public Library in Lakeville, Minnesota

  1. So that’s what Lisa Loeb is up to these days.
  2. In the outer Minneapolis suburbs, there’s not much demand for the Lou Reed/Metallica album.
  3. Kids don’t care about the new central library Hennepin County just built, but the library printed a million copies of a picture book about it anyway.
  4. Someone actually wrote a book on how she thinks kids with autism are just like horses.

- Jay Gabler

What It Means To Be a Teenager Who Loves Classical Music

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As young musicians, most of us have already aged. One violinist I know, who is 16, wears a top hat and breeches to each orchestra rehearsal. Another girl is never seen without her small heels. Nails are short and clean, and all the young women tie their hair back before picking up their instruments.

As children, we practiced every day, whether it was beautiful outside or not. In middle school, we went to school dances and played on sports teams, but we also learned how to use vibrato and memorized our scales. By high school we were enmeshed in youth orchestras and master classes, and we began to do competitions each spring—not to win, but because we craved every performance. By the time junior year arrived, we had created double lives, balancing our school life, the domain of prom and homework and sports—and our music life, the domain of Rite of Spring and sight-singing and unparalleled bliss.

Every spy has a hard time keeping up a double life, especially when both sides are so polarizing. As a teenager—and, in fact, in American culture generally—one must either eschew classical music entirely, or eschew everything but. Sometimes, I want to listen to classical radio in the car with my school friends, but they’re unable to sit through a single sonata. “Oh God, Fiona, I know you like it, but spare us.” Meanwhile, with my classical-playing friends, it’s the opposite; any mention of a group outside the genre is a no-no. It’s all-or-nothing. Bring up James Blake in conversation, blank stares arise.  The Black Keys? Nothing. Justin Bieber? Laughs, after a pause to remember who I’m talking about.

As a fierce advocate of both sides of the spectrum, I am disturbed. I’m 17 years old, and I have hundreds of friends from orchestra, quintets, summer festivals, competitions, et cetera, who are thoroughly and completely invested in classical music. I also have hundreds of friends who could care less. Whether these friends will go on to Juilliard or Morris, music or sales, is irrelevant. What matters is the joy that our respective musical upbringings—whether raised on Joni Mitchell or Wagner—have given us, the way music has shaped us and allowed us to speak.

What disturbs me is to hear people asking, as Jay Gabler recently didwho gives a shit about classical music. I give a shit. My quintet gives a shit. My teacher gives a shit. We give as much of a shit as you give about the music that changed your life. But because of the deep divide between the communities, classical and everything else, so to speak, I cannot blame Mr. Gabler for asking the question.

Remember when you started to love the Beatles? Was it when you heard “Blackbird,” or perhaps “Here Comes the Sun?” You didn’t try to, you didn’t need to, per se, but this love just happened, it just appeared. Passion is not snobbish—this passion arises. That is the essential truth, and that is what we forget, when we spend all our time denouncing each other’s tastes as simpleminded (as classical listeners might say about pop) or pretentious and boring, mere “sawing away” at old compositions (as Jay Gabler said about classical).

This passion arises, as it did when you heard that Beatles song. It arose in a young plastics factory worker 38 years ago, when he heard a violin concerto for the first time (my father). It arose in a poor first-grader six months ago, when she learned “I’ll Tell Me Ma,” at school (my student). It arose in a shy and anxious girl almost 11 years ago, when she heard a silvery flute played like water (me). We are not born loving classical music, but anyone can love classical music. That is the essential truth.

I have no idea how to save the Minnesota Orchestra—like I said, I’m 17. But it scares me that kids after me, kids like me, won’t get to experience what I’ve experienced. They won’t have Manny Laureano, principal trumpeter, conducting them in a youth symphony. They won’t have Wendy Williams, second flutist, teaching them every week. They won’t have Friday nights with Debussy and Mozart.

These people, this music, will be in other cities, but not this one. The community of classical-lovers, people like me and my friends, will get smaller and further removed from the rest of the population, who, as a result, will never get the chance for passion to arise. They’ll never hear the concerto that could change their life, or see the silvery flute, or learn the choir song.  They’ll see an ever-diminishing group of aficionados, far away from them, and never know if classical could give them joy. That, to me, is a tragedy, and that’s why some of us give a shit about classical music, and that’s why everyone should give a shit. Because passion arises, and it could be yours.

- Fiona Kelliher