Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Saks Holiday Windows: Delights

Despite the insane crowds that infiltrate Midtown at this time of year, I do like the holiday season in New York for the same reason it attracts crowds—it's impossibly charming. The Rockefeller tree is always smaller and more raggedy than I imagine, and five minutes of navigating the Fifth Avenue sidewalks is enough to commit anyone to Bellevue for observation. But then you pass an intricate holiday window, or it begins to snow and it feels like you're living inside of a real life city snow globe. While we've yet to have our first real snow, the holiday windows have been revealed, and I went to check out my favorites this past weekend.

 By now it's tradition to gawk at the window displays (Bergdorfs, Saks and Bloomingdale's) and compare them to years past—I still maintain that 2013 is the year to beat, but maybe I'm just nostalgic for my first holiday season in the city. Saks Fifth Avenue always splits their windows, with a main theme featuring animatronic scenes (two years ago they did Fairy Tales, and the year before that featured the Yeti), with the side windows featuring Saks fashion. This year there was a candy theme to all of their decorations, although I think last year's icy theme was better overall.

The best part about the Saks windows is that they reflect the Deco beauty of neighboring Rockefeller Center, adding to that city-in-a-snow-globe feeling. The candy theme was a good idea, but the execution felt a little cheap—not something you expect from Saks—with large, shiny plastic lollipops and candy canes and... not much else. I do, however, very much appreciate that they set up barriers so you're forced to form an orderly line if you'd like to view the windows up close. They even have a bouncer to maintain order, which is something that other stores with holiday displays (especially Bergdorfs) should think about adopting.

Saks Fashion Windows: 2014  |  2015

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Morbid Anatomy Museum: Taxidermy

A few months ago, I went to see the taxidermy exhibit at the Morbid Anatomy Museum. It was wonderful, but I was bummed that they didn't allow photos of the exhibition. Shortly after my visit, they started a Kickstarter project to help fund the acquisition and transport of The Kittens' Wedding, a diorama made by Victorian taxidermist Walter Potter. I had been dying to see Potter's work in person, so I supported the project. Luckily it was funded, and The Kittens' Wedding became the centerpiece of the taxidermy exhibit. Of course I had to go back, and to my delight photos were allowed this time around.

This was the last weekend for the show, so I texted my friend Carli, "I have to get to the Morbid Anatomy Museum before Kitten Wedding leaves," which is a totally normal text for me to send. I'm so glad we made it, because The Kittens' Wedding was incredible. It was larger, and more elaborate than I expected, and just totally strange and wonderful. This is the only of Potter's creations in which the animals are fully clothed (they even have undergarments!), and this is the first time it's been formally exhibited in the US.

The rest of the exhibition space is full of so many strange and wonderful creatures—they have a sloth, anteater, aardvark, porcupine, weasel, white wallaby, hyena, lion, zebra, ostrich, seal, walrus, penguin, black bear and cases of exotic birds. While I don't agree with hunting for sport, I do appreciate that most of these animals were made at a time when most people would never see these animals otherwise. Even today, having seen most of these animals in zoos or on TV, I'm still amazed at the crazy creatures nature produces.

The 'wall of dogs' was a highlight for me, featuring several cases with various breeds of dogs, sitting on velvet pillows. They have one cat—holding a taxidermy mouse in its mouth—that I might use as a model when the time comes to taxidermy Mozart (my cat).

There were a few other anthropomorphic scenes featuring squirrels having tea, playing cards and enjoying a hearty acorn meal. I love anything that incorporates the animals into a "real life" scene, and the Morbid Anatomy Museum never fails to deliver in the diorama department. But it's the terrible taxidermy that I not-so-secretly love more than anything—googly eyes, faces that aren't quite right and forms that make you question if the taxidermist ever even saw the animal in real life.

More Morbid Anatomy: House of Wax  |  Dioramas  |  Collector's Cabinet  |  Library

Monday, December 5, 2016

Roswell: Alien Zone

It's been a while since I've been on a road trip, and while I was daydreaming about Roswell the other day I realized that I never shared photos from one of my favorite attractions: Alien Zone. Alien Zone was built in 1998 by a local commercial artist and pastor, and features approximately 20 different dioramas with which visitors are encouraged to interact and take photos. My sister texted me about Alien Zone when we were planning our trip and it was just as cheesy and ridiculous as we expected.

The dioramas are pretty elaborate and entirely hilarious. Each one features an alien or two in a different "real life" situation: at a kitchen table, passed out on the couch, drinking a beer, climbing out of a crashed UFO, awaiting an autopsy, bartending, having a cookout, etc. A lot of the dioramas have seen better days, condition-wise, but the homemade quality is also part of the appeal.

The scenes are really quite clever, and set up specifically for great photo-ops—the kitchen table scene is oriented upside down so when you flip the photo, it looks like you're on the ceiling. You can crawl inside of the crashed UFO, sit next to an alien in an outhouse, and grab a cold one from the bar. I'll spare you the photos that included my sister, brother-in-law, niece and I interacting with the scenes, but trust me—the admission was just $3 a person, but the memories (and photos) we made were priceless.