There are some places in the world that make you weak at the knees with nostalgia and Paronella Castle is one of them.
It was the impossible dream of an ambitious Spanish immigrant who sailed to Australia in 1913 to make a life for himself and his fiancé waiting back home. José Paronella worked for over a decade worlds away from his homeland, first as a labourer cutting sugar cane, and then slowly building his wealth, buying, improving and selling cane farms. In his first years of travelling around Queensland, he discovered a virgin forest land alongside a waterfall and knew at first sight that he would one day call it his home. Over a century later, the ruins of his incredible story remain in the jungle…
After 11 years away making his fortune, in 1924, Paronella returned to Spain to claim his bride, only to find that Matilda had married another. But don’t feel too sorry for him because José married her adventurous younger sister, Margarita, and in 1925, he happily sailed back with her to Australia on a honeymoon voyage. In 1929, the couple purchased 13 acres of jungle along the Mena Creek for £120.
They spent the next 10 years building their Spanish castle in the wild with their bare hands, but not with the intent to keep it hidden all to themselves. The Paronellas wanted to share their dream castle with the public and built it with the enjoyment of visitors in mind. After constructing a modest house on site for themselves, they began work on the castle using old salvaged railway tracks to reinforce the concrete, which they covered with plaster, leaving behind their own fingerprints in the walls.
In 1935, as promised, the park officially opened to the public, complete with a movie theatre, dancehall, tennis courts, refreshment stands, a collector’s museum, tea gardens, swimming pool, a playground and 7,000 exotic trees individually planted by José.
Everyone was invited to Paronella park and the hospitable couple organised weekend movie nights for the public and hired live bands to entertain in the dance hall which featured the giant equivalent of an early 1930s disco ball, covered in 1270 tiny mirrors. It was the perfect family day out and the ideal location for weddings and society gatherings of the day.
One fateful day in 1946 however, the jungle turned on the castle when a mass of giant logs swept through the area during the wet season, pushing through the creek and destroying the refreshment areas, the theatre and severely damaging the region’s first hydro electric plant José had built in 1933 to power the park.
But José and his wife didn’t give up there. They repaired, rebuilt and replanted and were open for business again within 6 months, with newly added fountains.
Sadly, only two years later, José died of cancer, leaving his wife, son and daughter to keep the park alive. But nature had other ideas.
Over the years, the site was a frequent victim of floods and cyclones which meant constant renovation work and countless dollars to keep the park going. When only the Paronella grandchildren were left to carry the load, José’s dream was sold in 1977 and within two years, a great fire took its turn on the castle, leaving only the walls standing in the thick of the jungle.
For many years, nature reclaimed the property and Paronella was all but a lost park until 1993, when Mark and Judy Evans rediscovered the castle and became its new owners with a vision to revive José’s impossible dream.
There had already been another damaging cyclone in 1986, a flood hit one year after the Evans bought it and two more cyclones came in 2006 and 2011. Like the pioneering couple before them however, Mark and Judy have persevered through the setbacks, working with descendants of the Paronella family to uncover the secrets of the park.
Their goal was not to recreate exactly what José had built in the 1930s, but to preserve both his and nature’s work of art. With small, gradual restoration and preservation projects, they’ve uncovered paths, identified wildlife planted by José nearly a century ago, restored his hydro turbine at a cost of $450,000 and created a museum in José’s original family home. For their efforts, they’ve received ecotourism awards and are beginning to see the fruits of their labour.
The unique location is once again open to visitors, offering storytelling tours and night time experiences to see the park lit up at night (courtesy of that restored generator). You can wander the ruins, feed the fish at the bottom of the waterfall by the moss-covered picnic tables and even stay overnight in one of the park’s six cabins. There’s also a small café and the possibility to tie the knot at this fairytale castle in the jungle.
Weeki Wachee looks like countless sleepy Florida towns, except for one noteworthy difference: it has more mermaids than humans.
This magical, one-stoplight town about an hour north of Tampa is composed of little more than a Winn Dixie Supermarket, Motel 6, and the local joint, BeckyJack’s Food Shack.
But follow the winding road through the tiny town, and eventually you’ll find Weeki Wachee Springs, home of the Weeki Wachee Mermaids.
This group of about 28 mermaids perform 30-minute shows three times a day in the state park’s submerged theater. Breathing tubes secured to the bottom of the spring feed the mermaids oxygen, allowing them to stay underwater for the duration of the show.
They swim in the natural springs alongside other water-dwelling residents, including manatees, turtles, otters and, occasionally, an alligator
The mermaid show started in 1947. Former U.S. Navy sailor Newton Perry came a year earlier to the then-wild area to pursue business. He cleared the spring, which was full of old, rusty appliances and discarded cars, and discovered a way to breathe underwater with an air hose and a compressor. Eventually he built a theater to start a show in the springs.
Perry scouted “pretty girls” and trained them to perform underwater, including dancing, eating and drinking, and wide-eyed smiling. Girls came from around the world to audition.
With little else to bring people to Weeki Wachee, “The Only City Of Live Mermaids!” has only four human residents as of 2013. The town is completely dependent on the mermaids — and the mermaids on the town. Even the mayor, Robyn Anderson, is a former mermaid.
Inside the Newton Perry Underwater Mermaid Theater, guests resting on rows of wooden benches chat as they wait with excitement for the morning performance of The Little Mermaid. Minutes later, the curtains rise, revealing an enchanting underwater universe.
On the other side of the glass, the mermaids, with their glimmering tails and flowing hair, swim through the cool, blue water. They perform with grace, moving effortlessly and stopping only occasionally to catch a breath from the tubes.
The transformation process from mere mortals to mermaids is arduous. Before their fins even touch the water, the mermaids master movements on land. They perfect their coordinated dives and twirls through hours of practice in the water, relying on the veteran “mersisters” to teach them techniques.
Desiree Stookey and Jordyn Belmonte are two of Weeki Wachee’s newest resident mermaids. Belmonte has dreamed of becoming a mermaid since she was 5, when she moved to Florida and saw her first mermaid show. Her family and friends love her underwater work.
“They have known I wanted to do this since I was a little girl, so they are very supportive,” she said.
Being a mermaid is also not without risk. After learning the choreography on dry land the girls must learn how to maneuver underwater and breathe, relying on a 64-foot-long tube that connects the performers’ locker room to the theater.
“There is a lot to think about,” said Belmonte. “You are swimming with what feels like one leg instead of two, the air hoses are pretty hard to tackle at first, but the hardest struggle is looking comfortable while performing even if you’re cold or tired.”
Once they are in the spring, the director uses an underwater sound system to give instructions from a control room inside the theater.
Back inside the locker room, girls scurry around in bathrobes applying makeup and picking out tails for their next show.
Mermaid Nikki Chickonski stands at the phone, calling down to the showroom to confirm who will perform in the upcoming shows. And just like that, it’s time to be mermaids again.
Five minutes before showtime, the girls grab their tails and head for the dive tunnel. Air tube in hand and dive masks firmly affixed to their faces, the mermaids splash into the springs to fill the pools with aquatic grace.
British sculptor Jason de Caires Taylor is about to give the curious traveler a unique reason to visit Mexico. He’s created 400 cement sculptures for a new underwater museum in the National Marine Park of Cancun. In November, the installation, called The Silent Evolution, will open to the public and will be the world’s largest museum of its kind.
It’s called ‘art with a purpose’ because the sculptures will serve as an artificial reef. By constructing them from special cement, Taylor is helping to promote marine life and create areas for corals to flourish and marine creatures to breed. The sculptures will also help with the conservation of the natural corals by easing pressure on nearby natural reefs which receive half a million tourists flocking to those areas every year.
Interestingly, Taylor purposely decided to not create Maya-themed figures for the underwater museum. Instead, he wanted to show everyday people in everyday scenarios. “A lot of this is just celebrating normal people doing normal things,” he says. “By taking everyday scenes and putting them underwater, you give them a completely new context, a whole life of their own.”
The coolest part is that the sculptures’ appearances will constantly change over time. “I have a whole team of underwater helpers that come along and do all the finishing for me,” Taylor says. “The coral applies the paint. The fish supply the atmosphere. The water provides the mood. People ask me when it’s going to be finished. This is just the beginning.”
It’s the “Layla” guitar. Enough said. This ’56 Strat was with Clapton during Cream (briefly) and Derek & the Dominoes and now resides at Paul Allen’s Experience Music Project in Seattle, WA.
9. Gold Leaf Strat, Eric Clapton, $455,000
Another Clapton guitar on the list (it won’t be the last, or even second to last!) – this gold leaf Strat was built for Clapton by Fender master builder Mark Kendrick, purportedly because Clapton wanted a guitar he could “hang in a museum.” EC used it on the Legends tour in ’97 and again in 2001 on the One More Car, One More rider tour, after which it was sold to Christie’s Auction House.
8. Gibson SG, George Harrison and John Lennon, $570,000
This guitar was used by both Beatles between 1966 and 1969, making appearances on Revolver and the White album.
7. Fender Strat, Stevie Ray Vaughan $623,500
SRV’s Strat “Lenny” was named after his wife, who bought him this circa ’65 composite Strat for his birthday in 1980. After SRV died tragically in a helicopter crash in 1990, Vaughan’s brother Jimmy donated the guitar, which was auctioned off and sold to Guitar Center.
6. 1939 CF Martin, Eric Clapton, $791,500
Clapton’s career experienced a resurgence in ’92 after the release of the hit acoustic ballad, “Tears in Heaven.” Clapton even performed an all-acoustic set on MTV Unplugged using this guitar, which he later auctioned off to raise money for his Crossroads Rehabilitation Center.
5. 1964 Gibson ES-335, Eric Clapton $847,500
Clapton used this guitar during his time with the Yardbirds, Cream, Blind Faith, and John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers. It was auctioned off at Christie’s in 2004 and at the time was the 3rd highest price paid for a guitar at time of sale.
4. Blackie Strat, Eric Clapton, $959,000
Blackie is probably Clapton’s most iconic guitar. As the story goes, Clapton bought six Strats in a guitar shop in Texas. He gave three away (to Harrison, Townshend, and Winwood) and parted the other three out to build Blackie, a guitar he used faithfully for 15 years. Like many of his iconic guitars, Clapton auctioned this instrument off to raise money for the Crossroads Rehab Center.
3. Washburn, Bob Marley, valued at 1.2 million
Somewhat infamously, Bob Marley didn’t own very many guitars. Though an exact number is not officially known, this Washburn became a somewhat infamous instrument. Supposedly one of the first electric Washburn guitars ever made, Marley rarely played this Washburn and gave it to his guitar tech, Gary Carlsen. The guitar has been classified by the Jamaican government as a national treasure.
2. 1968 Fender Strat, Jimi Hendrix $2,000,000
Hopefully no explanation is needed when we say that this guitar was one that Hendrix played at Woodstock (um, for example, on the “Star Spangled Banner”) and Paul Allen paid $2m for it to be housed at Experience Music Project in Seattle, Hendrix’s hometown.
1. Reach Out to Asia Strat. $2,700,000
In 2004, tragedy struck in the form of a fiercely destructive tsunami, affecting several nations in the Indian Ocean. To help raise money for relief efforts, a signed Fender Strat was auctioned off—and it wasn’t signed by just anybody. This guitar features the signatures of sheer legends: Eric Clapton, Keith Richards, Mick Jagger, Ronnie Wood, Brian May, David Gilmour, Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck, Mark Knopfler, Pete Townshend, Tony Iommi, Angus Young, Malcolm Young, Sting, Ritchie Blackmore, the members of Def Leppard, Bryan Adams, Liam Gallagher, and Paul McCartney. The guitar raised ALMOST $3m for Reach Out to Asia, a charity formed to help victims of the tsunami.
Located on New Zealand’s North Island (about 60 km north of Auckland) lies a 1,000 acre (4 sq km) property owned by one of New Zealand’s wealthiest businessmen, Alan Gibbs. The area is the site of Alan’s private art park known as Gibbs Farm. Open to the public by appointment, the sculpture park features an incredible variety of massive sculptures by some of the world’s most famous artists.
It’s fascinating to see how each artist has incorporated the unique landscape into their work. Almost all of the sculptures in the collection were commissioned new works as opposed to purchased pieces.
The property itself is dominated by the Kaipara Harbour (the largest harbour in the southern hemisphere) which occupies the entire western horizon. The water is quite shallow so when the tide goes out, the shallows are exposed for several kilometres and the light shimmies and bounces off it across the land. Everything in the property flows towards and eventually into the sea; and every work contends in some way with the slide seaward.
After nearly twenty years of development, Gibbs Farm now features over 22 artists from around the world. Below you will find a small gallery of sculptures that caught my eye. For the full list, be sure to check out the official site.
Neil Dawson – Horizons
Dawson’s Horizons is one of the earliest sculptures to be commissioned for the Gibbs Farm. Sitting as it does on one of the highest points in the property it is also one of the few works that can be seen from the road. This seems fitting given the way the tromp l’oeil character of the work is suggestive of a giant piece of corrugated iron that might have blown in from a collapsed water tank on some distant farm, only to rest precariously until the next gale lifts it into the air again.
Horizons – 1994 – Welded and painted steel 15 x 10 x 36m [Source]
Leon Van Den Eijkel – Red Cloud Confrontation in Landscape
Tried and true colour harmonies based on the three primary colours of red, yellow and blue, are pitted against what van den Eijkel calls his “Pacific colours” in a dialogue between European modernism and the southern hemisphere environment. The work also pits itself against the gradient and colour gradations of the farm’s green slopes with its precise articulation of a true horizontal plane, the grid and of perfect squares; and through its composition of solid colours floating on their pure black plinths.
Red Cloud Confrontation in Landscape – 1996 – 25 cast formed and painted concrete cubes 17.5 x 17.5m [Source]
Each Gibbs Farm sculpture rewards the viewer who will walk up to and around them; and Thompson’s work elegantly offers a different red, or black, or red and black abstract composition with every circumnavigating step. On the one hand the work epitomises the cool restraint of minimalist abstract modernism with its precise proportions and clean lines. Yet the land and light imbue it with an expressive character that swings from the mystery of the impenetrable void formed from its black side to the exuberant red side when seen in afternoon light.
Untitled (Red Square/Black Square) – 1994 – 4 units of welded and painted steel 4 x 4 x 5.7m [Source]
LeWitt’s distinctive concrete block works, which first appeared in 1985, are at once sculpture, monument and architecture. A leading figure in the history of Minimalism and then Conceptualism, LeWitt was intrigued by the various modular permutations possible through the repetitious use of the simple cube form. The minimalist aesthetic of the monumental Gibbs Farm work’s lies in various intriguing paradoxes: it is comprised of many small units (the concrete blocks) and yet it is a single form (the pyramid); it is conceptually simple but perceptually complex; and while it is unequivocally sculpture, its scale and form are highly suggestive of architecture.
Pyramid (Keystone NZ) – 1997 – Standard concrete blocks 7.75 x 16 x 16m [Source]
Anish Kapoor – Dismemberment
Composed of a vast PVC membrane stretched between the two giant steel ellipses, Kapoor’s work is architectural, and yet it also has a fleshy quality which the artist describes as being “rather like a flayed skin”. The fleshy dark red membrane that this work shares with two earlier temporary works commissioned for the BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art and the Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall (refers to Joan of Arc). Kapoor has commented, “I want to make body into sky”. At the farm he achieves this. Here, the artist had to devise a form that was both freestanding and capable of surviving a constant arm-wrestle with the sky and the mercurial weather conditions.
Dismemberment, Site 1 – 2009 – Mild steel tube and tensioned fabric West end 25 x 8m, East end 8 x 25m. Length 85m [Source]
Andy Goldsworthy – Arches
Built with stone quarried in Lead Hills, Scotland not far from where Gibbs’ forebears came from, and formed from ancient Roman arches, this work looks back along lines of genealogy, migration and architectural traditions. But the sculpture also has an immediacy derived from the gradual weathering of the stone by water, wind and fetch on the tidal flats, which brings the viewer face-to-face with the ever-changing character and power of its surroundings and the here and now.
Arches – 2005 – Pink Leadhill sandstone blocks stacked into 11 freestanding arches. Each arch is 7m long with each block 1.4m² [Source]
Eric Orr – Electrum
Eric Orr, a pioneer of the California Light and Space Movement of the late 1960s, was an artist whose works centred on natural phenomena such as fire, water and vapour clouds with the intention of eliciting visceral responses from viewers. Gibbs asked Orr to add lightning to his repertoire by commissioning him to create a huge sculpture that would throw lightning bolts. There was little in the way of engineering precedents to draw on and the result was the largest Tesla coil in the world on a tower four storeys high that generates three million volts of electricity. The primeval artificial lightning it creates is a fitting tribute to Orr as it is his last major work, as well as standing in homage to the pioneer electrical engineer Nikola Tesla.
Electrum (for Len Lye) – 1997 – Tesla coil, stainless staeel electrode on a fibreglass column support on a concrete base with tiled black granite 3 x 3 x 14m [Source]
Peter Roche – Saddleblaze
Roche’s work with its long bright red lances of LED interspersed through the Eucalyptus grove is certainly the most significant light work by this artist; and one of several striking light-based works in the collection. Here on the farm Roche has been granted the scale and conceptual scope to devise a work that is at once a primitive and visceral reminder of untameable nature; and yet also a playful evocation of a festive gateway to the Wild West.
Saddleblaze – 2008 – 100 LED units of varying lengths 1.1km [Source]
George Rickey – Column of Four Squares
The movement of this smaller of the two Rickey sculptures seems skittish, random and chaotic; constantly teetering; though in very high winds it mimics nature and acting like a palm tree lies flat against the wind. This chance element in the work’s composition is reminiscent of the Dada movement’s experiments with spontaneity and the irrational, and especially of Arp’s collages made by scattering torn rectangular pieces of paper onto a paper support.
Column of Four Squares Eccentric Gyratory (III) – 1990 / 1995 – 4 stainless steel squares 9 x 9 x 15m [Source]
Marijke De Goey – The Mermaid
The work bridges an artificial lake and marks the culmination of her cube-skeleton series, which range in size from tiny brooches to monumental forms. At the time that de Goey received this commission she had not undertaken any work of such a scale, and as a result, scaling the work up from her small models relied on the expertise of the engineering team at the farm, thus demonstrating the way in which Gibbs operates as collector, commissioner and often-times producer of the art works.
The Mermaid – 1999 – Welded and painted tubular steel 10 x 3 x 32m [Source]
Even though the geometric and repetitive facts of this sculpture are in marked contrast to the organic contours of the site, its surfaces mean that in certain lights the work almost disappears against the sky. However, at other times it appears to harvest the moody, reflective and translucent qualities of the harbour’s watery surfaces, the glancing sunlight and salt-laden air. Of the inspiration for this site specific work Graham Bennett said “I was impressed by the changing nature of the estuary, its reflections, its colours and its relationship to the sky.”
Sea/Sky Kaipara – 1994 – 4 tri-part stainless steel and glass units 2 x 2.1 x 25m [Source]
Kenneth Snelson – Easy K
Snelson’s sculpture, intended “to unveil the exquisite beauty of structure itself,” is delicately held together by the tension between its rigid pipes and flexible cables; a form of structure which the artist calls “floating compression.” The work is one of several examples in the collection that expresses Gibbs’ long-standing love of abstract minimalism as well as his passion for the kind of structural problem solving that can, in the best cases, result in elegant form.
Easy K – 2005 – Aluminium and stainless steel 6.5 x 6.5 x 32m [Source]
Richard Serra – Te Tuhirangi Contour
Serra’s 56 steel plates lean out by 11 degrees from the vertical and trace a single contour line across the land in a way that, in the artist’s words, “collects the volume of the land.” The work is a hallmark of the strong relationships formed between collector and artist. Serra says of meeting Gibbs, “The first thing he said to me was ‘I’ve just been to Storm King [which has Serra’s Schunnemunk Fork 1990-91] and I want a more significant piece than that. I don’t want any wimpy piece in the landscape.’”
Te Tuhirangi Contour – 1999/2001 – 56 Corten steel plates 252m x 6m x 50mm [Source]
Sure, Queensland is home to the Great Barrier Reef, but it’s also home to some of Australia’s most interesting dive sites based around some of the greatest shipwrecks in history. Take a deep breath and enjoy as we dive deeper into this fascinating underwater world of shipwreck dives.
Considered one of the world’s top dive sites, the SS Yongala shipwreck is situated 12 nautical miles off Alva Beach near Ayr. This ship sank in 1911, but it was more than half a century before she was discovered.
You’ll find giant groupers and schools of trevally and cobia here, as well as gentle sea snakes and turtles.
Situated within swimming distance off Brisbane’s Moreton Island are the rusty wrecks of 15 ships that were deliberately sunk to create a break wall for small boats, as well as provide the perfect spot for divers and snorkellers.
You’ll find wobbegongs, trevally, kingfish yellowtail and tropical fish at the Tangalooma Wrecks, which have been here since 1963.
Despite its name, the Ex-HMAS Brisbane is not situated off the Queensland capital, but on the Sunshine Coast between Maroochydore and Mooloolaba.
Operating between 1967 and 2001, this former warship was sunk in 2005 and now provides the ideal artificial reef for divers with a huge array of sea life to discover in and around the wreck.
This elegant old lady was built in Glasgow in 1864 and arrived in Australia four months later, but met her fate when she crashed into Kennedy Shoal near Dunk Island in 1894.
These days, The Lady Bowen is home to giant groupers, sea snakes, sharks, rays, lionfish and turtles at this dive site.
Divers consider this wreck off Moreton Island as one of the most challenging, as it sits in an exposed area of sea with no decompression diving. But this wreck carries a tragic history worth exploring. Eighteen people died when it mysteriously hit Smiths Rock back in 1914, during good sailing conditions.
Considered one of Australia’s greatest marine tragedies, 133 people died when the RMS Quetta sank in 1899, after striking a coral mount near the Adolphus Channel in the Torres Strait Islands. Cod, trout, angel fish and barracuda are common here.
The All Souls Quetta Memorial Church on Thursday Island was built in memory of the ship.
For divers looking for a more intact site, head to Lady Elliot Island in the Southern Great Barrier Reef. Just offshore here, you can explore the remnants of the Severance, a two-masted sailing boat that sunk in 1998.
So new is this wreck, remnants of the sails can be seen, and you’ll likely encounter a moray eel here.
Situated just 10 metres offshore from Keswick Island, off Mackay, The Cremer is considered a perfect dive, thanks to its shelter from wind and current. This large steamship sank in 1945 and is now home to giant Maori wrasse fish.
Another treasure of the warm water off of Keswick Island is The Singapore, which sunk in the late 1800s after striking a large rock just offshore.
Considered a more challenging dive than The Cremer, it sits in some 25 metres of water and is home to pelagic fish, sharks and rays.
Closer to Mackay, you’ll find the wreck of The Llewellyn, which is ideal for novice divers. This coastal steamer mysteriously disappeared in heavy winds in 1919 between Rockhampton and Bowen and was only located in 1997.
Off the Southern Great Barrier Reef coastline of Seventeen Seventy you’ll find the remnants of the Cetacea, a 13-metre trawler which sank in 1992.
This lady of the ocean sits 32 metres underwater on a sandy bottom, attracting a variety of marine life such as rays, grouper, tuna and trevally.
Also around the same area as the Cetacea lays the wreckage of the Barcoola, sunk in 1994. Some believe this is the stand-out dive – she’s in 41 metres of water and home to groupers, cod, kingfish and giant cobia.
There’s often large rays, bull shares, and bronze whalers here, too.
The trawler met her karma in 2003 and now sits upright in 26 metres of water, again off the Southern Great Barrier Reef coastline of 1770.
This is considered an accessible dive for both open water and advanced divers, and is home to thousands of fish and other marine life.
After years of improv, the tank in Rangely goes legit as Center for Sonic Arts.
A group of artist are working to refurbish the tank for acoustic recording and concerts.
RANGELY — Bruce Odland was a long-haired aural artist in the 1970s, a wild-eyed hippy who traversed the country recording unique sounds for his eclectic albums. He was rambling through northwest Colorado in 1976, gathering sounds for a roaming arts festival when a pair of roughnecks picked him up in their truck. He said he was seeking sound. They brought him to a 60-foot tall water tank on a muddy hill above Rangely.
They showed him a small portal at the base of the steel tank. Slide in there and turn up your recording equipment up to 11, they said. It was pitch black inside.
“I can’t believe it, but I did it,” Odland says.
Bottles clanged as he shuffled in the hot darkness. The two men slammed the outside of the tank with lumber. They hurled rocks at the steel walls. Awash in euphonic echoes, Odland hatched a vision that 40-years-later has become rural Rangely’s one-of-a-kind Tank Center for Sonic Arts.
Hold up. What the heck is a center for sonic arts?
“We don’t know that yet,” says Lois Lafond, an always laughing Boulder musician and teacher who was among the first sound seekers to join Odland and embrace the tank as a sort of audio laboratory.
“The people will tell us what it is. We are offering an opportunity for people to define it,” says Odland, 64, who recently spearheaded two crowdfunding campaigns to buy the former water tank and transform it into what they hope will become a local treasure and an international destination for sound artists.
The tank already is a refuge for a culture that lists too much toward the visual, Odland says.
“And this is an antidote; some place where your ears can hear and tell you what to do instead of marching around taking little postcard images of the world and thinking you understand it,” Odland says. “Open your ears and go explore right there through that door.”
Odland, who lives in New York, has been returning to the tank ever since that August night in 1976, bringing musicians and artists who consider the hulking, mellifluous marvel to be one of the world’s premiere sonic wonders. For all those years, it was their secret. They would travel from afar — San Francisco, San Antonio, New York — to sneak, illegally, into the tank to make music, record albums and bask in the emphatic thunder of the tank, where every sound sticks around, melding into a harmonic hum in the key of E. Several dozen musicians, including two-time Grammy winner Tom Wassinger, have recorded inside the tank.
Four years ago, as the tank’s owner — a friend weary of the insurance, taxes and liability that comes with owning a popular hangout for bottle-smashing teens — pondered selling the rusting giant for scrap, a band of tank lovers united to save their acoustic Eden.
The nonprofit Friends of the Tank approached the town’s leaders at a memorable meeting in the spring of 2013. Liberal sound artists from big cities were asking rural conservatives for permission to create something unlike anything. It wasn’t easy, but they convinced the mayor and council members to come up for a visit. They all slipped through that portal, the steel buffed smooth from half a century of sliding butts. Inside, two cultures collided and merged. It took mere moments for the locals to recognize the resonant significance of the tank, Lafond says.
“This has been a really amazing project for a lot of reasons. It’s really pulling these two different communities together. The side effect of all these sonic arts and this incredible cathedral of sound is developing this relationship with what traditionally would be very opposing forces,” she says. “I feel it really comes together with the harmony of the tank so I can sing with a conservative councilwoman who is a trucker and gun owner and we bring it together in harmony. That’s pretty exciting.”
The tank was assembled on the hill overlooking the ambling White River in the early 1960s. It was supposed to be part of a fire suppression system for a nearby power plant. That plant has long been dormant and the tank, scrawled with graffiti, spent most of the last half century as a hangout for local kids and an occasional destination for auditory artists. It never actually held water.
Samantha Wade grew up across the street from the tank and was 8 when she first visited it.
“I just remember a bunch of strange dudes with long hair,” says Wade, now 25.
They would slide instruments in through the portal — didgeridoos, drums, anything percussive, and small enough to fit through the 24-inch hole — and play all night in flickering candlelight.
“I was pretty shy about singing back then,” says Wade, who is now celebrated as “the voice of the tank.”
Her symphonious song fills the void with harmonies that layer, one on top of another, as if a choir was piping a soothing concert into the tank. Odland gathers his instruments — rusting steel flanges harvested from the detritus of nearby oil fields and battered gold panning pans — and taps a rhythm that grows into a percussive orchestra. A visitor offers a deep-throated “ohm” that lingers. Another raps a conga. Someone stamps their foot and a peal of thunder shakes the room. Desert sunshine trickles in through a fan hole cut into the roof, where an Oregon light artist has installed diffraction grating that throws slashes of vibrant rainbows across the walls. A toddler, wielding a tape-wrapped stick, taps a gamelan — a sort of vibraphone cut from a steel pipe that once traversed the tank’s interior. A man lays down on the floor and closes his eyes.
Accordion acoustics inside the Tank Center for Sonic Arts.
The sounds swirl until they have no source; no beginning or end, just a vibrating, otherworldly resonance.
“You felt it, didn’t you,” Odland says later as he lounges outside on a deck where all the slats point to the center of the tank. “The dimensions are crazy. You don’t realize what you are hearing until you hear it and you realize ‘I must be hearing that.’ ”
The tank captures you, says Heather Zadra, a Rangely mom, teacher and writer who also serves as operations manager for the Tank Center for Sonic Arts, the tank’s first employee.
“It makes you belong to it and you don’t have any choice,” she says. “Then you meet the people who also are captured and then you realize you are part of a community.”
The tank community swelled to more than 1,400 in the last couple years, as two Kickstarter campaigns raised more than $100,000 from donors in more than 20 countries. Their names are inscribed on the tank’s freshly painted interior walls.
That support paid for a storage container sound studio that flanks the tank. Built by Louisville’s Rhino Cubed, the artistically styled shipping container is wired for audio, video and data recording to capture the sounds inside the tank. Already musicians are lining up for recording time, although the tank is open to all comers, including people who simply want to sit and hum or test a new instrument or relish reverberation.
Before entering the brand new door, visitors remove their shoes. It’s a sign of respect and it allows guests a moment to transition from the myriad senses of the outside world to the overwhelmingly aural surge inside. It’s best to just sit and listen. It takes time to adjust to the tank, Lafond says.
“It takes years to really get how to use this as an instrument,” she says. “That’s what this place is. It’s an instrument. And it plays you. You are not in charge here. You do what you do, but it does what it wants to what you are doing.”
It’s taken the town a bit to adjust to the tank as well. But locals are learning to love the strange visitors. Especially if they are bringing friends.
Rangely has suffered as the oil and coal industries wither. As town leaders seek ways to diversify the region’s economy beyond a reliance on singular industries, they are embracing new ideas, even the notion of drum-tapping, ohming hippies gathering inside an old water tank.
Townsfolk are “increasingly receptive” to the tank visitors, Rangely town manager Peter Brixius says.
“We are committed to helping to drive activity up there,” he says.
The tank joins a “list of shining stars in our community,” Brixius says.
“We are working on that pallet of economic drivers that should help us diversify,” he says.
The Tank Center for Sonic Arts officially opens to the public on Saturday. The non-profit Friends of the Tank group is searching for an executive director to help guide its future as a venue, gathering place, community asset and recording studio. The group hopes to host open houses every Saturday, when kids and adults alike can come “explore with their ears,” Odland says.
“Really this is a place for everyone to come explore and experience and take something away,” Odland says. “Over a long period of time I see this an oasis of local and international collaborations that just gets more rich. Richer every second.”
If you go:
A Tank Center for Sonic Arts open house is planned for 5 to 6 p.m. Sunday, followed by a concert that starts at 7 p.m. The tank also is open 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday.
Open Saturdays — 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 6 to 9 p.m. — run July 2 through Oct. 29.
To get there, drive into Rangely and look for the tallest structure, just north of town off Colorado 64. The address is 233 County Road 46, Rangely, CO 81648.
It’s spring again in Santa Fe. One of the ways you can tell; the Georgia O’Keeffe Home and Studio in Abiquiu, is open for the season. The iconic artist’s village home is open from March 15th through November 22nd. For O’Keeffe fans visiting the area, a day-trip including the Georgia O’Keeffe Home and Studio Tour, a drive through “O’Keeffe Country” and a visit to Ghost Ranch are must-dos.
A home in the village
Georgia O’Keeffe’s first Abiquiu home was Rancho de los Burros at Ghost Ranch. The soil at her ranch home was proving difficult to farm. The artist, an avid gardener, wanted a local home where she could grow food. When she first saw the traditional village adobe house (circa 1796), she knew she had to have it. The property, then a ruin, was owned by the local Catholic Diocese. Initially, they refused to sell it. O’Keeffe was a tenacious woman. Finally, in 1945, after years of negotiation, the Diocese relented and sold it to her. They stipulated that the original structure be kept intact. Selling it was a wise decision. Had they had not, the house would have eventually collapsed. The house is set on a mesa overlooking the Chama River affording great views of the Chama River Valley. The artist immortalized some of what she saw our her studio windows in here work.
Gardening and putting food by
Her gardens were a visual pleasure and offered subjects for painting. They were also a source of fresh food. Seasonal bounty that could not immediately be consumed was canned or frozen and stored in a large freezer for later use. O’Keeffe’s kitchen and pantry are a tribute to 50’s modernity. Her appliances (which she retained until she left the home in 1984) were top of the line when she moved in.
The esthetic of minimalism
The home’s sparse furnishings represent some of the biggest names in Mid-century design. Pieces by Herman Miller, Charles Eames, and Eero Saarinen are scattered throughout the house; a Noguchi rice-paper shade reigns over the simple dining-room table (it is the only lampshade in the house, O’Keeffe favored bare bulbs). She was a collector of rocks and stones; they are an integral part of the home’s décor as are some of her famous skulls.
The tour takes an hour. Some rooms are accessible to visitors, and some, because of fragile flooring, are glimpsed through windows and doorways. The gardens and grounds are beautiful. The salt cedars, poisonous jimsonweed (Datura) and sculpted junipers create an unusual landscape. At the end of the tour, visitors reboard the bus and leave this well-preserved piece of the past, hopefully, with a better understanding of the artist and her work.
Ghost Ranch Landscape Tour
Flesh out the day with a visit to Ghost Ranch where O’Keeffe spent her summers. While her home there isn’t open to the public due to its deteriorated and fragile condition, visitors can see the places and views that inspired the artist. You can also catch a glimpse of Rancho de los Burros her home there from a distance. The O’Keeffe Landscape Tour, is a one-hour bus-tour of places that the artist painted. One of the highlights of the tour is the view of the Pedernal, the mountain they may be familiar with from the artist’s work. She wrote and spoke about and frequently painted her beloved mountain with it’s unusual summit. “It’s my private mountain, it belongs to me,” she was heard to say. ” God told me if I painted it enough, I could have it.” Reservations are required; space is limited.
The basics of touring Georgia O’Keeffe Home and Studio
The Georgia O’Keeffe Home and Studio is open mid-March through October. It’s only accessible by tour and reservations are required. Plan in advance; tours fill up early, especially in July and August. Tour groups are limited to 12 people and many visitors want to see where the iconic artist lived and worked. Guides are local people and are very knowledgeable about the artist, her home and the area. You can also arrange private off-season tours. For information and reservations, call 505-685-4539. Ghost Ranch offers their Georgia O’Keeffe Landscape Tour year round.
This Artist Spent 10 Years Carving A Giant Cave – Alone With His Dog
For the last 10 years, American artist Ra Paulette has been walking alone into New Mexico’s desert to work. He spends his time carving a sandstone cave that he found, turning it into a wonderful subterranean space full of light.
With no one but his dog for company, Paulette created different designs and styles for every cavern, giving each one very specific qualities and textures.
The purpose of this gigantic artwork is to create an environment that would inspire “spiritual renewal and personal well being.” It will also serve as a venue for artistic events once it’s finished.
All of Mexico City used to be located on a lake, and the Aztecs built elaborate canals to transport stuff. They conquered the nearby Xochimilcas, a group of people who were renowned for their unique way of growing stuff — on chinampas, or raised lake beds. To this day, flowers are grown in Xochimilco, and it’s become a great place to spend a day on a colorful boat, too. Or as the government of Mexico City puts it, it’s a living history of colors, aromas and sounds.
With its colorful boats plying a series of canals, wide array of Mexican cuisine to sample, free-flowing tequila and smorgasbord of traditional music, it’s a feast for the eyes and a lot of fun (so long as fellow passengers don’t overindulge and become obnoxious). But it isn’t Xochimilco (note slightly different spelling), any more than New York-New York in Las Vegas is the Big Apple.
The real Xochimilco — variously translated from the Aztec’s Nahuatl language as “garden of flowers” or “place where flowers grow” — is an outlying borough of Mexico City today; one of the capital’s most cherished Sunday traditions is spending an afternoon floating through the canals on brightly painted, covered wooden pole boats called trajineras, having a long lunch and enjoying mariachis playing on passing barges. But what I find most compelling is something no theme park can replicate: This is the last remnant of the vast system of causeways, canals, manmade islands and floating gardens created out of the vast lake system that once covered today’s Valley of Mexico before it was blotted out by Mexico City’s sprawl. It’s a glimpse into not just pre-Hispanic, but pre-Aztec Mexico.
The Aztec city-state of Tenochtitlan, founded in 1325 on an island in the now dried-up Lake Texcoco, the largest of five interconnected lakes, became the largest city in pre-Columbian America. Why, you might ask, did the Mexica (pregenitors of the Aztec) choose to base their empire in the middle of a lake, where food and fresh water were scarce? Like many ancient cultures, they took their legends seriously, and one legend sent them on a centuries-long quest in search of an eagle perched on a cactus, a sign that they had reached the place where they were meant to establish their new capital and ceremonial center. The middle of Lake Texcoco just happened to be where they finally encountered said eagle.
The Aztec’s adaptations were feats of engineering and ingenuity: long causeways to the mainland, with bridges that allowed canoes to pass and could be pulled away to defeat would-be invaders; levees that kept fresh spring water separate from brackish lake waters; miles-long terra cotta aqueducts; a complex system of canals throughout the city; and chinampas to provide land for agriculture. Sometimes called floating gardens, chinampas don’t actually float. They were created by sinking cane frames into the shallow lake bed and filling them with mud, sediment, and decaying vegetation. These fertile little islets, separated by canals for farmers to navigate in canoes, produced prodigious yields of corn, beans, squash, tomatoes, chilies and flowers in the swamps.
End of an era
Some of the earliest chinampas were built on the south shore of Lake Xochimilco, the southern arm of Lake Texcoco. Though most were abandoned after the Spanish conquistadors destroyed the dams and drained the canals in order to build roads, many of Xochimilco’s fields were spared because they were such an important food source. With Mexico City’s expansion and new farming techniques, few of the tens of thousands of chinampas remain, though some in the residual Lake Xochimilco are still used to grow vegetables and flowers — Xochimilco’s primary source of income— as well as for recreation.
UNESCO, calling Xochimilco “the only reminder of traditional ground occupation in the lagoons of the Mexico City basin before the Spanish conquest,” declared it a World Heritage Site in 1987. The Parque Ecologico de Xochimilco, a great green area with trails, endemic wildlife, wetlands, bird reserves, and aquatic and land activities, was established in 1993. Yet development pressures, natural forces (earthquakes being the most violent) and pollution have accelerated the deterioration of the canals and chinampas that began with the Spanish conquest; some officials and scientists predict the canals and gardens will be gone within a generation.