We have something unique and rather cool out near my part of the world: a serious art museum, about two hours away. Maryhill is the former residence of transportation magnate Sam Hill, a post-Gilded Age chap with good connections but odd ideas. He left his mansion (overlooking the Columbia, a bit east of Wishram) as a museum. It’s nice as well as scenic. It displays:
- A significant and diverse collection of Native American artifacts.
- A sizable collection of Rodins. No, I’m not joking. Yes, I mean what I just said.
- Lots of Queen Marie of Romania and other eastern European stuff, including some very impressive ikons.
- Of course, some stuff about Sam himself, though the museum doesn’t overdo his worship.
- An exhibit on Loïe Fuller, a dancer who used gossamer drapery as a prop.
- Some fairly dull stuff upstairs.
- A gorgeous chess set collection.
- Temporary exhibits that may vary.
- Nearby, another oddity: a full-size war memorial in the shape of Stonehenge, overlooking the river.
What makes Maryhill interesting and unique is the combination of middle-of-nowhereness (as I leave the freeway to go there, I see a sign: NO SERVICES 88 MILES), marvelous Columbia Gorge scenery, and truly historic artifacts. That’s a lot of Rodins, essentially an education in his methods and life. You can see his fingerprints on some of his sculptures. Roman coins. Dresses fit for royalty. Cyrillic on ikons, in a typeface that I can barely read.
And above all, a very compelling portrait of Tsar Nikolai II (it is not ‘czar’) made more unique by vandalism. Some angry intruder slashed the canvas where it hung in Belgrade, and while it has been repaired quite well, the evidence hasn’t gone away. I’m not even much of an art buff and its significance leaps out and grabs even me: the elegant portrait of the last Tsar in his military finery, crudely marred in an overflow of pent-up resentment. What better metaphor for the chaotic, iconoclastic times of later World War I?