A Master at Work

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Have you ever wondered what it would have been like to watch Michaelangelo chiseling the marble away from the encased David? What would it have been like? What would it have been like to be at the bottom of the Sistine Chapel when he was suspended far above, flat on his back, painting the ceiling? What would it have been like to listen to and watch Beethoven compose? Or Rembrandt paint?

I think the closest I’ve come to that is watching professional athletes, world-class folk, perform. But that’s not even the same. In my book, there’s only been one Michaelangelo, one Beethoven, one Rembrandt. Sure, you can argue for your favorite artists of all time and who’s to say you’re wrong? Not me, but I think those three are at the top of the list in their genres!

As we were in the Isabel Stewart Gardiner Museum in Boston, MA, a woman was laboriously at work cleaning the stone sarcophagus that was set in one corner. I don’t know if it was a new artifact, or if it had just been gunked up by hundreds or thousands of years, but it was interesting to watch her work. She would take Q-tips and place it in her mouth to moisten them, then reach out to clean a spot on the sarcophagus. Then, she’d discard that Q-tip, get another, and repeat the process. Why didn’t she just dip them into some cleaning solvent to get rid of the grime of the centuries? Because cleaning solvents are too strong, but the acidity of human saliva was just right for the job.

_MG_8935 I don’t know her name, but I admired her patience and commitment to preserving a great work of art. I can’t imagine the pain in the arm, shoulders, fingers, hands, and back of sitting in this position for hours on end to do what she does. Goodness knows I’d not have the patience but I’m glad she does.

ON THIS DAY IN HISTORY: in 1940, cowboy-movie star Tom Mix, who cried at the funeral of Wyatt Earp, was killed when he lost control of his speeding Cord Phaeton convertible and rolled into a dry wash (now called the Tom Mix Wash) near Florence, Arizona. He was 60 years old. Today, visitors to the site of the accident can see a 2-foot–tall iron statue of a riderless horse and a somewhat awkwardly written plaque that reads: “In memory of Tom Mix whose spirit left his body on this spot and whose characterization and portrayals in life served to better fix memories of the Old West in the minds of living men.”

According to Mix’s press agent, the star was a genuine cowboy and swaggering hero of the Wild West: He was born in Texas; fought in the Spanish-American War, the Boxer Rebellion and the Boer War; and served as a sheriff in Kansas, a U.S. marshal in Oklahoma and a Texas Ranger. In fact, Mix was born in Driftwood, Pennsylvania; deserted the Army in 1902, and was a drum major in the Oklahoma Territorial Cavalry band when he went off to Hollywood in 1909.

None of these inconvenient facts prevented Mix from becoming one of the greatest silent-film stars in history, however. Along with his famous horse Tony, Mix made 370 full-length Westerns. At the peak of his fame, he was the highest-paid actor in Hollywood, earning as much as $17,500 a week (about $218,000 today).  Unfortunately, Mix and Tony had a hard time making the transition to talking pictures. Some people say that the actor’s voice was so high-pitched that it undermined his macho cowboy image, but others argue that sound films simply had too much talking for Mix’s taste: He preferred wild action sequences to a heartfelt conversation.

On the day he died, Mix was driving north from Tucson in his beloved bright-yellow Cord Phaeton sports car. He was driving so fast that he didn’t notice–or failed to heed–signs warning that one of the bridges was out on the road ahead. The Phaeton swung into a gully and Mix was smacked in the back of the head by one of the heavy aluminum suitcases he was carrying in the convertible’s backseat. The impact broke the actor’s neck and he died almost instantly. Today, the dented “Suitcase of Death” is the featured attraction at the Tom Mix Museum in Dewey, Oklahoma.

TRIVIA FOR TODAY: The driest place on earth is Chile’s Atacama desert. Some portions of the desert have never had a recorded rainfall.

 

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