Quick trips

Quirks of art: a colorful escape in Kansas City

 

Going to Kansas City

Getting there: Southwest flies nonstop from Fort Lauderdale to Kansas City, a three-hour trip that starts at $242 round-trip. Otherwise, KC’s airport (MCI) is about 5 1/2 hours by air from South Florida.

Information: 800-767-7700; www.visitkc.com

WHERE TO STAY

The Raphael Hotel, 325 Ward Pkwy.; 800-821-5343; www.raphaelkc.com. Opened in 1928 as the Villa Serena Apartments, this intimate boutique hotel by fountain- and sculpture-filled Country Club Plaza offers 126 elegant rooms and suites in an Italian Renaissance Revival building. Starting at $209 per night.

The Ambassador Hotel, 1111 Grand Blvd.; 816-298-7700; www.ambassadorhotelcollection.com/kansascity. Based in a beautifully renovated 1920s neoclassic-style bank building, this boutique hotel features fine design, sumptuous furnishings and a central location. Rooms $159 and up.

Hotel Phillips, 106 W. 12th St.; 877-704-5341; www.hotelphillips.com. This Art Deco gem, which opened in 1931, offers great downtown views, live jazz, a resident illustrator, and 217 rooms. Dogs welcome. Starting at $179 per night.

WHERE TO EAT

Chaz on the Plaza, 325 Ward Pkwy.; 816-802-2152; www.chazontheplaza.com. This award-winning restaurant serves farm-to-table cuisine flavored with ingredients picked at Powell Botanical Gardens. Breakfast, lunch and weekend brunch starting at $10. Dinner tapas starting at $7, entrees starting at $22.

FüD, 813 W. 17th St.; 816-785-3454; www.eatfud.com. FüD (“food”) prepares jackfruit BBQ, rainbow tacos, mushroom medleys and other imaginative plant-based, raw and gluten-free dishes created incorporating local, organic ingredients. Lunch and dinner. Small bites start at $5, main dishes start at $8.

Cafe Gratitude, 333 Southwest Blvd.; 816-474-LOVE (5683); www.cafegratitudekc.com. New restaurant in the Crossroads Arts District serving artfully prepared dishes using whole organic foods grown by local farmers. Also hand-crafted tonics, juices and smoothies. Lunch and dinner; entrees from $8 to $13.75; creative children’s menu too.

Bluebird Bistro, 1700 Summit St.; 816-221-7559; www.bluebirdbistro.com. Amid delightful decor you can order KC favorites featuring sustainable, organic and naturally raised ingredients. Breakfast, lunch, dinner. Sandwiches start at $6, entrees at $10.75.

WHAT TO DO

Toy & Miniature Museum of Kansas City, 5235 Oak St.; 816-235-8000; www.toyandminiaturemuseum.org. Adults $7, seniors and students $6, children $5, under 5 free. Saturday tours. Open Wednesday-Sunday.

The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, 4525 Oak St.; 816-751-1ART; www.nelson-atkins.org. Its vast collection spans nearly all media, movements, cultures, and 5,000 years, displayed in the original neoclassical building, the modern Bloch Building wing and sculpture garden. Free admission.

First Fridays Crossroads Arts District Artwalk, www.kccrossroads.org. Art from fine to low-brow by locally based artists, and a lively party scene the first Friday of each month. 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. 18th and Baltimore Avenue is a good place to start the art walk. Free.

KCP&L Plaza Lights, www.countryclubplaza.com. 5 p.m. to 3 a.m. Nov. 22-Jan. 13; Country Club Plaza, 4750 Broadway Blvd. For this 83-year-old tradition, 80 miles of multi-colored bulbs illuminate an elegant historic district known for striking architecture, sculptures and fountains. Free.


Special to The Miami Herald

The fully furnished American Georgian exudes 18th century elegance, from the grand stairway to ornate moldings to exquisite white thornwood mirror frames. And everything works: The locks lock, the fully dovetailed drawers slide, the window shutters open and close.

The immaculately constructed mansion is just steps from sculptures and paintings by the likes of Degas and Pissarro, and what is possibly the world’s largest marble collection.

I’m not house-hunting; I’m dollhouse-marveling. Miniature master William Robertson’s Twin Manors features more than 75,000 pieces. Authenticity’s absolute: the roof’s made with 18th century wood, the bricks from 18th century brick dust. Those nearby sculptures and paintings? Meticulous miniature interpretations of actual masterpieces. They’re among astonishing creations at the Toy & Miniature Museum of Kansas City.

Turns out that this bastion of barbecue is also a hotbed of unconventional art.

My sampling starts with the world’s largest collection of fine-scale miniatures: breathtaking furnishings, pottery, appliances, machines, cameras and other items faithfully reproduced on one inch to the foot scale, 1/12th their actual size.

Robertson’s jaw-dropping precision also inspirits Architect’s Classroom, a room setting filled with drafting tools, desks, models, even micro-replicas of photographs of landmark architecture. The Kansas City miniaturist got his start as a boy in Washington, D.C. carving replacement puzzle pieces and examining models at the Smithsonian. He crafts his own miniscule tools, including jeweler’s saws, router bits and a micro hand-plane.

Authentic miniatures must function like their full-size counterparts — except musical instruments. They just don’t make beautiful music in miniature.

Clinking and swooshing of glass orbs in floor-to-ceiling mazes draw me into the marble zone. Cathy and Larry Svacina, a local couple, met at a marble auction, combined their swirls, sulfides, Benningtons, Chinas and onionskins upon marrying, then donated one million marbles (give or take a few) to the museum.

“We’re trying to break the Guinness Book of World Records for World’s Largest Marble Tournament in 2013,” says museum educator Amanda Clark. “We broke it in 2008 and are anxious to earn back the title.”

Rooms of antique playthings kindle delight unmatched by today’s electronic diversions. Artifacts include 1890s cast-iron mechanical banks, intricately carved animals of countless species, a covered wagon made from matchsticks by a jailed man, tea sets and model trains circling tracks. Imagination is sparked by magic viewers, treasure houses, ornate stick-figure stages and peep shows, a 15th-century creation employing optical illusion.

Georgiana, a doll from 1750s England, “has her original clothing and has glass eyes and a wig of real human hair,” notes Clark. A collection of delicate French dolls made of bisque were not for playing, but, Clark explains, “to practice adult skills like sewing and keeping up with fashion trends.”

Biking northward, I stop to wander through a free oasis of fantasy flora at Kauffman Memorial Garden, then on to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. I expected stunning works but found surprises as well — including free admission and a 22-acre sculpture park where headless wanderers, molten-metal trees and mammoth badminton shuttlecocks pop up like magical visions.

Inside, shiny new “shuttlecarts” designed by Kansas City’s own Peregrine Honig transport visitors between far-flung galleries. The impossibly silent, eco-friendly Birdcage and Sweet Charity project a circus-meets-European royalty vibe.

In the center of town, sun bounces off huge silver shells housing Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, a steel-and-glass architectural marvel opened last year.

This show-stopper contrasts with the Crossroads arts district’s handsome old brick warehouses now invigorated with lofts, cafes and galleries . At Sherry Leedy Contemporary, a seductive cobalt-blue ceramic gown glows between amusing creatures by local sculptors.

Outside, another hometown artist, Scribe, has turned walls into graphic novels exploding with otherworldly animals, proving KC’s graffiti-friendly reputation. The critters range from sweet to sinister; the monster showdown scenes have me alternating between “wow!” and “whoa!”

Navigate on foot or bike and you’ll pass some of the nearly 200 fountains that earned KC the moniker “Rome of the Midwest.” The city’s humane society built the first ones in the early 1900s for horses. Now the fountains serve as public art, with subjects from such unlikely Midwest inhabitants as mermaids and penguins to a red 2,155-pound granite sphere that spins on a slip of water. A touch changes its motion.

On the Missouri River’s south bank, I bike through Riverfront Park, then west on Riverfront Heritage Trail. A freight-train roars by just before I cross the Kansas River on an old bridge turned hike-bike crossing. The pathway’s dressed up with gates in the shape of giant iron penny-farthing velocipedes and poles topped by plate glass-steel-neon sculptures by STRETCH. This city clearly supports its local artists.

Some artworks tell heritage stories. Beneath the iconic Liberty Memorial tower, entry into the National World War I Museum takes you across a glass bridge above a field of 9,000 red poppies, each representing 1,000 fallen WWI soldiers.

In the industrial West Bottoms area, a group of welded-scrap sculptures by another resident, Ed Hogan, honor the scrapped-together families formed by slaves fleeing to the free state of Kansas. A few blocks away, a statue depicts Lewis and Clark, their Native American guide, African-American servant and furry dog pushing westward on the Santa Fe Trail.

A huge fiberglass Hereford bull standing atop a sky-high pedestal reveals a side of Kansas City’s heritage as well as character: Its enchanting quirks of art come in all styles and sizes.

Robin Soslow can be reached at rsoslow@gmail.com

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