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Exploring Art at Whitney Plantation

April 2, 2019 by · Comments Off on Exploring Art at Whitney Plantation 

This article appeared in the February 2019 issue of DeSoto Magazine.

Georges Braque, a famous French artist who helped develop Cubism said, “Art is a wound turned into light.” That quote describes the Whitney Children perfectly: 40 life-sized terracotta statues of enslaved African-American children created by sculptor Woodrow Nash. The haunting boys and girls in ragged clothes are scattered around the grounds of Whitney Plantation, in Wallace, Louisiana. Most are placed in Antioch Baptist Church, the location where guided tours begin. As you move throughout the church, the statues pull at your heart and make you question what they are thinking. If these pieces of art don’t touch your soul, I dare say nothing will. 

Antioch Baptist Church now on Whitney Plantation

The endearing children are the work of Ohio-based sculptor Woodrow Nash, commissioned by Jim Cummings, Whitney Plantation’s owner. Nash, who describes his style as African Nouveau, has a consuming passion for elevating the human spirit. He builds a sense of mystery and charisma into each piece, clearly evident in the Whitney children. 

Whitney Children sitting on a church pew.

When approached while working on the Children of Whitney, Nash said: “I want these pieces to be as genuine to true slave life as possible. This project has been a challenge that I’ve looked forward to for a long time. My pieces will breathe life into the whole plantation.”

Sculptures by Woodrow Nash, the Whitney Children as seen in the Antioch Church.

Whitney Plantation opened in December 2014 as the first plantation museum in Louisiana to focus exclusively on the lives of the slaves, and one of very few in the country. Many of the famous Louisiana River Plantations, like Oak Alley, have finally begun to include slave stories and slave cabins on tours. However, most estates in the Old South continue to focus on the grandeur of the big house and lives of the wealthy landowners. Whitney Plantation portrays the opposite. 

Whitney focuses the point of view on children because the collected oral histories from the Works Progress Administration (WPA) in the 1930s came from former slaves. These people were children at the time of emancipation in 1865, so their stories came from their youth. Whitney presents their recollections as told in their own words.

You’ll find some of the statues scattered around the plantation.
Two boys on the porch of a slave cabin.

To accomplish this, each visitor receives a lanyard with a card imprinted with a photo and name associated with an individual sculpture. The flip side of the card contains a brief narrative—in the original dialect and vernacular as told to the WPA. These snippets are among the 2,200 collected by the Federal Writers’ Project during the Great Depression. The museum thus brings the past to life when visitors search for the child on their card, find the replica and make a connection.

John Cummings, a wealthy New Orleans lawyer, bought the plantation property about 16 years ago. Originally German immigrants, the Heidels (also spelled “Haydel”), were the landowners. They grew indigo and then the more profitable sugar cane from 1752 to 1867. Its second owner named it Whitney, after his grandson.

Cummings came to the realization that Americans knew little about the lives of slaves. He developed plans to educate them through visits to the plantation. He spent over $8 million of his own money to establish Whitney, a work still in progress. Especially noteworthy are the church and seven slave cabins, purchased and moved to the site to help tell the story. 

Statue of slave girl inside the Big House.

Guides move tours through the Whitney in a specific order. After leaving the church, visitors encounter The Field of Angels, a circular courtyard, featuring a poignant bronze statue by Rod Moorhead of a black angel holding a baby. The area is dedicated to the 2,200 slave children who died before their third birthdays in St. John the Baptist Parish. 

Statue in the Field of Angles, Whitney Plantation

Further along, a Wall of Honor, similar to war memorial walls, recognizes the 354 people who were enslaved at Whitney. 

Then, the most shocking part of the tour is the memorial to an 1811 slave uprising. Dozens of black, life-sized men’s heads stand on sticks in the ground. This is a brutal display, but unforgettable art. About 500 slaves participated in the uprising with the aim of escaping to New Orleans. Most never made it that far. Many of the captured were killed — and their decapitated heads were put on sticks along the river to terrify others. 

Slave Rebellion Heads at Whitney Plantation

The tour continues toward the slave quarters where guests discover a few more Whitney Children, one sitting on the front porch. Stepping into the cramped cabin provides a perspective on the bare-bones accommodations provided for the slave population. At one time, Whitney had 22 slave cabins, each serving at least two families. Nearby sits the kitchen, the oldest in Louisiana, where typically female slaves toiled over burning fires. 

A slave cabin at Whitney Plantation for hold two families.

Last stop is the French-Creole-style Big House built in the late 18th century. A few children worked in the house along with other servants. Therefore, another statue of a little girl rests there, in opposition to the fine antique furnishings and artworks. Guides use her to talk about the lives of the house slaves, the long hours they kept and the pallets where they slept on the floor. By the end of the tour, most visitors fall silent. Whitney is an attention-grabbing and moving place. 

Whitney Plantation Kitchen is the oldest kitchen in Louisiana.

Plantation owner Jim Cummings said, “You can’t rewrite history but you can right many of the wrongs—primarily with education.” Whitney Plantation makes significant strides in that direction. 

The Big House on Whitney Plantation

If you go: Whitney Plantation is about 32 miles from the New Orleans airport, 5099 Highway 18, Wallace, Louisiana. (225) 265-3300. Open daily 9:30 a.m to 4:30 p.m. Closed Tuesdays and major holidays. Tours are on the hour from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Advance reservations are recommended. Tours cost $22; $15 for students with ID, military, those age 65 and older; free for children under age 12. They are 90 minutes, all on foot and mostly on gravel paths. Those with special needs should call in advance. www.whitneyplantation.com. Whitney Plantation is a member of the New Orleans Plantation Country group: visitnopc.com.

Comparing Global Spa Treatments

February 13, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

My daughter, a realtor, shouts, “location, location, location,” but when it comes to travel, it’s all about “experiences, experiences, experiences.” Over the past several years, the term has become the mantra of the luxury travel market. And the trend isn’t going away. “Luxury travelers want memorable experiences beyond a nice hotel room and pool,” says Jeri Clausing, editor of the luxury eNewsletter for Travel Weekly.

Bread Making Class in Jordan

Bread Making Class in Jordan

Visitors want hands-on opportunities, a way to hear, touch, smell, and taste a destination. Those interested in fitness gravitate toward physical activities such as hiking, biking, and kayaking. Cooking and painting classes or concerts draw a more artsy crowd. My travels have included a variety of spa treatments producing therapeutic and notable encounters.

Recently, a spa esthetician provided a new manta. She swears by, “exfoliation and hydration, hydration, hydration.” I like that.

Bottled Water for hydration

Bottled Water for hydration

You can’t take global adventures without long plane rides, but those are drying to the skin. Both healthy and immensely pleasurable, I was able to replenish some moisture through local themed, indulgent spa treatments.

 

In Japan, I sank into the traditional “onsen” hot mineral baths (previous story here). The evening outdoor soak in the communal hot mineral springs brought one of the most unforgettable experiences of my life. Yes, I felt a bit awkward, naked and immersed in the Hilton Niseko‘s outdoor pool surrounded by beautifully illuminated trees, but afterward, I slept as soundly as if I’d run a marathon.

Japanese Onsen Baths at Hilton Niseko

What a view I had from the Japanese Onsen Bath in the Hilton Niseko.

In Jordan, a day at the Marriott Dead Sea Resort included the outrageous, bucket-list experience of a Dead Sea mud bath. It began in the highly concentrated waters of the Dead Sea, so salty no animal life survives. Not only did I immediately begin to float, it was difficult to put my feet down. The hands-free floating experience was like nothing else, just be careful not to splash water in your eyes.

 

Afterward, I headed for a large container filled with Dead Sea mud and preceded to slather it all over my body. I then stood around baking in the sun for 10-15 minutes. I was not alone with my mud-caked body; this is what people do at the Dead Sea. Soon, I showered off the mud, my hands sliding on my skin as if gliding over waxed paper. I could have recorded a commercial for baby-soft skin. I now use a Dead Sea mud mask on my face at home (purchased on Amazon.com).

Dead Sea Mud Treatment

Dead Sea Mud Treatment in Jordan

More than a year ago I “took the waters” (as they say) in Budapest. The thermal springs gush with temperatures ranging from about 70-170 degrees. I chose, not a luxury spa, but the traditional baths (really tiled pools) at the Gellert Baths, popular with the locals. I followed the Hungarian routine, moving from pool to pool, each with a different temperature. Afterward, I was so invigorated; I walked the few miles back to my hotel.

Gellert Thermal Spa in Budapest, Hungary

Gellert Thermal Baths & Spa in Budapest, Hungary

An India trip several years ago brought a Shirodhara treatment that involved dripping oil like a thread (dhara) on my head (shiro), what the locals term a tranquil Ayurvedic oil treatment. As I lay down on my back, the attendant draped towels around me. She then hung a wide-mouthed vessel with a small hole at the bottom above my head. A wick extended to about two inches from my forehead. Special medicinal oil poured into the vessel flowed slowly onto the upper part of my forehead, my eyes protected by cotton pads. The process normally continues for 60 minutes, but I asked for it to end sooner. It wasn’t water torture, but I can’t quite describe what bothered me about this treatment. I simply didn’t enjoy it. Instead of relaxing my mind, all I thought about was ending the session. However, I will admit that my hair benefited from the oil’s moisturizing effects.

Ayurvedic oil treatment

Ayurvedic oil treatment

In 2016, while in Italy, I luxuriated for two days at the posh ADLER Thermae Spa & Resort. This  Tuscan haven is near Bagno Vignoni, the ancient complex of naturally fed thermal baths and pools. At the Adler I scooted among warm water-jets strategically placed around the swimming pool, relieving my aching, travel-weary muscles. In the center, a powerful pulsating fountain pounded at my tightened back, head and entire body simultaneously. Crawling out after a few rounds of this pleasurable assault, a real pro applied an “aah”-producing massage. The Adler Resort, the ultimate in relaxation, even lets you wear your spa robe to breakfast and lunch.

Adler Thermae Resort Pool

Adler Thermae Resort Pool

Pounding water relaxes muscles at Adler Thermae Spa

Pounding water relaxes muscles at Adler Thermae Spa

Years ago, after an overnight stay in the Ice Hotel in Quebec, I took a short hop to Le Nordique Spa outside the city. The idyllic rural property was covered in snow – – a picture postcard. My treatment began in the sauna, followed, hesitantly, by a dip in an unheated outdoor pool. Exiting, I wrapped myself in a towel and practically ran to the relaxation room. Then, I repeated the process this time having a special Auguste sauna treatment with orange essential oil. Instead of cooling off in the pool, I bravely climbed down the steps of a ladder and plunged down a hole cut in the ice covering the river –temperature hovering around zero. I shot back up and out at top speed—and survived. The warm shower that came next felt so good, I didn’t want to leave. Apparently, locals frequent the spa often and spend an entire day here. As a Floridian, once was enough.

Plunging into an ice bath at Le Nordique Spa

Plunging into an ice bath at Le Nordique Spa

A recent road trip to Asheville, North Carolina brought me to the Asheville Salt Cave. Lounging in the dim, Zen-like setting for 45 minutes, I breathed in air saturated with Himalayan salt. Divine escape.  I didn’t have any respiratory or sinus ailments but still came out feeling fully oxygenated and spry. I was told the treatments are beneficial for those with skin problems like acne, eczema, and psoriasis, too.

Salt Cave, Asheville, NC

Salt Cave, Asheville, NC

Moving on to the One Ocean Resort in Atlantic Beach, Florida, just a two and a half hour drive from my home, I relished an Ocean Mist facial. The treatment included a special seaweed serum and some calcium-rich moisturizers. The skin on my face was rejuvenated, as plumped and moisturized as any over 65-year-old face can get. The chic spa experience offered a rejuvenating retreat.

Relaxing at the One Ocean Spa, Atlantic Beach, FL

Relaxing at the One Ocean Spa, Atlantic Beach, FL

From now on, wherever I go, I hope to make time to try out the local spa treatments. Gotta run, I hear the Greenbrier calling, or is it the spas at Baden Baden, Germany?

Castle Hopping Road Trip Through Scotland

June 2, 2017 by · Comments Off on Castle Hopping Road Trip Through Scotland 

The lure and history of castles, romantic countryside and the majestic Highlands drew me to Scotland in the summer of 2016. I wrote the following road trip story for a Boomers Travel website and hope you will click and read here: http://myitchytravelfeet.com/2017/05/30/scotland-roadtrip/.

Storm at Kilchurn Castle in Scotland

Storm looms over Kilchurn Castle in Scotland.

Conquering Castles and Countryside on a Scotland Roadtrip

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