Books that Inspire: The Greater Journey Americans in Paris, by David McCullough

Kim Minichiello

I love history and travel and feel the two go hand in hand.  I really enjoy reading about the history of places I have lived or visited, especially Paris.  David McCullough’s The Greater Journey Americans in Paris, not only gives us a feeling of what Paris was like between 1830 and 1900, but tells various stories of the many Americans who in the early 1830’s braved the rough seas on sailing ships to live in a country whose language and culture they knew nothing about, with ambitions to learn and excel in their field of work, and in some cases profoundly impact American history itself.

Many traveled to further their medial careers, since Paris was considered at that time the most advanced in medicine in the entire world.  He tells the story of Elizabeth Maxwell, the first female physician in the United States, and Oliver Wendell Holmes and his colleagues who had a lasting effect on how medicine was practiced upon their return home.

He tells of writers, James Fenimore Cooper, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Mark Twain, and the influence their visits to Paris had on their work.

Bust of Edwin Wallace Stoughton, Marble,  1874 by Augustus Saint-Gauden, Ringling Museum of American Art

He covers extensively the artist’s journey of sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens, born to a French father and Irish mother, who immigrated to the United States at 6 months old.  He was trained at the École des Beaux-Arts, and is probably best known for, among many of his sculptures, a monument to Civil War Admiral David Farragut, in New York’s Madison Square and his Diane created as a weathervane for the second Madison Square Garden Building in New York City. We learn of Samuel F.B. Morse’s journey and his ambitious works, of painting vistas of the Louvre Museum.   In the late 1800’s we became familiar with the journeys of John Singer Sargent and Mary Cassatt.

Probably the most mind boggling is the heroic account of American ambassador Elihu Washburne, who remained at his post during the Franco-Prussian War, the Siege of Paris and the horrific Commune.  His accounts of the suffering of the people of Paris in this moment of history are haunting.

David McCullough is a treasure. His extensive research and propensity to weave together historical accounts in the manner of a storyteller makes this work a joy to read.  I hope it’s on your Christmas list! 🙂


The Ringling Museums, Sarasota, Florida

www.kimminichiello.comEntrance to Cá d’Zan, Ringling Mansion

Before many board games, television, computers, video and computer games, cell phones, and movie theaters, the only major form of entertainment for many communities was the circus. It was a very big deal when the circus came to town by train.  They set up and performed sometimes only one show in smaller communities before they were on to the next destination.  Towns declared the day circus came to town a holiday which meant no school for the children and no work for the adults so that everyone could attend the show.

 Living Room Ringling Mansion

At one time in the United States, there were one hundred companies that owned circuses that traveled all over the country.  Just like today in the age of mergers and acquisitions, smaller outfits were bought out by bigger more successful circuses.  One of the most successful was the Ringling Brothers Circus which eventually purchased the Barnum and Bailey circus in 1907. At first they operated and traveled as two separate circuses but when the business become too much for John & Charles Ringling to handle after three of his other  brothers were no longer involved with the family business, the names and the shows were combined into one, The Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus in 1919.   John’s dream of performing in Madison Square Garden in New York was finally fulfilled.  Previously only the Barnum circus performed there.

 Dining Room, Ringling Mansion

In the early twenties John Ringling purchased 67,000 acres of land in Sarasota and Long Boat Key, Florida.  At the time, John was said to have been one of the wealthiest men in the United States.  In 1927 he moved the winter quarters of the circus to Sarasota, attracting famous circus performers from all over the world and Sarasota became known as Circus City USA.  By 1929 Ringling had acquired and owned all of the traveling circuses in the United States including Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show.

John and his wife Mabel loved Sarasota so much they built their winter home there on the Gulf of Mexico.  The home named Cá d’ Zan (House of John in the Venetian Dialect” ) is in the Mediterranean Revival style and was inspired by the architectural styles of Mabel’s favorite Venetian hotels.

The Rubens Hall, Ringling Museum of Art

Avid collectors of art from the 1920’s to the early 30’s, they amassed a collection of over 600 paintings, sculptures, and decorative objects,  from the 14th through the 18th centuries, works by Rubens, Van Dyk, Titian, and others.  Their dream was to build an art museum on the property with the home to preserve and house their extensive art collection.  Work began in the 1920’s on this incredible complex built in the Italian renaissance style.  To save on labor John hired many circus employees and used the elephants to move heavy construction materials in place. A new wing was constructed a few years ago to house, a number of temporary shows and exhibitions.

The Loggia Ringling Art Museum

Unfortunately after the great depression, and into the 40’s, the circus business started to dry up and other forms of entertainment started to captivate audiences. When John Ringling died at age 70 in 1936, he only had a few hundred dollars in his bank account. However, he bequeathed many of his assets including his home and art museum to the state of Florida.

If you visit there is much to see and do. You could easily spend two full days. On the property you can tour John and Mabel’s mansion, Cá d’ Zan which is situated on the Gulf. There are two Circus Museum buildings. The original built in 1948, houses the private  Pullman rail car that John and Mabel traveled in with the circus, vintage circus wagons and an interesting exhibit on when Cecil B. DeMille filmed the Oscar Award winning movie The Greatest Show on Earth in Sarasota.

Detail,Under the Big Top, Worlds Largest Circus Model

The other Circus Museum, The Tibbals Learning Center opened in 2006.  The highlight  in this facility is the world’s largest miniature circus model, which was constructed by Howard Tibbals, also the benefactor of this museum.  He constructed the entire model in a 50 year span.  This model is absolutely mind boggling in two aspects.  One, the model itself is a work of art.  Every little detail is conveyed from the circus arriving on the train, the big top, side show and menagerie upon entering the main tent, plus all the backstage supporting elements: commissary, living quarters, quarters for all the animals, repair and machine shops, etc.    Secondly, it conveys in no other way unless you had been there, the logistics, and all the elements, and inner workings of this huge entertainment venue.

In addition to the mansion, art museum and two circus museums,  is the Asolo Theatre, which is an actual 18th century theatre purchased from Asolo, Italy and reassembled on the Ringling grounds.  It is the only state theatre in Florida and features performances by the Asolo Theater Repertory Company.

The Ringling Museums are a true treasure in the state of Florida and definitely worth a visit!



Peel Street Guardian

 Oil on Panel with Worshipping Papers,  9″ x 12″, Collection of Artist

On the South end of Peel Street, in Hong Kong,  is a tiny temple I would pass by on my way to Central when I walked from our apartment in the mid levels.  This little guardian lion was always covered in ashes from the joss sticks lit for offerings and prayers.   Since I passed by often I wanted to create a painting that would remind me, and be a momento of my daily life there.  To add interest I used Chinese worshipping papers in the upper left corner.

www.kimminichiello.comLimited Edition Prints & Note cards available here.

20% of all sales this month go toward the relief effort for Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines.

Work in Progress of Odd Man Out

Kim MinichielloOriginal Plein Air Watercolor  Sketch, Peel Street Hong Kong

Today I thought I would share some work in progress photos of my painting Odd Man Out.  I developed this large painting from a watercolor sketch I did plein air on Peel Street in Hong Kong, and photos that I took the day I did the sketch.  I took the photo after I did the watercolor sketch and the lighting had changed dramatically. The  hot  noon-day sun was shining through the lanterns onto the sign for the shop, popping the color and making the lanterns glow, as well as creating some interesting lighting on the sign.

In the larger painting, 40” x 20.5,”  I wanted to capture the light hitting the lanterns making them glow.  I wanted to represent the washed out feeling of the sign behind, with the bright sunlight shining on it, which made the lanterns stand out more.   All of this was juxtaposed against the cool gray concrete textural facade of the actual building, creating a play of warm against cool.  Most all facades in the market streets of Hong Kong have the ubiquitous wires, tarps, pipes, grunge, and a variety of elements kluged together, for displays,  to hold up awnings and signs, etc.  I wanted to include some of those elements in the painting as well.


The sketch shows two lanterns with faces. But, I had the idea for the title of the painting, Odd Man Out,  which made sense to use only one “face lantern.”  Then after painting the Chinese Goddess figure, in the lowest purple lantern in the composition, I thought it would be fun to have the lantern with the face gazing down at her.  Also, putting it where it had been in the sketch would have been too much contrast, and would have called too much attention to the very bottom of the painting.  I  also took some liberties with the placement and colors of the lanterns to make the composition more interesting.  I don’t work directly from the photograph but use it as a guide.  Photos don’t always present us with the best design for a painting.  Plus, a major enjoyment for me while I paint is to recall the place and the memories of being there.  If I’m so focused on a photograph, I tend to miss that opportunity.

The completed painting on the easel gives you an idea of the scale.  I really enjoy working larger in watercolor! www.kimminichiello.comOdd Man Out, Watercolor, 40″ x 20.5″

Limited Edition Prints & Note cards available here.

20% of all sales this month go toward the relief effort for Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines.

Watercolor Sketch Angkor Thom, Cambodia

www.kimminichiello.comWatercolor on Handmade Paper

I’m sharing today another watercolor sketch from my trip to Siem Reap Cambodia.  This is one of the gates to Angkor Thom.  It was established in the late 12th century and is one of the last most captivating capital cities of the Khmer Empire.  It encompasses approximately 6 square miles (9 square km) and is in the Bayon Style.  This style most distinctive feature are the large stone faces that that surround the main towers of the temples and gates.  Aside from Angkor Wat, it is one of the most popular sites to visit.  Looking at the series of bas reliefs at the outer wall, depicting daily life and historical events, gives you a sense of what this kingdom must have been like.  It’s a very peaceful and humbling experience.

On our trip we must have visited a dozen temples or former cities.  What is amazing about visiting these archeological wonders is that you are essentially exploring ruins, climbing among the fallen stones that were once walls and statues, dodging trees that have taken over and become part of the architecture.  If you time your visits just right, you may be among only a handful of people there and you feel like you have the place to yourself.

When I travel, along with doing watercolor sketches I sometimes keep a written journal, which I happened to do on this trip!  The times I don’t I really regret it later.  Many memories are lost and forgotten if they aren’t written down.  So I thought I would also share my journal entries from our day at Angkor Thom.

Kim MinichielloAngkor Thom

We had driven through this area yesterday so we had had a preview of what we were to see.  This complex is so big and spread out you have to drive to the particular areas to see them. Built by King Jayavarman VII (Donald Trump), it was really like a city said to have supported a population of one million people in the surrounding region. First we stopped before the South gate to walk along the road lined with giant statues of 54 gods on one side and 54 demons on the other.  These statues have fully restored heads unlike one of the other gates into Angkor Thom where the heads have been pillaged, also noticeable were bullet holes nicks on many of them.  The gate is quite impressive, about 20 meters high decorated with stone elephant trunks and topped by a 4 faced Buddha.  Many people were taking elephant rides along the road into Angkor Thom.  We just took the van.


The Bayon is a temple with very steep flights of stairs, with a collection of 54 towers decorated with 216 Buddha faces.  Every where you looked was a huge face frontal view or in profile.  We wondered through corridors happening upon face after face as well as beautiful relief carvings of everyday life of the average Cambodian, and smiling apsaras.    The morning light was providing nice highlights and contrasts on the facial features.  It was quite crowded at the top and there was a group of native Cambodians dressed in Khmer traditional costume.  You could pay to have your picture taken with them.


In it’s heyday this would have been the most spectacular of Angkhor’s temples.  It marked the center of the city of Angkor Thom, built in the 11th century.  This was the center of restoration efforts by a French organization before the civil war broke out.  The temple had been disassembled piece by piece and each stone numbered. Then during the civil war, the Khmer Rouge destroyed all the documentation. Therefore, there is no way to know how to put it back together.  It is one giant jigsaw puzzle.  The area around the foundation of the temple looks like a huge graveyard for stones with stones spread out all over the grounds and each have a white number painted on them still.

 Limited Edition Prints & Note cards available here.

20% of all sales this month go toward the relief effort for Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines.

Congratulations to Julie S for winning a print from my Thank You to all my Supporters and Subscribers Giveaway!

Watercolor Sketch Angkor Wat in Cambodia

www.kimminichiello.comWatercolor Sketch on Handmade Paper

I haven’t posted a watercolor sketch for a while, so today I thought I would share one that I did  that has special meaning to me.  For years Cambodia and  specifically Angkor Wat was on my husband’s and my  bucket list of places to see.  When we knew we were going to live in Hong Kong,  we knew our wish would more than likely come to fruition!  Since it can be rather hot there, we thought a trip over the Christmas holiday would be perfect time to go.

I can’t explain my affinity for Asian and Southeast Asian cultures.  I have always been drawn to the textiles, the food, and the culture.  Visiting Cambodia was an amazing experience for me.  Angkor in the provence Siem Reap, is one of the most important archeological sites in Southeast Asia, and is on the UNESCO World Heritage List.  The area stretches nearly 250 square miles (400 km squared)  and consists of the ruins of temples that were the different capitals of the Khmer Empire from the 9th to the 15th centuries.

 Kim Minichiello

Between Cambodia being colonized by the French in the 1860’s when some french explorers would export artifacts from these temples back to Europe,  and the takeover of the Khmer Rouge in the 1970’s which led to the devastating Cambodian Genocide, the temples have withstood the years of abuse, and neglect and are still marvels to see.   Restoration work started in the 80’s and 90’s and many organizations have come on board to protect and restore these important sites.

On a side note…

I am donating 20% of  the sales on my web site’s print shop to the relief effort for the Typhoon in the Philippines this month! There are a number of prints and note cards to choose from.  And if you subscribe to my email list on my site, you would be eligible to win a giclée of you choice.  Drawing is Sunday, December 8!