Yes, 1776 was a year of beginnings for the newly created United States of America. As GEORGE WASHINGTON (1732-99) took control of the Continental Army, an armada of nearly 400 ships anchored off Staten Island. Sent by Britain to tame the rebellious colonists, this was the largest, most powerful force ever launched up to that time. Truly, this was an auspicious time for our ancestors; men and women of vision, facing an uncertain future, but willing to take that “first step” in a year of tumultuous beginnings.

For Herman and Ellnora Krannert, 1961 was a year of beginnings. Their vision was to create the Krannert Art Center, 500 East Peabody Street, Champaign, Illinois. Expanded through the years, this museum is now the second largest fine art museum in Illinois. With over 9,000 works of art displayed in 10 different galleries, only the Chicago Art Institute has a larger collection. Yes, the Krannerts took that “first step” and made their vision a reality. For my wife and myself, July 1, 2006, was a day of new beginnings as we took out “first step” in exploring the Krannert Art Museum.

The day dawned like many other days in Shelbyville, Illinois. Yes, it would be hot with a chance of rain. However, we were in search of a vision and, like our early ancestors, faced an uncertain future. Our quest began as we entered the Time Machine. H.G. Wells would agree that a museum is the best place to be transported back - or forward - in time. As we surveyed art ranging from the fourth millennium B.C. to the present, including paintings, sculpture and decorative arts, I became immersed in another time. A run to the grocery store? Forget it! Instead catch a “critter” for your dinner, (provided it doesn’t catch you!). As our Time Machine carried us on through the eons, we saw Pre-Columbian art, the arts of Africa and Asia, and stopped briefly to admire the Dutch painter BARTHOLOMEUS VAN DER HELST (1613-70) and his “Portrait of a Lady”. People talk about the Mona Lisa’s “smile” (think The Da Vinci Code), but this lady’s demeanor was one of supreme confidence and she did NOT face an uncertain future! Neither did van der Helst, who enjoyed considerable fame and prestigious commissions during his life in Amsterdam.

Nearby, BARTOLOME ESTEBAN MURILLO (1618-82), Spanish master who lived in Seville, displayed gentle strengths and depths in “The Holy Family”. With its tenderly involved St. Joseph and the absence of anything resembling heavy symbolism, I was drawn into the scene as if it were a Starbucks outlet. WOW! Next, with a jolt of reality, our Time Machine finally stopped in the 22nd century.

The site was the new CALCUL-ART exhibit, which explores the relationship between art and science. Using computer-generated 3-D imaging, we yelled in horror as huge sharks literally surrounded us and appeared to leap right at us! This exhibit, by Donna Cox, brought new meaning to the word realism! Another exhibit, by Charles and Ray Eames titled “Powers of 10”, focused - literally - on the human hand. Next, the image zoomed inexorably smaller and smaller by factors of ten until only atoms - the basic building blocks of all matter - were all that existed. Soon, they were gone, too!

And so, our journey in the Krannert Time Machine ended. A day of new beginnings became an exciting and enriching experience much better than any amusement park. With its armada of time, the Krannert Art Museum does it right! Many thanks to museum director Kathleen Harleman for her vision of life. Yes, every visit WILL be a new beginning. Thanks also to GEORGE WASHINGTON who, in 1776, crossed the Delaware for us! BRAVO!!!

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