We in the Midwest are pretty serious folk. Jens Jensen, a wonderful Danish writer and landscape architect who settled in Chicago in the early 20th century, claims our environment dictates our personalities. Perhaps the fact that we are children of the prairie, with its endless fields and a horizon line leading to infinity, explains our somberness of character.
Just think about the recent conversations you’ve had with your friends. Politics is discussed with deadly import at most coffee shops, bars, and restaurants this time of year. Whomever you support, the opposite candidate spells doom for the universe: it is a choice between FREEDOM or THE DEVIL. And when we momentarily take a break from politics and start talking of our kids traipsing off to school, lord help us — we decry the technology, we shudder at lower teacher standards, and we gladly point to others as examples of bad parenting. Somber talk. Finally, when all of this “less serious discussion” is done, we get to the weather. Yikes, drought and doom are traveling our back roads. We are all going to lose the farm.
See, as I said, we are a serious folk.
Or are we? In the heart of Downtown Des Moines is the oddest sculpture. You’ve all driven past it. Possibly even Ethel has elbowed you in the ribs and remarked: “Henry, I think that’s a darn umbrella.” Yes, you can now tell Ethel it is an umbrella. The Crusoe Umbrella by artists Claus Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen. It is gigantic; it is amazing in it’s lines; and it will make you smile.
The Crusoe Umbrella is not serious. For a starter, it is based on a fictional story by Daniel Defoe — The Life and Strange Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, of York, Mariner, as Related by Himself. The umbrella is pretend! It’s made up. Moreover, the sculpture is not based on one of those mechanical umbrellas that shrink to the size of your palm when folded and has a cup holder for your coffee next to the GPS locator. Nope. This umbrella is modeled on one made from wood, plants, and fur. Honest. Still have doubts that this sculpture is about fun? How about this: the Crusoe Umbrella doesn’t work. Yup, on a rare rainy day, I went down to check out if the Crusoe Umbrella kept out the rain. See for yourself:
So I stepped under the umbrella.
Maybe the Midwest environment does make us all serious. But a giant umbrella in Downtown Des Moines based on the made-up story of a castaway? Come on. Even if the devil is elected, our children need remediation due to bad parenting, and the weather destroys the crop, doesn’t this goofy umbrella bring a small smile to the corner of your lips? No? Okay, did you smile at the 4th of July float that consisted of portable toilets on a flatbed?