Willie Nelson's memorable and iconic song, "On the Road Again," sets the stage for adventure, discovery and making music with his traveling friends. His famous lyrics, "Goin' places that I've never been. Seein' things that I may never see again," are an invitation to all of us to "get on the bus, Gus; you don't need to discuss much, just drop off the key, Lee, and get yourself free..." (Paul Simon). We could "Hit the Road, Jack" with Ray Charles or be on our way with David Byrne, who's "...on the road to paradise," despite titling the song, "Road to Nowhere." With the best and most extensive highway system in the world, Americans in the 1940s took advantage of a new-found freedom and roamed great distances in their station wagon. All of a sudden, natural wonders like the Grand Canyon, the Petrified Forest, Old Faithful and the mighty Mississip' were just days away, with a few stopovers at a motel along Route 66.
The Road Trip became an American institution, and with it a greater understanding of history, architecture and art, from outdoor statues to engaging vintage advertising signs that for many became an annual ritual of photographic documentation and close encounters. A potential treat while driving across the country can be the discovery of offbeat town names. The first slide in the "road show" below is a photograph that I took in 1982 of the most curious sign connected to the most curious town: Art City, Utah. Since then, I have kept my eyes peeled for more examples, and I have collected literally hundreds of crazy sounding places. As many artists will tell you, there is aesthetic value in names, particularly those that offer a head-scratching chuckle. Here are some U.S. cities and towns with rather peculiar monikers: Toad Suck, Arkansas; Boring, Oregon; Hooker, Oklahoma; Roachtown, Illinois; Truth or Consequences, New Mexico; and my favorite, Looneyville, Texas, among others. Another great scavenger hunt for me during graduate school was tracking down roadside monuments and structures that were born to garner immediate attention from the passerby to slow down and stop for a chocolate shake created in a homemade building constructed in the shape of a 30-foot milk bottle, at The Big Duck cement building in Riverhead for Long Island duckling, to grab a brewski in the shape of a half beer can made from a Quonset hut, or get a car wash in the silhouette of a "whale." These witty and eye-catching urban works of art joined the great theatre of things to see and appreciate along the asphalt byways that spread throughout the United States like a spider web accentuated with blinking lights.
Although every great city has its attractions, the notion of publicly funded contemporary art decreed by law is a relatively new phenomenon. The great CorTen steel sculpture given to the city of Chicago by Picasso surely was the best example for other communities to get with the program and create distinguished public works of art that would become a destination and add to the local economy, from hotels to restaurants. From blown glass creations in Seattle to the outstanding architecture of Chicago to Miami's cosmopolitan atmosphere, SpringHill Suites by Marriott recognized the importance of art on the road, and has launched Art on the Road: 10 Cities, 10 Explorations, which highlights some of the most talented contemporary artisans from across the country and their work. In an unusual partnership, SpringHill Suites teamed up with Ken Kaminesky, an international travel and lifestyle photographer whose work has been featured in National Geographic, who was encouraged to scout out local art forms through unique photographic portraits. The project was a two way street. SpringHill Suites could continue their pioneering efforts to offer guests a way to discover destinations and connect art through travel, which spotlighted the diversity and beauty of art on (and beside) the road, and art lovers across America could pretend that they were passengers next to the driver as tour guide in this great visual journey. You can follow Kaminesky's beautiful discoveries by going to https://www.facebook.com/springhillsuites/app_105318872947473. It's a compelling illustrative story with a delightful twist, and is a novel way to explore local art and architecture and experience visual culture while traveling to a destination. In the slide show below, you'll be escorted to dots on a map from Boston and Minneapolis to Denver, Las Cruces and Chicago, as well as other cities that celebrate creativity documented with extraordinary imagery that makes you want to call SpringHill Suites for a reservation with a king-size bed and a view of the open road.