About jkvallette

playwright. wonderer. based in the philadelphia region.



It took two and a half hours to drive to Kansas City from Springfield, MO.  Being an Easterner, I find myself marveling at the space between cities out here.  New York City is  only an hour and half away from Philly on a good day.

My destination was the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art.  IT WAS FABULOUS!  Outside I was greeted by this shuttlecock sculpture by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje Van Bruggen.  Apparently there are four around the grounds.  These are the largest shuttlecocks in the world according to Atlas Obscura.


Inside, galleries surrounded a courtyard.

So many beautiful works of art to engage with….I’ll post a few that caught my attention.

The figure on the left was painted and exhibited in a Paris Salon in 1905 by Kees van Dongen.  A shocked critic labelled van Dongen and like painters such as Matisse– “Les Fauves” which translates to “the wild beasts.” Thus the movement of painting was named Fauvism.

The one on the right, The Record Player,  was painted in 1939 by german painter, Karl Hofer.  Two years prior, Hitler called modern painters degenerates. Hofer’s paintings were taken; he lost his teaching job and was told he could no longer paint.  But this painting shows, he painted anyway.

Two American artists painted the above in the 1950’s. Richard Diebenkorn (left) mixes realism with abstraction finding striking light in Interior with a Book.  Yasuo Kuniyoshi (right) titled his painting, My Fate is in Your Hands.  I love his color, shapes and fantasy.

After visiting the museum, I drove 270 miles west to Hays, Kansas.  I stopped at Salina to walk their main drag.  The temperature was in the high 90’s so not too many folk were out.  I stopped for handmade ice cream to cool me off.

Mostly I enjoyed the change of the landscape as I drove.  Subtle.  Farms of various kinds for miles.  Prairie and undulating hills changed to windfarms and small oil pumps.  Then flat flat flat and big open sky.


Finally, the hotel.  Time to stop this motion for the night.





Alley Spring is located just west of Eminence, MO. It was named after John Alley who was a miller.  A very picturesque mill sits poised next to another beautiful spring.  Again, the water’s color amazed me.  The beauty …well….take a look.






After this splendor, I drove the two hours to Springfield, got myself some barbecue at Smokin’ Bob’s and found a hotel room for the night.


On an early walk in the Giant City State Park, I noticed that the storm had knocked down many branches but not these spiders’ webs.

I also found this amazing stick bug as I packed the car.  I couldn’t get enough of his angular shape caught up in the reflections of the trees.


I decided that today I was heading to Springfield, Missouri.  I let google maps direct me in the most efficient way until appetite and word-of-mouth directed me elsewhere.  My first stop was for breakfast in Dexter, MO.



Through YELP, I got myself to the Corner Stop Cafe in town to take-out their well-reputed chicken salad sandwich.  A great conversation ensued with a woman who worked there, possibly managed the place. She and another patron recommended I see the Big Spring near Van Buren, part of the Ozark National Scenic Riverways.  So sure, why not? I drove there and Ok, the photos I am posting here were not filtered in anyway.  The water truly was these outstanding shades of greens and blues because they are churned out with great force from a limestone bluff..  This is one of the biggest springs in the world.


A ranger there recommended I head up to Alley Springs and well, sure-why not? I did and , well, that will be the next blog post……




I drove southwest today, skirting St. Louis, Abraham Lincoln’s birthplace and bourbon distilleries.  I was headed to Paducah.  I really don’t know why.  I just like the sound of the name?  I learned that it sits on the convergence of the Ohio and Tennessee rivers, making it historically an important city for industry, energy, river transport.  It was occupied by Union forces in the Civil War.  Now its old town is a bit forlorn, but the brick quarter is being brought back to life with galleries and shops–something old is becoming new again.

I made the National Quilt Museum my first stop.

I am not a quilter but WOW, now I wish I was.  The exhibited quilts blew my mind and there were many of them.  The vision, skill, detail, heart in these works of art moved me deeply.  I wasn’t expecting to be in the presence of such masterpieces in Paducah, Kentucky.  I felt revitalized after visiting here.  I wish I could share images of them with you but photography was not permitted.  Just go some time if you get the chance and be aware of the YEARS that fingers worked to make those fabric stories.

I roamed the streets in the steamy afternoon heat.  I tasted my first rolled ice cream.


A mural of Paducah’s history lined the waterfront and invited me into this city’s past.

I wanted to camp for the night and had a place in mind about 45 minutes further west but a woman who owned an antique shop in town told me to go into Southern Illinois to Makanda to the Giant City State Park.  It was maybe an hour or so northwest so sure, why not?  Upon arriving at the campground, I paid for my site when the manager said that the bathhouse was also a safe house.  Excuse me?  And then he said his son called from Carbondale saying they were having a storm and it was heading towards Makanda.  It was sunny, hard to believe it was going to rain but projected 70 mile hour winds changed my mind and I rented a cabin in the campground instead.  I’m soooooooooo glad I did.  A severe storm did hit us, huge winds, lightening, rain, knocking out power for much of the night.  I watched it from the safety of my cabin and then fell asleep as it passed on East.


It was raining when I set off  around 8AM.  Forecast predicted storms all afternoon and evening.  I decided to spend the day in Columbus and perhaps Cincinnati, perusing art museums. No camping tonight.

First stop, Zanesville.  This was a roadtrip victory.  Momentum propels me onward but curiosity got me to turn off the highway.   Found a lovely cafe run by Mennonites.  I talked for awhile with manager Jonathan about the place and about his ministry there.  The food was delicious in that white midwestern gravy way.


In Columbus, I parked at the art museum and walked to a bookstore in the German Village, a lovely neighborhood about a mile and a half away.  On the way back, I walked through their topiary garden, shrubs positioned and pruned to represent Seurrat’s Sunday in the Park with George.  I kid you not.


Columbus’ Art Museum was lovely.  They had a special exhibition called A Measure of Humanity.  22 artists did just that in a variety of ways.  One that moved me immensely was a video made by a mother.  She filmed the distance in various places she could let her toddler run away from her.  It was surprisingly moving and suspenseful. The lower image here is a geneological chart made from fictitious people on food products.



I went up to their American Art galleries and found some moving primitive art by Aminah Brenda Lynn Robinson and Elijah Pierce. Aminah’s work contains actual fabrics and buttons.  Elijah’s work on the right is carved and is about Watergate.


I got to see local artist’s work like this by Cody Heichel.


I also viewed smaller or lesser known work of masters like Matisse:


I also found a lot of work by the American painter, Marsden Hartley.


I stopped for some Buckeye chocolates–peanutbutter and chocolate confections.  Then it was time to head to Cincinnati.  NO RAIN.  SUNSHINE for the rest of the day.  Storms must have blown by us.

Here in Cincinnati, I went right to the Art Museum.  My favorite experience there was talking with a high school or college aged girl named Devon.  She was sitting on a bench looking at a Wyeth and writing in a notebook.  I sat next to her and asked her what she was doing.  She was taking a creative writing class and their assignment was to find a painting and to write a story out of it.  I asked her why she chose that one.  I asked her what was coming up for her.  She showed me what she had written so far.  We looked at the painting together for quite awhile discussing what kind of day this was for the man in the painting, what the light and shadow was doing, how Wyeth’s space felt to her…it was a magical connection and she got hit by an idea, I saw it happen…that the man was staring out at the sea because the light was different this day than it ever had been before…we parted, smiling, shaking hands, moving on into our lives–never to cross paths again perhaps…..

Confession: Taking photos of art work is like collecting souvenirs.  I put them into a computer file and they give back all year when my computer screen jumps into screensaver mode.  Anyway, I drove downtown to the Walker Art Center and perused five floors of installations of Contemporary Art.  I’m more connected to painting right now but contemporary mixed media or sculptural or performance or video art can make me see differently.  Sometimes it just annoys me.  Sometimes it mesmerizes.

Tonight I stay in an AirBNB in town here.

PS-I’m deeply saddened about the Muslim Ban and the retirement of Chief Justice Kennedy.  I worry for us all–that our divisions will become even more entrenched; that our points of view even more polarized.


I left Arcadia around 12:30pm after a meeting about the University’s fiscal picture.  I was happy to be hitting the road.



I drove many hours.  I listened to podcasts.  I listened to the spotify play list Christopher assembled for me.  I listened to radio. I started writing a play in my head about a woman who gets upset with the thrift store worker who will take her clothes but not her hangers.  They have massage chairs now at the rest stops and five or six hours in, I took advantage of one, jiggling my lower back into love.

The world outside didn’t appear to interest me until I got off the turnpike and headed on a different highway through Wheeling WV and into Ohio.  A heavy storm came up blackening the sky.  I saw on a parallel road, an Amish woman in a cart, urging her dappled horse home in the rain.  Meanwhile, I’m in my sleek black SUV dry as dry can be, with hip hop pulsing, and I speed past her.  I spent the first night outside of Cambridge Ohio in that nether region off turnpike exits.  It’s populated by cheap motels and Cracker Barrel, Denny’s, AppleBees.  I had booked a cheap hotel.


It was no frills but clean, and safe, and it had its own run down charm.  The Tiki Bar was dark and deserted on this Tuesday night but the ballroom was hopping—Bingo night for the local TupperWare Ladies.



It’s been awhile since I’ve put words on a page, words to miles, to adventures.  Let’s see how this goes….

This was to be the season without the BIG TRIP.  Apart from an annual pilgrimage to Cape Cod and some day trips, this was to be the year to hunker down and spend those resources on SERIOUS things like car and leaky roof and ailing heater.  And I did that…for awhile.  This has been the first Spring that I have not traveled in years.  I’ve been itchy being so homebound but spring is the best time to be in the periwinkle palace of EP–birds singing madly, doors and windows flung open, flowers brazenly unfolding in the garden.  The long days around solstice yield daisies and lightening bugs and cathartic rainstorms.

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I’ve been spending these May/June 2018 days painting with oils;  workshopping a play; acting in another workshop of a new play; home and garden improvement tasks; getting medical appointments taken care of; binge-watching The Americans; seeing and learning with friends; riding bikes with Christopher and taking walks around the neighborhood.  A lovely easy flow of art making uh…


IMG_1414.jpgOk, so it is 6:39 AM and the machines have started in my creekside splendor.  The Dinosaurs are awaking from their slumber–dinosaurs with the name DEERE written on them in the forms of back hoes and dump trucks and stampers and peckers and yes, there is a drill called a pecker.  This major engineering event has been going on as well–a sewer replacement project that installs a sewer line UNDER the creek out back and beneath the alley directly behind my house.  This is a bigger drama than what I want to attend to here, now–a drama of saving a tree, calling a lawyer, and chatting daily with engineers and foremen and supervisors out back named Hank, Reuben, and Joe. A drama of LOTS AND LOTS OF NOISE THAT WILL CONTINUE into the near future as they work their way from my backyard to the neighbors’.


Then there is the car….stick with me here because all of this leads to the road trip.  I bought an SUV with only 15,000 miles on it a few weeks back.  It has a moon roof.  It has blue tooth.  It has enough room for camping gear.  It screams road trip.


So like the responsible fiscal manager I am, I did a comparative cost analysis of what it would be to fly to Colorado to visit family around the fourth of July or to drive.  The cost was about the same–driving one way.  Ah, yes, I have to drive back.  But the car! and the noise out back! And the adventure of painting my way through middle America!  So here I am, heading out midday today and launching this blog of my adventure.

I hope to drive around seven hours today starting midday and get into Ohio–Cambridge or Zanesville.  Hopefully, I will bring you along with me on this blog…….

The full circle

I started this six week journey in Copenhagen and ended it there.  I walked down the shopping streets and stared at all the beautiful people.  The tall blonde danes were everywhere, striding in their pencil jeans and cropped jackets.

In my wandering down side streets, I became enamored with the city’s charm as evidenced through the colors of the buildings, the windows, the bicycles at rest.


I visited the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, a museum that specialized in sculpture.  The sculptures moved me deeply.  They were set in royal blue chambers in a very free fashion, almost as if they milled about each night after the doors were locked and froze where ever they happened to be the next morning.


The Oldest of the Line by Stephan Sinding.


A Woman carries her slain son from the battlefield by Stephan Sinding.


Death and the Maiden by Elna Borch.


Negress by Jean=Baptiste Carpeaux


Perseus slaying Medusa by Laurent-Honore Marqueste.


The Meadow and the Brook by Paul Larche


The Kiss by Rodin.


Occasionally I would turn my head and at the architecture itself would be the frame in this wonderful museum.


After the Glypotek visit, I went to meet my friend Shannon Hessel who lives in Copenhagen.  We took a canal ride together and saw the city by water.



After the boat tour, we dined in an outdoor cafe and watched Copenhagen ride by.  What a terrific last day with a good friend.

Ireland’s Northern Coast

On Wednesday, June 24th, we left the sectarianism of Belfast and drove to the northern coast of Ulster.

Dark Hedges is one of the most photographed natural sites in Northern Ireland.  These  beech trees were planted by the Stuarts in the 18th century to greet guests coming to their Georgian mansion.  Over the years they have grown across the lane and created a natural bower.  Of course, there’s a ghost story to accompany this haunting place: the grey lady is said to float down the lane and vanish after the final beech.

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Dunluce Castle in County Antrim, was built between the 15th and 17th centuries, and can be found perched on a basalt mound overlooking the North Channel.  Clans named MacDonnell and MacDonald owned this castle in its day.  It is said to be the inspiration for Cair Paravel in C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia.

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On our journey we made a wish list of foods and libations to taste while in Ireland.  Scones with clotted cream was one of Felicia’s desires. Across from the castle, Felicia found a cafe that served scones with fresh whipped cream, different from clotted but nonetheless. they were incredible.


The Giant’s Causeway was next.  This world heritage site is the result of an ancient volcanic eruption.  The result is a natural phenomena of rectangular basalt columns, approximately 40,000 of them.  It gets its name from the rich Irish myths and legends surrounding Fionn mac Cumhaill, a giant-sized warrior.

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Our last stop was Carrick-A-Rede, an island connected to the mainland by a rope bridge, suspended 100 feet in the air.  This bridge was erected by salmon fishermen some 350 years ago.   We arrived an hour before closing and the tiny mountain of an island was peacefully quiet apart from the birds’ constant calls.  The views were spectacular.  Leah worked on a watercolor, Felicia and Daria rested.  I wandered.  It was a restorative place.

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Belfast and the troubles.

In 1980, when I was a sophomore in college, I spent the summer in Amsterdam working at The Shelter, a Christian sponsored youth hostel in the red-light district.  An Irishman named Kevin McGrady with crinkly eyes and a taunting sense of humor became my flirtatious friend.  We spent the summer working together and one night we went out for what felt like a date.  It was casual but we were away from the Hostel and alone which made it an event.  All I remember is that we teased each other, walked the canals and he told me he had a decision to make but wouldn’t tell me what.  Years later I learned that in 1982, Kevin returned to Ireland, turned himself in, was convicted for crimes committed including several murders while he had been a member of the IRA’s 4th Battalion of the Belfast Brigade.  In 1983, he was the star witness in the third Supergrass trial, resulting in the arrest and conviction of several IRA members.

On this trip to Belfast, Felicia and Daria had arranged for us to take a Black Cab Tour which focused on the political murals and the “Peace line” between the Nationalists (Catholics) and Loyalists (Protestants.)


IMG_0344This 90 minute tour turned into 3 hours as our wonderful guide first took us along the peace line on the Catholic side and then crossed over into Protestant territory.  Our guide clearly was a supporter of the Nationalist cause  and the presentation was biased but he went out of his way to show us protest murals on both sides, give us the history of the area, drive us by the Crumlin Prison where my friend Kevin had been imprisoned, and introduce us to friends.

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Leah Samuelson, a friend who joined us in Dublin, is a muralist and teaches Community Art among other courses at Wheaton College.  Our guide not only showed her (and us) the murals but introduced us to the man, Danny, who paints most of the murals on the Nationalist side.  We met him the next day and spoke with him as he was getting to work.



I can’t believe we saw Sinn Fein’s office/headquarters.


The Protestant side of the line had their own protest murals and patriotic displays.




They also were building a huge bonfire for July 12th, the celebration of the Battle of the Boyne and a huge annual holiday for the Orange Order, Northern Ireland’s largest Protestant organization.



Our guide eventually drove us to our B&B which was in a working class neighborhood on the Nationalist side.  He went above and beyond for us.   Through this tour, I glimpsed my friend Kevin’s ‘decision’ that he eventually made.   I don’t know what has happened to him and his family.  He was no friend to either side and the IRA was not kind to informants.  If he is still alive, he may have left the country.  I asked our guide at the start of the trip if he knew the name and he stated he didn’t.  The more time we spent with him, the more I came to believe that he knew much more about the IRA’s workings than he was acknowledging.   It was a difficult afternoon–so many people died, so many fallen young people painted on the walls at the ends of each of their blocks.    While peace is in the wind, there is still violence–a bomb went off there last week.

What an opportunity to learn about Belfast.