Stephen Travels

And he's ready to take you with him.


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Skeletons and Skulls That Will Keep You Up All Night

St. Peter in Chains, Rome, ItalyAs Halloween approaches, children — and more than a few adults — are deciding on their costume for this spooky holiday of ghosts, goblins, candy, and horror flicks. Skeletons have always been a staple costume, whether it’s a glow-in-the-dark bodysuit variety or a mask or makeup job largely hidden by an oversized hood on a Grim Reaper outfit. As for the other 364 days of the year, real ones have long been put on display for the devout to revere, and fake ones for Mexican communities to celebrate on the Day of the Dead. Skeletons and skulls have been depicted in art or gravestones for centuries as a symbol of our finite time on earth, fighting a guaranteed losing battle against the sand hourglass. They could be positively frightening (say, in the promotional poster for the movie Evil Dead 2) or rather amusing (as in a Scooby-Doo episode). However you react to them, they invariably promise the same denouement: The end is always near. Read more about the top five skeletons and skulls in the world >

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The Best Artistic Depictions of Palm Sunday

Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, New YorkThis coming Sunday is Palm Sunday, a key date in the Christian calendar when millions of Christians around the world commemorate Jesus’ triumphant entry into the city of Jerusalem — a fateful day that launches Holy Week. Depicted in art for centuries, Palm Sunday is an unmistakable scene, whether it’s been rendered on a canvas or, as in most of the ones that really impressed me, stained glass. Read more about the top five Palm Sundays >


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Seattle’s Art World at Its Most Brilliant

Seattle Art Museum, WashingtonAnother gray, wet day in Seattle had me searching for indoor activities. The tall, black, steel man with the hammer on a downtown street corner caught my eye, even through the rain and from under the shelter of my umbrella. Unperturbed by the tail end of the morning rush hour, he maintained a steady and soundless rhythm as he beat at the air high above the corner of University Street and 1st Avenue. He also lured me to the building behind him, which quickly ended my quest: the Seattle Art Museum. Read more >


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The Best Depictions of the Real Meaning of Christmas

The Adoration of the MagiDecember 25 is rapidly approaching, and for 2.2 billion Christians around the world, the Christmas season is in full swing. Although the secular aspects of this important holiday increasingly garner all the attention and overshadow the real meaning of Christmas — the birth of Jesus Christ — all you have to do is look at a Nativity scene (or listen to Linus’ beautiful soliloquy in A Charlie Brown Christmas) to be reminded of what it’s all about. For centuries, artists have been depicting that day that changed the world in Nativities in every type of media imaginable. Some of these painters, sculptors, glaziers, woodworkers, and other talented experts broke the traditional mold of just showing the Holy Family in a stable with some hay, farm animals, a couple of shepherds, and the Three Wise Men. I found these works in particular to be the most imaginative, and most memorable. Read more about my top five Nativities in the world >


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Navigating Your Way Through the Largest Art Museum in the United States

Metropolitan Museum of Art, New YorkIf you’ve ever visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, you know it is the leading art museum in the city, the largest in the United States, and one of the best in the world. If you’ve never been there, here’s a tip: Do not try to see it all in one day. You will fail. Its collection of every kind of art, from paintings, photographs, sculptures, and ivory carvings, to jewelry, musical instruments, Fabergé eggs, and samurai swords, is far too deep to conquer in one visit. Instead, pick a few things you’re particularly interested in and save the rest for another time—and be prepared to walk a few miles within the museum itself. Still too overwhelming? Then read about the top five things you must see and do >


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Detroit’s Endangered Art: Now You See It…

The Jewish CemeteryMotown’s current problems are epic, and it seems unlikely that Detroit will be able to pay off its $18 billion in debt any time soon. One disturbing solution that has been suggested is to sell off the city’s artwork housed in the Detroit Institute of Arts. Pillaging one of the nation’s top art museums is a short-sighted and ignorant answer to a complex problem, yet it has now entered the realm of possibility. So before anyone can act on it and commit this enormous error, make sure you schedule a visit to the DIA to appreciate some of the most exceptional art in the United States. Read more >


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Missouri’s Mosaic Marvel

Cathedral Basilica, St. Louis, MissouriThe Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis is much more than just the seat of the city’s archdiocese. It’s the home of the world’s largest collection of mosaic tiles — 41.5 million tiles, to be exact, in more than 7,000 colors that cover a total area of 83,000 square feet. From the second you step inside, you’ll be dazzled by the masterful work created by 20 artists over the course of 75 years. Read more >