More Museums!

November 18, 2011 at 11:28 am (Uncategorized) (, , , , , )

If you’ve been reading this blog long enough (or at all), you know I’ve got a bit of a thing for museums.  I spend a lot of time in the various ones in this city and the course I’m almost finished with allows me to explore museums I might not otherwise make it to on my own.  Last week I went to two such places and I feel they deserve a bit of praise on the old blog space:

The Chicago Childrens Museum(please note that Children’s has the apostrophe but for whatever reason the linking mechanism on this blog puts in extra funny characters if I try to include it as I should) is located at Navy Pier and one of the first children’s museums in the nation.  This place is geared towards kids and adults of all ages and it’s a very hands on and interactive space that allows children to run around and explore to their heart’s content.  I went here with my Museum Studies class and we met with one of the educators, who gave us an interesting talk about the mechanics behind running such a place.  Then we were able to get out and play for ourselves, which was just plain awesome.  Who wouldn’t appreciate not having to wait in a line of rug rats to play with a mock fire engine or climb a two-story rope ladder?  And yes, of course yours truly did both.

Not me, but I totally did this. And I learned it's not really designed with someone with birthing hips such as my own.

I also explored an area made to teach children about the dangers of fire; a small room full of even smaller collections of toys, books, pictures, monkey statues (!), marbles and other curiosities; a space set up to replicate an archeological dig where you could find casts of real dinosaur bones; a huge water play area that works with gravity and physics to soak the participants; an area designed to teach about the various modes of transportation, especially in Chicago and a whole other room that allowed people to design and erect their very own skyscrapers from various building materials.  And this was just what I was able to explore in the 30 minute window we were given.  I have some friends with small children who frequent this place and I can see why and for those that have kids but haven’t been, I’d recommend it.  You can go without taking a child but since children are like tiny drunk adults, I can imagine that being surrounded by a bunch that aren’t your own wouldn’t make for a very pleasant museum experience.  But to each their own.

A few days later, I meandered into the Swedish American Museum  in Andersonville, the neighborhood next door to my own.  Andersonville houses the largest population of Swedish-Americans in the United States and was a very popular place for immigrants to relocate in the 1800’s.  Of course, I didn’t know any of this before checking out the museum but I learned all kinds of things about how and why Swedes made their way to the States and what they did once they arrived.  I also some furniture from the 19th century that really shows the concepts behind IKEA today – for instance, a wooden bench that folds up into a single chair and a couch that pulled out into a daybed.

Sweden!

There was a children’s portion to this museum as well that really let kids get hands on with the idea of immigration.  There were exhibits that showed how everyone worked the farms and they let kids use plastic crops to try to understand what it was like for the immigrants.  There was also a wooden boat set up and while I was there I saw a couple little girls running around and shouting about how they were “going back in time to Sweden”, so obviously the goal behind the exhibits was working.  It’s a super cool little local museum and you can’t really beat the $4 admission fee.

On a completely unrelated note, this is the second anniversary of the start of this blog.  Can you believe it’s been that long?  Yeah, me neither.  This was my one year re-cap and I’m obviously too lazy and full of museum knowledge to do such a thing today.  Sure, some things have changed from the inception of this blog (most notable is the loss of my Catsby…I’ll get around to writing her a memorial post when I’m ready) but some things have stayed the same.  I’m glad I’ve done this whole blog thing because it’s a nice way to look back and reminisce…plus, I’m obviously a hilariously entertaining writer with many great stories to share.  I’m also (clearly) incredibly modest and humble.  Anyway, thanks to everyone (anyone?) who has been along for the ride!

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The Glessner House

October 26, 2011 at 10:35 am (Uncategorized) (, , , , )

Last night, my Museum Studies class took a field trip to a museum I’d never been to.  Located on the South Side of Chicago in a neighborhood that used to be overrun with the manufacturing titans of the day (this was back in the late 1800’s), this place is certainly a hidden gem.  The Glessner House was built in 1886 by the Glessner family (and I’d actually call it a mansion), who were a new money family that wanted to build something splendid.

Oh yeah, just a hallway. Not fancy or anything.

The house doesn’t look like much from the outside although the architecture, when studied, is actually pretty cool.  The Glessner’s had two children and their son took up photography as a hobby, taking photos of most of the rooms in the house.  After his parents passed, he and his sister moved to separate coasts and the contents of their home were crated up and stored in a New England barn for many years.  The house itself managed to avoid being demolished (like so many were at the time) because it was simply too expensive to tear down.  It functioned as a printing press for a while and then a group of Chicago architects decided it was worth saving.  As they began the restoration and restoring process, the Glessner son came forward and donated all of the items that had been sitting in crates for years.  He also provided his photographs, so now the house is put back together as closely as possible to what it was over 100 years ago.

The courtyard - just imagine the parties

It.  Was.  Awesome.  There are still some rooms that haven’t been restored but pretty much everything in the building is authentic.  And even in the unrestored rooms there was cool stuff to see, such as the bits of a newspaper from 1916 that were used to paper mache part of one wall.  There were rows of bookshelves and a library that contained first editions of works by Charles Dickens, if that tells you anything.  Obviously you couldn’t touch any of those but just being in the presence of such books had me falling in love.  There were pictures, bedding, clothing, journals, vases, trinkets…all sorts of things.  The house was much larger than I thought it would be and the docents who gave us the tour really knew what they were talking about.  The Glessner’s used to entertain and have society parties and their back yard is actually a gorgeous courtyard that provides an amazing view of the back of the house.  We stood out back in the surprisingly warm night and were able to see the lit stained glass window from the back door.  It was simply awesome to imagine the parties that used to be held there and to think of what those walls have seen.

There’s also a carriage house that is used for various rentals these days, though they hope to restore it eventually as well.  The place is often rented out for weddings and other functions and it definitely makes for an interesting ambiance.  There are also some ghost stories that have floated around (pun intended) but unfortunately I didn’t see any apparitions while I was there.

The Glessner House is just another example of a little-known local museum that should be visited a little more often.  Admission is only $8 and even includes access to the nearby Clark House, which is another historic home.  I haven’t been there yet but after my visit to the Glessner House, I will be going sometime in the future!

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Loving LUMA

May 27, 2011 at 10:25 am (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , )

Tuesday night, our Northwestern class took a trip to the Loyola University Museum of Art (aka LUMA), which is off Michigan Avenue (and conveniently located next door to the Hershey Store, where I taste tested some products before entering the museum).  One of my favorite aspects of this Museum Studies course is that it exposes me to some of the smaller museums in Chicago that I’m not as aware of and gives me an opportunity to check them out.  That was the case with LUMA, where we were allowed to wander through their exhibits before and after meeting with two of their curators.  They were both kind enough to answer our questions and speak to us about working in such a unique space.  Their insights were informative and entertaining and it’s always interesting to hear about some of the behind-the-scenes aspects of any museum.  LUMA is a part of Loyola University, which is a “Jesuit Catholic university dedicated to knowledge in the service of humanity”.  While LUMA is funded primarily through the university, they are in fact an art museum in and of their own right.  And their collections really are worth your time.

LUMA

While LUMA features various temporary exhibits which rotate fairly often (including the current one on textiles), they have three rooms in their permanent collection as well.  The permanent collections showcase various pieces of religious art from hundreds of years ago.  Dozens of paintings, sculptures, wood and ivory carved pieces and much more adorn the halls and each piece is significant.  There are some items dating as far back as the 14th and 15th centuries and I found just standing in the presence of such art to be extremely meaningful.  The display of these collections is uncluttered and the gallery provides a nice flow from one room to another while still showcasing everything in a tasteful manner.  I looked in one ornate mirror that was hundreds of years old and all I could think about was how many sets of eyes have looked for their reflection in that glass over the last few centuries.  Not going to lie, it gave me goosebumps.

As someone who grew up attending Catholic schools and masses, I felt a bit deeper of a connection to many of these relics than what some of my other classmates might have had.  However, as you may or may not know, I don’t exactly consider myself a model Catholic any longer.  I do attend mass with some regularity (i.e. when I’m home visiting Mom) so I’m not entirely lapsed but affiliating myself with a specific religion isn’t something I worry too much about.  That being said, I’ll admit I felt more of a spiritual presence in the gallery at LUMA than I have in probably the last decade or so in a church.  There was a reverence surrounding these objects that I found humbling and being around items that people have worshiped and prayed over for so much of our history was enough to give me pause.  I actually sort of wished that I had been there on my own so I could have completely immersed myself in the experience.  Since our time there was unfortunately limited, I plan on going back soon to do just that.

At just $6, LUMA’s admission fee is hard to beat (especially given the hefty price tags at many other museums).  Tuesdays are even free every week, though it’s just my luck that that’s the evening I have my weekly class.  I won’t be in class forever though so until I can take advantage of the free days more often, I’ll be happy shell out six bucks to go back for more.

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Not to Toot My Own Horn…

May 5, 2011 at 12:35 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , )

…but toot toot.

During the last course I took at Northwestern, my professor asked if any of us would be interested in writing a guest blog piece for the Center for the Future of Museums.  Seeing as how I enjoy both blogging and museums, I volunteered.  I’ve been in contact with the director there (it’s basically a think-tank based in DC) and she ultimately decided to interview me instead.  We emailed back and forth for a bit and the finished product went on their website today!  If you’re lucky enough to be friends with me on Facebook then you may have seen it already but because I’m just a little jazzed about the whole thing, here’s a link:

Center for the Future of Museums Interview

Diversity in museums is something that many are struggling with and as the culture of our nation changes, so must the culture of our workplace.  The questions I answered weren’t easy and my answers aren’t even necessarily right but the whole point was to get people thinking about these issues in general.

But to be honest, I’m just thrilled to be referred to as a “future museum professional”!  One day, world…one day.

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Performing Performance Art

May 3, 2011 at 11:16 am (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , )

Now that my life is slowly going back to normal post-move (I hung up the very last photo from the very last box last night – officially finished!), I wanted to share an experience I had a few weeks ago in my museum studies class.  We went to the Modern Contemporary Art museum downtown to observe/participate in a performance art event.  The purpose was to show our class different ways that museums can attract visitors, and so we could see how effective some of those methods are.  Well, this event that we attended was memorable but mostly because it was just plain…odd.

Talk about thick-headed

Everyone met in the MCA cafe and after having a seat, we were introduced to the two artists putting on the show.  They were from England and their goal was to demonstrate how soccer was played when the sport was first invented – apparently, it originated as a war game using the severed heads of the warriors enemies.  So the artists created these molds of their heads and the plan was to use them to play an impromptu soccer match on the sidewalk in front of the building.  However, there were a few problems.  It was a cold and rainy afternoon so no one really showed up to begin with and one entire team was comprised solely of myself and some classmates.  The other team apparently traveled with the artists, as they were hard-core soccer dudes who showed up wearing padding and cleats.  I was in my work clothes.  The pavement was also extremely slick and we all had to sign waivers before they’d let us play.  Which was fine and good, until the game started and I went to kick the ball/head/piece of art (and yes, this is me on the left in the below photo).  While the ball/head/piece of art looks gelatinous or at least soft and malleable, it was in fact the same texture as a boulder.  I was the first person to get to it and when I kicked it I damn near broke my foot.  The artists failed to mention the weight of the thing beforehand so after enough people complained about it, they decided to turn the game into more of a touch football thing instead.  So we were to grab the ball and run, which theoretically sounds good, right?  That is, until you have huge burly middle-aged men body checking the girls in my class

I will not be going pro anytime soon

(including yours truly) as they took their competitive streaks to a whole new level.  We actually had to stop playing at one point because some guy slammed into this poor diminutive woman and she went down – hard.  Her head smacked the pavement and after we determined she was okay, I decided to watch rather than play.

Which was good, because that was around the time the cops showed up.

Apparently no one mentioned to the Chicago PD that a bunch of random people would be playing this “game” so close to traffic and Michigan Avenue during rush hour.  So it quickly ended, leaving us players a little more than confused as to what had taken place.  It proved a point though – not every event put on by museums will produce positive guest experiences.  We could all agree on that.

I’m not sure if you’re familiar with much modern contemporary art but I’ve decided I’m not much of a fan.  Perhaps I’m not sophisticated enough to find the deeper meaning in a painted coat rack on display, but I’m okay with that.  At one point as we walked around pre-painful soccer game, a friend and I came across a table of paint cans, tools and slabs of wood.  To this day we don’t know if that was an exhibit or the area was simply under construction – that’s how I feel about a lot of contemporary art.   Though I suppose the activity we took part of was considered art, in the end it felt more like a joke.  After all, even the cops were laughing!

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News You Probably Can’t Use But Might Find Interesting

March 10, 2011 at 12:57 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , )

I know that just because I find something to be fascinating and worth my attention doesn’t mean all of you dear readers feel the same way, but since it’s my blog and I can post what I want to I decided to share a story regarding the Cairo museum and the current revolution taking place in Egypt.  Obviously, I’m all for an oppressed group of people taking the rights to their lives back but there are side effects to such actions that often get swept under the rug.  Read the article below to see for yourself:

Cairo, Egypt— Cairo’s Egyptian Museum houses some of the world’s greatest ancient treasures, but last month’s unrest prompted fears over the fate of its historical artifacts.  Among the prized objects at the Egyptian Museum are towering statues of ancient pharaohs, a rare collection of royal mummies and intricately painted sarcophagi.  But it is perhaps King Tutankhamun’s treasures that continue to draw the biggest crowds.

King Tut’s golden mask, a collection of exquisite jewelry from his tomb, and two magnificent golden coffins are among the star attractions.  Zahi Hawass was Egypt’s minister of antiquities before and during the revolution, but this week he announced on his website that he was resigning from the post.  In a statement on his website Hawass said that while the Egyptian Museum had been well protected during the recent revolution, heritage sites elsewhere in the country were now being attacked by criminals and thieves.  But Hawass says no harm came to King Tut’s golden death mask during the revolution.  After an inspection tour with the museum’s team of curators, he insists that damage caused to the museum by looters was minimal.  “We have more than 100,000 artifacts in the museum,” Hawass said.  “When I came that day, 29th of January, and I saw through the monitor the golden mask, the famous masterpieces of Tanis, Old Kingdom, Middle Kingdom, I said ‘Cairo Museum is safe.'”  Hawass won’t give an estimate of the total loss suffered by the museum in the looting. But other priceless artifacts are missing or were damaged by intruders who, according to museum director Tarek El Awady, broke into the museum through a glass window in the ceiling.

When they found out this is wood not solid gold they left it and it was found on the floor.
–Tarek El Awady, director, Egyptian Museum

“They broke the glass of this showcase and grabbed one of the artifacts,” El Awady said. “When they found out it was wood not solid gold they left it and it was found on the floor.” One of the suspects was injured by broken glass, and spots of blood still stain the wooden floors and objects that he handled during the break-in. A statue of a soldier dating back to the Middle Kingdom (around 2125 B.C. to 1650 B.C.) was damaged but it has since been restored. El Awady says an ancient model of a boat has also been carefully put together again after being smashed by looters and is now back on display. But a big relief for Egyptian archaeologists was retrieving a priceless statue of Pharaoh Akhenaten. “King Akhenaten, he was a unique king, he was the one who called for one religion, worshipped one God and he had a revolution,” El Awady said. “His statue was taken during the revolution and it was back a few days after. This story will be told when we recover all our missing artifacts.”

Hawass recalls how the prized statue was found. “Someone threw it in Tahrir Square,” he said.  “A young boy aged 16 found it near a garbage can. He took it home and brought it back.”  But several empty showcases in the museum indicate that the search for missing treasures in not over.  A collection of four canopic jars — traditionally used by the ancient Egyptians as containers to hold the internal organs of the deceased before mummification — is missing one jar.

Egyptian parents continue to bring their children to the museum to educate them about their past and encourage them to take pride in their rich ancient heritage — one which is treasured by visitors from around the world.  “I flew in on Sunday and the first place I came to see was the Cairo museum,” said British-born archaeologist Paul Barford.  Another visitor, photographer Karina Sutherland, said: “Without the museum and the antiquities there’s no soul left in Egypt.”

Preserving a glorious past well into the future is what they hope to do at the museum, one artifact at a time.

The docents I work with at the Field Museum were lamenting this over the weekend and it’s just something to consider as this revolution takes place.  Hopefully new leadership will safely and smoothly emerge in Egypt and what is feared – civil war – will not take place.  The artifacts being housed at this museum are to be revered, not looted, and this serves as a reminder to not let what’s happening in the present cause us to forget everything that happened in the past.

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Thrifty is Nifty

January 19, 2010 at 3:44 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , )

My long weekend was both fantastically fun and fantastically cheap.  I saw a hilarious comedy show on Friday night (free with my date, who performs there), I went to the Field Museum and visited the mummies and dinosaur bones on Sunday (free with my membership) and I went to the Museum of Science and Industry on Monday (free day there).  On Saturday I had coffee with a lovely friend of mine and since I was so proud of my well-budgeted weekend, I decided to splurge with a visit to a thrift shop.

My mom instilled in me a love of thrift shops at a very young age and as the years have gone by I find my appreciation for these places only deepens.  While I was in high school, I found an old house in my little hometown that had been turned into a huge thrift store and I frequented that place as much as I could.  I found such gems as a Fresh Prince and Jazzy Jeff CD and a wooden Nintendo trunk with Mario and the Princess adorning its sides.  I never really saw many others in that old house and I was worried about its ability to survive without me when I moved away to college.  Sure enough, on my first visit home during my freshman year I went by and the place had closed down.  I’m sure it would have closed whether or not I was still around but it made me sad nonetheless.

Since then, I’ve had to move on to other thrift stores.  I have also learned that (especially in places like Chicago) a place that is advertised as a thrift store might not actually be a fountain of cheap finds.  Many places like to use words like thrift or consignment in their names and descriptions but in reality they will charge you an arm and a leg for just about any item you find. I took this jaded attitude with me on Saturday but wound up being pleasantly surprised.  The fact that the entire store was having a half off sale all weekend didn’t hurt.

The first floor of this massive store held various pieces of furniture and electronics.  If I was looking for new kitchen table or living room set I would have been in heaven but since I’m not I simply moved on.  Upstairs was all the clothing but I had some sort of cosmic attraction to the bag section and so over there I wandered.  And I was rewarded.  I found an almost-brand new Timberland backpack that will be perfect for any trip three days or less.  I had actually told myself I needed one of these a long time ago and was going to splurge on one for my birthday, but now I can splurge on something else!  I felt so confident with my backpack that I went to the basement of the store, where I knew it would come in handy.  For the basement held the books.

To be honest, this is where I spent most of my time that day.  The entire basement was full of various volumes toppling off of dozens of bookcases and arranged in piles all over the place.  A true bibliophile’s dream.  It was quiet and light classical music wafted from hidden speakers.  Of course, I had to look at just about every shelf before my curiosity was satisfied, and again I was rewarded.  I found the Autobiography of Charles Chaplin, a humor book by Steve Martin, Les Miserables and a book discussing the role of women in today’s media.  I know this might sound awful to some of you out there, but I was (and still am) excited with my finds.

Before leaving I decided to peruse their DVD’s and I found another bargain – this hilarious Margaret Cho comedy special.  I then had a lovely conversation with the guy checking me out about female comedienne’s in general, including the raunchy Sandra Bernhard.  I was feeling pretty good about my purchases, until I saw my total for the day.  Then I felt ecstatic.  I managed to get the heavy duty backpack, DVD and four books for a combined total of TWELVE DOLLARS.  That’s right, I am awesome.

Talk about a glorious day of shopping.  And yes, this constitutes a day of shopping for me.  I was so excited I had to call my mom to share my news, and I think I made her proud.  She taught me well!

Between the comedy show, thrift store, museums and fantastic company I was lucky enough to be surrounded by, my weekend was a smashing success.  Living in this city never gets old!

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Cheap in the City

November 19, 2009 at 6:31 pm (Uncategorized) (, , )

One of the perks of living in a big city is the never ending list of events and activities that are out there, just waiting to be experienced.  However, a drawback to living in a big city is that actually doing many of these things would take me well beyond the financial limits I must unfortunately impose on myself.  So I’ve learned to search for the awesomely cheap or fantastically free activities to do around Chicago, because there are so many.

I’ll be the first to admit that I love a good museum.  I think there’s something fascinating about standing in front of an object that has been around for hundreds or even thousands of years and imagining it in its original time and place.  Yes, I’m rather dorky and no, I do not care.  In fact, when my alarm went off this morning I was in the midst of an interesting dream where I was in an unidentified museum and examining a sort of sword and shield set from the Celtic Era.  Perhaps that was the impetus for this post?

My absolute favorite place to go in Chicago is the Field Museum of Natural History.  Being a student of anthropology I think this is only natural, no pun intended.  It would be a dream of mine to actually have a job in this place, and maybe one day I will.  Until then, however, I will enjoy the FREE DAYS they offer to museumphiles (did I just make up a new word?) such as myself.  The Field Museum offers a handful of Free Days every month, though it’s unfortunate (and well planned) that they all fall during the work week.  Luckily, last Wednesday was Veteran’s Day and as such was a paid holiday for me.  (Sidenote: I love having a grown up job that gives paid holidays).  It also happened to be a Free Day at the Field, so I was in anthropological heaven.  I wandered through the exhibits for hours before I went to my favorite part, which I try to save for last.  The mummies.
I don’t know why but I love the mummies.  The Field is home to wrapped and dehydrated men, women, babies, birds, cats and severed appendages.  It’s so freaking cool and I got to see it all for the low, low price of nothing, which of course makes it even better.  Typically a day pass is around $20, so a Free Day is a bargain.  It would be even better if I had a membership because then every day would be a Free Day…I’m keeping my fingers crossed that Santa reads blog posts.

So now that I’ve talked up the Field Museum, I think it’s only fair to mention the other places around that lure in patrons with their Free Day deal.
The Shedd Aquarium is a great place to go at anytime, especially since Beluga whales are so awesome.  Be warned though that the Shedd attracts swarms of strollers, toddlers and stressed out screaming parents.  Obviously this is even worse on the Free Days, so therein lies the problem.  Actually, I was surprised that the Field wasn’t busier when I was there but the last thing I would do about that is complain.  I guess old bones and ancient artifacts aren’t as fascinating to a two year old as a dolphin doing a dance across water.  I can respect that.

The Adler Planetarium also gives out Free Days.  Unfortunately, this is a place I have yet to visit so I don’t have any witty stories or comments to make.  I will say that it appears to be super cool and I’m rather disappointed in myself for not having gone out there.  The same goes for this next place, the Museum of Science and Industry.

Alas, another fine institution in this city that I have not taken advantage of.  They also have Free Days, so we can now reasonably conclude that every major museum in Chicago likes to give it away for nothing.  But only on weekdays, of course.  I actually had planned on going to this one on my day off last week and was even on a bus headed that way.  However, the Museum of Science and Industry is apparently quite cumbersome to get to without a vehicle (which I lack) and I realized that by the time the bus got me there it would be relatively close to closing.  That’s when I hopped off the bus and hoofed it to the Field, but I’ll always wonder about what could have been.  That is, until I get my lazy butt up early on a weekend and try to go there again.

In the end, a good museum (or any other institution ending in -um…the Planetarium, the Aquarium etc) is worth the price you pay to get in.  That’s how they pay their bills and we should support that.  But if you can find a way to get in someplace that’s legal and free, by all means you should take it, run and never look back.  This rule can apply to all sorts of things, including but not limited to: sports games, concerts, movies, plays, bars and weddings.  In this time of economic awfulness, feel free to be cheap and try to remember that some of the best things in life really can be free!

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