March 24, 2015
Among other benefits, Smithsonian Affiliates learn about new Smithsonian traveling exhibitions first! We’re pleased to bring you two exciting new exhibitions that will travel. The first, Armchair Archaeology: Paul Singer’s Search for Ancient China from the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery details the amazing story of collector Dr. Paul Singer, a psychiatrist by trade who amassed a wide-ranging Chinese art collection, now part of the Sackler Gallery at the Smithsonian.
He collected most aggressively after he immigrated to the United States in 1939, making discoveries at art dealers, auction houses, and thrift stores alike. A self-taught, amateur scholar-collector who never learned the Chinese language, Singer managed to secure a research appointment at the Metropolitan Museum of Art due to his remarkable visual memory and extensive experience in the field.
The exhibition examines both archaeology and miniatures through topical groupings of objects dating from the Bronze Age (circa 1800–300 BCE) to the Ming dynasty (1368–1644.) In addition to exploring form, function, and meaning, the ninety-five objects in the exhibition also represent a range of media, including jade, marble, fluorite, bone, ivory, amber, gold, silver, bronze, and ceramics from earthenware to porcelain. This breadth reflects Singer’s ambition to amass “a sequential development in all the materials worked by Chinese artists.” For more information and a pdf with an overview of the exhibition, Please email us.
Across the Mall, from National Air and Space Museum, comes Art of the Airport Tower. The exhibition is the second to feature photographs from Museum Specialist, Carolyn Russo. The first, In Plane View, traveled to many Affiliates over its multi-year run, and is currently on view at the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum. Both exhibitions feature stunning photographs of their subjects; Art of the Airport Tower shows these often overlooked utilitarian structures as beautiful art in our everyday lives. It is a photographic journey to airports in the U.S. and around the world.
Russo documents these important architectural structures to bring a heightened awareness to their simple beauty and call for their preservation. She is available for lectures and public programs to venues hosting the exhibition.
Art of the Airport Tower includes historic towers such as the Ford Island Tower, which stood the day of the attacks on Pearl Harbor, as well as today’s heavily trafficked airports such as London’s Heathrow Airport. International towers–including several of the world’s tallest towers, one of which is the Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok, Thailand–are also highlighted. Captions describe the airport and the towers’ significance, and an introduction by F. Robert van der Linden tells the history of airport towers to contextualize Russo’s work.
This exhibit will attract a diverse audience, appealing to anyone with an interest in aviation, aerospace, art, photography, technology, history, culture, and architecture. Please let us know if you’re interested!
February 25, 2015
October 29, 2014
October 6, 2014
Smithsonian Affiliations would like to thank Kate Preissler, Digital Media Marketing Manager at the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, for this guest post.
On October 11, the Berkshire Museum will become the fourth museum in the nation to host Spark!Lab, an exhibition developed at the Smithsonian Institution by the Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation at the National Museum of American History (NMAH). By opening Spark!Lab we are joining with the Smithsonian in a nation-wide initiative to engage young people in acts of invention.
Staff at the Berkshire Museum get a chance to test out the Spark!Lab activities during a special training with Lemelson Center colleagues.
To prepare, colleagues from the Lemelson Center in Washington D.C. joined the Berkshire Museum staff for several days of training. A significant portion of the training had our staff trying out the activities that will be available in Spark!Lab. These activities, primarily engineering and design challenges, pose problems from the real world for visitors to solve. There are no right or wrong answers to Spark!Lab’s challenges; you may invent a solution that is completely different from my solution, yet we have both succeeded by solving the problem. These activities show young people that every brain is capable of creating something totally new and that by coming up with new ideas, we can make the world a better place for ourselves and each other.
As we tried out wind tunnels and tipping tables, it occurred to me that everyone, not just young people, probably craves opportunities to be inventive all the time. Individuals from all departments– marketing, security, visitor’s services, education – became deeply absorbed in the challenges presented. The mood in the room ran the gamut from laughter during experimentation to intense concentration on final designs, and many people had to be torn from the stations when it was time to move on. When we tested the activities with kids, the results were the same – no one wanted to leave!
The author can’t look at her desk anymore without seeing all of the inventions that people devised to make life easier.
Until I encountered Spark!Lab and the Lemelson Center, ‘inventive creativity,’ especially as a skill set that could be learned, practiced, and honed, was not an idea to which I had given a lot of thought. So although learning about the activities and understanding what will be physically happening in our new space was valuable, it was the other aspects of our training that helped me to really understand the potential that Spark!Lab holds for altering perceptions and empowering the young people who visit the Museum.
During training we learned about many different inventors; inventions which have changed the course of history; and inventions which have made our lives a little easier in subtle ways. I spent the next few weeks seeing inventions everywhere. For instance, I sat at my desk and couldn’t help but notice that each of the items in front of me represented an idea from an actual person who saw a problem in need of a solution. And I don’t think I was the only one. My colleague Lesley Ann Beck came back to the second half of the training with a story about opening a pizza box and realizing that someone, somewhere, had gotten so frustrated with squished pizza and cheese stuck to lids, that they invented a small, round piece of plastic to keep the box lid from denting in, saving the pizza from damage. Once we started thinking about inventions, we couldn’t stop.
Spark!Lab under construction at the Berkshire Museum – a space which took inventive thinking to develop.
As construction of our Spark!Lab space in the Museum takes shape, this new lens has allowed me to see how our architects and staff have used inventive thinking to create a space that has to adapt to different needs, different audiences, and changing activities. It’s exciting to have a space for Spark!Lab that is the result of the creative inventiveness we’re trying to instill there.
We also had a discussion about ways to reinforce inventive thinking in kids, which gave me the chance to think back to my childhood and especially to my father, who built my sisters and me a workbench and encouraged us to create using wood scraps from his own projects. For years I used a Walkman held together by a wood nail because he loved to fix things instead of throwing them out. I thought about the pulley system he had rigged for our birdfeeder, which made it easy to fill but hard for squirrels to get to. I realized that my dad is one of those people who travels through the world with the eyes of an inventor. I also realized that not everyone has a person in his or her life to model and encourage these traits – but that by opening this space and staffing it with trained facilitators, our Museum could play that role for many.
You might now be asking, what do you mean when you say “the eyes of an inventor”? In the training, I wondered that too, and for me the best answer came from one of our facilitators, Michelle DelCarlo, Spark!Lab National Network Manager. She described inventors as people who encounter a problem and react by thinking “I can make this better.” With the mindset of an empowered inventor, problems become sources of motivation, not roadblocks or excuses to give up. So with that thought, I can’t wait to be a part of Spark!Lab because, really, what a wonderful world we could live in if each of us approached our days with inventors’ brains – not just seeing the problems, but feeling confident in our ability to solve them.
Spark!Lab will provide a space for young people in the Museum’s community to think like inventors.
October 2, 2014
August 29, 2014
On Saturday, August 30, the Smithsonian’s National Zoo will bring back the American bison in a new exhibit and habitat. Zora and Wilma are not only beautiful animals, but they also serve as an important reminder about conservation and the Zoo’s inception. In 1887, American bison wandered the National Mall, helping to bring awareness to the endangerment of the species. Two years later, Congress passed legislation to found the National Zoo, celebrating its 125th anniversary this year.
Bison roam around the Smithsonian Castle, 1887-89
At Affiliations, we are wallowing in the excitement of welcoming these magnificent animals to Washington. So we decided to scan our herd of partners, to see where else the mighty American bison are roaming among Affiliate plains. We found a virtual stampede of bison content in Affiliateland!
– It seems appropriate to start in Wyoming, at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West. After all, it was “Buffalo Bill” Cody who offered the Smithsonian a herd of 18 bison in 1888. Painfully, the gift had to be refused for lack of space on the National Mall. But today, you can find plenty of bison material at the Buffalo Bill Center in Cody. The Center’s museums house an impressive collection of art depicting “Nature’s Cattle,” including beautiful Audubon prints as well as Native artifacts made from the bison, and natural history specimens.
“Scout” at the Durham Museum in Omaha
– It was a Nebraska rancher who donated the very first bison to the Smithsonian’s collection, so it seems natural to travel on to Omaha to visit “Scout,” the beloved bison on view at the Durham Museum. At 7 ½’ high and 10’ long, this magnificent specimen helps to tell the important story of the Midwest’s history with the bison. As part of their bison interpretation, the Durham Museum uses the online resource Tracking the Buffalo from the National Museum of American History. Go ahead – take the site’s interactive test to guess what you could make from all the parts of the animal.
– Some bison though, were revered beyond all that they could provide for Native people. A white bison is extremely rare, appearing once in approximately five million births. For this reason, these animals are considered sacred and possess great spiritual power to Native and non-Native people alike. Given this extreme rarity, where could you ever see one now?! The Montana Historical Society in Helena displays “Big Medicine,” a white buffalo who died in 1959. With blue eyes, tan hooves, and a brown topknot, there’s still plenty of reasons to revere the beauty of this extraordinary specimen today.
“Big Medicine” on view at the Montana Historical Society
– As rare as Big Medicine is, perhaps no bison has the hometown spirit of “On the Wind,” the massive bronze bison who greets visitors to the History Colorado Center in Denver. He’s been seen wearing bandannas when the stock show comes to town, a Broncos jersey during football season, and even a bike helmet during the recent Pro Challenge cycling race through the state. He’s also an important reminder of the stories told inside the Center about the historic relationship between bison and the peoples of the West.
– To travel even further back in time, check out the archeological remains of a gigantic Ice Age bison at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. Excavated from the Colorado Rockies, this iconic specimen and its neighbors represent one of the most significant fossil discoveries ever made in Colorado. How gigantic was it? Twice the size of a modern bison! How do we know? It had a horn spread more than 7’ wide (compared with the 2 ½’ spread of the modern buffalo).
“On the Wind” in Denver reflects the community
– If you’re finding it hard to imagine the size of a modern bison without actually seeing one, the South Dakota State Historical Society can help you out. They’ve devised a fun 30-page coloring sheet called How Big is a Buffalo. Bison make quite an appearance in the Society’s education kits, which include objects, lesson plans, worksheets and ideas for additional activities. The Buffalo and Plains Indians, Lewis and Clark, and Archeology kits are just a few that explore all facets of this great American species.
– Lest you think the Affiliate bison only roam west of the Mississippi, think again. The Mashantucket Pequot Museum in Connecticut is currently displaying The Bison: American Icon exhibition, which explores “the dramatic changes that occurred to the bison and its habitat, and to the people who depended on it for their daily existence.” At the end of September, the Museum invites visitors to take the Bison Challenge – an outdoor activity that will test your speed, strength, and senses against the performance of a bison. Good luck!
The Bison: American Icon exhibit on view at the Mashantucket Pequot Museum
As the song goes, “oh give me a home… “ It’s gratifying to see how many Affiliate “homes” across America celebrate the iconic bison, and that the Smithsonian will soon provide two of them a home in the nation’s capital.
How does your museum interpret the mighty bison? (We’re looking at you Idaho and Oklahoma) Tell us your stories!
(Footnote: “bison” and “buffalo” are often used interchangeably. Culturally this is correct; scientifically it is not. Technically, bison and buffalo are not the same animal. Click here to compare their differences.)
The author is a National Outreach Manager in Smithsonian Affiliations, and a long-time buffalophile.
August 26, 2014
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