Storytelling Thrives at Smithsonian Affiliate

Mary B. Martin Storytelling Hall at the International Storytelling Center in Jonesborough, Tennessee

Has anyone proclaimed October “National Storytelling Month?”  I’m sure this would find great favor among the more than 10,000 people who attended this year’s 38th annual National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, Tennessee.  Organized by Smithsonian Affiliate, the International Storytelling Center, the festival gives ample evidence that the spoken word has not yet succumbed to the abbreviated argot of tweets, instant messaging, acronyms, and emoticons.  In Jonesborough, the world’s oldest art form is flourishing. 

Begun in 1973 by Jimmy Neil Smith, a former journalism teacher and mayor of this picturesque, historic East Tennessee town, the festival has justifiably earned Jonesborough the title of “Storytelling Capital of the World.”  As Smith recalls, “thirty eight years ago, when 50 or so people gathered around a hay wagon in the center of my home town to tell and listen to stories, something magical happened.  The National Storytelling Festival was created, basically, to inspire ordinary people to share stories.” 

Niall de Búrca, of Ireland, performs during the 2009 National Storytelling Festival. Photo courtesy Fresh Air Photo.

Inspire it does.  The storytelling usually begins at 10:00 am and lasts well past midnight.  Veteran attendees meticulously scope out the schedule and find their seats long before starting time.  Audiences remain attentive and appreciative throughout, absorbed in each session, hanging on every word, eagerly awaiting the ever-unpredictable plot twist or punch line.  Stories range from traditional to personal and from serious to surreal.  In all their shapes and styles, the stories embrace the glorious diversity of the oral tradition, while underscoring what must be a universal human impulse to create narrative out of everyday life. 

Chuna McIntyre presents a Yup’ik Eskimo story at the 2009 Festival. Photo courtesy Fresh Air Photo.

Many Jonesborough storytellers have shared their skills on Smithsonian stages. Ray Hicks, Donald Davis, Jay O’Callahan, John McCutcheon, Bill Lepp, Syd Lieberman, and Kathryn Windham, to name a few have performed at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, the Discovery Theater, and at various SI museums and workshops.  Smithsonian staff have, in a similar manner, given their time and talents back to Jonesborough:  Rex Ellis, master storyteller and Associate Director for Curatorial Affairs at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, has been a mainstay in Jonesborough since 1990;  Stephanie Norby, Smithsonian Center for Education and Museum Studies and Clare Cuddy, National Museum of the American Indian have also advised on educational strategies and programming at the International Storytelling Center. 

(L to R) Affiliations Director, Harold Closter, and Storytelling Center President, Jimmy Neil Smith

The work of all these accomplished folk demonstrates the truth behind poet Muriel Rukeyser’s observation that “the universe is made of stories, not of atoms.”  One trip to Jonesborough and you’ll have no doubts.  Just remember to make your reservations early!

coming up in affiliateland in november 2010

November is another busy month in Affiliateland!

ILLINOIS
Sousa and His League of Players: America’s Music and the Golden Age of Baseball opens at the Sousa Archives at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, in Champaign, 11.1.

NEW YORK:
The Smithsonian American Art Museum loans a 1966 Charmion von Wiegand painting to the Rubin Museum of Art, in New York, 11.5. 

WASHINGTON:
The Museum of History and Industry will announce their Affiliation at an event with Smithsonian Regent Patty Stonesifer, in Seattle, 11.5. 

NORTH CAROLINA:
David Bohaska, collections manager in the Department of Paleobiology at the National Museum of Natural History will participate in the annual Fossil Festival at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, in Raleigh, 11.6. 

MISSISSIPPI:
The Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art will host a Grand Opening of their new museum  and will unveil “Blackberry Woman,” a Richmond Barthe bronze sculpture, on loan from the Smithsonian American Art Museum, in Biloxi, 11.6.

PENNSYLVANIA:
The National Museum of American Jewish History hosts a Grand Opening Weekend showcasing several Smithsonian loans, in Philadelphia, 11.12-14. 

PUERTO RICO
Three José Campeche paintings travel for the first time from the Smithsonian American Art Museum to the Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico, in San Juan, 11.18. 

FLORIDA:
Smithsonian Secretary, G. Wayne Clough, will give a public lecture at the Patricia & Phillip Frost Art Museum at Florida International University, in Miami, 11.19. 

CALIFORNIA:
The SITES’ exhibition, Bittersweet Harvest: The Bracero Program, 1942-1964 will open at the Sonoma County Museum, in Santa Rosa, 11.20. 

*amazing* loans at Affiliates this fall

More than 25 amazing and unique artifacts are on the move from the Smithsonian to Affiliates in six states,  from September to November this year.  This concentration of extraordinary activity gives testament to months (and sometimes years!) of hard work and planning by Smithsonian and Affiliate staffs alike. 

“Americans unable to visit the Smithsonian in Washington now have an opportunity to see some amazing Smithsonian artifacts from our collections in their own communities,” said Harold Closter, Affiliations Director.  “Something special happens when an artifact returns to its location of origin or joins an exhibit where it can be seen in a new context. Thanks to our Affiliates, the Smithsonian has a strong, visible presence in every part of our country.”

From the NATIONAL MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY:

Lexington's skeletal head, next to its image while alive.

The fall season kicked off in Kentucky, site of the 2010 World Equestrian Games.  The International Museum of the Horse borrowed the complete skeleton of Lexington, the most famous 19th-century American racehorse, returning him to his birthplace 160 years later.   Read more about this amazing loan in the upcoming Fall 2010 edition of The Affiliate newsletter. 

Isn’t Monopoly the way most of us learned about finance and economics?  A solid gold, jewel-encrusted Monopoly game from the Museum’s gem collection was unveiled with great fanfare in October at the Museum of American Finance on Wall Street in New York City.  While students competed in a Monopoly tournament, the artifact’s creator, jeweler Sidney Mobell, spoke about this one-of-a-kind artwork.   

From the SMITHSONIAN AMERICAN ART MUSEUM:

Barthe's almost 3' Blackberry Woman

Artist Richmond Barthe’s bronze sculpture Blackberry Woman will soon be on view at the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum in Biloxi, Mississippi for the inaugural exhibition in its new African American gallery.  Barthe grew up in Mississippi, and was inspired by the women he encountered there in his childhood.  How elegantly appropriate for this sculpture to return to the genesis of its inspiration!

In November, the Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico will display three paintings from SAAM’s Vidal Collection by legendary 18- 19th-century Puerto Rican Old Master, José Campeche.  These inclusions in a definitive retrospective of Campeche’s work represent the first loans ever between these two important art museums, a signficiant accomplishment.

Likewise, SAAM’s painting by Charmion von Wiegand “Nothing that is wrong in principle can be right in practice” will be part of the Rubin Museum’s Grain of Emptiness: Buddhism-inspired Contemporary Art exhibition, the Museum’s first loan to this NYC Affiliate.

 From the ARCHIVES CENTER at the National Museum of American History:  

Detail from the illustrated sheet music, Oh! You Babe Ruth

The Archives Center is making a significant contribution to the Sousa Archives and Center for American Music’s Sousa and His League of Players: America’s Music and the Golden Age of Baseball exhibition, marking the 100th anniversary of the Sousa Band’s World Tour.  With 11 baseball cards (including Ty Cobb’s) and several examples of illustrated sheet music (including Oh! You Babe Ruth and Stars of the National Game music), this exhibition will be the core of the University’s 2010 American Music Month Celebration.

From the NATIONAL MUSEUM OF THE AMERICAN INDIAN:

In an unexpected request, the Museum has loaned a 19th-century Sioux flute and hide scraper from the Dakota Territory to the National Museum of American Jewish History.  What’s the connection?  When NMAJH opens its brand new building on Independence Mall this November, part of the history it will tell is the western expansion of Jewish Americans, and the kinds of peoples and objects they encountered along the way.   

And from the MUSEUM CONSERVATION INSTITUTE:

Within the Emperor's Garden - on view at Flushing Town Hall

MCI’s extraordinary object, the Ten Thousand Springs Pavilion, made its way between two Affiliates this fall, from Texas to Flushing, New York.  Flushing Town Hall is located in one of New York City’s largest Asian communities, a perfect context for this 1:5 scale model replica from the Imperial Garden in the Forbidden City in Bejing.  Read more about the deinstallation and NYC installation of this object.

THANK YOU to all of our Smithsonian colleagues for their work on these loans, and for our Affiliate friends who so consistently collaborate with us to bring the Smithsonian to their neighborhoods.

kudos, Affiliates! for november 2010

Always nice to see bright spots around the network – great job and congratulations to all!

The Kresge Foundation of Troy, Michigan, recently awarded the National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium (Dubuque, Iowa) a $1 million challenge grant for the construction of the Diamond Jo National River Center. The challenge was contingent on the museum raising the remaining $4 million of its $12 million in private donations toward the $40 million project.

Richard Willich, chairman and CEO of MDI Holdings, has pledged a $50,000 gift to the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Museum (St. Augustine, Florida) to upport maritime education for the maritime archaeology internship program.

The Oracle Education Foundation (OEF) has partnered with The Mary Brogan Museum of Art and Science (Tallahassee, Florida) to launch an innovative online learning initiative for students and teachers. The initiative will leverage ThinkQuest, OEF’s online learning platform, to create three online projects focused on museum exhibits. In addition, OEF and The Brogan Museum will work together to train 1,000 teachers on how to integrate ThinkQuest and project learning into their curricula.

Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan approved a $100,000 grant for the Arab American National Museum over two years for programming to support an exhibition about Arab American contributions in civilian and military service from the Revolutionary War to the present. Patriots and Peacemakers: Arab Americans in Service to Their Country will travel to museums, military academies and bases throughout the country.

The Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience was honored by First Lady Michelle Obama in a recent White House ceremony.  “The Wing” was one of just 15 programs across the country to receive the 2010 National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award, the highest honor for afterschool arts and humanities programs.

on the road in New York

It’s a chilly, rainy, autumn day along the east coast, but that’s not stopping Smithsonian Affiliations National Outreach Manager Jennifer Brundage!  She’s on her way to visit our Affiliates in the New York- New Jersey area and participate in some really exciting events this weekend.  A golden Monopoly set, a Chinese pavilion, and a Tibetan Shrine Room are among the fascinating things she’ll be reporting on as she travels. You can follow her journey on Twitter at @SIAffiliates. Here’s a look at some highlights along the way:

Tomorrow, Jennifer will be on-hand when the Museum of American Finance in New York City unveils the display of an 18-karat solid gold Monopoly set covered with hundreds of precious gemstones, on loan from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. In the afternoon, the museum will host Monopoly tournaments for children and adults to go along with the unveiling! Look for #Monopoly posts as Jennifer tweets during the day.

While she’s in the city, Jennifer will visit the Tibetan Shrine Room currently on view at the Rubin Museum of Art. On loan from the Alice S. Kandell Collection and organized by the Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, the Shrine Room provides visitors an extraordinary opportunity to experience Tibetan Buddhist art in context.

On Saturday, Jennifer will close her journey with the opening reception for the Within the Emperor’s Garden: Ten Thousand Springs Pavilion exhibition at Flushing Town Hall in Flushing, New York. Based on the original Wan Chun Ting pavilion that stands in the Imperial Garden of the Forbidden City in China, this highly detailed 1:5 scale replica is made of red sandalwood and constructed using mortise-and-tenon joinery. The exhibition was organized by the Smithsonian’s Museum Conservation Institute, with assistance of the China Red Sandalwood Museum and the Savannah College of Art and Design.

Also on her road trip, she’ll be stopping-by these Affiliates too:

Known for their rich history of African American jazz and pop music, the Lincoln Park Coast Cultural District /Museum of African American Music in Newark, New Jersey, captures the energy, spontaneity, and spirit of African American music through a combination of live performance, physical artifacts, audio-visual media, interactive exhibits and educational programs.

Most recently hosting the SITES exhibition Legacy of Lincoln, Snug Harbor Cultural Center in Staten Island is one of New York City’s most unexpected and extraordinary destinations. Set within an 83- acre National Historic Landmark district, the center is a place where history, architecture, the visual and performing arts, and environmental science all come together to provide a rich and powerful learning experience.

Don’t forget you can follow Jennifer’s journey on Twitter at @SIAffiliates and look for #Monopoly posts tomorrow during the Monopoly tournaments! And keep checking the Smithsonian Affiliates Flickr photostream in the next week for photos from the road.

Smithsonian Affiliate provides peek into an internet-free time in history

Special thanks to Alma Douglas, Smithsonian Affiliations National Outreach Manager, for this post.

“What did you people do before the internet?” It was a question that produced a hilarious moment for Smithsonian staff this summer when asked by one of this year’s young ambassadors, hosted by the Smithsonian Latino Center.   

Historic building with sheep at the Museum of Appalachia

Visiting one of our Affiliates, the Museum of Appalachia in Norris, TN, gives a clue.  This museum presents a stunning time travel experience as it presents Appalachian cultural heritage. 

Founder John Rice Irwin has assembled an amazing collection of objects of everyday life, photographs, and buildings which convey the way life as was lived in Appalachia once upon a time.  Authentic log cabin housing, a one-room school house, outdoor kitchens, meat houses,  handmade tools and musical instruments, even the proverbial out house, are represented in the museum’s collections.  Necessity, invention, and imagination joined forces to create some very unique objects that eased the way of living and provided joyful relief for Appalachian families. 

Authentic out house at the Museum of Appalachia.

Just imagine banjos and guitars of every shape and design, made with whatever might have been available at the time–creating a new art form, the stirrings of country music, to warm the heart and soul.   Soap made from hog renderings, houses to cure meats so it could last for a time, canning so that families could eat long after the harvest, shearing sheep and spinning the wool to make fabric for clothing, all done by hand.  Lamps lit by tallow, hearth baking, lumber cut at the saw mill.    

The annual, upcoming Tennessee Fall Homecoming, October 8-10, 2010 is a wonderful celebration of the Apppalachian culture which immerses you in that time and place.  What might that young intern think after this experience?    

Demonstration of Appalachian music by performers in period dress at the Museum of Appalachia.

You can learn more about Appalachian traditions in the television documentary program “Heartland Series,” airing in 2010. Several episodes were filmed at the Museum of Appalachia.