A night of music with Rahim AlHaj

Oud virtuoso Rahim AlHaj performs at the Arab American National Museum

Oud virtuoso Rahim AlHaj performs at the Arab American National Museum

The Arab American National Museum (AANM), our Smithsonian Affiliate in Dearborn, Michigan, is the first museum in the world devoted to Arab American history and culture.  Through its programs and exhibits the museum, situated in the midst of the largest Arab American community in the U.S., demonstrates how “Arab Americans have enriched the economic, political and cultural landscape of American life.”  One powerful example of this mission came to life October 1, when museum-goers had the opportunity to hear one of the world’s master oud players, Smithsonian Folkways Grammy-nominated recording artist, Rahim AlHaj accompanied by percussionist, Issa Malluf. 


AlHaj, a native of Iraq, and a student of the famed Munir Bashir, graduated from the Baghdad Conservatory of Music in 1990.  A political exile shortly afterwards, AlHaj lived in Jordan and Syrian until granted refugee status and resettled in Albuquerque, New Mexico in 2000.  His virtuosity and bubbling personality have helped relaunch an impressive performing and recording career, bringing the sound of the oud and its 5000-year old history to audiences all over the United States, and increasingly around the world.


AlHaj and the Smithsonian came together under the guiding hand of the Smithsonian Folkways Deputy Director and Middle Eastern music scholar, D. A. Sonneborn.  The resulting album, When the Soul is Settled: Music of Iraq, earned a Grammy nomination in 2008 and, in the words of one critic, “was like God breathing life into clay.”   This may well describe how many in the audience felt on October 1.


Through the auspices of the Arab American National Museum, AlHaj and percussionist Malluf, had the opportunity to demonstrate their art to students at the O.W. Holmes Elementary and Middle School in Dearborn.  All seemed intrigued, delighted, and by the end of the session, a little more informed about the great traditions of Middle Eastern music, lovingly performed by these dedicated artists. 


Our thanks to Anan Ameri, Devon Akmon, Aaron Barndollar and their wonderful colleagues at the Arab American National Museum, and to D.A. Sonneborn, Dan Sheehy, Richard Burgess, Pete Reiniger and their colleagues at Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, for applying their energies and resources toward keeping this music alive and accessible, and for bringing this awesome Affiliate moment together on a night in Michigan, that few will forget.


See the photo album from the concert on the Smithsonian In Your Neighborhood Facebook page.

Smithsonian’s fireless locomotive moves to Baltimore


locomotive in Smithsonian storage, waiting for its trip to Baltimore


 The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History recently donated a vintage 1938 fireless steam locomotive to our Affiliate in Baltimore, the B & O Railroad Museum.  On August 18, Affiliations and Museum staff were on hand to document this dramatic move.

 The move took two days to complete.  One to rig the locomotive onto a palette inside the American History Museum’s storage facility, and another day to load it onto a truck, drive it to Baltimore, and unload it in the restoration shop of the B & O Museum. 



a special forklift eases the locomotive out of storage. very slowly.

The locomotive was built by the Heisler Locomotive Works in Erie, Pennsylvania for the Potomac Electric Power Company (Pepco) in 1938. Unlike other steam engines, this unique 35-ton locomotive did not need a fire to produce steam; instead it was filled with steam and superheated water from the power plant’s boilers under high pressure at temperatures around 400 degrees Fahrenheit. The locomotive was capable of operating by itself for approximately five hours on one charge of steam and superheated water. 



lifting the locomotive onto its ride, a flatbed truck

Bill Withuhn, Smithsonian Curator of Technology and Transportation, contacted the B&O Railroad Museum more than a year ago to begin negotiations for the transfer of the locomotive to Baltimore. “The fireless was a trusty workhorse locomotive; one that deserves to be on exhibition for its contributions to lighting Maryland and the nation’s capital. We are pleased to make possible this transfer to our affiliate.”


In the U.S., fireless locomotives ran exclusively on the networks of tracks located within the boundaries of some of the largest coal-fired power stations operated by utilities. The locomotive needed to remain close to the power plant in order to be recharged. An early example of green technology, the fireless steam locomotive emitted only steam vapor, unlike other locomotives which release smoke exhaust.

B&O Railroad Museum Executive Director, Courtney Wilson said, “This locomotive is a scarce type of railroad motive power not represented in our unparalleled collection of 19th and 20th century steam locomotives. It fills an important gap and we are extremely pleased to accept this gift from the Smithsonian.”

we got alot of curious looks cruising on I-95

From 1938 until 1974 the Pepco locomotive operated at the Buzzard Point Power Station in Washington, D.C. hauling coal. From 1974 to 1978 it was used at the Potomac River Power Station in Alexandria, Virginia. In 1979 Pepco restored and donated the locomotive to the National Museum of American History’s Work and Industry collection where it has been in storage.  Until now. 

On October 15, the B & O will roll the fireless locomotive into its famous roundhouse to celebrate its 10th anniversary as a Smithsonian Affiliate.  There it will join other Smithsonian artifacts on loan to the Museum, including 50 models of historic locomotives and railway cars and the boiler from the first locomotive used in the Western Hemisphere, the Stourbridge Lion. 
rounding the corner to the back door of B & O's storage facility

rounding the corner to the back door of B & O's storage facility. almost there!



2 forklifts hold the locomotive in mid-air, while the flatbed truck drives out of the way.

2 forklifts hold the locomotive in mid-air, while the flatbed truck drives out of the way

easing it off its palette, a few inches at a time

easing it off its palette, a few inches at a time

hitting the rail!

hitting the rail!

See more photos in the Smithsonian Affiliates group pool on flickr.

behind the scenes with african animals


Annmarie Garden staff chat with curator Bryna Freyer in the storage area of the National Museum of African Art

Annmarie Garden staff chat with curator Bryna Freyer in the storage area of the National Museum of African Art

One of the favorite parts of my job is when an Affiliate director says, “do you think we could get a tour of that new exhibition?”  It gets even better when the curator on the tour says, “and I have more objects like this in storage;  let’s take a look.”   Yeah!

I was fortunate one morning last week to find myself in this very situation.  Stacey Hann-Ruff, the director and Melissa Winslow Langley, the curator of exhibitions at Annmarie Garden and I were touring the National Museum of African Art’s really fantastic new exhibition, Artful Animals with its curator, Bryna Freyer.  The show is about how African artists use images of domestic and wild animals to create striking works of art.  The show is grouped around the type of animal (leopards, birds, snakes, elephants, dogs, etc.)  It is striking to see the same beast portrayed in different ways across various media.  (I think Melissa’s favorites were the weights.)  Observation of the animal’s conduct and distinct behaviors carry messages in performances, stories and proverbs that are captured by and through the works.  As per the exhibition’s website, “the approximately 125 works capture not only the physical characteristics of animals but also the many ways that animals, from spiders to leopards, act out our human shortcomings and successes.”

It’s that 125 number that is key, because the object list originally started out at around 400!  This meant of course, that lots more amazing artifacts were in storage.  We got to see additional, stunning works – from street paintings on wood to tall equestrian sculptures to a variety of hats featuring animal parts (like porcupine quills.)

An animal mosaic in fabric, behind the scenes at African Art

An animal mosaic in fabric, behind the scenes at African Art

The exhibition will be up until February 2010, and is well worth a visit (even if you don’t go behind the scenes!)

Let’s Eat

Season 2 starts on Monday July 12!

Season 2 starts on Monday July 12

On Monday July 12, Smithsonian Networks launches the second season of its signature series, “Stories from the Vaults” with a look at the incredible, edible Smithsonian.  It features Native cuisines and collections of the Pacific Northwest at the American Indian Museum (think: salmon!), and the origins of the American coffee break in the American History Archives (enter: Krispy Kreme).  The final segment is on the mechanics of eating and the toll food takes on our teeth, featuring our very own Baltimore Affiliate, the National Museum of Dentistry.  Go behind the scenes with the Dentistry Museum’s curator Scott Swank, as he shows off historic extractors and toothbrushes and other items from their collection.

To watch the whole show, click here.  Bring your appetite, and enjoy!

Textile Revolution!

What do sheep and baseballs have in common?

Textile Revolution: An Exploration through Space and Time

Textile Revolution: An Exploration through Space and Time exhibition entrance




This is one of the many intriguing questions answered in the new permanent exhibition, Textile Revolution: An Exploration through Space and Time at the American Textile History Museum in Lowell, Massachusetts.

On June 19, the Museum cut the ribbon on their own revolution.  Having been closed for two years, the Museum reopened with updated, interactive displays that tell the history of American textiles, up to the present.  “Most people have no idea how their lives are shaped by textiles – far beyond the clothing they wear,” said Jim Coleman, the Museum’s President and CEO.  Indeed, the exhibition moves the visitor though spinning yarn in the home in pre-industrial times (hence, where we get the term “spinster“) to contemporary textiles that encompass cars, high-performance bicycles, and “sharkskin” suits worn by Olympic swimmers.

Carbon fibers woven into a high-performance bicycle frame.

Carbon fibers woven into high-performance bicycle frames.

Lowell Mayor “Bud” Caulfield called the renovated Museum “a jewel in Lowell’s cultural landscape.”    Through its innovative approach to illuminating the history of textiles and the importance of textiles to the scientific, medical, aeronautic fields and beyond, the Museum is truly a jewel in America’s cultural landscape.  With tens of thousands of textiles spread across at least 6 Smithsonian museums, we can’t wait to get started collaborating with the Museum to enhance the story through our Affiliate partnership.

Kudos to the Museum – its staff, board, donors and supporters – on a job well done!

Museum stakeholders cut the ribbon to the new Museum and permanent exhibition.

Museum stakeholders cut the ribbon to the new Museum and permanent exhibition.


The Museum really knows how to celebrate!

The Museum really knows how to celebrate!



Masterpiece on the Move


A masterpiece by one of America’s most renowned 19th-century landscape artists will soon make its way west from the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C., to the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody, the only Smithsonian Affiliate in Wyoming.

Thomas Moran’s The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone (1893 – 1901) will be on loan from the Smithsonian American Art Museum as part of the Whitney Gallery of Western Art’s 50th Anniversary celebration. The massive painting–more than eight feet high and fourteen feet long–arrives in early summer for a four-month stay and will be unveiled June 21.

“This is truly a glorious, iconic painting of Yellowstone that first appeared in Chicago at the 1893 Columbian Exposition,” says Alan Simpson, former U.S. Senator from Wyoming and the historical center’s chairman of the board of trustees. “What a rare and extraordinary privilege for our visitors to connect with Thomas ‘Yellowstone’ Moran’s Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and then to see the landscape that inspired it as they travel in Yellowstone.”

Indeed, Moran (1837 – 1926) is often considered the pivotal figure in efforts to make Yellowstone a national park. In 1871, he accompanied F.V. Hayden’s geological survey of the area as guest artist and worked closely with photographer William H. Jackson. Ostensibly, Moran painted the extraordinary sights of Yellowstone, and Jackson’s images proved they existed–in case there was any question about Moran’s interpretation.

The renovated gallery opens June 21, 2009. Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone will be on view through October 31, 2009.  Follow the countdown toward the opening of the Whitney Gallery of Western Art by visiting the historical Web site at www.bbhc.org/wgwa.  For more images from the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s flickr stream, click here.


Congratulations Buffalo Bill Historical Center!