Smithsonian Secretary speaks at Frost Art Museum

On November 19, 2010, Smithsonian Secretary G. Wayne Clough participated in the The Steven & Dorothea Green Critics’ Lecture Series at the Frost Art Museum at Florida International University, a Smithsonian Affiliate in Miami, Florida.

“As an Affiliate, he was my first choice since he became Secretary. I thought it was important for people in Miami to know how the Smithsonian works, and how Affiliates benefit from the relationship,” said Carol Damian, Frost Art Museum Director.

He shared the past, present and future of the Smithsonian to those in the audience and focused on discussing how he was trying to implement his future vision for the Institution.

Of great importance to this plan is safe-guarding the environment and using new technologies to reach wider audiences.

Here are a few fun photos from the night’s event:

Photos courtesy Frost Art Museum, ©2010 Gary Mercer.

Carol Damian and fellow Affiliate Miami Science Museum Director, Gillian Thomas. Photos courtesy Frost Art Museum, ©2010 Gary Mercer.

Photos courtesy Frost Art Museum, ©2010 Gary Mercer.

Secretary Clough and Virginia Clark, Director, Smithsonian Office of Advancement. Photos courtesy Frost Art Museum, ©2010 Gary Mercer.

Secretary Clough with Carol Damian, Director of the Frost Art Museum. Photos courtesy Frost Art Museum, ©2010 Gary Mercer.

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!

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.

are you wendish?

wendishThis question has been on my mind since visiting the Institute of Texan Cultures to announce our new affiliation on January 28, 2010.  Housed in the formidable Texas Pavilion, a landmark of San Antonio’s HemisFair Park, the Institute celebrates the diverse heritage of early Texans in its core exhibition, Texans One and All. Here one finds thoughtfully interpreted and artifact-filled displays of Mexican, African American, Czech, German, Jewish, and Lebanese Texans, among others, and…. Wends.

A quick survey of friends and Smithsonian savants revealed that I was not alone in my unfamiliarity with this group of Texans.  Wends it turns out are a Slavic people who began migrating into Germany and the Baltic region in the first millennium and have maintained their ethnic identity ever since.  The Wends of Texas, better known as Sorbs or Lusatian Serbs, first arrived in Texas in 1853, settling in German speaking areas, and eventually populating the towns of Serbin and Giddings.

itc

UTSA President Dr. Ricardo Romo; Dr. Harriett Romo Director of UTSA CAPRI/MEXICO CENTER; Harold Closter, Director of Smithsonian Affiliations and Tim Gette, Executive Director, ITC.

The Institute of Texan Cultures, organizer of the Texas Folklife Festival, served as a catalyst for the revitalization of Wendish culture in Texas through its annual call for festival participants, which helped to launch the Texas Wendish Heritage Society.  Today, according to the Institute, “the community at Serbin holds an annual Wendish Fest and extends a welcome, Witajcže K’nam, to visitors. During the affair church services are conducted in German and English, a Czech band may play, and corn-shucking contests are held. Some of the local descendants dress in European Wendish costume.”  The Institute emphasizes colorful Wendish wedding traditions in its display.

This is just one of the many stimulating encounters to be found at the Institute of Texan Cultures.  It is not surprising that a state with so much space and so many natural resources would be a magnet for so many different people.  Whether familiar or not, there is always much to learn about the heritage of our predecessors, and the adaptations and sacrifices made or forced upon them.  At the Texas banquet table, diversity is served in complex and compelling dishes.  There’s room for all at this enormous spread….including the Wendish.

gette_congressman

Tim Gette and Congressman Charles A. Gonzalez (TX-20) at ceremony announcing the affiliation between the Institute of Texan Cultures and the Smithsonian Institution.

Stop by the Institute of Texan Cultures when you are next in San Antonio and offer a hearty Witajcže K’nam.  They’ll know what you’re talking about.

Together Again: The Smithsonian and the Putnam museum

Announcing Their Affiliation, January 21, 2010

Through our new partnership, we join forces to preserve the evidence of our world and the world of those who came before, in order to educate, inspire, and help us make informed decisions about our future. 

The Smithsonian Institution and the Putnam Museum of History and Natural Science in Davenport, Iowa, both emerged in the mid-nineteenth century for similar reasons — the quest for knowledge about the natural world and the desire to make this new knowledge available to people of all financial means.  Davenport’s illustrious group of scientists was well known in the nation’s capital.  Charles C. Parry, one of the leading figures at the Davenport Academy of Natural Sciences, conducted botanical research at the Smithsonian between 1869-1871.  J. D. Putnam, another prominent scientist from Davenport was, in the words of Smithsonian Secretary Spencer F. Baird, “a devoted friend and conscientious collaborator.”

Plains tradition winter count on calf skin, 1798- 1922

Plains tradition winter count on calf skin, 1798- 1922

The objects from the Putnam’s collection placed on display for the Affiliations Announcement  — slave yoke, Plains Indian winter count, frontier quilt, Lincoln political banner, Lincoln’s signed pardon of Sioux Warriors, plant specimens collected and classified by 19th-century women scientists of Davenport, Japanese Friendship Doll, Bix Biederbeck’s cornet, and meteorite — demonstrate the shared goals and common bonds that have long prevailed between our organizations. Like the Smithsonian’s collections, these objects reflect the depth and importance of the Putnam’s collections as well as the breadth of its interests.  Also, like the Smithsonian’s collections, these objects pose big questions for which there are not always easy answers.  Meteorites challenge us to understand the nature of the universe; slave shackles challenge us to understand the nature of humanity. 

Proudfoot Memento Mori/Signature Quilt Top, 1847-1856

Proudfoot Memento Mori/Signature Quilt Top, 1847-1856

All of these objects speak of the complexity of our world and humankind’s struggle to survive, adapt, and transcend.  And while these objects may have specific significance to Iowa and the Midwest, they are also, in spirit, part of the larger national collections housed at the Smithsonian.  Together they tell the incredible story of our nation and our people — a story of continuity and change, of tradition and innovation, of conflict and cooperation, and of triumph over adversity.

Detail of Proudfoot quilt

Detail of Proudfoot quilt

The Smithsonian congratulates the Putnam Museum of History and Natural Science on its many accomplishments and well-deserved reputation, and looks forward to a long and productive partnership together.

All photos courtesy Putnam Museum

sleepless in seattle

There is so much going on at Smithsonian Affiliates in and around Seattle that one can hardly sleep.  Of course being in the heart of America’s coffee capital only adds to this condition.

Entrance to the Museum of Flight

Entrance to the Museum of Flight

This trip started on November 12 at the Museum of Flight, a sparkling and sprawling Affiliate, just south of the city, appropriately recognized as the world’s largest private not-for-profit air and space museum.  Under the dynamic leadership of Bonnie Dunbar, five-time space shuttle astronaut, the museum hosts such remarkables as the first Boeing 747, Air Force One, and a supersonic Concorde.  Astronaut John Young’s spacesuit and various examples of space food, on loan from the National Air and Space Museum (NASM), are also on display in the main building.  I was pleased to run into Dan Hagedorn, formerly of NASM and now senior curator at the museum. Dan’s voluminous knowledge of aircraft and aviation history kept me spellbound for hours. I think of Dan as our permanent loan to the museum.  He is complemented by an enthusiastic set of colleagues who, like the pioneers of flight, are continually dreaming up new ways to expand the museum’s innovative exhibitions and education programs.  Soar on!

A striking installation at the Wing Luke Asian Museum

A striking installation at the Wing Luke Asian Museum

The Wing Luke Asian Museum, in the heart of Seattle’s International District, flies to the heart of Seattle’s complex history as a home for generations of Asian and Pacific Island Americans.  The small community museum led for many years by visionary Ron Chew, and now directed by the equally inspiring Beth Takekawa, recently reopened around the corner in a not so small historic building, brilliantly transformed by the architectural firm Olson Sundberg Kundig Allen.  The renovation allows for contemporary art and community culture displays while preserving the original spaces occupied by workers, family associations, and merchants.  On view at this time are Roger Shimomura’s provocative and disturbing  “yellow terror” artifacts and his paintings that explore and expose the cruelty and harm of stereotyping.

The new Light Catcher building of the Whatcom Museum of History and Art

The new Lightcatcher building of the Whatcom Museum of History and Art

About ninety miles up the coast, in Bellingham, Washington stands the Whatcom Museum of History and Art, an important repository of Northwest  history and culture, and the ultimate destination of this trip. On November 13 the Whatcom celebrated the opening of it new “Lightcatcher” building, an exquisite facility, also designed by Olson Sundberg Kundig Allen Architects, that will rehouse the museum’s art collection and showcase new collections and acquisitions.  It was an honor to join director Patricia Leach, Mayor Dan Pike, the Board and all the local supporters in applauding this great community accomplishment. Bellingham was famous as the jumping off point for the great Alaska gold rush, but the hard work of many in this city, has unearthed the local gold of good will and artistic creativity.  We are delighted that the Smithsonian American Art Museum‘s very relevant exhibition, 1934: A New Deal for the Arts, will be the featured jewel at the Whatcom in 2010.  

Smithsonian Affiliates in Seattle and Bellingham offer so many amazing opportunities for learning and discovery, that what I lacked for in sleep I made up for in inspiration.  Pour me another cup of coffee!