A visit from the Booth Western Art Museum

 A few members of the Affiliations staff had the pleasure of meeting with Seth Hopkins, Director of the Booth  www.boothmuseum.org. Seth is a Northerner heading up the Booth in Cartersville, Georgia. The museum’s collection focuses on contemporary Western art, including cowboy art! On permanent exhibition are presidential portraits, civil war paintings and Western themed ephemera. Although the museum’s mission is to exhibit and interpret Western art, they are lucky to have a collection of 14 serigraphs done by Andy Warhol. Seth is looking forward to collaborating with the several other Affiliates focused on western art and heritage.

Exterior of the Booth

Mayflower 2

Desperate Voyage

Mark your calendars!  On November 19, the History Channel will debut a film called Desperate Voyage, about the crossing of the Mayflower in 1620.  Some of the film was shot at the replica of the ship, Mayflower II, owned and interpreted by affiliate Plimoth Plantation.  www.plimoth.org

Plimoth Plantation will be holding premier screenings of the film in Boston and Plymouth in early  November. Keep an eye out for the Mayflower’s 50th anniversary festivities, taking place summer 2007.  congratulations Plimoth!


An afternoon of Chinese Kunqu Theater

On Friday, August 4, some Affiliations staff attended an explanatory demonstration of this fascinating art form, a precursor to a real Kunqu performance at the Freer/Sackler Gallery entitled ‘The Palace of Eternal Youth’.  http://www.asia.si.edu/events/performances.asp

Named an ‘Intangible Heritage of Humanity’ by the United Nations, kunqu is classical Chinese musical theater.  We learned that a single performance may be made up of 50-200 scenes, so one performance of kunqu, performed at Lincoln Center in NYC, lasted for 19 hours!  (We were assured that the performance at Freer/Sackler would be much shorter.)  Until well into the 20th century, kunqu was gender segregated – not only the acting troupes, but the audiences as well!

Qian Yi singingIn the picture here, acclaimed young actress Qian Yi demonstrates the precise movements of kunqu.  Each character has a different way of walking which indicates their role – consorts of the emperor glide very slowly, almost imperceptibly, while maids rush around in circles, walking quickly heel to toe.  Scholars have yet another precise walk.  Ladies of the court always keep their hands in a precise configuration, to evoke the beauty of orchids, with fingers spread and articulated. 

As one might expect in a Chinese art form, yin and yang are implicit, even in movements.  Before pointing right, an actress will weave her hand around to the left, and vice versa.  If a character has to bend down to pick a flower, he will first rise up on his toes.

Many different Chinese dialects can be used in a kunqu performance, but it is the clown that most frequently mixes dialects.  Qian Yi also demonstrated how kunqu sounds, and the extensive use of melisma – a word I didn’t know until today!  Melisma is the technique of changing the pitch of a syllable of text while it is being sung.  It is said that melisma achieves a hypnotic trance in the listener…. certainly true in this case, as we could hardly stand to leave once she started singing!

2006 National Conference

It has been a little over a month since our memorable annual National Conference. All the Affiliations staff members would like to thank the Affiliates who were able to join us to commemorate our 10 Year Anniversary. Here are some pictures for your enjoyment!

Smithsonian Resource Fair


Office of Exhibits Central Tour

   Caroline 096.jpg 

Congressional Reception


10th Anniversary Reception

  Caroline 011.jpg    

Packaging sunlight from cucumbers

On Friday, some of the Affiliations staff attended the first in a new lecture series by SI’s Under Secretary of Science, David L. Evans.  Deriving his title from a scientist in Gulliver’s Travels, his thesis in the lecture was to illuminate the values of pure scientific research, unfettered by a concern for its practical application.  (check it out http://www.si.edu/research/spotlight/lectures_2006.html.)

To illustrate, he told the stories of three former Smithsonian Secretaries, all notable experts in their time, whose devotion to pure research found application only decades later.  Early in the 20th century, a Smithsonian Secretary, an avid ornithologist, preserved entire birds in alcohol, rather than just the skins or bones.  In the last 20 years, researchers were able to access and study the DNA of the birds from that collection for clues on bird flu mutations and transmission rates.

He referenced a seminal work in the history of scientific research, Vannevar Bush’s Science the Endless Frontier. (http://www.nsf.gov/about/history/vbush1945.htm)  As science advisor to FDR, Bush submitted this report to the president in 1945, arguing that pure research would benefit the country in three ways – economically, for public health, and in national defense.  This document ultimately led to the formation of the National Science Foundation.  Again, at the end of the 20th century, legislators revisited the document, and added the benefit of helping to establish public policy.

Dr. Evans finished his talk by sharing three current research projects underway at the Smithsonian, that as yet, have no practical application in mind.  The one I found most striking concerns our universe.  Scientists have long known that dark matter constitutes part of our universe, and that the universe is expanding.  Astronomers at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics have also recently discovered that the universe’s expansion is accelerating – it goes faster as it disperses, and they are able to measure this acceleration.  They have determined that approximately 70% of the universe is this dark energy, pushing it apart.  Which means that a very small fraction, less than 10%, of the universe is made up of the stuff we’re on – planets, stars, etc. (cfa-www.harvard.edu/)

How this information will ultimately benefit us is anyone’s guess, but as Dr. Evans pointed out, it does make one “scale our regard in cosmic terms.”   That perspective is always useful.


Puerto Rico Museum Studies Group 2009

My first two months at Affiliations

What a time it’s been! All my friends at Cooper-Hewitt keep asking, how is it?! what is it like to work at the Smithsonian in Washington?!

I anticipated the rewards of this job, and certainly have not been disappointed!  Things are quite different being on the Smithsonian “campus”.  I have really enjoyed gaining a macro view of the Institution, and the sense of community that comes from meeting colleagues across all the units. And even after 10 years with the Smithsonian, I’m realizing anew how much of the collection I still need to see, so it’s been fun to work on that!  but what I like most is meeting and getting to know all of my affiliates, and learning how rich and different they all are in mission, needs, perspective. It means that when I come to work every day, I never know what challenges may come up – all of which will require creative solutions, and all of which were well worth moving to DC for!

I thought I’d attach a few highlights from my first two months, the “wow, I can’t believe I actually work for the Smithsonian!” moments. I’ll be eager to hear about your ah-ha moments too! 


 PR group 095.jpg  in my third week on the job, I got to accompany this group of museum professionals from the Universidad del Turabo, PR on a behind-the-scenes study tour.  Here we are in the ImaginAsia classroom at the Freer Sackler.            

PR group 029.jpg  it’s a little like the Wizard of Oz when Natural History Museum Staff pull back the curtain on their collection objects in storage! 

       PR group 019.jpg Jars and jars of specimens in storage – snakes, eggs, sharks, and more – I’ve never seen anything like it!

 Duck decoys     amazing sash   Amazing objects from the NMAI collection.  Duck decoys that are thousands of years old!  and found in Nevada – imagine what the climate there must have been that long ago, to necessitate this hunting accoutrement!  and a beautiful sash made from woodpeckers… you can probably pick out their red feathers, but do you see their beaks?!