Category Archives: Museums and Exhibits

American Museum of Natural History Creates Immersive Experience for Understanding ‘Our Senses’

Looks like a flat 2-dimensional image but the image is made up of separate three-dimensional blocks, one of the illusions at ‘Our Senses: An Immersive Experience’ at American Museum of Natural History © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

You are in a room. There’s a mural on the wall with drawings of animals. There is red light and you see a set of animals; then the light turns blue and you see a different set of animals.

In another room, you try to build blocks looking through glasses that turn them upside down. It’s disorienting, and that’s the point.

In another room, you are tricked into thinking two squares on a checkerboard are different shades of grey, when in fact, they are the same.

In another room, you feel off balance by the swiggles of black lines on the walls that don’t equate with the flat floor you are standing on.

In another, you push a button to see the vivid, fluorescent colors of a flower as a bee would see them.

In the new, highly experiential exhibition  Our Senses: An Immersive Experience opening at the American Museum of Natural History, a series of 11 funhouse-like galleries dare visitors to rely on their senses—and then reveal how and why what we perceive is not all, or exactly, what’s actually occuring around us. Inspired by extraordinary diversity of sensory “super powers” in species, including humans, across the natural world, Our Senses takes experiential exhibition to a new level. Our Senses opens for a weekend of Member previews beginning on Friday, November 17, and will be on view to the public from Monday, November 20, 2017, through Sunday, January 6, 2019.

New science: it was known that insects see in ultraviolet but only a few years ago, did scientists understand just how vividly they could see. At a push of a button, “Our Senses” let’s you see a flower the way a bee would © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“Our senses are essential to how we live and make sense of the world around us. They provide pleasure, warn us of danger, and allow us to interact with one another,” said Ellen V. Futter, President of the American Museum of Natural History. “But how exactly do they work, why did they evolve the way they did, and what things are we not able to sense or perceive accurately? In a kind of ‘sequel’ to our 2010 exhibition about the brain, Our Senses: An Immersive Experience will explore the intriguing power of our sensory perceptions, offering our visitors not only highly enjoyable learning experiences, but an enriched perspective on what makes us human.”

She adds, “Spoiler alert: we have way more than five senses.”

“In a way, this exhibit is a sequel and extension of the 2010 exhibit about The Brain and cognition [which also was curated by Rob Desalle who curated “Our Senses: Am Immersive Experience.”]. While senses gather information and are highly evolved capacities, we can’t make sense of our world without the brain.” That is the role of prior learning, prior experience, culture, which prime our senses, focus our attention, and trigger the brain to interpret and perceive and combine the different stimuli into a message, idea, concept, action.

Human senses, and human brains, adapted over millennia to help our ancestors survive by shaping and enhancing their perceptions of everyday encounters. Our Senses reveals how until recently in our evolutionary history, humans have been oblivious to some of nature’s ubiquitous signals, including UV and infrared light, very high- and very low-frequency sounds, and electric fields. With the advent of new technologies, scientists now know those signals are all around us—whether or  not perceptible to us through our senses alone. But detecting things is not enough, because our  ears and eyes alone cannot create a conscious perception—that  requires a human brain.  Human sensory perceptions may seem like windows into the outside world, but actual perceptions are created in the brain.

“How we sense the outside world has been on humans’ minds probably since our species could think about thinking,” said Our Senses curator Rob Desalle, who is a curator in the Division of Invertebrate Zoology. “The evolutionary nature of how and why we sense our surroundings the way we do made this a perfect topic for our museum to explore. This exhibition will immerse visitors in galleries that test their senses, and give them some tools to approach the age-old human question of how we sense the world.”

Michael Novacek, Senior Vice President & Provost of Science and Curator of the Division of Paleontology at AMNH talks with Rob Desalle (right), Curator in AMNH’s division of Invertebrate Zoology and Curator of “Our Senses: An Immersive Experience” about the interconnection between evolution and senses and senses and the brain © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

DeSalle has overseen several major exhibitions, including Brain: The Inside Story, which explored how the human brain uses molecular, chemical, and electrical signals to interpret information and learn at every stage of life, which carry into this exhibition.

Visitors walk through 11 interactive galleries designed to test perceptions and illuminate the complex relationships between sensing and perceiving. A musical soundtrack customized for each space enhances the immersive experience. In addition, a live presenter in the exhibition gallery will invite visitors to discover why humans have senses and what’s unique about human perception—including why human beings are the only species that creates imaginary sensory experiences and shares them with others through language.

Sixth graders from MS247 become immersed in puzzles, illusions and interactive experiences to better understand “Our Senses” at the American Museum of Natural History © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The exhibit is laid out in a way that will particularly appeal to younger people – they will particularly love the puzzles and illusions – providing an understanding of how they perceive the world that will be foundational to learning. But adults, giving more intense look, will find some up-to-the-minute research: for example, that birds can regenerate the cilia in the ear that if humans lose it, lose their hearing, so scientists are studying if cilia can also be regenerated in humans; that male peacocks don’t just use their stunning plumage to visually attract a mate, they move it so it produces a sound, imperceptible to humans, but that is attractive to females.

There is a 20-minute live presentation that really brings home the message: we have more than five senses, the ones that we use to navigate the outer world and let us know where we are in space. We also have inner senses that monitor when we are hungry, thirsty, tired, oxygen-deprived and need to breathe. Every animal – even single-cell animals – have some senses and many animals have senses that are superior to humans, humans are the only animal (that we know of) that can imagine and communicate.

“No other animal can conjure up whole scene using complex signals. Only humans can create imaginary sensory perception and share through language. For example, only humans can make up a story and share it,” the presenter tells us.

“Humans don’t’ just take information into the brain, we can send information out. We can imagine a sensory experience and make it real: create food, fashion, art, architecture, machines, melody and manuscripts.

“Most sensory experiences we have are products of our imagination. We don’t just experience what is – we create what we imagine, then share it with others.”

“Nothing makes sense in absence of evolution,” DeSalle says. He points to the fact that single-cell animals have a primordial sense of touch, they can determine where they are in space. “Our senses go back 3.5 billion years, to the origin of life.” 

“Our brain and senses have evolved so that the brain can process what the senses take in with rapid response,” he says. “Because of the way brain evolved, we have some wild ways of dealing with information… Sometimes there is conflict between the brain and signals the senses receive (there are examples in the exhibit) – where we are primed to see something else, but interpret based on what we already sense. That is Evolution: to deal with rapid response.”

What happens when visual cues conflict with other senses? Swiggly lines on the walls conflicting with a flat floor, put you off-balance © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

For example, the exhibit shows how we are primed to focus – based on internal needs, experience or habit or prompts– in order to break through the clutter of sights and sounds.

Senses are our source of information about the world, without which, we wouldn’t be able to survive. Take the sense of smell, for example, which helps us determine which food is edible, and which is rotten and could cause disease.

There is an incredible spectrum of the capabilities of senses – many animals exceed our own; humans have a particular space on the spectrum. For example, humans see only a narrow range of light compared to other animals and do not have very sensitive touch. But humans build machines that allow us to sense beyond our range – think of microscopes, telescopes, night-vision glasses, hearing aids, cochlea implants.

What you see changes with the changing colors of light © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

You need at least 1 ½ hours to go through – even more if you want to do the immersive activities. And it is helpful to go through once, but then go back and spend more time reading the explanations.

Entrance is by a timed ticket (free with admission), which you can obtain online before you come, or when you arrive at the museum.

Our Senses is open from Monday, November 20, 2017, through Sunday, January 6, 2019. (Members will be able to preview the exhibition starting on Friday, November 17, through Sunday, November 19.) In conjunction with the exhibition, OLogy, the Museum’s science website for kids, has an exhibition-related feature about optical illusions and what they reveal about the human brain and our species’ evolutionary past.  Also, Our Senses Curator Rob Desalle explains the human brain for kids in a video: Why is the brain so wrinkly? What does the brain do while we sleep? DeSalle, curator in the Museum’s Division of Invertebrate Zoology, answers these questions and more about one of our most vital organs. (Click goo.gl/UMQw7B)

The exhibition is designed and produced by the American Museum of Natural History’s award-winning Exhibition Department under the direction of Lauri Halderman, vice president for exhibition.

Our Senses is supported by Dana and Virginia Randt.

The new exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History is constructed so you learn about our senses through various immersive experiences © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

A program, “The Neuroscience of Illusion,” with master illusionist Apollo Robbins and neuroscientists Stephen Macknik and Susana Martinez-Conde will be offered Tuesday, Dec. 5 at 7 pm ($15, Seniors and Students $13.50, members $12); special access to the Senses exhibition available to ticket holders one hour prior, 6-7 pm; tickets at amnh.org.

There’s still time to take in the extraordinary “Mummies” exhibit, on view until Jan. 7, 2018 (admission by timed ticket; need the General Admission Plus 1).

Visiting the Museum 

The American Museum of Natural History, founded in 1869, is one of the world’s preeminent scientific, educational, and cultural institutions. The Museum encompasses 45 permanent exhibition halls, including those in the Rose Center for Earth and Space and the Hayden Planetarium, as well as galleries for temporary exhibitions. It is home to the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial, New York State’s official memorial to its 33rd governor and the nation’s 26th president, and a tribute to Roosevelt’s enduring legacy of conservation.

The Museum’s five active research divisions and three cross-disciplinary research centers support approximately 200 scientists, whose work draws on a world-class permanent collection of more than 34 million specimens and artifacts, as well as specialized collections for frozen tissue and genomic and astrophysical data, and one of the largest natural history libraries in the world. Through its Richard Gilder Graduate School, it is the only American museum authorized to grant the Ph.D. degree, and, beginning in 2015, the Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) degree, the only such freestanding museum program. Annual visitation has grown to approximately 5 million, and the Museum’s exhibitions and Space Shows are seen by millions more in venues on five continents.

The Museum’s website, mobile apps, and MOOCs (massive open online courses) extend its scientific research and collections, exhibitions, and educational programs to additional audiences around the globe. Visit amnh.org for more information. 

Museum admission is free to all New York City school and camp groups.

Pay-what-you-wish admission is available only at ticket counters, where the amount you pay is up to you.

General Admission, which includes admission to all 45 Museum halls and the Rose Center for Earth and Space but does not include special exhibitions, giant-screen 2D or 3D film, or Space Show, is $23 (adults), $18 (students/seniors), and $13 (children ages 2–12). All prices are subject to change.

General Admission Plus One includes general admission plus one special exhibition, giant-screen 2D or 3D film, or Space Show: $28 (adults), $22.50 (students/seniors), $16.50 (children ages 2–12).

General Admission Plus All includes general admission plus all special exhibitions, giant-screen 2D or 3D film, and Space Show: $33 (adults), $27 (students/seniors), $20 (children ages 2–12).

American Museum of Natural History, Central Park West at 79th Street, is open daily (except Thanksgiving and Christmas), 10 am–5:45 pm. For additional information, call 212-769-5100 or visit the Museum’s website at amnh.org. Become a fan of the American Museum of Natural History on Facebook at facebook.com/naturalhistory, follow on Instagram at @AMNH, Tumblr at amnhnyc, or Twitter at twitter.com/AMNH.

See also:

New ‘Mummies’ Exhibit at American Museum of Natural History Lets You Peer Through Wrappings, Peel Away Layers of Time

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© 2017 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com,  www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin , and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Dolphin Quest Affords Memorable Way to Experience Bermuda

David and Laini with Caliban, the dolphin, at Dolphin Quest Bermuda (photo courtesy of Dolphin Quest).

By David Leiberman & Laini Miranda

Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Bermuda is a magical place where the beaches have pink sand and the aquamarine water is so clear, you can see amazing marine life and feed fish Cheerios. But one of the most magical experiences of all is Dolphin Quest.

The experience starts off with our own training – shaping our own behaviors in order to properly interact with the dolphin. We join three others for a 30-minute Dolphin Dip – one of several different interactive encounters that are available. Lottie, the cheery dolphin trainer, tells us so much about how the dolphins learn and how they respond to specific calls. She demonstrates some incredible tricks (behaviors) by teaching the five of us how to signal to the dolphins ourselves.

Dolphin Quest organizes small-group encounters with dolphins in their habitat within The Keep at the Naval Dockyard in Bermuda (photo courtesy of Dolphin Quest).

When we are in the large pool, Lottie calls me out to the middle of the lagoon and tells me to bring my hands together with palms facing up on the surface of the water. She blows a whistle and Caliban swims up to me and puts her snout on my hands, seeming to smile up at me with that broad dolphin mouth. Then she tells me to show her my cheek and he kisses me on the cheek!

Now it’s Dave’s turn to come out. Lottie tells him to put his hand out to the side. Then Caliban swims up and takes his hand. They practically dance! Then Caliban swims past us, inviting us to stroke her tummy for positive reinforcement. We get to feed her a small fish after each behavior which she seems to really enjoy.

Dancing with the Dolphin: David joins hand to Caliban’s fin (photo courtesy of Dolphin Quest).

Lottie has each of us engage different behaviors with the four dolphins we get to meet, which are all also perfect photo opps. A professional photographer is on hand shooting photos the whole time and capturing so many amazing moments.

The digital and physical copies of the photographs are available for sale through an online portal. They’re pricey, but they capture priceless moments! There is free seating poolside so if anyone in your party is not in the water with you, they have the opportunity to capture their own photos, too.

The photographer is also extremely knowledgeable about the dolphins. He tells us about the 5- star health care they have and that the average lifespan is roughly double for the dolphins in their facility compared to dolphins in the wild. They also have a larger, more natural enclosed swimming area just outside the walls of the maritime museum, though we can’t see it ourselves because it is being cleaned.

It’s $219 for the 30-minute “Dolphin Dip” — pricey, but one of the cooler experiences we’ve had. It’s an amazing gift for someone you want to indulge and celebrate! Family/friends can watch from the sidelines where they can also enjoy seeing the dolphins up-close without paying the premium of being actually in the water with them.

A portion of the proceeds goes towards continued animal research. So far, Dolphin Quest programs in Hawaii, Oahu and Bermuda have contributed more than $3 million in funding, resources and field support to vital marine studies around the globe. University research studies have generated hundreds of published scientific works that are helping researchers find solutions to the threats dolphins and whales face in the wild. These studies also help the marine mammal community better care for dolphins in human care.

But there is something more: Dolphin Quest gives people a rare experience to interact and engage with dolphins, deepening our empathy for marine mammals and raising awareness about conservation programs.

“With our dolphins, we touch the hearts and minds of our guests in a fun and inspirational way, sharing how each of us can play a vital role in protecting our precious ocean ecosystem,” Dolphin Quest says.

Dolphin Quest affords experiences that make lifelong ambassadors on behalf of protecting and conserving marine mammals (photo courtesy of Dolphin Quest).

Our time with the dolphins is not like a performance. We are reminded that dolphins are wild animals; they clearly only engage with us as they like, and seem to genuinely enjoy the intellectual stimulation.

It is an incomparable experience to interact with another species, and especially so with an intelligent marine mammal.

In addition to contributing millions of dollars toward research and conservation programs, Dolphin Quest also contributes essential medical and training support to wild marine mammals in distress through the marine mammal stranding networks in Hawaii and Bermuda. Its team members also hand raise newly hatched endangered sea turtles, releasing them back into the wild when they are large enough through the “Turtle Ambassador Program”.

Dolphin Quest also organizes beach and stream cleanups, recycling efforts, and other environmental stewardship initiatives.

We get to feed Bailey a small fish after each behavior which she seems to really enjoy (photo courtesy of Dolphin Quest).

Indeed, Dolphin Quest’s humane stewardship of the marine animals living in its care is recognized: Dolphin Quest is an accredited member of the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums, with all three of its locations certified by the American Humane Conservation program.

After the Dolphin Dip (or any of the Dolphin Quest programs), you are given free admission to the Maritime Museum and the National Museum of Bermuda, where you can explore the 200-year-old fort and experience educational maritime and cultural exhibits including: the Commissioner’s House, Shipwreck Island, The Warwick Project, Bermuda’s Defense Heritage and The Hall of History 1000-square-foot mural painted by Bermudian artist Graham Foster, plus an onsite Playground and Playhouse for children.

New Programs in Expanded Ocean Habitat

Dolphin Quest Bermuda has expanded its large ocean water dolphin lagoon inside the walls of the National Museum of Bermuda to include an outer Ocean Habitat. Accessed by a tunnel passageway, this supplemental sea sanctuary provides Dolphin Quest’s dolphins and guests another enriching natural environment to explore.

Accessed by a tunnel passageway, the new expanded Ocean Habitat provides Dolphin Quest’s dolphins and guests another enriching natural environment to explore (photo courtesy of Dolphin Quest).

The outer Ocean Habitat utilizes an environmentally friendly sea pen structure. Its natural underwater terrain and sea life mirrors the shallow bays and estuaries where the coastal ecotype of Atlantic bottlenose dolphins are found in the wild.

“While our dolphins are thriving in their ocean water lagoon within the walls of the museum, it is so fun to be able to introduce them to another area for them to play, socialize and inspire people to care about and protect dolphins in the wild”, says Lauren McWilliams, Supervisor of Marine Animals at Dolphin Quest Bermuda.

Dolphin Quest has introduced guided water scooter ride with the dolphins in the new Ocean Habitat (photo courtesy of Dolphin Quest).

Founded by two marine mammal veterinarians in 1980s, Dolphin Quest continues to be on the leading edge of advocacy, conservation and research. Back then, Dr. Jay Sweeney and Dr. Rae Stone sought to create an alternative to oceanariums and “dolphin shows.” They set out to create pristine and enriching natural dolphin habitats where visitors could enjoy inspiring and educational dolphin encounters that, in turn, funded wild dolphin conservation.

Since opening their first location at the Hilton Waikoloa Village in Hawaii in1988, Dolphin Quest has become recognized as a leader in establishing large natural habitats for the animals, creating successful dolphin breeding programs and developing innovative interactive dolphin programs that combine fun and learning for the animals and the people, and promoting environmental stewardship.

They opened their first Dolphin Quest in Bermuda in 1996 at the Southampton Princess Hotel, but it was damaged in Hurricane Gert in 1999. The staff battled high winds and rough water to move the animals to a protected area on the most southwestern side of the island, into an area known as The Keep within the Royal Naval Dockyard. This offered a large, protective ocean-water lagoon within a historic fort, with a connected outer habitat that would be safe from hurricanes and weather events. This became Dolphin Quest’s home on Bermuda. 

New innovative and inspiring interactive programs are now available in the Ocean Habitat: “Dive with Dolphins” helmet dive, the “Sea Quest” guided water scooter ride with the dolphins and the “Exclusive Sea Quest” which is a private experience.

Dolphin Quest Programs Year-Round

A variety of programs are offered year-round. The website offers excellent information and an easy-to-follow breakdown of the various programs available by season and by age-appropriateness. Programs include:

Ultimate Adventure, an hour-long program (45 minutes in the water with dolphins), the longest time available, appropriate for ages 6+, available May-October.

SeaQuest, a scooter program, April-October, for ages 8+, 45 minutes

Dolphin Encounter, available November through April, let’s you create your own dolphin experience (30 min., $175).

Underwater Exploration (20 minutes with dolphins, for ages 8+, $100 (maximum 3 people):  You explore dolphins’ natural ocean habitat with underwater scooters and snorkeling; you have the opportunity to interact with dolphins in deeper waters, guided by marine mammal specialists (water scooters and masks provided; you must be a proficient swimmer; no more than 3 people and the trainer). After the program, the  marine mammal specialists are available to discuss dolphins’ care and wellness, animal training, conservation; and you get free full day admission to the National Museum of Bermuda. Winter programs (November- May) provide free wetsuits and booties; and a winter hot tub special (December 15-April 30, limited spaces available).

Swimming with dolphins. Dolphin Quest offers programs year-round at their habitat located within The Keep at the Naval Dockyard (photo courtesy of Dolphin Quest).

Marine Conservation Tour is a two-hour behind-the-scenes program that finishes with a five-minute dolphin touch, but it focuses on training programs, learning about animal care, visiting the medical lab, and watching the dolphins interact and socialize with each other (November-April, $79)

Trainer for a Day, a five-hour program with 60 minutes with the dolphins where you are side-by-side with trainers and dolphins and participate in dolphin health exams, dolphin training sessions, dolphin play time and dolphin programs for guests (lunch included). There is time in the water with the dolphins as well as interacting from the docks. (Wet suit and booties provided, November-May).

 

National Museum of Bermuda

The fortuitous collaboration between Dolphin Quest and the National Museum of Bermuda greatly enhances the visitor experience, as well, because you are not only given this rare experience to interact with marine mammals, but also become immersed in Bermuda’s rich heritage.

The Keep of the Dockyard is a six-acre historic fort that was designed to serve the naval fleet at anchor in Grassy Bay. It was once one of the most strategic military installations in the world and was heavily protected with a moated entrance, cannons, shell guns, and other weapons.

The Naval Dockyard contains the National Museum of Bermuda as well as Dolphin Quest © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

It was designed so munitions and provisions could be moved by boat between the large Keep pond and the vessels in the harbor. The grounds and many buildings of the Keep are now home to the National Museum of Bermuda’s exhibits and serve as home base for its highly-regarded maritime research, restoration, and preservation efforts.

“The fort provides probably the world’s most secure home for our dolphins, and we are enjoying exploring the many possibilities for expanding our dolphin programs within this historic context,” Dolphin Quest notes.

It is contained within a 16-acre National Museum of Bermuda with eight exhibit buildings and the most extensive historical collection in Bermuda, including the hilltop commissioner’s house. You can walk along the ramparts.

In 2016, the dolphin’s habitat was expanded to include The Ocean Habitat, a large sanctuary that extends beyond the museum walls and allows the dolphins to swim out into the ocean waters via a connecting tunnel from inside the lagoon. The entire sanctuary is one of the largest and most natural dolphin habitats in the world. Dolphin encounters in this area allow guests to interact with dolphins while riding underwater scooters and they can also explore the Bermuda reefs and bountiful marine life.

Dolphin Quest is contained within The Keep of the Naval Dockyard © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com.

After American independence from Britain, Bermuda was identified as a strategic location for a naval base and dockyard. Construction on the dockyard began in 1809, which involved massive land reclamations and quarrying, first by slaves and then by thousands of British convicts. In its heyday, the dockyard provided facilities for the Royal Navy’s fleet.

The Keep was the citadel of the Dockyard, built to guard the naval base against land or sea attack and as an arsenal. The massive bastions and ramparts were designed by the Royal Engineers and are reinforced at intervals by casemated gun emplacements. Casemates were built in the late 1830’s to house troops manning the Dockyard fortifications. After Dockyard closed in 1951 it became Bermuda’s maximum-security prison from 1963-1994.

It is currently undergoing extensive restoration by the Museum and volunteers.

Walking the ramparts of the Naval Dockyard © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Museum’s scope has expanded to encompass more than maritime history and today it is a vital custodian of Bermuda’s heritage. It is also a champion for the preservation of Bermuda’s underwater and land-based cultural heritage through collecting, exhibitions, restoration, conservation, research, publication, education, public outreach, and archaeology.

The National Museum of Bermuda’s scope has expanded to encompass more than maritime history and today it is a vital custodian of Bermuda’s heritage © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The National Museum of Bermuda is open daily except Christmas Day (Dolphin Quest is still open); admission fees are $15/adult, $12/seniors; under 16 free; admission fee is waived for Dolphin Quest participants.

“Dolphin Quest is committed to protecting our planet and inspiring the next generation of ocean stewards by providing inspirational interactive experiences, educational programs and contributing funding, resources and field support to vital marine studies around the globe.

“With resort partners in Bermuda, Hawaii, and Oahu, Dolphin Quest inspires tens of thousands of guests each year to care about and help protect dolphins in the wild.” 

Dolphin Quest Bermuda. National Museum of Bermuda. 15 The Keep. Sandys, Bermuda MA 01. Tel: 441.234.4464 (local); call 800-248-3316 from US. https://dolphinquest.com/dolphin-quest-bermuda/.

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© 2017 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com,  www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin , and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Fall Getaway in the Great Northern Catskills: Frederick Edwin Church’s Olana

Frederick Edwin Church orchestrated visitors’ arrival to Olana so you would look up © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Just over the Rip Van Winkle Bridge from the Thomas Cole National Historic Site (#1 on the Hudson River School Art Trail), you see this grand mansion perched on the hillside, poking out from the trees. It is just a short ride off Rte 9G on eastern shore of the Hudson River to get to the long drive up to the mansion and farm, Olana, built by the Hudson River School artist Frederick Edwin Church.

View of Frederick Edwin Church’s Olana from the Rip Van Winkle Bridge © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Spanning 250 acres, Olana is one of the most intact artist-created landscapes in America, and “the most intact artist residence of its age in the world,” our guide explains. In fact, it is the artist’s last major work. Church designed, even decorated, every aspect of the house and landscape – digging out a 10-acre lake, planting some 50,000 trees. And today, virtually all the furnishings (95% we are told) are original to the house, even in the same places as when the Church family occupied the house, up until the 1960s.

Literally saved from a wrecking ball, the Olana State Historic Site is now one of New York’s premier historical attractions (HRSAT Site #2), drawing 20,000 visitors a year. You can only visit the house on a guided tour and they only take up to 12 per tour, so tours frequently sell out by 1 pm (advance reservations are recommended).

As I approach Olana, a sign on the road introduces me to a new word, and a new concept – “viewshed.” The word intentionally evokes “watershed” – a protected resource area. Here, Olana, chosen and designed by the artist Church for the views, successfully established a “viewshed” maintaining that this is a national cultural resource worthy of protection and preservation.

The notion of preservation versus progress is the very essence of Church and his Olana, taking up the key theme from Thomas Cole, his teacher and mentor.

The protected “viewshed” from Frederick Church’s Olana © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Church’s background is very different from Cole’s. While Cole, renowned as the father of the Hudson River School art movement, America’s first, was an immigrant from England, Church was born in Hartford, Connecticut in 1826 to a well-to-do family (his father, Joseph Church, owned several businesses including a silversmith and became a director of Aetna Life Insurance Company). Whereas Cole had little art training, Church’s father arranged for him to study with Cole for two years, 1844-46, when Church was 18 years old. Church then went to New York City to set up a studio. He became the youngest Associate of the American Academy of Design, in 1850, and within a few years, became one of the most successful artists of his generation – a veritable rock star.

Portrait of Frederick Edwin Church hangs in Olana © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

And whereas Cole, the immigrant, was enthralled by the wildness of the American landscape, Church fell under the spell of naturalist Alexander von Humboldt, who encouraged artists to travel the world. Church traveled to the Middle East, South America, Europe (one of his children was born in Rome), Labrador and Greenland. He brought these images and ideas back to the Hudson River Valley where he would build Olana, and his worldliness and world-view filled his canvases.

Ultimately, Olana became his canvas.

Over the last 40 years of his life, from 1860-1899, he designed and fashioned Olana into a three-dimensional work of art that includes the magnificent Persian-inspired home with its various collections, set within a 250-acre landscape, meticulously designed for iconic views of the Hudson River Valley.

Virtually all we see at Olana belonged to the Church family and wherever possible, is positioned where it would have been © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

What is most remarkable about Olana is that the home and grounds never left the family – the furnishings, the art, even the books, are all Church’s possessions, and we see them laid out in the deliberate living canvas that Church intended.

After Church died, in 1899, his son, Louis, occupied the house, and when Louis’ widow died, in 1964, the house and estate were saved from being sold off by virtue of a public-private collaboration between New York State Parks and a private nonprofit, Olana Partnership (similar to the collaboration between the Central Park Conservancy and New York City’s parks department). Olana opened to the public as a museum in 1966.

This is most fitting, since Church served as commissioner of Central Park (he was a distant cousin of landscape designer Frederick Law Olmstead). He also was a founding trustee of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. (Church was responsible for locating Cleopatra’s needle, the obelisk, behind the museum.)

And Church, who achieved national and international prominence with his seven-foot wide painting, “Niagara” (1857), was credited with creating the Niagara Reserve – New York’s first state park and one of the first in the nation, a precursor to the national parks movement.

The Olana grounds include five miles of carriage trails, managed by New York State Parks, and are open to the public at no charge.

Artist painting the view that Frederick Church created at Olana © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Olana Partnership has worked to restore Olana as well as the landscape. The physical landscape, in Church’s planning and today, is as much art as the landscape painting on canvas. As you walk the trails, the images are framed – markers here as along the other sites of the Hudson River School Art Trail, compare the scene today to paintings. And since my last visit, the view from the mansion to the Hudson River and Catskills beyond has been opened up.

Indeed, as I arrive at Olana, there a group of artists, in the area on a week-long workshop, are painting the scene.

Church’s Worldly View

While Thomas Cole was an immigrant from England who glorified America’s landscapes in a way that had not been done before, Frederic Edwin Church was one its most traveled among the Hudson River School artists, and he brought these images and this worldliness into his canvases.

Frederick Church’s Olana offers an astonishing collection of art. You can only tour the house with a guide © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Church finished his two-year study with Cole in1846 but Cole died soon after, in 1848. Church seems to have always maintained a connection with Cole – returning to the Hudson Valley to build his home close to Cole’s Cedar Grove, traveling with Cole’s biographer to Labrador. He found ways to help the Cole family – helping sell Cole’s paintings (he owned several himself, some of which are on view at Olana) and hired Cole’s son Theodore as Olana’s farm manager.

When Church was in his 20s, he became enamored with the renowned naturalist and explorer Alexander von Humboldt who encouraged artists to travel and paint equatorial South America. In 1853, Church made the first of two expeditions following in Humboldt’s footsteps, chiefly in Colombia; the second, in 1857, to Ecuador.

“Sunset, Jamaica.” Frederick Church traveled to exotic locales for his subjects. © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The paintings he produced from these trips made him one of the best known and most successful painters of his generation.

The New York exhibition of his ten-foot canvas, The Heart of the Andes, in 1859, “was the most popular display of a single artwork in the Civil War era, attracting 12,000 people who paid admission in three weeks to its New York premiere alone, then traveling to Britain and seven other American cities on a tour lasting two years.”

The painting sold for $10,000 to collector William Blodget, at the time, the highest price ever paid for an American painting,” says Olana curator Evelyn Trebilcock. We get to see Church’s final study for “Heart of the Andes”.

Frederick Church’s study for “The Heart of the Andes” on view at Olana © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Church set out again to travel to exotic places and intrigued by literature of Arctic exploration, in 1859, he hired a boat to take him to the north Atlantic between Labrador and Greenland to sketch icebergs, joined by Louis Legrand Noble Thomas Cole’s biographer. At the beginning of the Civil War, in 1861, Church exhibited Icebergs: The North, another grand canvas, which also was a blockbuster hit.

With his career on the rise in 1860, Church’s married Isabel Carnes and came back to the Hudson River Valley, where he had studied painting with Thomas Cole, and bought a farm overlooking the Hudson River on the opposite shore from Cole’s house.

Touring Olana: ‘Thou Art Welcome”

You walk in through the threshold to Olana under an inscription in Arabic, “Thou Art Welcome.”

Most remarkable: all the land and the contents of the grand home are intact, because they had always been within the Church family, and everything you see was meticulous conceived and planned by Church.

That’s what makes the experience of being here all the more profound – there is an immediate connection to the man and creative process of this great artist, who until now, I had only appreciated through his canvases on view in art museums.

Frederick Church used Persian architectural influences to create Olana © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Olana is every inch Church’s creation. Church traveled the world (he is a worldly person in his reading and outlook) and went to Mideast, and when came back, wanted to create a “fantasy”. He actually never went to Persia but thought the Persian style could be fanciful. But he didn’t just fabricate the designs out of his imagination, he studied Persian art and architecture. He never visited the Alhambra, but bought photos in order to incorporate the Moorish design elements. He experimented with colors and patterns.

“The desire to build attacks a man like a fever,” Church wrote.

He built the house in two years (for about $90,000, or about $2.5 million today, fairly reasonable), and spent the next four years meticulously decorating it.

Architectural detail of Frederick Church’s Olana © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Church experimented with different designs; he mixed the colors; he based his patterns on a book of Persian architecture; the stencil designs on the door – in gold and silver paint – have a shimmering effect. The gilded patterns we see on the grand doors – Les Arts Aribe – are from original stencils.

“He meticulously arranged every room, choosing exotic items for their emotional effect, each room a composition. It took him four years to complete decoration.”

I ask whether Church produced much art during this time, and the guide explains that by 1876, when Church was 50 years old, landscape painting had fallen out of fashion and his career was on the wane, Church came down with crippling rheumatism. Home and family became more important and Olana became his primary canvas.

The exotic décor Frederick Church used at Olana; he spent two years building his mansion and four years decorating it © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Most important to Church were the views. He oriented the house and the windows southwest to best capture the view.

“Our home will be a curiosity in architecture, but the view from every window will be fabulous,” Church said.

The paintings we see that decorate the rooms are Church’s own collections – his own paintings as well as painters he admired, including Thomas Cole.

There is also Church’s painting of “Petra,” 1868, with its unusual perspective (even for Church) – a vertical image of the temple, carved into rock cliff , as you come to it through a rock cleft, like a photograph.

The unusual perspective Frederick Church used in his painting of El Khasne Petra; the painting hangs in the family room, furnished much as it was when the family lived at Olana © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The last time I visited, I was able to see Church’s library, and what he was interested in, what informed him (almost like reading a journal, it is so telling about values, perspective, world-view, what informed him). He was interested in natural science, novels, religion (Presbyterian), “Women of the Arabs”, “Popular History of the Mexican People” “Natural Law & Spiritual World.” He owned a copy of Darwin’s “Origin of the Species.” He was friends with Mark Twain, who also lived in Hartford, where Church was born.

In 1888, at 61 years old, Church devoted himself to expanding house and building a new studio within the house. He closed the New York City studio he had rented for 30 years.

Today, his studio seems just as he left it, with various items of folk art and pre-Colombian artifacts Church collected on his travels.

Frederick Edwin Church’s studio is much as he left it © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

On the wall, “Christian on the Border of the Shadow of Death,” a dark, early painting, reminiscent of Cole. Here in the house, we can see the transition of his style, from largely emulating Cole to developing his own style and perspective.

“Church was a smart marketer of his art – people paid a fee to see just one painting. Lithographs of his work were successful,” says Olana curator Evelyn Trebilcock. “When Church studied with Cole, he painted in Cole’s style, incorporating Christian message, but Church realizes it is not commercial -not saleable- so he instead shows God in beautiful sunsets.”

We go up back stairs that would have been used by the servants – to the second floor family rooms, which were opened to the public in 2009.

Most impressive here are the tiles and the fireplace, produced by Ali Mohammed Isfahan which Church acquired in New York City (they know because they have the receipts).

The Olana dining room, set up for the Church family, has a gallery of art that Church collected on his travels © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

In the dining room, set for a family meal, the walls are an art gallery – none of which are Church’s, but are the pieces he collected on his travels through Europe, artists he wanted to showcase and support.

There are also portraits of Church, his father, Joseph, who became a director of the Aetna Life Insurance Company and Church’s wife – all painted by other artists since Church never painted portraits. In my mind, it suggests the humility of the man.

Preserving Olana

After Church died, his art (along with the Hudson River School) fell out of favor.

In 1964 after Church’s daughter-in-law died, the fate of Olana was thrown into question. Then David Huntington, an art historian, got interested and reignited popularity in Church’s work.

Huntington organized a preservation group to buy Olana and got the heirs to agree to give the group two years to come up with the funds, $450,000, to buy Olana.

“The house was going to be dismantled – the items had already been tagged for auction at Sotheby’s,” Mark Prezorsky, landscape curator, says. “The Hudson School was out of style. You could buy a Cole at a garage sale.”

Olana barely escaped a date with the wrecking ball and now has one of New York State’s top attractions © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Indeed, the 1960s was not a good time for Victorian architecture – it was a time for sweeping away the “old” for the new, a period of anti-establishment frenzy. Cole’s home, Cedar Grove, for example, was put up for auction – all the possessions were sold off – and might have been knocked down altogether to make way for the Rip Van Winkle Bridge.

The Catskill Mountain House which dated from 1824 and figured in many of the Hudson River School paintings, he pointedly notes was burned down in 1963.

But Huntington, the art historian, “was able to see what Olana was.”

The preservation group got the heirs to agree to a two-year “stay of execution” so that they could raise the $430,000 purchase price – they made the deadline with 10 cents to spare. But now that they owned the house, the problem was affording to maintain it.

Each season, Olana hosts exhibits; this year’s exhibit was “OVERLOOK” a groundbreaking installation by Artist Teresita Fernández with 55 works including “Penetrable” by Jesus Rafael Soto. © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

New York State in astonishing short order had Olana declared a state historic site – the resolution went through three readings in the Assembly and Senate in a single day and Governor Nelson Rockefeller flew by helicopter to Olana for the bill signing. The site is now owned and operated by the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.

Olana is one of first anywhere to have a preserved “viewshed” (Monticello is another) – arguing the need to preserve the view helped defeat a plan to build a nuclear power plant on the Hudson.

“The farm is big part or Olana,” Prezorsky, the landscape curator, says. “The way we experience it is how move through it –the views open up….. He composed his home as artistic masterpiece in midst of nature. This is one of the few farms where art and farming intersect.”

View from Frederick Church’s studio © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Church had a 10-acre lake hand-dug as part of the design “before machinery; he sold off “muck” for profit.” Church, he says, was a very practical man; he wanted the farm to be a sustainable enterprise. He planted some 50,000 trees.

Thanks largely to the preservation of Olana and the Thomas Cole House, the Hudson River School regained its place in American history and culture. Olana awakened a sense of pride in scenery and conservation.

Olana resuscitated an appreciation for Church’s art. In 1979, Frederick Church’s “The Icebergs”, discovered in a home for boys in Manchester, England, broke the record for an American painting, selling at auction for $2.5 million.

Olana offers house tours from April  through October (closed Mondays), and on weekends November through March. Reservations are highly recommended; there is a car fee on weekends and holidays, and a fee for the house tour. Plan your visit and see a schedule of special events, at olana.org.

Olana State Historic Site, 5720 Route 9G, Hudson, NY 12534, 518-828-0135, olana.org.

The Hudson River School Art Trail, a project of the Thomas Cole National Historic Site, has 8 trail sites; during the course of my three-day getaway, I get to experience six of them. Get maps and directions for all the sites on the Hudson River School Art Trail site, www.hudsonriverschool.org.

A great place to stay: The Fairlawn Inn, a historic bed-and-breakfast, 7872 Main Street (Hwy 23A), Hunter, NY 12442, 518-263-5025www.fairlawninn.com.

Further help planning a visit is available from Greene County Tourism, 700 Rte 23B, Leeds, NY 12451, 800-355-CATS, 518-943-3223, www.greatnortherncatskills.com and its fall hub http://www.greatnortherncatskills.com/catskills-fall-foliage

See also:

Fall Getaway in the Catskills: Thomas Cole National Historic Site is Site #1 on the Hudson River School Art Trail

3-Day Fall Getaway in the Catskills: Fairlawn Inn is Superb Hub for Exploring the Hudson River Valley

 

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© 2017 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com,  www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin , and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

 

 

“Liberty’s War” Exhibit at American Merchant Marine Museum Spotlights Unsung Heroes of WWII

Scots maritime artist Jim Rae depicts a German aircraft firing on the Murmansk-bound Liberty ship, SS Cornelius Harnett, part of the convoy JW-52 in the Norwegian Sea, Jan. 25, 1943. The painting is included in the “Liberty’s War” exhibit at the American Merchant Museum Museum, Kings Point © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

The first stunning realization from the new exhibit at the American Merchant Marine Museum, “Liberty’s War,” is how vital the cargo ships, manned by civilian volunteers, were to winning World War II. The second is how dangerous this was – the convoys of merchant ships under near-constant attack by U-boats, Luftwaffe and kamikaze aircraft. Indeed, more than 9,500 merchant mariners lost their lives manning nearly 3,000 ships during the war. And finally, that the merchant seamen only received $5,000 compensation if they were killed or disabled in the war, and were not eligible for any of the GI Bill benefits the soldiers received. This probably tells the story more than anything else why their heroism is unsung and virtually unknown until a memoir of one engineer, Herman Melton.

The new exhibit, which is on view through February 28, 2019, is based on the life and wartime experiences of Herman Melton, a graduate of USMMA’s class of 1944, as described in his memoir edited by his son, Will Melton, Liberty’s War: An Engineer’s Memoir of the Merchant Marine, 1942-45.. Herman Melton became an engineer, serving from 1942 to 1945 on so-called Liberty ships. His position on the ships – in the engineering room deep in the bowels of the ship– was particularly hazardous because enemy submarines would target the engine rooms as the most vulnerable part of a ship. But the men had to stay in their positions to give the ship a fighting chance for survival.

Will Melton autographs a copy of the memoir of his father, Herman Melton, an engineer on a Liberty ship in World War II, at the opening of the “Liberty’s War” exhibit at the American Merchant Marine Museum, Kings Point © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Indeed, the USMMA is the only military academy that flies the Battle Standard, in honor of the 142 of its students who died aboard merchant ships in World War II – tributes to them play in a tiny chapel-like room in the former Barstow mansion where the museum is housed. In all, more than 9,500 merchant mariners lost their lives in World War II.

The USMMA actually came into creation because of World War II – the need to staff the merchant ships was so critical that a four-year training program was compressed into 18 months.

The role of these Liberty ships – there were nearly 3,000 of the cargo ships between 1941 and 1945 – was critical to supply the war effort, to bring fuel and supplies to allies.

“They were an absolutely crucial link in the Allied supply chain that ultimately resulted in victory in 1945,” Joshua Smith, interim director of the American Merchant Marine Museum, writes in the exhibit’s brochure. “Too often that story gets ignored, but in the American Merchant Marine Museum’s latest exhibit, ‘Liberty’s War,’ the story of these valiant little freighters is told through the eyes of a young man from Texas, Herman Melton.”

Herman Melton was 89 years old when his son convinced him to write a memoir. As the exhibit notes reveal:

Melton faced combat in both the Atlantic and Pacific Theatres during World War II, always serving aboard Liberty ships, the slow but enormously useful vessels that carried the supplies that propelled the Allies to victory.  During his time on convoy duty in three oceans, Herman entered combat at sea in some of the fiercest fighting with both the Germans and the Japanese. In the treacherous Murmansk run of 1942-43, Herman sailed as a Cadet-Midshipman as American and British merchant ships delivered urgently needed Lend-Lease supplies to the Soviet Union. Allied convoys faced German U-boats and Luftwaffe torpedo bombers operating at their peak efficiency, out of Norwegian bases.  The result was that many Allied supply ships were lost, and many merchant mariners died while trying to supply the Russians.

“Liberty’s War” exhibit includes photos of some of the men who served on the Liberty ships © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

During his January 1943 voyage across the Arctic Sea to north Russia, Herman’s Liberty ship, SS Cornelius Harnett, was attacked by torpedo bombers of Germany’s Coastal Air Group 406 based in Norway.  Herman’s battle station called for him to carry ammunition and reload shell magazines for the U.S. Navy Armed Guard gun crew aboard the Harnett. The gunners helped to shoot down two of the four attacking aircraft, and their commander received the Silver Star from the U.S. Navy for his performance in the action. More than fifty years later, The Russian Embassy in Washington recognized Melton in a 1992 ceremony with a medal from the Russian Government for his service.

Herman again entered a deadly combat zone during the Allies’ invasion of the Philippines in the fall of 1944. Airmen of the combined Japanese army and naval air forces waged a do-or-die battle against American forces. Herman was now the Third Assistant Engineer aboard SS Antoine Saugrain in an Allied convoy steaming from New Guinea carrying specially-trained troops and super-secret anti-aircraft equipment. During an attack by Japanese torpedo bombers, the Saugrain took two direct hits before its Master gave the order to abandon ship off Leyte Island. Although the ship’s rafts and lifeboats could carry only a fraction of the more than 200 crew and soldiers to be rescued, all hands survived thanks to two U.S. Navy frigates dispatched to pick up men in boats and swimming in the water. After two more attacks by Japanese bombers, the Saugrain was sent to the sea bottom.

Helen and Herman Melton were married in the chapel at the US Merchant Marine Academy, Kings Point © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The exhibit also tells a love story, Herman’s wartime romance with Helen Dunn, his Kansas junior college sweetheart. Before departing for service in General Douglas MacArthur’s war in the South West Pacific, Herman and Helen were married in a saber ceremony in the Academy’s chapel in the old Chrysler mansion.

It is this personalization that makes the exhibit all the more poignant.

Melton’s memoir is being published by U.S. Naval Institute Press in September, to coincide with the museum’s exhibit highlighting Herman’s experiences battling both the Germans and the Japanese.

The American Merchant Marine Museum showcases the vital role that merchant mariners play in war and peace © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The “Liberty’s War” exhibit is illustrated with wonderful photos – personal as well as military – along with period uniforms, souvenirs of Herman’s wartime assignments and documents of his training as one of the first Engineer Cadet-Midshipmen of the USMMA, artifacts, ship models, and maps that let you trace Melton’s own harrowing journey as well as a superb documentary video you can watch in a small alcove.

Scots maritime artist Jim Rae depicts a German aircraft firing on the Murmansk-bound Liberty ship, SS Cornelius Harnett, part of the convoy JW-52 in the Norwegian Sea, Jan. 25, 1943. The painting is included in the “Liberty’s War” exhibit at the American Merchant Museum Museum, Kings Point © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

In addition, there are remarkable paintings that were created by Jim Rae, who came to the exhibit opening at Kings Point from his home in Scotland to attend the opening reception, September 8. Rae’s drawings and paintings, which he has been making since he was a boy, are remarkably precise and exacting – he says he can complete one in the time it takes to watch a show over lunch.

Paintings by Scots maritime artist Jim Rae show the drama of the Liberty ships © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Rae has spent his life at sea – first as a cabin boy in the British Merchant Navy and later enlisting in the Royal Navy. “It was while serving on various aircraft carriers that I took up painting once again.”

Rae says his subjects “are really quite specialized: not many people want a painting of the ‘Battle of the North Cape’ unless Granddad served in one of the ships taking part. I tend to concentrate on lesser known events, and the ‘little ship’ rather than the battleship and great battles.”

Captain Hugh Stephens, now an adjunct professor at SUNY Maritime, recalled his pwm experience serving on one of the Liberty merchant ships during World War II during the opening of the “Liberty’s War” exhibit © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Barstow Mansion

The setting of the Barstow Mansion, now the American Merchant Marine Museum, on Kings Point, overlooking Long Island Sound, on the campus of the US Merchant Marine Academy © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Merchant Marine Museum is housed in the former Barstow Mansion.

The Gold Coast mansion, harking back to the Gilded Age, is utterly stunning, William Slocum Barstow, the first mayor of Kings Point, made his fortune first, as a partner with Thomas Edison until he set out on his own, in 1901, one of the first electrical engineers. He founded many electric utility companies and was the man responsible for lighting the Brooklyn Bridge. He was very much involved in Great Neck community, even funding the bridge and overpass at the Long island Railroad to cut down on the fatalities when the train crossing was a street level, and he and his wife donated the funds for the Woman’s Club of Great Neck. The Mediterranean Revival-style mansion was Barstow’s main residence The Barstow Mansion was his main residence from 1 915 until the end of his life, in 1942, and then his wife’s until 1953 when it was sold to the Lundy family (of Lundy Restaurant fame). The architectural features – wood paneling, decorative ceilings – are breathtaking.

The American Merchant Marine Museum is located on the grounds of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, 300 Steamboat Road, Kings Point, NY 10024fammm.us. Admission is free, and it is open to the public from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Tuesday through Friday (closed during USMMA holidays and the month of July).  It is highly recommended that you call (516) 726-6047 or e-mail museum@usmma.edu before visiting.

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© 2017 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com,  www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin , and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Mansions on Fifth Historic Hotel is Steps Away from Pittsburgh’s Top Cultural Attractions

A parting shot of the Carnegie Museum of Art © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

I must admit to relishing my stay in Pittsburgh’s Shadyside neighborhood, where I am staying at Mansions on Fifth, two mansion homes originally built in the early 1900s by Willis F. McCook, a prosperous attorney and legal counsel to steel and coke magnate Henry Clay Frick for himself, his wife Mary and their 10 children, that have been turned into a boutique hotel. The neighborhood was also home to most of the city’s (and therefore, the nation’s) leading industrialists, innovators and bankers, including George Westinghouse, Frick, Andrew Mellon, Andrew Carnegie and the rest of Pittsburgh’s exceptionally wealthy families of the era, and boasts stunning mansions, churches as well as some of the city’s most important cultural attractions.

Staying at the mansion, you really feel part of that whole privileged Gilded Age society.

A young woman from the hotel spends a lot of time with me suggesting how to best spend my afternoon exploring. It turns out, the hotel (a true mansion) is only a short walk to the Carnegie Museum of Art. She also tells me about the Cathedral of Learning a few blocks beyond, in what is technically the Oakland neighborhood.

The neighboring mansion to Mansions on Fifth in Pittsburgh’s tony Shadyside neighborhood © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I set off for the short walk to Carnegie Museum of Art (it is attached to the Carnegie Museum of National History, two of four Carnegie museums; the others are the Carnegie Museum of Science and the Warhol Museum, downtown), dazzled when I pass the neighboring mansions along Fifth Avenue. It reminds me of Newport or Palm Beach.

The Carnegie Museum of Art is arguably the first museum of contemporary art in the United States, collecting the “Old Masters of tomorrow” since the inception of the Carnegie International in 1896 – held at various times, from which much of the present museum’s collection came (there are notes that say if the painting was in an exposition).

“While most art museums founded at the turn of the century focused on collections of well-known masters, Andrew Carnegie envisioned a museum collection consisting of the ‘Old Masters of tomorrow.’ In 1896, he initiated a series of exhibitions of contemporary art and proposed that the museum’s paintings collection be formed through purchases from this series. Carnegie, thereby, founded what is arguably the first museum of modern art in the United States. Early acquisitions of works by such artists as Winslow Homer, James McNeill Whistler, and Camille Pissarro laid the foundation for a collection that today is distinguished in American art from the mid-19th century to the present, in French Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings, and in significant late-20th-century works. Today the International remains an important source for the museum’s acquisitions of contemporary art. Presented every three to five years, it features works by contemporary artists from around the globe.”

Some of the galleries at the Carnegie Museum of Art are organized as you might expect the Carnegie International exhibits of a century ago © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

It is a stunning collection – much of it coming out of annual Carnegie International Art Expositions, or from other important benefactors including Mellon and Scaife. Some of the galleries are arranged much like those expositions, with multi-levels of paintings; some of the rooms are more intimate, like private collections, and some are more institutional. The notes and themes that accompany the rooms and individual pieces are wonderful.

Just about every artist of note is represented with at least one piece – including a superb collection of Impressionists and Post-Impressionists.

I take particular note of Childe Hassam’s snow scene, “Fifth Avenue in Winter,” of New York City, painted circa 1892, when here I am on Fifth Avenue, Pittsburgh.

The entire museum, though, is a reminder of how an economy that is designed to bestow such riches on a small segment, at the expense of the vast majority produces a society in which “the public” depends on the kindness and charity of the ultra-wealthy.

“The Chariot of Aurora,” an Art Deco bas-relief masterpiece, was a gift to the Carnegie Museum of Art by the renowned collector Frederick K. Koch in 1994 © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

This juxtaposition was absolutely clear in one room where the massive (18 feet high and 26 feet long) gilded and lacquered relief, The Chariot of Aurora, takes up an entire wall. The stunning example of Art Deco was a gift of the renowned collector Frederick K. Koch in 1994 (brother of billionaires Charles and David Koch, who have their names on the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Smithsonian, PBS, and scores others, as well as significant donors to political candidates and entities).

Pittsburgh artist Raymond Simboli’s “Pinkerton Riot” is an homage to the Homestead Strike at the Carnegie & Frick steel mills so brutally put down in 1892 © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Just next door is a room devoted to Pittsburgh artists, including Raymond Simboli,, whose “Pinkerton Riot” depicting the Homestead Strike at the Carnegie & Frick steel mills so brutally put down in 1892, uses the dress is of the 1940s. Another artist, Sam Rosenberg, similarly paints from the perspective of working class Pittsburghers in such stark contrast.

I set out for the Cathedral of Learning and find myself in the Carnegie Library, another cathedral of Learning, just across the street from the academic tower.

Truly an inspiring place, Pittsburgh’s Cathedral of Learning looms large over the city – in fact, I am told, the largest academic structure in North America.

The Cathedral of Learning, Pittsburgh Historic Landmark, 1926-37, Charles Z. Klauder, Architect © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

It is part of the University of Pittsburgh which “was well on the way to becoming an acropolis of neoclassical buildings on an Oakland hillside when John G. Bowman became the University’s 10th chancellor in 1921. In those years following World War I, student enrollment had dramatically increased, causing a critical shortage of space. A 14-acre plot known as Frick Acres, which housed residences, gardens, and tennis courts, became the focus of Dr. Bowman’s plans to erect a monumental building. A structure expanding upward, though unorthodox, would solve the growing University’s problems of space and distance. More important, a tower would be a visible inspiration to all who approached the city. It would carry the message that education was the result of aspiring to great heights. The parallel lines of the truncated Gothic form, never meeting, would imply that learning is unending. The sweeping proportions would symbolize the spirit and achievement of Pittsburgh.  Architect Charles Z. Klauder translated these concepts into drawings that guided the placement of steel and stone.”

Chancellor John Gabbert Bowman, himself, offered the reasoning behind designing such a dramatic tower: “The building was to be more than a schoolhouse; it was to be a symbol of the life that Pittsburgh through the years had wanted to live. It was to make visible something of the spirit that was in the hearts of pioneers as, long ago, they sat in their log cabins and thought by candlelight of the great city that would sometime spread out beyond their three rivers and that even they were starting to build.”

The Cathedral of Learning is as much a monument to the immigrants who flooded its halls in their quest for education as a ticket to the American Dream.

Following World War I, Chancellor Bowman was charged with developing a great university in a city richly populated with first-generation immigrant families. He wanted to provide students with unique classrooms which would reflect a highly-creative period in the motherlands of Pittsburgh’s new citizens. He conceived the idea of inviting community representatives of diverse nations to plan and build classrooms depicting an era or aspect of the heritage they had brought to America – known today as the Nationality Rooms – appointing Ruth Crawford Mitchell as his special assistant. It took 30 years.

Peeking through peepholes to the Irish Room, one of dozens of Nationality Rooms in Pittsburgh’s Cathedral of Learning © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

At the Cathedral of Learning, I seek out the “Nationality Rooms” – each one for a different nationality, such as Irish, Hungarian, Polish, Armenian, of ethnic groups who settled in Allegheny County. Rooms were subsequently added – like the Israel Room, in 1987 after a 30-year hiatus, which is modeled after a 1st-century stone dwelling in Galilee.

Unfortunately, when I get to there, the rooms are locked for the weekend, but I get to peek through peep-holes to the Irish room (the other rooms have peep holes much too high).

Members of Quo Vadis, a student organization, conduct guided tours for nearly 30,000 visitors each year. Special interpretations are adapted for children, senior citizens, the handicapped, and groups with special interests such as architecture, interior design, art, mythology, or religion. (See http://www.nationalityrooms.pitt.edu/content/touring-options-requesting-group-tours ).

 

Pittsburgh Neighborhoods

Shadyside has been Pittsburgh’s premier upscale address for more than a century. It is fairly obvious that this was once home to Pittsburgh’s robber barons – who could enjoy the clean, cool air well away from the choking smoke belching from their steel mills that shrouded the rest of the city – and now features a legacy of stunning housing on leafy green streets, awe-inspiring churches, and two active and growing business districts (Walnut Street and Ellsworth Avenue) with retail stores and eating and drinking establishments, including several that are considered among the best in the city. Shadyside is also home to Carnegie Mellon University, Chatham University, Shadyside Hospital of UPMC, and the Hillman Cancer Center.

I take my bike for a spin around the neighborhood and am dazzled by the architecture.

Shadyside is distinguished with stunning homes built by Pittsburgh’s high society © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The large residential area includes beautifully restored Victorian mansions alongside modern homes and condos (I notice that many of the houses have lawn signs stating in three languages, “No matter where you are from, we are glad you’re our neighbor.”)

Shadyside is also walking (or an easy bikeride) distance from two other distinctive Pittsburgh neighborhoods:

Home to prestigious museums, world-class hospitals and universities and international cuisine, Oakland is considered the cultural, academic and medical center of Pittsburgh, where you will find the Carnegie Museums of Art and Natural History, the Carnegie Library and Cathedral of Learning, among other cultural venues.. It is also one of Pittsburgh’s liveliest neighborhoods, with cool coffee shops, multi-cultural eateries and interesting specialty shops alongside grand architecture. Oakland offers all of the attractions of a major university in terms of concerts, lectures, theater and other entertainment, along with a wide variety of retail offerings, bookstores, restaurants and bars (ethnic and otherwise). (onlyinoakland.org)

I am particularly intrigued as I drive to Mansions on Fifth from the highway, to pass a synagogue. This is Squirrel Hill, one of the fastest growing sections of Pittsburgh, which has also been a home to Pittsburgh’s Jewish community for many years. That history is reflected in the storefronts of the neighborhood’s two main business streets, Forbes Avenue and Forward Avenue, which feature a variety of grocery stores, retailers and restaurants honoring the Jewish heritage. But Squirrel Hill is also one of Pittsburgh’s most delightfully diverse neighborhoods as well, with residents (many connected to nearby universities and hospitals) from all over the world, reflected in the diversity of the cuisine of the various restaurants and eateries. Five minutes from downtown Pittsburgh, Squirrel Hill combines tree lined residential streets, a bustling business district, internationally recognized educational institutions, and two large public parks spanning 1100 acres.

Mansions on Fifth, 5105 Fifth Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15232, 412-381-5105, 800-465-9550, http://mansionsonfifth.com/.

For more information, contact Visit Pittsburgh, 412-281-7711, 800-359-0758, 877-LOVE PGH (568-3744), info@visitpittsburgh.comwww.visitpittsburgh.com.

See also:

Mansions on Fifth Historic Boutique Hotel in Pittsburgh’s Shadyside Sends You Back to Gilded Age

One Day, Two Nights in Pittsburgh: From Grey to Green, A Proud City Revitalized

36 Hours in Pittsburgh: Point State Park Proves Highlight of Walking Tour

36 Hours in Pittsburgh: Andy Warhol Museum is at Center of Revitalized City

36 Hours in Pittsburgh: Strip District Exemplifies City’s Past, Future

Two Nights, One Day in Pittsburgh: Historic Omni William Penn Hotel Connects to City’s Proud Heritage

Rails-to-Trails Conservancy’s BikeTour on Great Allegheny Passage Highlights Benefits of RailTrails

Rails-to-Trails Conservancy’s Sojourn Biketour on Great Allegheny Passage Showcases Forgotten Towns

‘World’s Largest’ Glass Sculpture with Trump Connection is Boon for Dunbar, Pennsylvania

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© 2017 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com,  www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin , and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

‘World’s Largest’ Glass Sculpture with Trump Connection is Boon for Dunbar, Pennsylvania

Pascal’s “Seated Torso,” the largest glass sculpture in the world, is now in an annex the Dunbar Historical Society built, to house the piece, donated to the town by Donald Trump © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

 

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

 

Taking the Sheepskin Trail off the Great Allegheny Trail – a fantastic railtrail that extends 140 miles across Western Pennsylvania, which is the focus of Rails-to-Trails Conservancy’s Sojourn biketour – you bike through woods, over the railroad tracks, over a stream, and suddenly, the forest opens up and suddenly, Dunbar appears, like Brigadoon.

It is as if time stopped still. There are no people on the street. Nothing is moving.

Dunbar, PA was a bustling town a century ago largely because of glass manufacturing; a piece of glass that began here 60 years ago may hold key to the town’s resurgence © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Dunbar once bustled as a manufacturing center for wire corrugated glass – the kind of glass you likely grew up with in schools and government buildings; as a transit center and coke ovens. The buildings, from 1904 and 1906 (a common date we find as we go through these small towns), look vacant now. It reminds me, again, of a movie set. We are greeted here at Dunbar’s Historical Society, housed in what used to be the US Post Office building (constructed 1903-1907), which harbors a really wonderful collection of artifacts. But in just the past two years, Dunbar has acquired a world-class piece of art that has put this tiny town back on the map – and not just for the internationally renowned artist, but for how the piece, “Seated Torso” – the largest glass sculpture in the world – came to Dunbar: Donald Trump.

Pat Trimbath a member of the Historical Society’s board, tells us the wonderful story of a 60-year odyssey of this piece of glass, which began here as an abandoned two-ton chunk.

Pat Trimbath a member of the Dunbar Historical Society’s board, tells us the story of the 60-year odyssey of this piece of glass, which began in Dunbar as an abandoned two-ton chunk. © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Dunbar used to be a center for glassmaking, and specifically, the manufacture of shatterproof glass reinforced with corrugated wire but when the Pennsylvania Wire Glass Company shut down in 1955, it was full of large chunks of glass, including a two-ton piece of green/blue glass in its furnace.

Artist Suzanne Regan Pascal learned of the treasure trove of glass in Dunbar in 1960 and stayed in Dunbar for an entire year, working on sculpting glass. She bought all the glass and had it moved to her Beverly Hills studio. (There is a marvelous display with photos of Pascal chiseling the “Seated Torso”.)

A photo of Pascal chiseling her “Seated Torso” is part of the exhibit on display at the Dunbar Historical Society, where the sculpture is now housed © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

She produced many sculptures from the Dunbar glass between 1961-67, had various gallery shows, and ultimately sold many of them to patrons including President and Nancy Reagan, Frank and Barbara Sinatra, Henry Mancini, and Armand Hammer who presented a sculpted glass necklace to Princess Diana for her wedding.

In 1994, Pascal sold the Seated Torso to billionaire John Kluge for $3 million. He moved it to Charlottesville, Virginia, where it was placed in the center of a fountain in his Morven Carriage House.

After Kluge died in 2010, Donald Trump purchased his estate including the carriage house. About this time, Donna Myers, Dunbar Historical Society secretary, put a question on Askart.com seeking information of the Seated Torso.

In 2013, the head winemaker at what became the Trump Vineyard Winery found the two-year old question and contacted Myers, offering the Seated Torso to the Dunbar Historical Society if the society could raise the funds to move it back to Dunbar – $11,000.

Trimbath tells us that once the association with Trump was known, “donations poured in.”

The framed letter and photo sent by Donald J. Trump to the Dunbar Historical Society donating a glass sculpture by Pascal valued at $3.5 million, though the Trump Organization, which acquired it when it bought the Kluge estate, never actually paid for the sculpture and even had the town raise $11,000 to pay to move it © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Dunbar Historical Society built an annex to its building, and the sculpture was officially opened to the public in May 2016 (coinciding with our Sojourn). We noticed a change from last year: the letter and photo from Donald J. Trump was moved to a slightly less prominent corner.

The sculpture and the rest of the historical society is really worth seeing (www.dunbarhistoricalsociety.com).

See also:

Rails-to-Trails Conservancy’s BikeTour on Great Allegheny Passage Highlights Benefits of RailTrails

Rails-to-Trails Conservancy’s Sojourn Biketour on Great Allegheny Passage Showcases Forgotten Towns

Rails-to-Trails’ Great Allegheny Passage Bike Tour Side Trip into Dunbar Brings Surprise Encounter with TrumpWorld

$3.5 Million Glass Sculpture in Dunbar, PA is Clue to Donald Trump’s ‘Charitable’ Donations

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© 2017 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com,  www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin , and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

 

Fifth Avenue Museum Mile Festival Showcases Exhibits Not to Be Missed This Summer in NYC

The Metropolitan Museum of Art at night © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

 

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

 

Even if you were unable to get to the once-a-year Museum Mile Festival along Fifth Avenue on June 13, when six museums (some of them with pricey admissions) throw their doors open to one and all for free, it provided a marvelous preview of some spectacular exhibits that are on through the summer or fall.

At the Metropolitan Museum of Art, at the southern “border” of Museum Mile, I visited the Irving Penn Centennial, a marvelous survey of this brilliant photographer’s career and an opportunity to see the museum quality prints that would have been seen in the pages of important magazines like Vogue; the exhibit is on through July 30, 2017.

Met Museum-goers viewing the “Irving Penn Centennial” exhibit © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I went from Irving Penn Centennial to the “Age of Empires” exhibit of breathtaking sculpture and artifacts from the Qin and Han dynasties, spanning 221 BC to 220 AD, including near life-size but extraordinarily realistic statues of terracotta warriors from Xian (so life-like they appear to breathe) that I had seen for the first time when I visited what was at the time newly uncovered site in 1978 in China. This important exhibit is on view through July 16, 2017.

One of the terracotta warriors on view in the “Age of Empires” exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Then, I couldn’t resist, I luxuriated in the galleries devoted to Impressionists and Post-Impressionists.

Outside, the Met Museum hosted performance art – a troupe of dancers whose movements formed artistic poses. (My favorite time to visit is on a Friday or Saturday evening when the Met is open late, has music on the mezzanine; favorite place to eat is in the American Café in the sculpture garden; also, take a docent-led “Highlights” tour, which brings you all around the museum.)

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1000 Fifth Avenue (at 82nd Street), New York, NY 10028, (212) 535-7710 http://www.metmuseum.org/. 

Performance of Sidra Bell Dance New York outside the Metropolitan Museum of Art during the Museum Mile Festival © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

(My clever strategy was to start at the Met at 5 pm, giving me an extra hour of the Museum Mile Festival in order to cover more territory.)

I next visit the Neue Galerie New York and get my annual “fix” of the breathtaking “Woman in Gold” and other Gustav Klint paintings (Klint has become one of my favorite artists).  The Austrian Masterworks exhibit is a celebration of the 15th anniversary of the museum’s founding, highlighting Gustav Klint, Oskar Kokoschka, Alfred Kubin and Egon Schiele.

Neue Galerie New York, 1048 Fifth Avenue (at 86th Street), New York, NY 10028, (212) 628-6200, http://www.neuegalerie.org/. 

The Solomon R.Guggenheim Museum, which always gets an enormous crowd for the Museum Mile festival, is featuring “Visionaries: Creating a Modern Guggenheim,” “Hugo Boss Prize 2016: Anicka Yi, Life is Cheap” Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 1071 Fifth Avenue (at 88th Street) New York, NY 10128, (212) 423-3500, https://www.guggenheim.org/

You get to try your hand at design, at the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum housed in an exquisite Fifth Avenue mansion © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum, which is part of the Smithsonian Institutions, a collection established by Sarah and Eleanor Hewitt as the Cooper Union Museum for the Arts of Decoration in 1897, housed in an exquisite mansion, is presenting a marvelous exhibit, “The Jazz Age: American Style in the 1920s” – bringing together the design elements of the era through a range of furnishings, architecture, clothing, paintings and music, and what made the designs so distinctive and reflective of cultural trends of the time. For example, “Bending the Rules,” the cross-pollination of American and European artists (“A Smaller World”), the infatuation with technology and machines. One of the special delights of the Cooper Hewitt is their interactive opportunities to create designs.

Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian National Design Museum, 2 East 91st Street (off Fifth Avenue) New York, NY 10128, 212-849-8400, http://www.cooperhewitt.org/ 

Painting of the Stettheimer sisters and mother by Jazz Age, avant-garde artist and poet Florine Stettheimer, on view at the Jewish Museum © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Jewish Museum’s special exhibit this season also focuses on the 1920s, featuring the painter and poet and exemplar of the avant-garde, Florine Stettheimer. This was all new to me – I had never heard of her, or her incredible sisters, before (their independence, feminism and stunning range of creativity reminded me of the Bronte sisters, except these ladies did not keep their creative output a secret).

The Jewish Museum, 1109 Fifth Avenue, (between 92nd & 93rd Streets), New York, NY 10128, (212) 423-3200, www.thejewishmuseum.org.

The two exhibits – at the Cooper Hewitt and the Jewish Museum – are that much more inspiring to see contiguously, to have this extraordinary in-depth insight into the Jazz Age, a time of tumultuous change in culture, social mores and political currents on a scale that only recurred 40 years later, in the 1960s, and now.  I became intrigued when I heard of the Jewish Museum’s exhibit at the Jazz Age Lawn Party on Governors Island in June (you have another opportunity to enjoy this fantastic festival August 26 & 27, jazzagelawnparty.com; see story)

From there I walked further north, to just about the top of the Museum Mile with only about an hour to go of the festival.

Dancing in the street, outside the Museum of the City of New York, during the Museum Mile Festival © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Museum of the City of New York always has smart, clever exhibits. The not-to-be missed exhibit, “New York at its Core,” that is on now is in three parts, in three different galleries. It explores the essential question, “What makes New York New York?” (Answer: Money, Diversity, Density, Creativity) and takes the city from its very beginnings (room-sized images of neighborhoods morph from centuries ago into today), to its development as a melting pot for cultures, and then lets viewers imagine what the city of the future should look like (“Future City Lab”) and how it should solve the challenges of affordable housing, greenspace, environment, transit, and so forth. One of the most interesting parts is a computer-generated animation that puts you into the scene.

Museum of the City of New York, 1220 Fifth Avenue (at 104th Street), New York, NY 10029 (212) 534-1672, http://www.mcny.org/  

See yourself in the city of the future and have a crack at solving urban challenges, at the Museum of the City of New York © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Then, at the end of the Museum Mile, El Museo Del Barrio is featuring “Belkis Ayon: Nkame” and “A Retrospective of Cuban Printmaker Belkis Ayon” El Museo del Barrio, 1230 Fifth Avenue (at 104th Street), New York, NY 10029, (212) 831-7272 (http://www.elmuseo.org/)

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© 2017 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com,  www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin , and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

 

 

 

San Francisco Goes All Out With Special Events, Exhibitions Marking 50th Anniversary of Summer of Love

Blast from the past: reliving 1967 through poster art at San Francisco’s de Young Museum’s The Summer of Love Experience: Art, Fashion, and Rock & Roll on view through August 20 © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin,

Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

 Wes Leslie’s Wild San Francisco Summer of Love Musical Walking Tour finishes only a couple of blocks down from the entrance to Golden Gate Park (see story), which played such a role in the Hippie Movement, and where the De Young Museum is holding the Summer of Love Experience, one of the more than 60 events, exhibitions, concerts, tours and attractions taking place during this 50th Anniversary of the cosmic 1967 event when some 100,000 young people descended on the city. So, after walking around the famous Haight-Ashbury district – epicenter of the Hippie Movement – taking in the shops and scenes that slingshot you back to the 1960s, I stroll into Golden Gate Park to the museum.

The Summer of Love Experience: Art, Fashion, and Rock & Roll, on view at the De Young Museum in Golden Gate Park through August 20, 2017, is an exhilarating exhibition of iconic rock posters, photographs, interactive music and light shows, costumes and textiles, ephemera, and avant-garde films. Part of the 50th anniversary celebration of the adventurous and colorful counterculture that blossomed in the years surrounding the legendary San Francisco summer of 1967, the exhibition presents more than 300  significant cultural artifacts of the time, including almost 150 objects from the Fine Arts Museums’ extensive permanent holdings, supplemented by key, iconic loans.

Pictoral iconic pins greet you as you enter San Francisco’s de Young Museum’s The Summer of Love Experience: Art, Fashion, and Rock & Roll © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

As you walk in, you are immediately set on the crossroads  of Haight and Ashbury streets and the pins with the iconic phrases and issues that were top-of-mind of the time.

You literally step into the whirling dervish that was the times – psychedelic colored lights and brash, electrified music of Janis Joplin and others provide the beat and backdrop for the exhibit that includes a two-story square darkened room with colored projections of what appear to be the shapes inside a lava lamp and bean-bags to sit on.

Psychedelic experience in the de Young Museum © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

In the mid-1960s, artists, activists, writers, and musicians converged on Haight-Ashbury with hopes of creating a new social paradigm. By 1967, the neighborhood drew as many as 100,000 young people from all over the country to this tiny neighborhood, which became the epicenter for their activities, and nearby Golden Gate Park their playground.

The period was marked by groundbreaking developments in art, fashion, music, and politics (captured in the images of photojournalists and street photographers), which is what is so eloquently showcased in this exhibit.

Have you seen? Thousands of young people ran away from their homes to come to Haight-Ashbury during 1967 © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Local bands such as Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead were the progenitors of what would become known as the “San Francisco Sound,” music that found its visual counterpart in creative industries that sprang up throughout the region. Rock-poster artists such as Rick Griffin, Alton Kelley, Victor Moscoso, Stanley Mouse, and Wes Wilson generated an exciting array of distinctive works featuring distorted hand-lettering and vibrating colors, while wildly creative light shows, such as those by Bill Ham and Ben Van Meter, served as expressions of the new psychedelic impulse.

Distinctive codes of dress also set members of the Bay Area counterculture apart from mainstream America. Local designers began to create fantastic looks using a range of techniques and materials, including leatherwork, hand-painting, knitting and crotchet, embroidery, repurposed denim, and tie-dye. These innovators included Birgitta Bjerke, aka 100% Birgitta; Mickey McGowan, aka the Apple Cobbler; Burray Olson; and Jeanne Rose – whose creations are also on view.

De Young Museum exhibit explores fashion that came out of San Francisco’s Hippie Movement © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Summer of Love Experience: Art, Fashion, and Rock & Roll commemorates an “only in San Francisco” social and aesthetic movement, and will remind museum visitors that in a time of international upheaval, the city played a vital role in changing society and amplifying the pulse of the nation. 

de Young Museum, Golden Gate Park, 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive, San Francisco, CA 94118, 415-750-3600, ttps://deyoung.famsf.org/summer-love-art-fashion-and-rock-roll.

San Francisco Goes All-Out for Summer of Love Celebration 

San Francisco Travel, the city’s visitors bureau, and the California Historical Society have joined forces on the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love, offering more than 60 exhibitions and events, plus special tours like Wild SF’s Summer of Love walking tour.

At www.summerof.love, the California Historical Society provides the detailed factual and cultural context for this seminal summer through its own exhibition and work with cultural partners such as the de Young Museum.

San Francisco is going all out with special events, exhibitions marking the 50th Anniversary of the Summer of Love, such as the de Young Museum’s Summer of Love Experience: Art, Fashion, and Rock & Roll © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Here are more:

“The Hippies” at West County Museum in Sebastopol (Thru-Dec. 2017): The West County Museum in Sebastopol presents “The Hippies”.   The curators have collected memorabilia from the Hippie elders to recreate the environment that these rebels against consumerism and conformity built in the forests of Graton and Occidental 1966-1973.  Morning Star Ranch in Graton was owned by Lou Gottlieb, the bassist of The Limeliters, a hit folk group of the 60’s. He opened his property to all and refugees from the Haight quickly settled in. They built their own shacks, lived without electricity and often clothes and exchanged the work ethic for the ethics of living in nature in a state of “voluntary primitivism.” Sex and drugs, pot and LSD, guitars and any handy noise makers were freely enjoyed by the denizens but not by all of their neighbors. The County Sheriff and Health Department became involved after vociferous complaints and after many fines and much legal maneuvering by Gottlieb to keep his commune open, the County bulldozers destroyed the huts, and the suddenly homeless hippies were forced to relocate.  Some moved to Morning Star East in New Mexico, but others went a few miles away in Occidental where Bill Wheeler felt that he had enough land to share and the hippies moved in. The land was free to all but the living was too free for a neighbor who felt that the lifestyle was a threat to his children. Again, after legal action, the bulldozers moved in and the hippie commune era in Sonoma County came to an end.  The West County Museum, 261 S. Main Street, Sebastopol, is open Thursday to Sunday, from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.

Monterey Regional Airport: “Feeling Groovy,” Art at the Airport (Thru  Fall 2017): The exhibit showcases collections that reflect music, entertainment and home life in 1960s Monterey County.  Artifacts featured in the exhibit are diverse, ranging from the ordinary to the extraordinary. Visitors can view everyday objects from a 1960s kitchen, iconic fashions ranging from pill box hats to Beatle boots, and beloved games, toys and comic books. See Nancy Carlen’s collection from the Big Sur Folk Festival, the first time these rare photographs and objects have been exhibited. Go back to June 1967 when the Monterey Pop Festival welcomed Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Otis Redding – and ushered in The Summer of Love. Each object – from transistor radios to martini glasses – will transport you back to this transformative decade.

2017 Summer of Love Street Celebrations with It’s Your District and Sunday Streets (Thru Oct. 1, 2017): In conjunction with Sunday Streets, the non-profit It’s Your District (IYD) is hosting the 2017 Summer of Love Street Celebrations. Block parties will be held at the eight Sunday Street locations, and will include Summer of Love exhibitions, art projects, live performances and family-friendly activities. In keeping with IYD’s mission, these celebrations will bring in and promote Bay Area non-profits, businesses, arts, cultural and community organizations, socially conscious enterprises and individuals who are committed to bringing forth the unheard voices of residents and in sustaining the vitality of our community district by district. Sunday Streets engages some 120,000 people annually and this number continues to grow.

One highlight of the celebration is the Public Mural Art Project which creates murals designed to educate members of the community about the history of their respective neighborhoods. The art will focus on prominent heroes and the events that have contributed to the development of San Francisco districts from the 1960s to present day.

Lavender-Tinted Glasses: A Groovy Gay Look at the Summer of Love” at the GLBT History Museum (April 7-Sept. 27, 2017): An exhibition highlighting the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender participants in the 1967 Summer of Love in San Francisco. The show also will explore the LGBTQ community’s own simultaneous cultural revolution in the city’s Tenderloin neighborhood. The stories of queer poets, philosophers, filmmakers and musicians integral to the era will be celebrated through historic photographs, artwork, film and documents from the archives of the GLBT Historical Society and private collections.

De Young Museum, San Francisco, presents Summer of Love Experience: Art, Fashion, and Rock & Roll © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

de Young Museum; “The Summer of Love Experience: Art, Fashion and Rock & Roll” (April 8-Aug. 20, 2017): Through a wide array of iconic rock posters, interactive music and light shows, “out-of-this-world” clothing and photographs, “Summer of Love” celebrates the city’s rebellious and colorful counterculture and explores the visual and material cultures of a generation searching for personal fulfillment through social change. The exhibition includes rock posters by artists including Victor Moscoso, Stanley Mouse and Wes Wilson along with examples of the handcrafted, one-of-a-kind garments created by such designers as Brigitta Bjerke, K. Lee Manuel and Jeanne Rose.

“Love or Confusion: Jimi Hendrix in 1967” at the Museum of the African Diaspora (MoAD) (April 26-Aug. 27, 2017): As Jimi Hendrix walked out onto the stage at Monterey Pop, he was also stepping out for his American rock and roll debut. Playing as “The Jimi Hendrix Experience,” Hendrix was introduced to California at the festival before the U.S. release of his first album. A performance enlivened with rock theatrics, sexual flamboyance and magnetic guitar riffs, this moment solidified Hendrix as a rock idol. An integrated band with a black front man, “The Jimi Hendrix Experience” represented racial and sexual freedom and the goals of the 1906s counterculture.  Composed of photographs taken of Jimi Hendrix in 1967, this exhibition celebrates the 50th anniversary of the famous Summer of Love and the introduction of Jimi Hendrix as one the greatest instrumentalists of all time.

“Elaine Mayes: It Happened in Monterey” at SFO Museum (May 4-Aug. 10, 2017): SFO Museum will present an exhibition of photographs by Elaine Mayes (whose work is also included in the de Young Museum exhibit) taken at the Summer of Love’s legendary rock concert, the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival.  The exhibition is located post-security in Terminal 3.

California Historical Society; “On the Road to the Summer of Love (May 12-Sept. 10, 2017): Guest-curated by Grateful Dead historian Dennis McNally, this photographic exhibition will start in the 1950’s with “HOWL” and the Beat Generation and move through the free speech movement to LSD, rock and roll and the Haight in the 60’s.

The Cartoon Art Museum; “Comix from the Summer of Love(June-Sept., 2017): The Cartoon Art Museum celebrates the Summer of Love with a selection of underground comix from Bay Area creators Lee Marrs (Pudge, Girl Blimp), Trina Robbins (Wimmen¹s Comix) and highlights from the collection of Ron Turner, founder of famed San Francisco publisher Last Gasp.

“A Night with Janis Joplin” at American Conservatory Theater (June 7-July 2, 2017): Like a comet that burns far too brightly to last, Janis Joplin exploded onto the music scene in 1967 and, almost overnight, became the queen of rock ’n’ roll. The unmistakable voice, laced with raw emotion and Southern Comfort, made her a must-see headliner from Monterey to Woodstock. A.C.T. presents an evening with the woman and her influences in the Bay Area premiere of the hit Broadway musical “A Night with Janis Joplin” at the Geary Theater.   Fueled by such unforgettable songs as “Me and Bobby McGee,” “Piece of My Heart,” “Mercedes Benz,” “Cry Baby,” and “Summertime,” a remarkable cast and breakout performances.

San Francisco Public Library: 50th Anniversary of Love and Haight (July 15-Oct. 29, 2017): In this exhibit, historical photographs, grass roots newspapers, posters and flyers, record albums and manuscript materials from community groups and City of San Francisco collections will document the social and political upheaval of the summer of 1967 and how the city responded.

Attractions:

The legendary Fillmore Auditorium offers performances throughout the year and launched the careers of greats including James Brown, Ike and Tina Turner, the Grateful Dead, the Jefferson Airplane, Santana and more. Famous for printing posters for every single show played at the venue, the poster room is just shy of 1,000 posters since officially opening its doors in the mid-60s. Celebrate the 50th anniversary of Bill Graham’s first show at the Fillmore, which was December 10, 1965. (http://thefillmore.com/about/)

Harkening back to The Psychedelic Shop, which opened on January 3, 1966, as the first head shop in America, Love on Haight is a boutique dedicated to keeping the memory of the Summer of Love alive (www.loveonhaightsf.com).

You can see music memorabilia of Grateful Dead and other notables from the 1967 Summer of Love at the Hard Rock Café at Pier 39 © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Check out the autographed Grateful Dead guitar, a painting of Jerry Garcia by Grace Slick of the Jefferson Airplane, Jerry Garcia’s bomber jacket, Jimi Hendrix’ jacket and one of the last photos of Janice Joplin. at the Hard Rock Café at PIER 39. www.hardrock.com/cafes/san-francisco/

At Madame Tussauds, rub shoulders with iconic stars and free thinkers of the Summer of Love such as Jerry Garcia, Janis Joplin, Carlos Santana and Steve Jobs. (www.madametussauds.com)

Founded in 1959 with avant-garde performance events, today The San Francisco Mime Troupe (SFMT) produces social and politically relevant theater performances full of dance, song, satire and comedy all year long. In 1965 future rock impresario Bill Graham, then the company’s business manager, organized his first rock dance/light show at the Fillmore Auditorium as a bail benefit for the SFMT and in 1967 The Troupe clinched its radical reputation with a comedy updated to satirize the Vietnam War (www.sfmt.org/company).

Viceroy Hotel Group’s brand new Hotel Zeppelin has been reinvented as a modern take on the countercultural rebellion of the 1960s. Its historic architecture dating back to 1918 is highlighted with Instagram worthy design elements that truly exude the Summer of Love vibe. From the Giant 12 foot (and climbable) Peace Sign constructed of repurposed license plates from roadtrips long forgotten, to blacklight graffiti murals fading in and out of view at their Fireside neighborhood bar – even the guest rooms feature vintage Bill Graham posters and rockband clad wallpaper that will transport you straight to the 1960s Fillmore. Grab a drink at their signature bar and restaurant Rambler and meander your way down to their massive “Den” arcade featuring vintage games like shuffleboard, skeeball, quick shot basketball, bingo and more (www.viceroyhotelsandresorts.com/en/zeppelin).

S.O.U.L. (Summer of Unconditional LOVE), a new, non-profit, online media organization, chronicles the happenings of the 50th Anniversary of the Summer of Love, with a focus on broadcasting stories of individuals and organizations implementing solutions inspired by the ideals and wisdom of the 60’s cultural movements. The information shared is intended to help people manifest a more loving and less fearful world by giving them hope and inspiring new action to be taken.  “Come join us, and discover what you can do to participate in accelerating humanity’s shift into the Love Paradigm,” say Founders Evan Hirsch and Kip Baldwin www.nowsharelove.org).

To help visitors plan their “trip,” the San Francisco Travel Association has launched a special website, www.summeroflove2017.com, which provides an ever-expanding guide to the whole groovy scene, including events and itinerary ideas.  (San Francisco Travel. 415-391‑2000, www.sftravel.com)

See also:

San Francisco Throwing Year-Long 50th Anniversary Celebration of Summer of Love – Be Prepared to Be Blasted into the Past

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© 2017 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin , and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

New ‘Mummies’ Exhibit at American Museum of Natural History Lets You Peer Through Wrappings, Peel Away Layers of Time

Haunting images: the coffin that still harbor the thousands-year old mummified remains of a teenage boy who lived in Ancient Egypt thousands of years ago, and his scanned image reflected in his glass case. © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Gilded Lady seems to be resting peacefully, her painted visage staring up to the sky. But inside this container are the remains of a real woman who lived nearly 2000 years ago, and for the first time, the ancient coalesces with 21st century scientific techniques: we actually get to peer inside, probing down layer by layer to her mortal remains, and then, at a digitally reconstructed, 3-D image of her as she lived: this middle-aged woman was beautiful.

She has already traveled from Chicago where she lives at the Field Museum, to Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Denver and now she is reposing here in New York as part of Mummies, an extraordinary exhibit featuring one of the largest collections of mummies housed in North America that just opened at the American Museum of Natural History through January 7, 2018.

The Gilded Lady, the gold-masked coffin of a middle-aged woman who was mummified during the Roman Period (30BC-AD 395) © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

The exhibit provides an unparalleled glimpse into the lives and traditions of people from ancient cultures. It puts us face to face, head to head with people who lived their lives thousands of years ago, in Egypt and in Peru – two of the many cultures that practiced mummification. The contrasts and the similarities are striking, and just as their similarities speak to a unity of humanity, this extraordinary way of connecting past to present connects us as human beings. (And to bring about an even broader connection, increasing the span from thousands to 100s of thousands of years ago, be sure to visit the AMNH’s Human Evolution wing.)

Ellen V. Futter, President of the American Museum of Natural History © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

“Mummies have long been fascinating, and now the intersection of these ancient relics and cutting-edge technology is revealing new and intriguing secrets,” said Ellen V. Futter, President of the American Museum of Natural History. “For generations, the Museum has studied and presented the diverse cultures of humanity, past and present, to help us better understand one another and ourselves. Today, when such understanding is more important than ever, Mummies invites us all to consider both what may be distinct among cultures and what is universal in the human condition.”

On a special, limited tour from the collections of The Field Museum in Chicago — and presented for the first time on the East Coast (the traveling exhibition has already been on view in Los Angeles, Minneapolis and Denver), Mummies showcases the ritually preserved remains of 18 individuals from ancient Egypt and pre-Columbian Peru. The Peruvian mummies that are on display have not been seen since they were exhibited at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair.

Significantly, you get to discover how modern imaging techniques have transformed the study of mummification by letting researchers peer inside centuries-old mummies without disturbing or damaging them. Digital touchscreens let you “virtually” peer into Peruvian mummy bundles, layer by layer from the skin to the bones, as well as animal mummies buried as offerings to Egyptian gods. You also get to handle 3D-printed figurines of burial goods that were encased within mummy wrappings for millennia and only recently revealed.

“You may think you know mummies,” Futter said at a press preview, pointing to the most popular representations in horror movies. “That’s not what this show is about. This is serious business that simultaneously offers a window to the past – two different ancient worlds – and into the latest technology and study. You get a glimpse of actual people entombed – who they were, what their lives were like, what they looked like.”

“They are like messages from a different time – they are our sisters and brothers in a shared humanity. It may not be as sensational as a [horror] movie, but more amazing than you would have imagined.”

Scan of a bundle from Peru reveals a woman in her 20s with two children, around six and two years old who died of unknown causes © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Indeed, most people – especially  young people – have never actually seen a dead body before. The most profound experience in the exhibit is seeing the remains of a woman who lived 5500 years ago, whose bundled body was left in the Egyptian desert where it naturally mummified.

Indeed, it wasn’t just pharaohs and their spouses and other royal figures who were mummified, though their tombs and the possessions that were left with them reflected their station. This was the common practice – as people were lower and lower down the economic totem pole, the possessions that they would have been buried with were more and more modest.

In Egyptian society, it was also common for animals to be mummified and buried – there is a baboon and a crocodile in the exhibit. Cats were actually popular and David Hurst Thomas, the co-curator of the exhibit, said that archaeologists found cemeteries of a million mummified cats, manufactured  for sale to be entombed with the loved one.

Michael Novacek, Senior Vice President, Provost of Science and Curator, division of Paleontology and David Hurst Thomas, curator of North American archaeology and co-curator of Mummies, American Museum of Natural History © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

It is fascinating to have this view to contrast the Peruvian mummies (I’m betting few people have even realized that pre-Colombian Peruvian peoples practiced mummification), with the Egyptian burial practices. The two civilizations never interacted – mummification developed independently, indeed, on every continent but Antarctica, Dr. David Hurst Thomas, curator of North American archaeology, division of Anthropology and co-Curator of the Mummies exhibit, said at a press preview of the exhibit.

In Peru, mummification was intended to enable the living to stay connected with their loved ones. The body was carefully prepared and wrapped and then a mask was placed on top the canvas.

One of the scans of a bundle reveals that it is a woman with two children. The scans also show artifacts that have been buried with the individual.

The ancient Egyptians, in contrast, mummified their dead so that they could live on – their limbs intact – in the next world. The earliest mummies, like the 5500-year old woman, were not buried in elaborate pyramids or tombs, but were put into a pit grave. Over the centuries, the mummification process became more and more elaborate – organs were preserved in canopic jars and bodies placed in magnificently painted coffins with gilded masks.

By using these new technologies – most that have come from medicine – the scientists have been able to see artifacts that were buried with them, how a mother is buried with her two children (how did they die?).

“They have so much to teach us – medical infirmities, migration, interaction of societies,”

The Gilded Lady, for example, is utterly fascinating – you see her in her magnificently decorated coffin, and on the wall are the slides that show how her hair was curled, had a damaged spine, possibly as a result  of tuberculosis. Based on the scan of her skull, they made a 3-D reconstruction using a 3-D printer, and from that, like a forensic scientist, re-created what she likely looked like in life – all of this in one view.

Gilded Lady with the scans that show what she likely looked like © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The gilded mask that we see was not meant to illustrate how the woman looked in life, but was an idealized portrait that had a purpose: the Ancient Egyptians believed that in the afterlife, the dead would need their faculties – eyesight, hearing, taste and smell. The masks allowed them to maintain these senses. The golden skin was used to show divinity: after death, the dead would be transformed into the god Osiris, who, like most gods, had skin of gold.

The Gilded Lady lays across the room from another mummy, named Minirdis according to the hieroglyphs on the coffin. The coffin was opened for the first time in a century for this exhibition. In examining the remains, researchers discovered the teenaged boy inside was mummified around 250 BC, or 200 years after the coffin was made, construction of the coffin, indicating that the mummified individual wasn’t Minirdis after all, and confirming that coffins were occasionally recycled (though might not the inscription have been added when the boy was buried?)

The hieroglyphs on the coffin say the name of the mummy who is supposed to go inside it – Minirdis, son of a priest. Preserving the person’s name was essential for their soul to reach the afterlife. Minirdis means “Min is the one who gave him,” and Min was a god of fertility. The inscription also says that Minirdis’ father, Inaros was a priest, in charge of purifying and clothing the god’s statue. The only problem was that the boy inside was mummified around 250 BC, or 200 years after the coffin was made, indicating that the mummified individual wasn’t Minirdis after all, but also confirming that coffins were occasionally recycled.

The scans of the body show that the coffin was too large for the body inside and the bones hadn’t fused, indicating that the body was a teenage boy.

Ancient culture meets Modern science: A mummy as it would go through the CT scanner, on view at the American Museum of Natural History © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The CT scans enabled scientists to generate 3D-printed skull reconstructions of both the “Gilded Lady” and Minirdis. Then, artist Elisabeth Daynès studied the replicas and built facial muscles and skin layer by layer. The hyper-realistic portraits in 3D. we meet at the end of the exhibit let us come face-to-face with these ancient people, seeing them as they may have looked in life —while their mummified remains sleep peacefully.

Peruvian Mummies On View for the First Time in a Century

We are much more familiar with Egyptian mummies, particularly with the sensational exhibits of King Tut and the artifacts uncovered from his tomb in the Valley of Kings, as well as the scientific analysis of his mummified remains. But this exhibit goes much further in its exploration of the cultural significance of the burial practice.

The first part of the exhibit focuses on the collection of Peruvian Mummies, which had not been seen in public since they were on display in the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair.

People living along the Pacific coast of South America in what is now Peru began to mummify their dead more than 5,000 years ago. Scholars think that the Chinchorro culture (5,000–2,000 BC)—the world’s first practitioners of mummification—prepared the bodies of their loved ones personally, removing the deceased’s skin, de-fleshing the bones, and removing the organs before reinforcing the skeleton with reeds and clay and reattaching the skin. The mummy was then painted black or red and given a wig and an individualized clay portrait of the deceased.

In addition to the Chinchorro, dozens of societies in the region mummified their dead to remember and remain connected with the departed.

As we walk through the  Mummies exhibit, we encounter a number of Peruvian mummy bundles, including the mummified remains of three children from the Chancay culture (AD 1000–1400), which placed their dead into a sitting position and wrapped them in layers of cloth.

The exhibit is very much hands-on, interactive, if you can believe it, because you get to do what scientists do, in penetrating the layers of scans to reveal the body contained in the wrappings, through the skin layer, to the bones.

There are digital touchscreens, where you can examine composite CT scans of these mummies and virtually “unwrap” them to reveal figurines and other burial offerings that are contained within, becoming surprised as surely the scientists were, when a scan reveals a mother with two children bundled together, or seeing the objects that were personal or prized which reveal so much about who they were in life.

A life-sized diorama of a Chancay pit burial demonstrates the common practice of interring members of an extended family together © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

A life-sized diorama of a Chancay pit burial demonstrates the common practice of interring members of an extended family together. These burial pits were accessible to living family members, allowing relatives to bring food or drink to their loved ones’ graves, or even to remove mummies to take them to festivals or other special events. We see examples of real burial offerings such as chicha (corn beer) pots.

Jim Phillips, curator of The Field Museum, tells me that the Peruvian mummies were uncovered on expeditions in the 1880s and 1890. This means they would have been recent finds – the most modern discoveries – when they were displayed at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair.

Jim Phillips, curator of The Field Museum, with the Gilded Lady and the scan that shows how imaging techniques helped reconstruct her face © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Egyptian Mummies of the Nile Valley 

Unlike people in Peru, ancient Egyptians believed the dead could live on in the next world if provided with a physical home, preferably within the body itself. This belief made it essential to preserve the corpse, and Egyptians used an elaborate process of mummification to halt the natural process of decay. Scholars posit that natural mummification—an example of which can be seen in the remains of a woman whose preservation occurred naturally in the hot, dry sand about 5,500 years ago—gave Egyptians the idea for artificial mummification.

Mummies invites visitors to compare and contrast burial practices of Egypt (statue of Osiris on left) and Peru © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Within centuries, ritual burial in Egypt evolved into a complex practice that included elaborate embalming, brilliantly decorated sarcophagi, and grandiose tombs designed to deter grave-robbers (we see magnificent limestone busts from sarcophagi that were an added layer of security to those who could afford this extra protection and would have weighed thousands of pounds). Organs that would hasten decay—the liver, lungs, intestines, and stomach—were removed, preserved, wrapped, and housed in separate containers. The heart—thought to be the source of emotion and intellect—often stayed in place, since it would be necessary in the afterlife, while the brain, thought to have no use, was removed through the nose. Forty days in salt desiccated the body, and embalmers then used resins, oils, and padding to restore its appearance before wrapping it in linen. Artifacts on view include a Ptolemaic Period mummy (332-30 BC) along with canopic jars containing the person’s organs. Here, there are stations where you can handle 3D-printed burial figurines that depict ancient Egyptian gods provide visitors with an opportunity to explore the hidden artifacts within its wrappings.

Students get to discover burial practices of ancient peoples. The exhibit is designed to be “family friendly”; the notes that accompany the exhibit are easy to understand © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The objects found in Egyptian tombs were meant to provide for the deceased in the afterlife. Burials of wealthy Egyptians include their servants, represented by figurines called shawabti; ideally there would be 365 of these, one for each day of the year, with 36 overseers, one for each week in the Egyptian calendar. Even mummified animals were included in tombs, and archaeologists have uncovered cemeteries containing millions of animal mummies, including cats, baboons, gazelles, birds and even crocodiles, some of which are on view. Grave-robbing was rampant in ancient Egypt, and an Egyptian tomb diorama represents a type of crypt that Egyptians with rank or wealth constructed to guard against such thefts. Within the tomb, a plain stone sarcophagus contains a smaller stone sarcophagus and a wooden coffin from the Late Period (525-343 BC) covered in hieroglyphs. Most of the imagery on the coffin was inspired by scenes in The Book of the Dead, a collection of funerary texts believed to assist a person’s journey into the afterlife.

Dr. Thomas says the Gilded Lady steals the show, and indeed she does. She was mummified during the Roman Period (30 BC-AD 395), a period when we see in the exhibit the most magnificently painted coffins. There is one of a woman whose coffin is a stunning piece of artwork – it has a magnificent gilded mask and the body had pronounced breasts. Why? The anthropologists could not say, showing that there is still so much more to be learned.

Magnificently decorated coffin from Egypt’s Roman Period (30 BC-AD 395) © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Mummies is on view in New York through January 7, 2018. The exhibition is co-curated at the American Museum of Natural History by David Hurst Thomas, Curator of North American Archaeology in the Division of Anthropology, and John J. Flynn, Frick Curator of Fossil Mammals in the Division of Paleontology. 

Mummies was developed by The Field Museum, Chicago, and will go back there for an exhibition after its New York showing.

Explorer

Mummies is featured in the Museum’s recently re-launched Explorer app, developed with support from Bloomberg Philanthropies, which lets visitors think like an explorer by personalizing their onsite experience using cutting-edge location-aware technology that provides unique journeys through the Museum’s 45 permanent halls.

More information about the exhibit is available at amnh.org/mummies.

A Major Scientific Research Institution

When we see these fantastic exhibits, we don’t necessarily see behind them, to the fact that the American Museum of Natural History, founded in 1869, is one of the world’s preeminent scientific, educational, and cultural institutions, whose research has contributed not only to their discovery, but to the understanding of what is displayed.

Indeed, the press tour takes us behind the scenes to the institution’s Microscopy and Imaging Facility – the technology that would have been used to scan the mummies. The equipment is shared by all five departments of the institution, whether AMNH scientists are studying fossils, cultural artifacts, planets or solar systems, the cutting-edge imaging technologies in the facility make it possible to examine details that were previously unobservable. While earlier studies often required unwrapping mummies – which could have damaged them – tools like high-resolution computerized tomography (CT) scanner provide scientists with non-invasive methods to examine them. MIF technician Morgan Hill walked us through the process, along with Zachary Calamari, a Ph.D. student in comparative biology program at the Museum’s Richard Gilder Graduate School, who showed us how the scans help in research of two naturally-mummified newborn wooly mammoths – one who was mummified by being frozen and the other who was “pickled.”

Zachary Calamari, Ph.D. student at the Museum’s Richard Gilder Graduate School, shows scan of a naturally mummified newborn wooley mammoth © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com.

During our visit, the CT scanner is doing an image of a rabbit. It is this ability to understand the internal aspects of dinosaurs and fossils that have led scientists to rejigger Evolution’s schema, to redefine who is related to who and what is connected to what.

The Museum’s five active research divisions and three cross-disciplinary centers support approximately 200 scientists, whose work draws on a world-class permanent collection of more than 33 million specimens and artifacts, as well as specialized collections for frozen tissue and genomic and astrophysical data, and one of the largest natural history libraries in the world. Through its Richard Gilder Graduate School, it is the only American museum authorized to grant the Ph.D. degree and the Master of Arts in Teaching degree.

The Museum encompasses 45 permanent exhibition halls, including the Rose Center for Earth and Space and the Hayden Planetarium, as well as galleries for temporary exhibitions. It is home to the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial, New York State’s official memorial to its 33rd governor and the nation’s 26th president, and a tribute to Roosevelt’s enduring legacy of conservation.

The museum gets 5 million visitors a year and the Museum’s exhibitions and Space Shows can be seen in venues on five continents. The Museum’s website and apps for mobile devices extend its collections, exhibitions, and educational programs to millions more beyond its walls.

American Museum of Natural History, Central Park West at 79th Street, New York, NY 10024-5192, 212-769-5100. Open daily from 10 am-5:45 pm except on Thanksgiving and Christmas. Visit amnh.org for more information. 

Become a fan of the American Museum of Natural History on Facebook at facebook.com/naturalhistory, follow us on Instagram at @AMNH, Tumblr at amnhnyc, or Twitter at twitter.com/AMNH

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© 2017 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.comwww.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin , and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures