Museuming in the Maritimes

The author on the Cabot Trail, Cape Breton, NS

The author on the Cabot Trail, Cape Breton, NS

“Look at that sea, girls–all silver and shadow and vision of things not seen. We couldn’t enjoy its loveliness any more if we had millions of dollars and ropes of diamonds.”
L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

Mine is a traveling family.  As often as I say I grew up in museums, so too did I grow up in national parks, historic houses, cathedrals, theaters, and the luggage-piled backseat-turned-X-wing of whatever the family car was at the time.

These days, travel for me is often a busman’s holiday–I still go to museums for fun, but end up thinking about more than merely the exhibits’ contents.  (Ask me about an exhibit while I’m still in it and I’m as likely to talk about label copy, lighting design and interpretive choices as ‘gee, what a cool patent model’ or ‘I never knew that about tapestry cartoons.’)

This summer’s trip was two weeks in Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and New Brunswick.  Compared to a trip to Florence or Washington DC, this trip was a lot more about natural beauty (scads of it!) and appreciating quieter, more localized traditions of artisans, architecture, and histories than Smithsonians and Uffizis.  That said, there were still a number of great (and small!) museum moments to share.

 Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, Halifax, NS

I am one of the happiest versions of myself when on boats, so an afternoon in the Halifax Maritime Museum put plenty of wind in my proverbial sails.  The museum is ambitious, covering many aspects of humanity’s connections and fascinations with the water, spanning many periods and significant points in history, including remarkably heartbreaking and well-done coverage of the Halifax explosion and the Titanic rescue and recovery attempts.  They made a lot of consistent and interesting interpretive choices in those two exhibits in particular, placing the focus less on finding out  who was to blame, and more on the human reaction to the tragedy: rescue, recovery, rebuilding.

Other galleries have clearly not been updated in a while.  For instance, the Age of Sail gallery (a favorite era of mine) still featured a lot of mismatched typewritten labels, which admittedly had a charm of their own when paired with some of the hilarious products of an early tourist society (see below).

Sailors' valentines, guano bottle art, and a coconut shell decorative dish at the Maritime Museum, Halifax. Photo by the author.

Sailors’ valentines, guano bottle art, and a coconut shell decorative dish at the Maritime Museum, Halifax. Photo by the author.

Much as I enjoyed picking out my dream sailboat in the small sailcraft hall, or running my fingers over steel bolts like the ones used to connect Titanic’s hull-plates, and especially checking out the extensive and alarming exhibit of the many hundred shipwrecks that have taken place around Nova Scotia in recorded history, there were a few other museum moments on this trip that also deserve some attention.

Joggins Fossil Center and Cliffs, NS

In front of the Fossil Center, in the fog

In front of the Fossil Center, in the fog

This small (but very green-engineering) center packs a lot into its one exhibit hall.  It’s fairly text-heavy in some places, but the timeline, dioramas of the area at different times in its geologic past, and magnifier to examine the ‘fossil of the day’ are all well worth it, if you can even be bothered to spare some wonder after climbing down the cliff to check out the fossils themselves lying on the beach and embedded in the cliffside.  We were there just after the super-moon, when a new section of prehistoric tree trunk had just been uncovered by the unusually high tide, making us ‘practically the first people to see it in 300 million years!’ (Okay, so the tour guide was actually really instrumental in making this an awesome experience, and I’m a very jaded former tour guide myself!)


300 million year old fossils on the beach at Joggins. Photo by the author.

Citadel, Parks Canada, Halifax NS

We saw a *lot* of Parks Canada sites on this trip, and though there was an awful lot of the Halifax Citadel that seemed familiar (Castle Island in Boston, anyone?) the living history approach here was great.  Even after seeing a stadium full of bagpipers earlier in the week at the Royal Nova Scotia International Tattoo, watching these reenactors drill and hearing them play really made a difference in experiencing the fort.  At AAM this year there was a discussion at the “Real or Fake? Who Cares?” session about reenactors–but I am firmly in the camp of the pro-theatrics.  Seeing those bayonet drills made my quads hurt in sympathy in a way just hearing about it never would have.


Bayonet drills at the Halifax citadel. Photo by the author.

Louisbourg Fort, Louisbourg, NS

Speaking of living history, there’s nothing like chowing down on French toast in a jam-packed tavern in 98 degree heat with only a gigantic pewter spoon as an implement, wearing half a table cloth for a napkin tied around your neck.

Rubbing elbows with the lower class tavern patrons for lunch in Louisbourg.

Rubbing elbows with the lower class tavern patrons for lunch in Louisbourg.

Heat exhaustion made me wish for a little less of the historical accuracy, but this summer was the 300th anniversary of the founding of the fort at Louisbourg, and there was a lot of awesome stuff going on while we were there, including an archaeology fair.  Parks Canada staff were on hand to talk about the marine archaeology in the harbor and were also actually doing a dig out on one of the further reaches of the point.  I also got to participate in a historic dance demonstration, which was also fun and would have been even better in air conditioning.

Alexander Graham Bell Museum, Parks Canada, Baddeck, NS

Even as someone who has worked in two different science museums, I hadn’t expected to have as much fun at the Alexander Graham Bell museum as I did.  I clued in a little when I discovered they had kites available in the lobby to go fly on the front lawn overlooking the lake (so beautiful!), and they had a (sadly deserted at the time) fairly well designed kids’ games and experimentation area right up front as well.

Kites in the Alexander Graham Bell museum in Baddeck, NS.  Photo by author.

Kites in the Alexander Graham Bell museum in Baddeck, NS. Photo by author.

I expected to hear the same info about the invention of the telephone that one gets in elementary school, but it turns out there was a lot more to the man, and also to his rather impressive wife and their circle of brainy, crazy, flight-mad friends.  Of particularly impressive impact in the lower exhibit hall were pieces of the original HD-4 record-setting hydrofoil boat, and also the full-size reconstruction.  This was also a site that, much like the Maritime Museum in Halifax, used film very well.

Reconstruction of the HD-4 hydrofoil craft.

Reconstruction of the HD-4 hydrofoil craft.

Green Gables, Parks Canada, Cavendish, PEI (and neighboring MacNeill Homestead and Silver Bush Museum)

Green Gables Heritage Place, the family farm that inspired Montgomery.

Green Gables Heritage Place, the family farm that inspired Montgomery.

Younger me felt a certain connection with Miss Anne Shirley of Green Gables, and current me enjoyed a day in ‘Anne Country’ thoroughly–though this time it was Lucy Maud Montgomery who felt like the kindred spirit.  Parks Canada has an interesting line to walk between presenting the truth of the history of the area and of LMM’s life with the expectations of legions of fans who are hoping to see as much Anne as Maud in the places described.  They do this quite cleverly by presenting within the house historically accurate furnishings, etc, and then layering in details recognizable to readers: in one room, for instance, there hangs a brown puffed-sleeve dress and a thoroughly cracked slate is casually tucked in a corner.  Out on the grounds, Anne’s names for places reign supreme (“The Haunted Wood” and “Lover’s Lane,”) but along the paths there are plaques of Montgomery’s personal reactions to these places, a trend which spills over to the nearby MacNeill homestead (where LMM grew up with her grandparents), and at Silver Bush, another family home and inspiration to Montgomery further down the road.

"Anne's Room" at Green Gables, complete with physical details from the first book's plot. Photo by the author.

“Anne’s Room” at Green Gables, complete with physical details from the first book’s plot. Photo by the author.

Quote from Lucy Maud Montgomery at the MacNeill Homestead in Cavendish. Photo by the author.

Quote from Lucy Maud Montgomery at the MacNeill Homestead in Cavendish. Photo by the author.

I could keep going, but I’d be likely to drop into rhapsodizing about being within feet of a pod of 20 pilot whales off the coast of Cape Breton, or being head-to-toe silty after a rapids ride thanks to the tidal bore on the Shubenacadie River, or even being driven to tears on back-to-back nights at the productions of Anne of Green Gables: The Musical and Evangeline: The Musical in Charlottetown.   Suffice to say that indoors, outdoors, in museums, and in the wild places, I found a lot of inspiration in the Canadian Maritime Provinces, and I’ll definitely be going back.

Did you come across any interesting interpretive choices in a museum trip this summer?  I’m always looking for new additions to the travel list, so let me know!

Happy Trails: A Year of Stories and Art

Once a month, I lead Story Trails, a program for families on Sunday afternoons that’s targeted for kids ages 5-8 with their accompanying adults.  We look closely at an artwork in one of the exhibits, read an associated story, and then head for a studio space (or other safe art-making zone) and create something inspired by the artwork, the story’s theme, the illustration style, or the associated science/history/literature component.  (Remember how my middle name is ‘interdisciplinary?’) Along with whatever their creation is, participants (including adults, because grown ups get to play too) take home a set of other recommended books, interesting web links, and an activity to try at home.  Sometimes we also have special guest speakers, generally local authors and illustrators, with the occasional bee-keeper or lobster fisherman.

It’s a lot of fun, it’s a lot of work, and it’s one of my favorite programs, so I thought I would share the books and art activities that I loved most from this year.

January: The Spiral Connection
Book: Blockhead, the Life of Fibonacci by Joseph D’Agnese
Exhibition Connection: Ripple Effect, the Art of H2O
Art Making: Wall hangings with Fibonacci prints – we used flowers (both silk and cut flowers will do, flatter ones like sunflowers and daisies are better), pinecones, and seashells with fabric paint on plain white bandanas (available at most craft stores), to make printed patterns that feature examples of the Fibonacci sequence in nature, and then added extra decorations with fabric markers, and hung the bandanas on dowels to create easy-to-hang fabric art for your wall.
January Story Trails handout-small

I love the 'turning page' look that our creative services team designed to differentiate Story Trails programming from other museum events.

I love the ‘turning page’ look that our creative services team designed to differentiate Story Trails programming from other museum events.

February: Read the Stars
Book: How the Stars Fell into the Sky by Jerrie Oughton (retelling of a Navajo Coyote story, which is traditionally only told in the winter months)
Exhibition Connection: Shapeshifting: Transformations in Native American Art
Art Making: Constellation Light Boxes – We talked about creation stories and specifically constellation stories, and then used awls and sharpened dowels to punch holes in shoe boxes to create our own (or recreate known) constellation patterns.  We then added a hole in whatever side of the box was opposite the constellation pattern to either a) hold up to our eye and then up to the light to see the stars ‘shine’ or b) put a bright flashlight into and project the star pattern into a darkened room.
February Story Trails handout

March: Cloud Factory and Guest Appearance by Illustrator Katy Bratun
BookSector 7 by David Weisner
Exhibition Connection: the concept of storyboarding in art, as exemplified by a series of paintings of a battle in the Maritime Art collection
Art Making: Katy Bratun led a story-boarding workshop in which kids drew a series of 4-8 panels of a story on the theme of taking a journey, and bound them into a simple book using card stock and yarn.  This was a great literacy-skills support program and kids were very, very excited to share their stories with a real author/illustrator.
March Story Trails handout

April: Weslandia
Book: Weslandia by Paul Fleischman
Exhibition Connection: Earth Day, and an incredibly cool bit of textile art on view in Perfect Imbalance: Exploring Chinese Aesthetics that featured pumpkins, ears of corn, and tomatoes as exotic fruits
Art Making: Butterfly Seed Mats — We used burlap, white glue, and butterfly seed mix to create biodegradable bits of art that you could plant in a corner of your garden and grow wildflowers to attract butterflies.  Simple but incredibly effective.  This book happened to be requested in the previous year’s visitor survey, and happily was already on my list for potential programming.
April Story Trails handout copy

May: Sing a Song for Mothers and Family!
Book: Anna Hibiscus’ Song by Atinuke
Exhibition Connection: Mother’s Day, and inspired by both the African Art collection and PEM’s ceramics collection
Art Making: Good Cheer Jars – We mod-podged tissue paper and other bits of recycled paper onto glass jars to create good cheer jars.  A good cheer jar can work any of several ways: a) a semi-voluntary fine paid when one is in a bad mood, the proceeds from which are then used to do something cheery for the family like a trip out for ice cream, b) a collection of slips of paper on which you write things that make you happy and pull one out to read when you need cheering up, c) a mandatory fine for using the household’s forbidden words like ‘I’m bored.’
May Story Trails handout copy

sand serpent

My Sea-Monster sand painting, which is still on display over my desk.

June: Beneath the Deep Blue Sea
Book: The Serpent Came to Gloucester by M.T. Anderson
Exhibition Connection: Local history and the Maritime Art collection
Art Making: Sea-Monster Sand Paintings — Using pre-cut mattes, construction paper, white liquid glue, sand, pebbles, and small sea shells and bits of sea glass, we created maritime-inspired natural collages.  Some of them got very, very intricate, particularly those who decided to make mosaics of sea glass.  This was one of my personal favorite art activities, and many of the adults who were at the program participated with gusto.
June Story Trails handout

Illustration from The Day-Glo Brothers by Chris Barton

Illustration from The Day-Glo Brothers by Chris Barton

July: What a Bright Idea!
Book: The Day-Glo Brothers by Chris Barton
Exhibition Connection: Contemporary art in the Japanese Art collection
Art Making: Day-Glo (and Glow-in-the-Dark) Paintings — Using black construction paper, day-glo poster paint, and some very cool glow-in-the-dark paint, we created scenes that looked awesome in general and even better under the light of our interactive black light box.  We also had samples of varying materials that kids could test to see whether or not they would react with the black light and start to glow, including beads, assorted fabrics, gelatinous substances (in safe containers), and assorted paper products.  This was one of the year’s most popular programs.
July Story Trails handout copy

August: What Does the Clay Say?
Book: Dave the Potter, Artist, Poet, Slave by Bryan Collier and Laban Carrick Hill
Exhibition Connection: Ceramics in the American Art collection
Art Making: Experimenting with Clay – Though the idea was to start with pinch pots and some coil-building, clay programs always take on a life of their own.  Some people made pots, others branched out into sculpture and beyond.  Everyone had a fabulous time, including some adults who had missed the story and had no kids, but wanted to come work with clay anyway.
August Story Trails handout copy

September: Hats Off To You!
Book: Miss Hunnicutt’s Hat by Jeff Brumbeau
Exhibition Connection: Hats: An Anthology by Stephen Jones
Art Making: Decorate a hatbox – We used 12″ cake boxes from ULine, which fold into very decent sized hatboxes and are easy to decorate with colored pencil, stickers, collaged recycled material, and crayon.
Sept Story Trails handout copy

October: Canine Crusader
Book: Dex – The Heart of a Hero by Caralyn Buehner (alternate title Superdog)
Exhibition Connection: Hats: An Anthology by Stephen Jones and the Caps, Capes, and Characters weekend festival (organized by me)
Art Making: Superhero capes with interchangeable emblems – We used SmartFab and craft foam with adhesive velcro dots to create capes (I cut each cape to length to suit children individually), and discussed designing emblems that suited their personalities for their superhero alter egos.  The velcro made it possible to rearrange or replace emblems later.
Oct Story Trails handout copy

Detail from the Pastrana tapestries

Detail from the Pastrana tapestries

November: Oh What a Knight!
Book: The Knight and the Dragon by Tomie dePaola and The Princess Knight by Cornelia Funke
Exhibition Connection: The Invention of Glory: Alfonso V and the Pastrana Tapestries and the Weaving Tales of Glory weekend festival (also organized by me)
Art Making: Tournament pennants — More SmartFab and back to fabric paint — we created jousting pennants inspired by the fabulous examples in the Pastrana Tapestries and the illustrations in both books.
Nov Story Trails handout copy

December: A Patient Brush
Book: Twenty Heartbeats by Dennis Haseley
Exhibition Connection: Perfect Imbalance: Exploring Chinese Aesthetics
Art Making: Chinese brush painting – We used rice paper (available at ACMoore or less expensively from Dick Blick), Chinese calligraphy brushes, and red and black watercolor paint, with examples from ‘how to’ books on traditional brush painting style.
Dec Story Trails handout copy

Twelve Days of Popcorn (Day 5): All the World’s a Stage

I’ll save my thoughts on the importance of an educator’s being a ham for another day, but for today I’d like to highlight the magic that is live theater, from playing ‘dress-up’ in your backyard to setting King Lear on the Moon (okay, that I’ve never seen, but wouldn’t you like to?).  Here’s a collection of fun and fascinating links for you on theater, puppetry, and the Bard:

Make Your Own:

Jim Henson on making Muppets from things you find around the house.

A lesson plan on making shadow puppets in the classroom.

A video tutorial on making joints for shadow puppets (which has proved very useful for Eye Spy art activities this year!)

A historical make-your-own: 19th century children’s paper theaters on exhibit at the Bruce Museum in Greenwich, CT.

Download a pdf of a paper theater to color and construct yourself from London's V&A. Click for link.

Or try a modern equivalent with one of Robert Sabuda’s Peepbox PopUps.

Make You Laugh:

‘Superclogger’ commits random acts of theater from the back of a truck on LA’s crowded freeways.

A Christmas Carol re-envisioned…in Klingon.  (You’ll never appreciate Dickens until you’ve read him in the original…)

Call for Submissions: A Steampunk Shakespeare Anthology (Maybe I’ll get that King Lear on the Moon after all…)

On the fifth day of popcorn, these ideas gave me glee: five puppet theaters, four juicy questions, three chugging trains, two coral reefs, and a pop-up folding snow-bedecked tree…

Twelve Days of Popcorn (Day 3): Trains

We set up the HO trains under the family Christmas tree this weekend, which is always fun and knocks about twenty years off my apparent age.   It’s amazing how enduring a fascination trains can hold, whether they’re models or massive machines, still or belching smoke and whistling like a time machine.  Trains even make good bait for getting a small child through an art museum (those luminists and Hudson River types often had creeping inroads of steam power in their paintings, after all, and you can enjoy the brushwork and color while the kiddo bounces around looking for train tunnels).

George Inness’ Lackawana Valley

So it was with great delight that I discovered OurStory, a website hosted by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.  The site is a family- and teacher- friendly resource for approaching history from the ‘story’ angle.  There is a searchable booklist, a great thematic list of activities to do at school or home, and one of their current features on the homepage is a downloadable packet of ideas and activities to explore the world of trains in your own backyard, from the local train station to the nearest rail museum.  (And even more book suggestions and activities on the thematic ‘trains’ page.)

One of NMAH's recommended reads

The NMAH has, of course, an impressive transportation collection of its own, but I love the fact that they’ve created resources which reflect the geographically wide-spread nature of visitors to a website.  “Can’t get to the NMAH?  Here’s how to find cool similar stuff near you.”  Fabulous.  Site specific materials can be fantastic, but accessibility is key.

Asher Durand, Progress (The Advance of Civilization), 1853

Cool and Creepy Archaeology in October

The month is almost over, but I can’t let it go completely by without tipping my hat to Massachusetts Archaeology Month.

Since life here at PEM has been very focused on the amazing Emperor’s Private Paradise exhibit, I have to admit I’ve been more tuned to archaeology stories from that corner of the world recently, including this incredibly cool discovery which may make people reevaluate historical trade routes: Could a Rusty Coin Re-Write Chinese-African History?

In celebration of which I give you Mint Your Own Coin from the American Museum of Natural History’s OLogy page, which also features fun interviews with archaeologists, make-your-own archaeological stationery, artifact features, and more.

If you’re looking for other online archaeology interactives, check out the extensive list at Fun Archaeology For Kids.  The list includes lots of different cultures and time periods, with a great many of the interactives created by museums and other reputable sources.

And now for the creepy. (It is, after all, the week before Halloween, and I’m not entirely immune to the Salem atmosphere.)

Royal blood may be hidden inside decorated gourd.  (eeurgh!)  An intricately decorated gourd bears traces of blood which may very well have come from a handkerchief soaked in the blood of the beheaded King Louis XVI of France.

Personally, I prefer my blood 100% Pure Fake, as in the book reviewed by exhibit interactive wizard Paul Orselli.  And if that’s not enough gross and gucky exploration for you, check out Wastewater: Sewage in your face! from the San Diego department of public works, which, among other more educationally rewarding activities, has recipes for making soda and cake that look like sludge.

All creeped out?  Build an Egyptian tomb, uncover a prehistoric burial, or just make a pasta skeleton, courtesy of artist Kathy Barbro, directions here (or click the picture).

Pasta skeleton designed and photographed by Kathy Barbro. Click for link.

Happy International Literacy Day

International Literacy Day, according to the calendar hanging in my office, was technically September 8th, but as I have been having inexplicable glitches attempting to access WordPress, I’m a little behind.  (But the Salem LitFest isn’t for another week, so I’m still in the running!)

Therefore, in the name of celebrating cool stuff, which today is reading (who am I kidding?  We celebrate reading all the time in my world), I bring you neat thoughts about literacy, and a handful of reading-related activities.

First of all, good news for those of us who have more books than shelves to put them on: Book owners have smarter kids from

And next, hear about how educators at the Eric Carle Museum focus on ‘reading the pictures’ in their storytimes as much as reading the words, improving comprehension and engaging kids and adults in the art of illustration: Noggin video

Looking for good books to read?  Ask your local librarian or check out some useful lists on Reading Rockets, helpfully organized by theme.

Also, don’t forget to check out the awesome interdisciplinary lesson plans available at the Kennedy Center’s ArtsEdge–many of them have literacy themes.  One of my favorites is the Adjective Monster, a ‘paper sculpture’ art and geometry project built around Go Away Big Green Monster by Ed Emberley.

Illustration from Wiesner's Flotsam

Inspired by the ‘reading pictures’ video?  Everyone loves a good wordless book, and David Wiesner has created several.  Try out this very cool classroom photography project featured in School Library Journal and inspired by Flotsam, with neat tie-ins to science and history.  Kudos to my Anonymous Tip-Master for pointing this one out! I love how crazy and beautiful his illustrations are, and part of a long tradition of fish-exaggerations.  In 1719, the first full-color illustrated book of fish was published, including several fish that were figments of the illustrator’s imagination!  (See The Fantasy Fish of Samuel Fallours for the scoop.)

For more science tie-ins, read Flotsam paired with Tracking Trash, a very cool book about ocean currents and the problem of the ocean as ‘plastic soup’ [National Geographic].  Sector 7 is also a personal favorite, and great for teaching story-boarding or introducing a unit on clouds.

And lest we think all literacy only has to do with kids old enough for words, a neat article about visual literacy that begins developing in infancy: Escher-Themed Nurseries?  Even 4 month olds can recognize impossible objects from Cognitive Daily.  (You thought I’d manage not to include a reference to Eye Spy in this post, didn’t you?  Tune in next time for more cool stuff to do with impossible objects and how to create your own scratch holograms!)

Twitter in the History Books

Last summer I wrote about how the Massachusetts Historical Society was using Twitter to re-broadcast the daily ‘tweets’ of John Quincy Adams.  (A project which is ongoing, by the way, and still fun to find out the daily activities of this long ago Bostonian and former US President.)  And in that post, I asked “What other historical figures would you love to see as a Twitterer or in some other modern guise?” (I’d love to hear the brain-poppings of Thomas Jefferson, JRR Tolkien, or Thomas Edison, to name just a few.  “Dang! Have now invented 64th way not to build lightbulb.  Must purchase more filament tomorrow.”)  The folks at the Paul Revere House have taken up the challenge  and tweet regularly as the Midnight Rider himself at @PaulRevere1734.  And for the ironic, sad, amusing, and historically inaccurate, check out Historical Tweets: @johannesG: Finally finished invention. Disappointed to learn that no one can read. (Johnnes Gutenberg, inventor of the Gutenberg Press)

However, it now turns out that future generations will be able to find out what was on the mind of folks around the world and up and down the spectrum of celebrity — from the online and backstage shenanigans of rock stars and actors to the mundane details of what you and I thought about the recent spate of natural and manmade disasters.  Late last week, The Washington Post reported that the Library of Congress is going to be archiving all of Twitter’s public tweets, on a six-month lag (to separate ‘history’ from ‘current events.’)  Though some people are naturally skeptical (and uninterested in what Al from Boise had for lunch when he visited San Francisco on a business trip), others point out that hearing people’s off-the-cuff responses, finding out what interests them at a particular time, or evidence of casual correspondence between public figures is a historical goldmine.

Also mentioned in the article is also the benefit to populist history: taking the archives and sifting through the hashtags, etc, future historians could in fact get a real picture* of societal values and interests in an increasingly fractured “information age.”  I once heard historian and author David McCullough speak, and was incredibly struck by his statement that though we live in an age which is ‘information rich,’ future historians could easily find it ‘information poor,’ especially if and when digital records are lost.  Who writes letters by hand?  Who keeps a steady handwritten journal?  he asked.  What possible tools will the future students of the past have to understand an age where newspapers begin to disappear and half our life is lived by email?  Though it does  not solve the digital-record-dilemma, perhaps the Library of Congress Twitter archive is one way to answer his–and history’s–concerns.

*And by “real,” the article and I would both like to point out, we mean “the sections of society which are aware of and interested in a communication medium like Twitter.”  All historical sources have their context and limitations, after all!

Plum Blossoms, Bamboo, and Pine Sprigs

Welcome in Lunar New Year with the spirit of friendship (as represented by the flower arrangement above) and with an arrangement of my own suggestions for cool resources and activities.

Lunar New Year

Lunar New Year Parade, Chinatown, New York City 2009, photo by ho_hokus

History and Culture

A brief but interesting collection of information on the New Year as celebrated in China, from the University of Victoria

A nice resizeable map of China, with or without more detailed information, from National Geographic

Asia-Art.Net, a collection of really beautiful examples from several cultures, organized by medium or by culture.


Why is it Lunar New Year?  Observing the Moon, from Science NetLinks

Arts and Crafts

Disney’s family activities offer up some fun and easy decorations for the holiday: a festive ribbon dragon, a beautiful lacy banner, and a good-luck goldfish.

The Smithsonian strikes again!  (I love these guys as much as I love National Geographic!) The Sackler and Freer Museums are home to the Smithsonian’s Asian collections, and they have both Chinese centric and Across Asia teacher resources as part of their larger set of Online Guides.

Theater and Music

Two fabulous resources from the Kennedy Center’s Artsedge:

Puppets on the Move: China and the Silk Road and

The Sounds of China Pod Page, with music to listen to and connected information and activities.


Also from the Kennedy Center, Chinese Calligraphy and Ink Painting

And finally, from Read-Write-Think, which is run by the National Council of Teachers of English, a very cool Fairy Tale Autobiographies lesson plan, which uses Chinese tales but could be adapted for pretty much any culture.

Not enough?  Then come celebrate with the Peabody Essex Museum, on Saturday February 27! (Chances are very good you’ll find me making paper lanterns in East India Marine Hall…)

More ‘Brain Art’

Susan Aldworth (British, b. 1955) Brainscape 18, 2006

Yes, there are more fun and fabulous examples of brain-inspired art coming to a Massachusetts museum! Landscapes of the Mind: Contemporary Artists Contemplate the Brain is running at the Williams College Museum of Art from January 30–May 2, 2010.  (See the full press release here.)  Being who I am, I’m particularly excited about their family day with student-led tours and art making activities in March, as well as intrigued by the fact that this exhibit, which is all about what is literally inside your head and therefore something we never see of ourselves, is tying in with the museum’s ‘year-long focus on art and landscape.’   I think there are a lot of fun parallels people could draw with other ways artists, writers, and scientists have imagined, described, and mapped what goes on in the brainscape.

Historically, for instance, there’s all the wackiness associated with phrenology, (very popular in Victorian times).  Art-historically there are those fabulous surrealists (or insert adjective of choice depending on your own opinion) like Salvador Dali.  Scientifically we have all those brain-mapping studies, and virtual reconstructions through forensic anthropology, and Einstein’s brain in a jar (more than one jar, apparently).

Persistence of Memory by Salvadore Dali

Persistence of Memory by Salvadore Dali

Back to Lunar New Year and other fun multicultural stuff in the next post, I promise!

Review: Emperor Qin’s Terracotta Warriors at National Geographic Hall

Disclaimer: I totally love National Geographic.  You, my astute readers, will have figured that out already.

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My family and I spent the long weekend in Washington DC, enjoying a little respite from New England snow, and taking in (as one does, when one lives in a museum-mad family and works in a museum) the cultural sights.  Though I’d love to give detailed reviews of everything (kudos to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, for instance, for a fascinating exhibit design in “State of Deception: Nazi Propaganda” which I wish I’d had more time to explore), I’m going to focus on the original impetus for the visit, which was National Geographic’s Terracotta Warriors: Guardian’s of China’s First Emperor.

Sadly, there were no pictures allowed inside the exhibition, so I have no photos of my own to share.  Fortunately, they bent the rules for their own bloggers, so there are some fabulous pictures of objects in the exhibition and at least some small sense of the layout available here.   One of the things I thought they did best in this exhibit was that each element was allowed its own space: the exhibit areas weren’t over crowded, which was important given how many people were trying to view them, and where two or three statues or other artifacts were placed together, it made sense and helped advance the ideas and context which the audioguide and interpretive panels were trying to convey.  It seems like a very basic and obvious thing to get right, but it’s noticeable in the traffic flow and the overall feeling and satisfaction of the visit if artworks or other objects are placed awkwardly.

There was a lot of overlap between the text panels and the audioguide, but enough difference that for the slow-paced intent studier like myself, it was worth listening and reading both.  I appreciated the context provided regarding the period especially immediately before the rise of Emperor Qin, but thought (as I have thought about many exhibitions before, including the MFA’s Tomb 10A exhibit) that it would have benefited from a timeline somewhere early in the exhibit, possibly also including reference points to western/European events of the same time period, to provide that extra hook for those of us who had largely Eurocentric history educations. (For the record, NG does apparently have a video segment not featured in the exhibit anywhere which mentions a little of what was going on in Rome at the same time period, which I’ve embedded below.)

Overall, however, I loved it.  I thought it was fascinating, the figures themselves were stunning displays of individuality and craftsmanship and technique, and the overwhelming impression that I left with was one of a man who commanded immense power and influence, and who, like many strong rulers in other cultures, created an infrastructure that allowed the arts to flourish.  Very cool.

(Video: A reconstructed flyover of what they think the complex around Emperor Qin’s burial mound would have looked like.)

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More fun Chinese themed posts to come as we approach Lunar New Year, but for now I leave you with the events listing for Lunar New Year at the Peabody Essex Museum, which promises to be a huge amount of fun.