This Week in History

Happy Birthday Papa!

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No, it’s not my Dad’s birthday. That was a couple of weeks ago, and I sent him a card that cracked a joke about him being old. Rather, today is Papa’s birthday: the legendary Ernest Hemingway was born July 21, 1899. If he were alive today, he would be 101 111 and way more deserving of an “old guy” joke than my dad.

Hemingway is a fascinating man. Bullfighting aficionado, Nobel Prize winner, deep sea fisherman, war correspondent, world traveler and, of course, writer are just a sampling of the activities he undertook in his full life. Hemingway was a complicated man. Opinionated, irascible, prone to wanderlust, passionate and narcissistic are some of the characteristics that made him a man with many friends, many enemies and many wives. Reading his life story is arguably more captivating than some of his books, although they are pretty good too.

That said, here are some museum-related ways you can celebrate Papa’s birthday…

  • Hemingway was born and raised in Oak Park, Illinois. He was an energetic, active and popular student at Oak Park River Forest High School (just a few blocks from my own high school alma mater). Swing by the Hemingway Museum and Birthplace on Oak Park Avenue for an illuminating look at the childhood years of this larger than life man, then I would highly recommend grabbing an Oberweis milkshake just two blocks south of the museum.
  • Key West was home to Hemingway for over 10 years. A Farewell to Arms was written during his tenure here and his island friends make appearances in To Have and Have Not. Sloppy Joe’s bar is an essential stop on your Hemingway Key West itinerary, but even more important is Papa’s house on Whitehead Street. Take a tour of the home and marvel at the six-toed cats that roam the property.
  • Havana, Cuba was one of the many places that Hemingway called home. Check out his favorite room at the Hotel Ambos Mundos, where he wrote For Whom the Bell Tolls and which is preserved as a museum. Just outside of town is Papa’s homestead Finca Vigia, also a museum and the writing venue for such works as The Old Man and the Sea, A Moveable Feast and Islands in the Stream.
  • Bullfighting was one thing Hemingway was particularly passionate about. He encountered the sport during his travels to Spain. Want to check it out for yourself? Head to the Bullfighting Museum of the Royal Cavalry Order of Ronda or Madrid’s Museo Taurino.
  • Want to see Hemingway’s Paris? Then take a stroll along the Left Bank of the Seine, stop in St. Germain, visit Montparnasse, drink at Harry’s New York Bar near the Opera, and consider countless other hangouts reminiscent of Paris between the wars.

And, if you find yourself unable to pay a visit to any of these Hemingway haunts, you can always just head down to your local bar. Drinking was possibly Papa’s favorite pastime. However, heed the man’s advice: “Always do sober what you said you’d do drunk. That will teach you to keep your mouth shut.” What can we say? The man had a way with words.

News, The Digital Museum

Kids Say the Darndest Things

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Just because I haven’t been around for a while (almost two months!), doesn’t mean that there haven’t been interesting things happening in the museum world…

  • The art community finally, unanimously, agrees on something: they hate Bravo’s Work of Art.
  • James Franco continues his omnipresence. Holding his own gallery show in NYC and bringing General Hospital to L.A.’s MOCA.
  • The security system was “outfoxed” at Paris’ Musee d’Art Moderne, where theives stole five paintings worth millions, including a Picasso and a Matisse.
  • Protests over BP sponsorships have popped up at several museums: including Tate Britain.
  • Caravaggio’s bones may have been found.
  • The new owners of Polaroid donated 10,000 company artifacts to the MIT Museum. And Lady Gaga (the company’s new creative director) showed up to have her picture taken.

While all of these are cool/interesting happenings, there is one museum-related occurrence that really caught my eye. I find it so interesting, because even though it occurs outside of a museum’s walls, it is, at its heart, exactly what museums are about: visitors and their interaction with the collection. What is it? It is the new Overheard at AIC Twitter feed.

Some Art Institute of Chicago interns have gotten together to operate a Twitter account that posts random gems they overheard from museum visitors.  Some of these quotes include:

  • “The museum collects lots of interesting objects from around the world. What things do you collect.” A 6-year-old replies: “I collect money!”
  • Me: “This story took place during the Medieval time period, does anyone know about Medieval times?” 10-year-old girl: “I’ve been there!”
  • “Is this supposed to be amazing? Because this is NOT amazing.” -Boy to his mom during an AIC event.
  • “You know what artists make?” 1st grader: “Boobies!”
  • “If I could marry this museum, I would!” -2nd grader.

They have only been tweeting since June 30th, so I am interested to follow along and see how the account grows. And, between tweets, you can check out their blog for a more in-depth look at the behind-the-scenes intern experience.

What awesome things have you overheard people saying in museums?