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The 2nd Annual Museumist Gift Guide and Museum Holiday Roundup


That’s right, it’s the Holiday Season, and we’re ready to celebrate. Over the next month, we’ll be featuring gift ideas for the museum lover on your list as well as glimpses at how museums around the world ring in the holidays.

Growing up in Chicago, nothing seemed to signify that Christmas was on its way more than the wreathing of the lions at the Art Institute. The proud lion statues just look so smashing in their snow-dusted winter finery. Typically, the neck decoration of choice has been your run-of-the-mill green wreath with red bow, however, in 2009, the Art Institute made a little change. Yves Behar was asked to design the 2009 wreaths, and, while the result was a break with tradition, the red and yellow leafy wreaths were still in keeping with the spirit of the ceremony.


Thanks to the success of last year’s design, the Art Institute have commissioned this winter’s wreath from the Chicago-based artistic team of Stephanie and Bruce Tharp. To create their wreath, the Tharps had area school children write down their wishes for 2011. Then, they put those wishes inside 2,011 orbs of varying shades of red, which would eventually be assembled into a wreath that combined “the traditional American cranberry wreath with the idea of a wishing tree.” The result looks pretty nice.

The wishes included in the wreath range from the thoughtful…

  • “Love. For everyone to love more than they hate.”
  • “A cure for cancer.”
  • “To stop global warming! I love penguins!”

…to those that tackle life’s most-pressing issues…

  • “I wish there was an 8th Harry Potter.”
  • “I hope we make flying cats.”
  • “For to have lots of lolly pops.”

What is your wish for 2011?


Mysteries at the Museum


There is this book called Behind the Scenes at the Museum. It’s written by one of my favorite authors, Kate Atkinson; and while it is a great read, this story is not what I wanted it to be about when I first saw the title: mainly, a tale of intrigue at a world-famous museum.

So, imagine my excitement when I stumbled across the Travel Channel’s new show, Mysteries at the Museum. A whole series about mysteries at real life museums! How grand! Here’s the show’s premise:

“Museums are where America displays its wondrous treasures of the past – often strange and curious remnants of the momentous events that have shaped our history. Behind each artifact is yet another story to be told and secrets to be revealed – tales brimming with scandal, mystery, murder and intrigue. Whether a diary from an Arctic exploration, a stone giant thought to be the remnant of a race of enormous people, or a futuristic house that almost changed the world, iconic museum artifacts help us uncover who we are and what we’ve become.”

There have only been three episodes so far, but they sure have covered a lot of ground. They’ve been to famous Alcatraz in the sharky waters of San Francisco Bay and the pretty sweet National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, Ohio. They’ve investigated Seattle’s Avalanche Train, gone behind the scenes at the National Museum of Dentistry in Baltimore, and explored the unknown in Roswell, New Mexico. The Harvard Museum of Natural History‘s mastodon even made an appearance.

Mysteries at the Museum is a show worth watching for a number of reasons:

  1. It’s a chance to learn about the backstory of museum artifacts (famous and non) beyond what’s available on a museum placard.
  2. It’s an opportunity to meet the people who work at museums – curators, archaeologists, scientists, historians, etc. – and to see the passion that goes into preserving and presenting artifacts.
  3. It’s a great way to visit museums all across the country without putting a serious dent in your pocketbook and dealing with jet lag. (Downside: no frequent flier miles for you).
  4. Mysteries are exciting, of course.

However, if you aren’t willing to pass up a Dancing with the Stars results show or can’t miss sweating it out with the Biggest Loser (both shows air on Tuesdays at 9 Eastern, just like Mysteries), you can always catch a rerun. Or, visit Travel Channel’s website for clips from past episodes, slideshows like “Top 10 Museum Mysteries” and “Must See Museums,” opportunities to plan your own museum travel itinerary, or leave a comment about your favorite museum experience.


Up Stairs, Down Stairs

Photo by wmliu.

Photo by wmliu.

The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, otherwise known as the Musee des Beaux-Arts de Montreal, is a lovely museum. It houses an impressive collection of over 35,000 objects (including a rather wonderful replica of the Duomo in Florence) and is the site of one of the largest art thefts in Canada (it has gone unsolved for almost 40 years). But, it is not the artwork (although Tissot’s October was particularly eye-catching) nor any of the museum’s buildings (which include a Maxwell brothers-designed Beaux-Arts structure and it’s distinctly more modern neighbor across the street) that made the largest impression on me this past weekend. Rather, it was the stairs of the Desmarais Pavilion that left me mesmerized and a little bit dizzy.


These stairs have very little incline between them, and their spacing forces you to solve a real life logic puzzle. Essentially, what is the most efficient method of ascending this staircase? Stepping on each step would feel like a lifetime, not to mention throw off your gait. I eventually settled for the two steps at a time approach on the way up, which was a feat given my short legs. The descent, however, required a change in strategy: one stair, two stairs, one stair, two stairs, etc. I have never been so engrossed by a set of stairs with the exception of the ones at the Science Museum in St. Paul, Minnesota, where your feet tap out a little melody of sounds as you climb up and down.

Have you ever been to a museum where an architectural feature really impacted your visit (in a positive or negative way)?   


Body Image


In a bright little gallery (the Firehouse Gallery) in one of my favorite little towns (Burlington, VT), lies an exhibit called Homunculus. The artist, Steven Budington, is a professor at the University of Vermont, and his works were explorations of the deconstructed human form. Or as the Firehouse Gallery’s website explains:

“In Steve Budington’s Homunculus, human bodies unravel, fly apart, and merge with prosthetic technology. Budington’s new body of work takes as its point of departure the neuroscientific concept of the “cortical homunculus”: a remapped image of the human form that scales body parts in relation to the degree of sensory input present in each area.”

Budington’s work showed some real talent: like his bold colors and great use of texture. Nevertheless, some items in the show seemed like they went instantly to the lowest common denominator of provocation. Not sure what I mean? Well, be careful not to step on the pile of sperm in the back room.

On the whole – sperm pile or no – I liked the show and Budington’s work. I’ll definitely be back to the Firehouse Gallery next time I swing through Burlington.