Thursday, May 30, 2013

The John Wesley Powell Museum

On the third day of our trip to the Southwest, we stopped in Page, Arizona on the way to Zion National Park. Page, Arizona is a town that is beautifully situated surrounded by canyons and near Lake Powell. This lake was named after John Wesley Powell and in town stands a museum that is dedicated to sharing the mission and work of John Wesley Powell, a man who led expeditions down the Colorado River studying plant and animal life and geology during the expeditions.

The Powell Museum is quaint and homey with many interesting artifacts from the area and relating to expeditions of the Colorado River. The exhibits in the museum are about the history of the Colorado River expeditions, geology and paleontology of the area, history of the native peoples of the area and also the history of Page, Arizona.

Our visit to The Powell Museum was brief, but very interesting. I went with the first group and we were taken on a tour of the museum. A volunteer led our group backwards through the museum so that the other half of our group could start at the front. The volunteer was obviously very passionate about the museum and enthusiastic about sharing the artifacts in the museum with us. He also shared some more personal information, including information about why he volunteers and how he used to work at the museum. Our tour guide explained to us that we were going backwards through the museum and that the exhibits might seem random. In the end, I think most of our group agreed with him.

We started in the City of Page exhibit, which mostly included black and white pictures of the growth of the city. Our guide explained that since the city of Page helps fund the museum, they had to have an exhibit about the city and the history of it. From there we went into an exhibit about the paleontology in the area. There were rock slabs with dinosaur tracks in them and bones of ancient reptiles throughout the room. Our guide was extremely enthusiastic about this room and it was clear how interested he was in paleontology. He even explained how he helped discover one of the sets of tracks and that dinosaur tracks could be found anywhere around the city of Page. The next exhibit was a Navajo weaving exhibit that included some of the more beautiful examples of Navajo weaving that we saw our entire trip. Our guide was able to show us Navajo symbols in the weaving that really brought the art to life.

Outside of this exhibit was an area of the museum dedicated to the Anasazi people that used to inhabit the region. A cool interactive here allowed people to use tools that these people would have used to grind corn. Our group ended up spending a lot of time at this interactive, experiencing just how difficult it was for these people to survive. After this exhibit was some examples of geology from the area, which seemed almost like it was randomly added to the museum. From there we continued to the exhibit about expeditions down the colorado which was very interesting. Our tour ended at two old dioramas about expeditions on the Colorado river. Having a guide here was helpful because he was able to explain how the dioramas themselves are historic.

Overall, my experience in The John Wesley Powell Museum was very interesting. There was a lot of very interesting information and artifacts in this small museum. Our guide was very helpful in connecting us to the museum and explaining the mission of The Powell Museum. I think that the museum needed more of a flow between exhibits in order to pull all of the information together. Even though our visit was brief, we were able to learn a lot about the Colorado Plateau and the history of the area by visiting The Powell Museum.

                                                                                                City of Page exhibit.
                                                                               Examples of Navajo weaving.
                                                                Examples of dinosaur bones in The Powell Museum.
                                                                                            Geology exhibit.
                                                                Boat from an early expedition down the Colorado River.
                                                                                         Colorado expeditions exhibit.
                                                                        One of the two historic dioramas in the museum.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Musical Instrument Museum

I was really excited to visit the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix. I had some familiarity with the museum because of virtually visiting the museum in Intro to Museum Studies last year. I was aware of the technology that allows visitors to hear a selection of instruments on display before attending the museum. However, physically attending the museum was a much different experience. Visitors are immediately greeted with an interactive wall-display comprised of videos of individuals around the world playing music. The center of the display showcases the words: “music is the language of the soul.” After a staff member distributed and explained the guidePort technology, all of us had the opportunity to view an introductory video. This video clearly explained the mission of the Musical Instrument Museum.

The video commented on the diversity of music. Music, the video stated, knows “neither gender nor creed.” Music, through an array of different instruments, has the ability to express ideas that can be understood by individuals all around the world. The video also explained that by studying music, one can also develop an understanding and appreciation of different cultures. I thought that the video did a very good job at explaining the need for a musical instrument museum. Going through the museum was not simply to learn about different instruments, but to develop a grasp of other individuals. By doing so, an individual who spoke any language would be able to connect with another culture.

The upper level of the museum was arranged geographically. The floor was separated into ten separate galleries: Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia, South Asia, East Asia, Southeast Asia, Oceania, Latin America, Europe, and the United States/Canada.  Additionally, there were some special displays on the upper level. American manufacturers such as Steinway & Sons, C.F. Martin & Co., D’Addario & Co., and Fender had their own dedicated displays. In each gallery, a country would have its own designated section. Each section had at least one video display which was connected to the guidePort system. The viewer would be able to listen to several video-audio selections for each country. Additional signage and artifacts would discuss topics such as the construction of the instruments, what the instruments were used for, and other cultural information. I really liked that MIM included these video displays. Looking at the actual instruments and reading about their names, materials, and uses was interesting. But often times, I would be unsure about how the instrument would be played. Seeing native peoples interact with the instruments was invaluable; viewers were able to see the instruments in their natural environment.

Some countries had larger exhibit areas than others. For example, Turkey, the Congo, and China had extended exhibit spaces where larger cultural themes and multiple styles of music could be discussed. I’m interested in how exactly these larger exhibit displays are assigned. Were these countries allotted larger spaces due to the amount of instruments the museum had in their collections? Did these exhibits rotate? Or were these the only countries that would have a larger display? Having these larger displays was nice because it allowed the visitor a clearer picture of the musical and cultural reality. However, I would want these displays to rotate. By not rotating, the museum would almost be sending a message of favoritism. The point of the museum is for viewers to appreciate music and culture from around the world. This would only be accomplished if attention was given equally to all of the countries. Obviously, this would be constricted by the collections of the museum.

Overall, I enjoyed my experience at the MIM. I liked the inclusion of video and was surprised by how much cultural information was offered. I liked the diversity amongst the visitors at the museum; I remember hearing at least three different languages. Additionally, I was surprised by how many people were at the museum. The museum was pretty crowded for it being a Sunday right before closing. However, I see the appeal of the museum. Language is not a barrier in the museum; while the text on the display panels might be in English, anyone can understand the music. I also really enjoyed the other galleries that the museum had to offer. The Artist Gallery and the Experience Gallery were probably my favorites. The Artist Gallery was great because it highlighted artists from around the world. Usually, these galleries included clothing or props from past performances. The Experience Gallery was great because after seeing the different instruments around the world, I actually had the opportunity to play some of these. I additionally enjoyed that the Conservation Lab was on display. Visitors could see new additions to the collections and view the process that the conservators took to ensure the protection of objects.

The Musical Instrument Museum, while great, was overwhelming at times. The staff at the front desk actually suggested a few days to see the entire museum. The museum’s collections are expansive; most of these instruments were found in the United States/Canada gallery. After going through the Middle East and Africa galleries, there was a small alcove with seating to “take a break.” I wish that the museum had more of these seating areas where visitors could reflect on the information they saw before diving into the next gallery. After going through a few geographic galleries, I stopped reading every plaque and listening to every video because I simply did not have time and was just tired of reading. Since there was so much information, it was really up to the visitor to decide what they would spend their time on.

The conversation at Arizona State University following our visit to the MIM additionally brought up a point that I had not considered during the actual visit. The mission of the MIM is to unite individuals around the world through music. However, the MIM did not have a world music section. By sorting the instruments by country, the MIM, in a way, actually does the opposite of their mission statement. Sorting the instruments in the way that they did reinforces geographic boundaries. The MIM could have chosen to sort the instruments by type or material, which might have reinforced their mission more effectively.

Entrance to the museum.

Portion of larger Turkey exhibit.

Playing in the Experience Gallery.

Example of section within Geographic Galleries.

Within the Artist Gallery.

Conservation Lab view.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Grand Canyon National Park

            We spent most of the day driving West from Zion National Park over a sparse, arid desert with canyons chiseled deep into the sandstone by perennial streams and powerful rivers. From lush cottonwoods of Zion to the harsh sands of the desert, we then ascended into a dense alpine forest, pockmarked by sections of burnt out pines, the remnants of wildfires decades ago. The sky became overcast and the air grew colder and windier as we drove higher and higher into the forest. We see signs for the Grand Canyon National Park.
            After a brief stop at Jacob Lake, we continue on and presently arrive to the ranger station marking the boundary of the park. Before long, we come upon the metallic campgrounds- RVs lined up under towering pines. Shortly after, we come to the hotels and restaurants, such as the famous Grand Canyon lodge- built on the very edge of the canyon itself. We spent a few hours on the North Rim- posing for photos as a group on Bright Angel point, then poking around the visitor center and the surrounding trails. Later, we ate at the very precipice of the canyon, served by smiling, kindly servers in starched white shirts and bowties.
            The purpose of National Parks is to preserve areas of wilderness, and to protect them. To this end, the Park Service bulldozes the forest to make way for roads, hotels, and other niceties of civilization. It seems curious that the further we drove into the Grand Canyon National Park- the more civilization (the polar opposite of wilderness) we found. To provide for the enjoyment of the tourists, food, lodging and souvenirs are sold at exorbitant prices- a necessary cost considering the view that is included with dinner. Location, location, location. An anathema of real estate, considering that the very agency set up to protect this place- considered sacred by the Hopi- is profiting from it.
            Almost half a century ago, Edward Abbey warned against the development of National Parks. Working at Arches National Monument, he saw the surveyors come in- staking out where the road would be built (he pulled up their stakes). Years later, after the road had been built, he noted the dismal conditions it brought with it- how far that new reality had become removed by progress from the wilderness. Keep the wilderness wild, he said. No new roads. No automobiles in the parks. Let the park rangers be park rangers instead of countermen and women “quietly going nuts answering the same three questions: 1) Where’s the john? 2) How long does it take to see this place? 3) Where is the coke machine?.”
            He urged tourists to climb out of their “metal sarcophaguses” so that we could actually see and experience the wildness- something that he argued is incompatible with traveling in a motor vehicle. “There is no compelling why tourists need to drive their automobiles to the brink of the Grand Canyon,” he argued. Civilization and the progress it brings on paved roads are indeed incompatible with the wilderness.  The Grand Canyon “experience” is not centered on the wilderness, but on cultural artifacts such as group photos or self portraits on Bright Angel point, and dayhikes. Hikes have taken on a cultural meaning. They are no longer a means by which we can commune with the wilderness, but a means by which we can accomplish an arduous piece of trail to add to our repertories of conversation pieces.
            When the thunder sounds and the rains come- the dayhikers scurry for the shelter of the lodges and restaurants or for their metallic shells on wheels.  Maybe one day an earthquake will shake the whole mess into the canyon (when no one is there), making a great improvement to the area. Perhaps then, cleansed of the trappings of civilization, we will see the canyon as holy, just as the Hopi do. 

Friday, May 24, 2013

Busy, Busy, Busy

Group shot after visiting the Heard Museum.

It has been a very busy 10 days since the last post.  Long days and lack of consistent internet access have conspired to make updating the blog a bit challenging.  Now that we're in Albuquerque it is a bit easier to do so.
Since the beginning of the trip we've traveled 1,800 miles in the vans, gone from an elevation of 4,000 feet (in Albuquerque) to 8,890 (Grand Canyon) to 1,500 (Phoenix) and this evening about 10,000+ (Sandia Peak).
We've visited the following museums and national parks/monuments: Bradbury Science Museum, Bandelier, John Wesley Powell Museum, Zion National Park, Zion Human History Museum, Pipe Springs National Monument, Grand Canyon, Navajo Bridge, Montezuma's Castle National Monument, Scottsdale Contemporary Art Museum, Musical Instrument Museum, Heard Museum, ASU Museum, Desert Botanical Garden, Petrified National Forest, El Malpais National Monument, New Mexico Museum of Natural History, Albuquerque Botanical Garden, Albuquerque Aquarium, Petroglyph National Monument, and the International Hot Air Balloon Museum (today we round it out with the Rattlesnake Museum, Maxwell Museum of Anthropology, and the New Mexico Ski Museum).
All in all, we are tired but happy.

All of our pictures will be posted to this Facebook page:

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Los Alamos, Bandelier National Monument, and the road to Farmington

Bandelier - Quiet and nice.

Long 12-hour day.  Left Santa Fe at 9am; arrived Farmington at 9pm.  But, a good day.  We had a great time at the Bradbury Science Museum in Los Alamos where the kind staff allowed us to lunch in their 'tech room' and engaged the group in an hour-long discussion.  Then on to Bandelier National Monument for some up-close examination of cliff dwellings from 1150-1550AD.  And finally a good drive to Farmington through (not so populated) northwest New Mexico.
Group shot with some Bradbury Museum staff after lunch.

Descending the ladders from the Alcove Dwelling in Bandelier

Roadside dinner.

Trying out bioelectricity

Some of the students seeing how well they conduct electricity. At Bradbury Science Museum.

Monday, May 13, 2013

1st Day - Pizza in Santa Fe

We've arrive safely.  A little hairy getting through security, but everyone made it.  Saw a good portion of the country by air (due to a connecting stop in Orlando).  Two vans from Rent-a-Wreck, 45 minutes to Santa Fe, and then food!  Thanks to Joanna and Josh (with an assist from Clare and Hatch) for hosting us.

Somehow we got the whole plane to ourselves.

Pizza circle.

Pizza thief (aka Hatch)

Sunday, May 12, 2013

24 Hours to Go

In 24 hours the group will be gathering at BWI to start our trip.  Our itinerary is below.