Category Archives: Museums

Dublin, Ireland

The church across from my hotel

Way back in September, about two weeks after my trip to Kamloops, British Columbia, I flew to Dublin, the capital of Ireland. My ethnic background includes Irish and I had never been to Ireland. I got a good price on a ticket, so off I went. I got into the city really early in the morning. My room, unsurprisingly, was not ready, so I stored my luggage and went to walk around O’Connell Street. (My hotel was right off it.)

Across from the Post Office, there were tour groups led by locals. They were free, so I decided to do a little sightseeing to kill some time. Little did I know that the tour would wind all around Central Dublin and last close to three hours. The tour did not go into the Trinity College grounds because Trinity College wanted a cut of the profits. No charging fees equals no profits, so the locals leading tours were banned from the campus. There was still a lot to see.

We made our way down to the River Liffey. There we got an overview of the city. Dublin is very diverse, with ethnic groups from all over the world. One of the recent immigrants were the Brazilians who, we were told, fit into the city quite well. We were told about Daniel O’Connell and his contribution to the Irish nation. It was he who pushed to have the anti-Catholic laws that had been enacted repealed. (Every time I would pass this statue, there was a bird on top of his head.) We walked over the O’Connell bridge and towards Trinity College, turning away from the campus. We were shown the Parliament Building. Dublin, after London, was the most important city in the British Empire. It was granted its own parliament, which was later rescinded after an attempt at independence failed. The Bank of Ireland is now in the building.

After a stop in the Temple Bar district, which is very popular with tourists and the young Irish, we walked over to Dublin Castle, which doesn’t look like a traditional castle, except it does have a keep. This is where offices of the government are, with a chapel next to the keep and the State Apartments behind it. The tour ended in Dubh Linn Garden, where there was much talk and picture-taking of the castle. I tipped my tour guide.

I went onto the Trinity College campus, mainly to see the Book of Kells, which has several parts. I was disappointed with what I saw. For the price of admission (which was high), I was not impressed. First off, there was not much to see. They had a huge exhibit about the Book and the different illustrations, but when I finally got to see two pages of the Book, there were a lot of tourists around it. How about displaying several pages? I left and wandered around the campus, enjoying the academic vibe. I went into the Old Library to look around. There was a harp that has been called Brian Boru’s, but it is from the late Middle Ages. However, it is the oldest Irish harp in existence. From here I went to The Perch, a small cafe on the campus that has an owl on the sign. I had something before I left the campus.

From Trinity, I walked over to Merrion Square, which I found enchanting. It has some wild overgrown parts, but the lawn was well-manicured. I had an ice cream (real cream!) while walking around there. I came across a pyramid. Intrigued, I went and looked in one of the four windows that stretch the entire pyramid. Inside I could see four figures standing around a flame. Here this is Defense Forces Monument to those who made the ultimate sacrifice for the state. There used to be an eternal flame in Madison Square Park in New York City. There used to be a plaque explaining that it was in memory of those who died in World War I. Then they turned it into a flag post, and now I don’t think that the plaque is even visible since the park entrance it was near has been reconfigured. This isn’t the first time World War I monuments have been conveniently forgotten or destroyed. It has quickly become a forgotten war. Anyway, I found the Irish monument to be quite nice–not monumental, yet elegant in its simplicity–and I like an eternal flame that is lighted.

My stop at Merrion Square was on my way to the Archaeological Museum. I had heard good things about the museum (thanks to Rick Steves’ Dublin travel book), so I spent quite a bit of time wandering around the exhibits. The grave reminded me of one in the Corinth Archaeological Museum, which is also under glass. The silver chalice was beautiful. They had several bog bodies on display in special round rooms. They were, of course, protected by glass and these areas were temperature-controlled. They were amazing, but I wasn’t sure that I could take a picture of a bog body.

Nkisi figure, Angola

There was an exhibit on an Irish explorer who traveled through Africa and South America. Roger Casement discovered how King Leopold was mistreating the natives in the Belgian Congo and brought it to the attention of the world, which created a scandal and helped bring changes. He was also a naturalist and collected many different things on his trips. One statue is a power (Nkisi) figure from Angola. According to the display, it was created by a Senhor Oliviera. The ritual specialists (nganga) used the Nkisi to focus spiritual power. They would put things in his stomach compartment depending on the need of the client. It would then be given to the client, who would then activate the Nkisi in different ways, one being by blowing smoke over it. The mirror covering the stomach was symbolic of the boundaries between the natural and the supernatural, and the living and the dead. When I took the picture, I was a bit creeped out. It still unsettles me when I look at it.

Next I visited the Chester Beatty Library. Chester Beatty was a rich American who left his entire collection to Ireland if they would give him a state funeral. Well, Ireland complied and got the rich man’s collection. There was a East Asian book exposition going on, and I took quite a few pictures. These were not the traditional books that we are used to. These books came in all shapes and sizes.

There were so many books with so many beautiful colors. A Nara ebon could either be a regular manuscript or a scroll. I got excited when I saw a Nara ebon with a painting on silk of Prince Shotoku. Shotoku was the Regent of Japan for Empress Suiko (reigned 593-628) and had an influence on the development of Buddhism in Japan. I remember him from my Japanese history class.

The final books were of Christian Ethiopia. The Praises of Mary was interesting, with the annunciation, Mary posing with Jesus and Joseph, and Mary standing at the foot of Jacob’s ladder. I liked The Gospel of Matthew, though. The image of Jesus asleep in the boat as the boat rocks and dips because of the rough waves and blowing wind was really nice. I enjoyed my time at the Chester Beatty Library.

I had to take public transportation to get to St. Michan’s Church. Built on a Hiberno-Norse site, St. Michan’s was the only church built above the River Liffey for over 500 years. It is a parish of the Church of Ireland, which is part of the Anglican Communion. It was a nice little church, but what I came to see were the mummified bodies in the crypt below. Supposedly, the temperature and environment are perfect for preserving bodies. There are bodies 800 years old in the crypt.

You are not allowed to take pictures of them, so I took a picture of the postcard I bought at the church and the program I was given. There is still one crypt still in use by parish members. The most interesting one of all was the one called “The Crusader.” This man was 6′ 5″ tall. He must have towered over the people around him. He was so tall that he would not fit into his coffin, so his legs were broken. Whether or not he was really a crusader can be debated; his name is not known, nor is his family.

I went to the Irish Museum of Modern Art while I was trying to kill time. I had gone to the Kilmainham Gaol to see if I could book a tour. Unfortunately, all the tours were booked except the last one. So after going around the museum (they let me take a tour of this before going to the gaol because it would already be closed after the tour), I walked over to the museum. The grounds are huge and beautiful. There were people playing with their dogs and just enjoying being outdoors. There are artists’ exhibits that you can see, but this is only a small part of the museum. I accidentally wandered into an area where you only had access if you bought a ticket. Needless to say, I didn’t bother. I really don’t like most modern art. I have a standard that I always apply to art. It is quite simple: if I can do it, then it isn’t art. What I saw did not impress me. To top it off, I LOST MY TICKET TO THE GAOL, so I was never able to take the tour of the place, which really disappointed me. A friend told me that I had to see it because of its significance to Irish history.

The rest of my trip will be in my next posting, because although it was part of my trip to Dublin, it was well outside of Dublin and the Republic of Ireland.

 

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Christmas at the Historical Society

2016-12-22-002I can’t take any real credit for decorating the Historical Society. I did do some additional touches, but the majority of the work had been done in the weeks before by other volunteers. They did a great job in getting the place ready for the holidays.

The recent gift of a rope bed became the centerpiece of a festive display. Rope beds were what they are called. Instead of boxe springs or a mattress, which is what are modern beds are made of, a rope bed was a bed frame with rope being used to create a web in the frame for someone to lay upon. It is possible that some type of mattress would be put on top of the ropes, but in this case the mannequins were placed on the ropes.

The rope bed was a central piece in ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas display. Two adult mannequins were dressed for “a long winter’s nap,” 2016-12-22-001except the children were up and standing next to their parents’ bed. The baby was asleep in the cradle. A corner of the bed covers were pulled back so visitors could see how the ropes were strung to create a surface. I do wonder how comfortable the bed would be. While in Scotland, I slept in a twin rope bed that did have a mattress on it. As I remember, it wasn’t that comfortable. I didn’t sleep well in the bed.

In one of the front rooms is a display to Virginia O’Hanlon, the little girl who wrote to Francis P. Church, the editor of the New York Sun, one of the prominent newspapers of the city at the end of the nineteenth century. The eight-year-old wanted to know if there 2016-12-22-013was a Santa Claus. Church’s famous editorial defending the existence of Santa Claus is known throughout the world. The display also included a copy of Church’s reply.

Following are some images from the society. I wanted to get these posted before the year ended and the holiday season fades from memory.

2016-12-22-003Oh, the photo here is of what has become known as the “Evil Clown.” There’s a debate among the volunteers of whether or not this toy is scary-looking. I think that everyone would agree that no one would give such a painted toy to a child of today. At some point in the distant past, this toy must have been beloved by some child. Nonetheless, by today’s standards this clown has scary-looking features. What do you think?

 

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City Museum Purchase

I went to the Museum of the City of New York a few weeks ago with a friend.

The building is beautiful. I remember that there was some talk of moving the museum down to Tweed Hall, but it did not happen. There were a lot of school kids there when we visited early in the morning right after the place opened.  I didn’t get to see the first floor, which is now the permanent exhibit on the history of the city, since this is where the kids spent all of their time. Instead, we stayed upstairs and visited the traveling exhibits. One thing that differentiates the City Museum from the rest is that there is not a lot of realia, i.e. objects, on display. Instead, what is displayed are exhibits with models and photographs. For example, the way skyscrapers are built to allow light to reach the street, which was the exhibit on zoning laws. Models, photos, and lots of text. Though I found it interesting, I really like objects, which I love to photograph.

One object that is a recent acquisition of the museum is on the first floor, and that was a deck chair reputedly from the Titanic. It was in its own display in the recent acquisitions area. It looks like its seen better days. Then again, it is well over 100 years old. Since these chairs floated in the water, people clung to them after the ship sank. However, most died not from drowning but from hypothermia, as the water was well below freezing.

Did someone try and cling to this chair, only to lose his/her life?

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Pergamum Exhibit at the Met

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A bronze shield from Pontos, 185-160 BC

Though it closed at the beginning of July, I was able to see the Pergamum exhibit over the Independence Day weekend. I went on a Friday night, rightly assuming that the crowds which make the Met so hard to explore would be out of town. Most of those in the museum were the clueless tourists, most of whom got in the way, talked loudly, and flew through the exhibit probably because they had no idea what they were looking at. Fine by me.

An "old friend" from Athens

An “old friend” from Athens

The Met gathered antiquities from across the world to create the exhibition, Pergamon and the Hellenistic Kingdoms of the Ancient World. I was surprised and pleased to see some “old friends” from the Antikytheria Shipwreck exhibit (and redux) that the National Archaeological Museum in Athens had held in 2013. I took a few pictures, but I already have photos of the pieces.

I took 184 photographs, some of which I later deleted (bad photos, duplicate photos, etc.). I just managed to get through the exhibit right before the museum closed at 9. I bought the exhibition catalog–hardback. I usually buy the paperback copy because it is cheaper (and sometimes I wait for a few months and hope that the catalog is put on clearance, which sometimes happens if any are left over), but I was told that too many people complained that the paperback copies fall apart. Now the Met only prints its catalogs in hardback.

Overall, it was a wonderful exhibit.

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Christmas at the Historical Society

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Entryway decorations

Since the season does not end until January 7, at least for me, I thought that I’d share the photos of the decorations at the Historical Society. Last year, I helped decorate, but I didn’t have time to help this year. Actually, these past three months I haven’t had the time to volunteer at all, so it was nice to be back.

Unlike last year, there is a big tree in every room on the first floor. This is one idea that I embraced years ago. Although I did not put up a tree this year, I usually put up a tree in every room of my apartment. This includes the kitchen and the bathroom. The idea behind this is that the holiday should be reflected in every room. The trees are not always big. The bathroom tree is no more than six inches high with small ornaments. Actually, the main tree in the living room is only five feet; I have no large tree. I came up with this idea years ago, and I was surprised that the concept behind it had been popular in early America.

Though trees would not become popular until after Queen Victoria’s Prince Albert brought them from his native Germany to Britain, and the tradition made its way across the Atlantic, in Washington Irving’s day it was believed that the holiday season should be represented in every room. The people would bring pine tree branches, pine cones, holly and mistletoe in from outside to decorate their mantles, shelves, dressers, wherever. The house would also have a nice scent of pine.

Washington Irving's desk at the Historical Society

Washington Irving’s desk at the Historical Society

Unfortunately, I was not able to attend any of the holiday events at Sunnyside, Washington Irving’s home. The one year I went, they had the branches of pine and holly throughout the rooms of the house, as well as a wonderful bonfire in the yard. They had hot apple cider to keep the chill of the night at bay. (Too bad the temperature was close to 60 degrees. I fondly remember that trip to Sunnyside.

Happy new year to all!

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In Memoriam: Private Owens

Private Nelson Owens served in Company H, the 1st Regiment of the Missouri Volunteers during the United States Civil War. He died in the hospital on February 4, 1864.

J.T. Paine, the surgeon in charge, made a request to Charles Rockwell, the Captain of Volunteers, on February 5 for a coffin for the 4 pm funeral. I hope that Private Owens got his coffin and had a dignified burial.

I have finished unpacking the Rockwell papers at the Historical Society and am in the process of organizing the collection by topics and then chronologically.  This is a slow process. When I unpacked the files, I put them into files with months and dates, but I am finding errors. So, I have to go through each file, item by item, to ensure that it is in the correct order, and then write up the finding aid.

 

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Icon Redux: Saint Christopher

Byzantine & Christian Museum (2013-05-28 220In the post on my visit to the Byzantine and Christian Museum in Athens, I took a photograph of an icon with a dog’s head. At the time I merely commented on how bizarre this icon seemed to me. At the time, I did not think much about it.

In volume 2 of his book Orthodox Saints, George Poulos discusses St. Christopher Cynocephalus. The only St. Christopher I knew was the one who is depicted on medals carrying a child with the caption, “St. Christopher Protect Us.” Well, this is the same St. Christopher. Poulos explains that Christopher, whose original name was Reprobos, was ugly and repulsive. He was so ugly that his comrades called him Dogface. (Cynocephalus means “dog-head.”) His inner spiritual beauty was hidden by a hideous face. Actually painting a person with a dog’s head seems just a wee bit extreme.

Anyway, Christopher is known as the patron saint of travelers, but this is the Roman Catholic tradition. The Eastern Orthodox have no stories relating to Christopher as a traveler. However, the story of him carrying the child–who is actually the Christ Child–is known in the East. Christopher finds that he is actually carrying the weight of the world when he carries Jesus. Christopher lived during the reign of Emperor Decius, who had him executed on May 9, 255.

The explanation of why the saint is painted with a dog’s head still doesn’t warm me to the work. To me, a dog-headed icon is more kitsch than holy.

Bibliography
Poulos, George. Orthodox Saints: Spiritual Profiles for Modern Man, April 1 to June 30 (Brookline, Mass.: Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 1991), p. 101-102.

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