Archive for the ‘Museums’ Category

This summer my museum’s special exhibit is Mummies of the World, a fairly new traveller from American Exhibitions Inc.  When I first heard that we were getting this exhibit I was stoked, I mean really excited.  Since I’ve worked at TFI we’ve hosted two blockbusters about ancient Egypt (Tut and Cleopatra) and although these were fantastic exhibits with beautifully presented artifacts, they were seriously lacking in the wrapped-up dead people.  And I mean, c’mon, isn’t that the thing we living humans are REALLY interested in?  Okay, maybe just me and all the 10-year old boys out there…  Anyway, Mummies of the World boasts 70 human and animal mummies all sharing a well-designed 10,000 square foot gallery space.

Our Public Relations department did a great event for the press during the load-in process.  They got some uber-serious security guys to escort the exhibit cases and personally load in the mummies.  I am a little embarrassed to admit that all I could think of the whole time was what a great practical joke it would be to hide someone in one of the cases (wrapped in bandages, of course) and then have them pop out right after the Philly Tourism Board spokeswoman exclaimed, “Philly’s More Fun When You Sleep Over!” with a sign reading “FOREVER.”  But I guess that’s what working in a haunted house for 3 years will do to a person…

The "short guy" was probably 6'3"...

And I thought I had a weird job.

"With Love" campaign banner, cute!

When the education team met earlier this year to plan out what programs we wanted to offer, one of the ideas we kept coming back around to was how cool it would be to let people touch mummies.  Since the exhibit curators wouldn’t look too kindly on us prying open cases for guests we decided to take a slightly different route: frogs.  So in February we ordered an army of frogs (dissection specimen, we didn’t catch them…) and set to mummifying them in a variety of ways.

Buddy and his many mummified frogs

The specimen were dried, baked, salted, pickled and frozen and all turned out surprisingly well.  During the press event we were able to meet with Dr. Heather Gill-Frerking, the lead scientist/mummiologist (a special word made up by the exhibit) on Mummies of the World.  I was a little nervous at first, worrying she might take our demonstration the wrong way and think we were making fun of her work.  Fortunately she was thrilled.  Her own PhD dissertation examined mummies and she created a similar experiment with fetal pigs in the bogs of north Germany.  An anchorwoman from a local news station was really interested and did a fun spot with Dr. Gill-Frerking and the frogs.  More pictures from the event here.

The anchorwoman loved it 😉

We’ve had the “Mummification Station”, as the demonstration is now called, on the museum floor for a few weeks now and it seems to be a really big hit with our guests.  After the press event we ordered a kitchen vacuum-sealer and encased the frogs in freezer bags.  This way guests can still get a good idea of how the various mummification techniques look and feel.  The one specimen that I have some reservations about is the frozen frog, or “Flash” as he is affectionately known around the office.  Even though he spends the day packed in an insulated cooler surrounded by ice packs he still ends up a bit mushy by closing time.  This might be one of those instances where our imaginations are better than the real thing…

Meet Flash

The exhibit itself is really interesting and I definitely recommend it.  There are mummies from all around the globe– South America, Europe, Oceania, Asia and of course Egypt.  The exhibit focuses mostly on what scientific techniques and technologies are used to learn more about mummies.  It also talks about the history of mummification though you will have to look and listen closely to get the religious and cultural lessons in some galleries.  The art historian in me was a little let down BUT the exhibit is meant for a science museum venue so I really can’t complain.  I left the exhibit with a greater understanding of how other cultures handle their dead and some new science knowledge.  Oh and the gift store has some pretty hilarious merchandize like onsies that make your baby look like a mummy and “I ❤ my Mummy” t-shirts, I must resist it’s fun wares daily 😉


*Because they keep things under wraps!!!  Hahaha, of corpse that’s the answer!


Read Full Post »

I recently had the great opportunity of teaching a “mini-course” for a group of 9th grade students from my museum’s magnet high school, Science Leadership Academy.   I had complete free choice over the course topic and lessons (well, it had to relate to science, of course…) and since we are currently hosting the exhibit “Leonardo da Vinci’s Workshop” I thought it would be fun to explore how Leonardo learned: though an apprenticeship.  Plus I got to use my art history background, a rarity in a SCIENCE museum! 🙂 

During the Renaissance (and well after) most jobs were learned by studying under a master– carefully observing, performing grunt work, taking on tiny jobs and, eventually, using those skills gained to apply for acceptance into a guild.  Artists like Leonardo had no need for formal schooling, (something he seemed to deeply regret) rather their entire apprenticeship was like a multi-year hands-on learning lab.  I wanted the students in my class to get a taste for the work an apprentice would do in a Renaissance artist’s workshop, to see that the master artist’s studio was actually more like a science lab/school/wood shop/barnyard than a quiet gallery and to learn how modern science helps us conserve the treasures from this time period.  All over the span of 5 class hours!

Eggs and vinegar for art class???

We started out by talking about some of the more… menial tasks an artist’s apprentice might do.  Things like stretching canvases, mixing paints, making brushes and collecting supplies.  We made plaster of paris “walls” to use as the base for a fresco.  The students used burlap to hold the plaster together– modern restoration work on frescos has found materials like straw and horsehair holding the plaster together. 

Grids make drawing EASY!

I taught the class how to use a grid to reduce or enlarge a magazine picture (math is your friend!) and we used National Geographic images to create a nature-inspired sketch for the fresco.  Next we transferred the image to the plaster using a real Renaissance technique.  Artists would first poke pinholes along all the lines on a to-scale draft or “cartoon” of their final painting.  They would post this cartoon on the fresco surface, often when the plaster was wet, (we created fresco secco, painting on dry plaster) then they dusted ground charcoal all over the pinholes.  The charcoal would leave a faint, erasable sketch right on the wall.  Guess what?  This technique is AWESOME and totally works!

Trade secrets!

After a discussion of what makes up paint (a pigment and a binder) I demonstrated how to make a simple tempera paint by mixing egg yolk with wetted pigment.  The kids got a kick out of separating the egg and a few brave souls even took on the difficult task of gently releasing the yolk from the little protein sack that binds it.  I found some great, historic pigments on Blick.com, I think that gave them a good idea of the palette limitations an artist would have to overcome.  Then we painted the frescos!

Hands-on learning

For the modern science aspect I showed them a few videos of art conservators using technology like x-rays, infrared cameras and microscopes to analyze centuries-old masterpieces.  We also explored a really phenomenal new google application http://www.googleartproject.com/  I put together an online gallery of images highlighting the topics we covered in class, link here.  On the last day I had all the students bring in their laptops (their school gives each student their own) and we perused the gallery together.  It was really rewarding to see the students pick out details in the paintings that related to our topic.  They were pretty good art historians, too!

My fresco in progress

I didn’t ask the students if I could put their work on the internet so I won’t post it here.  But I was really impressed with the work the class was able to do in such a short period of time.  Most of the students didn’t have an art background, but all of them definitely had an interest in learning more.  The thoughtfulness behind a lot of their questions really surprised me, and they were not pleased when I had to respond with “great question, but I don’t know that specific answer!” on a few zingers.  I have never taught 9th graders before so I think I learned even more than the students!  

Working at this museum and others has really shown me that apprenticeships did not end with the Renaissance.  Although I have formal training in my field I gain practical experience daily.  Being a good teacher is more than just knowing theory; as my first museum mentor told me, “the best way to learn how to teach?  Teach!”   Every time I get thrown in a new teaching situation like this I feel like I am the apprentice– learning through doing, reflecting on my mistakes, following the lead of my mentors and striving daily to reach “master” status.

Read Full Post »

Her Royal Highness

Home for Thanksgiving was great– time spent with our families and a much-needed recharge from life in the city.  If it wasn’t so freaking cold in Michigan in November I would have taken some more landscapes… I guess I better work on toughening up to the weather though.  We had a most delicious Thanksgiving meal with my grannnie and grandpa, two of the most interesting people I know.

Well, not as "interesting" as this guy...

My grandpa has a museum in his basement, a perfect example of a modern-day Wunderkammer— a cabinet of curiosities.  His basement is the first museum I ever visited and is still my favorite.  It is a collection of collections, though the bulk of it revolves around World War II (in which my grandpa proudly fought for home and country). 

I had to laugh when I asked my grannie if we could sneak down to take some pictures and her only response was “make sure you turn some lights on down there…”  I have had many guided tours of the basement (and so has Pat) so we showed ourselves around.  Bullets, marbles, Nazi stuff, canes, beer steins, photos, pins, rocks… the list goes on and on. 
My grandpa also has a HUGE collection of little figurines he cast and painted:

Love that mustache!

There is a story (or two…) for each of the items in his collection.  My grandpa’s museum reminds me about the importance of objects.  The “stuff” of our lives carries a narrative, builds memories and can mark our life travels (both physical and emotional).  Grouping these objects adds further meaning– a well-curated exhibit can open your mind to new ways of thinking, to make connections you’d never made before.  I love museums because they are like a big, 3-D, tactile storybook– one you can read a million times and still say at the end of it “huh, I didn’t notice that last time!”  That’s what my grandpa’s museum is to me 🙂


Some day I will tell you the story about the lake in my grandpa’s back field that mysteriously disappeared in the night.

Read Full Post »


Last night my museum had a midnight premiere of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.  The theater sold out the first day they opened ticket sales!  We did some programming for the event, what I fondly refer to as “edutainment”… educational entertainment, of course!

Care of "Magical" Creatures

My intern is probably the biggest Harry Potter fan I know (even more so than my sister-in-law, who will kick your butt at HP trivia any day).  See the cape she’s wearing?  All hand-sewn!  Anyway, she organized most of the activities for the night.  We had a “Care of Magical Creatures” class where she showed off our bug collection– both living and some really beastly preserved bugs.  A couple of volunteers helped people make star wheels and pointed out names of stars that HP characters were named after.  I did a “Potions Class” for people waiting in line– turning water to “wine”, making a liquid “disappear” and creating colorful fire. 

Franklin's Honeydukes

This is the second non-educational film I’ve done programming for– we had some creepy activities for the premiere of the last Twilight film.  At first I wasn’t sure if this kind of stuff is worth doing– people aren’t really there to be educated after all.  But then I realized this is a great way to introduce a captive audience to our programming and hopefully get them interested in coming back to the museum during the day.  It’s definitely not the most educational venture, (though I did make everyone say “sodium polyacrylate” several times for scientific effect) but given the choice between “fluffy” programming or no programming at all… I’ll take the fluff.

Mini Blast-Ended Skwert?

I didn’t stay for the movie because the theater was sold out.  Pat and I are planning on hitting up NCG when we’re home next week.  Their seats are so comfy and they have a flavored popcorn bar, how can you go wrong?

Read Full Post »

I’m working on writing another article for The Art Blog.  It will take a look at the creation and installation of the exhibition Mineral Spirits which shows works by Ann Chu and Matthew Monahan.  I’m interested to see how the works were chosen and how they relate to one another as well as to the theme– the figure.  The show will be at UPenn’s Institute of Contemporary Art which is basically in my back yard.  Which means I can definitely visit the exhibit this time in person and (hopefully) get to see/photograph the installation process.  I’m hoping to talk to the curator on the phone later this week.  I’m enjoying this “internship,” it makes me feel like I’m using my art history degree for once.  Sigh.

I was under the impression that I had lost all my pictures (digital files) from my semester in Turkey.  But Pat came to the rescue and reminded me that he backed them up on his external hard drive.  Hooray, hubby to the rescue!  You’re right, Lauren, my hair is waaaay longer:

Gaziantep, Turkey

Ankara, Turkey from its fortifications

Mmm, lamancun-Turkish pizza

Read Full Post »

Friday is Saturday in our house… meaning we work Sunday-Thursday so while most of the city slaves away in their offices we get to play!  Today we rode over to Eastern State to use up two soon-to-expire free passes from the Haunt.  I relinquished the camera to Patrick who took some amazing photos:


Prison Violence

Of course we had to take some silly ones too:

It's so nice to be with friends

As I mentioned in an earlier post Eastern State is an abandoned prison being preserved and restored.  What I didn’t mention is that it is HAUNTED FOR REAL.  Well, maybe not FOR REAL, but it is definitely creepy in there at night with no lights and strange noises…  Sadly nothing freaky happened today.  Pat did see what he called a “ghost footprint.”  I was chilled to the bone at first, but then he admitted that it’s sunlight coming through a hole in the roof.  Drats, I had Ghost Busters on the phone!


Then lunch at Bishop’s Collar, yummy yum.  My salad had cilantro lime vinaigrette which I’d like to replicate at home.  We strolled over to the Art Museum so Pat take some reference photos for his artwork.  We also saw Late Renoir while we were there.  I guess it was okay, much too crowded for me.  I hate being herded through an exhibit with 100 other people crushed around me.  Everyone just stands in the middle of the room, mesmerized by their audio guide and completely oblivious to the rest of the world. 

Liz, Caulder and Diana

Bamboo Leaf Tea House

We’re leaving for Hawaii in 5 weeks!  I bet everyone at my work wants to throw coconuts at my head for talking about it so much.  I can’t help it, it’s going to be so awesome!  One of my goals is to eat roast pork from one of those coal pits they dig on the beach.  And eat a pineapple straight from the tree.  Most of my goals are food-related…

Read Full Post »

The Penn Museum

I meet a lot of interesting people through my job.  For example, I have met a string of Egyptian museum professionals though the Cleopatra exhibit.  Sometimes they stay with the exhibit for a few weeks, tending the artifacts and making sure all is running smoothly. 

Right now it is Ramadan, as I learned from Hoda, the current exhibit representative.  I didn’t know it had started and felt a little ignorant when I offered her some delicious chocolate from Whole Foods (mmm, almonds!) but she politely refused, and all was well.  As I thought more about this month of prayer and fasting I remembered, with great clarity, the time I spent in Turkey during Ramadan.  My friends and I traveled around the country by bus and one weekend we explored Cappadocia.  All around us were houses and churches carved into the rocky hills.  And fairy chimneys!  We shared a room in a hotel where we were the only guests, because it was the off tourist season.  In the early, early hours of the morning I woke up to the sound of a solitary drummer banging along down the street.  None of my friends heard it but I knew it wasn’t a dream.  I later learned that it is a Turkish tradition for this lone drummer to walk around town, waking people up so they can eat before dawn, when the day’s fasting begins.

It will supposedly cool down this weekend so we’re hoping to ride out beyond Valley Forge.  We haven’t been on a 20+ mile trip since early June!  I can’t wait for that cool fall weather.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »