Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Ok well..let's move along

So I've been back for quite sometime. The summer was a learning experience, that's all I'll say for now :)

In other news, I've started a flickr group for the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art (where I am back interning full time) so please add any photos you might have lying around for all experiences at the museum (or related to the museum!):

Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art.

I hope you'll submit images if you've got them!

I'll post more later about what I've been doing! Ok, back to work :)

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Bacon's Castle and Smithfield, VA - Short and Sweet

Back in May I visited Bacon's Castle and Smithfield, VA while I was working at Colonial Williamsburg. On an early Saturday I took the Jamestown-Scotland ferry over the James River to, well, Scotland, located in Surry County. Sadly, I rode on the Surry Ferry, not ferry named Pocahontas.

I followed Rolfe Highway (named after John Rolfe, of course) into Surry, then cut over on Highway 10 to Bacon's Castle (a town name and historic site). Surry is a classic small town - main street, a few shops, diner, etc. I stopped by the courthouse for a shot of this:


This figure is of a young Confederate soldier, a bronze statue dedicated by the county to the young soldiers of the South. Unveiled in 1910 the inscription on the side states "Our Heroes -1861-65" This is the south, after all. You can read a bit more here.

Alright, back on track. So, after a brief stop by to see our young Southern friend I headed about 15 minutes through beautiful lush green views of the James River and farmland to Bacon's Castle. The "Castle" was built in 1665 and is the country's oldest brick home. With a nice large plot of land surrounding it, gardens and some original buildings, the Castle certainly isn't a castle when you first arrive at it, but, it's history is that of the tales of the great mansions of Europe.

Owned by Preservation Virginia, an amazing non-profit that goes to great lengths to preserve, protect and celebrate Virginian properties and historic sites, it is well maintained and provided me with the best home tour I have ever been on. If you live in Virginia, APVA is well worth supporting, and affordable for many budgets!

Bacon's Castle is one of the few Jacobean architecture marvels in America. It's age is a marvel in itself, and the preservation work has been quite an achievement. The house was built in the 17th century by a planter named Arthur Allen, and despite being technically Allen's Castle the name Bacon's Castle stuck due to rebels from Bacon's Rebellion kicking him out and taking over the home for a time period in 1676. I was not allowed to take photographs inside the home so sadly it's hard to comprehend the home tour itself, but it is worth experiencing.

This is not your typical home tour - "Ooh, look at the beautiful paint job, furniture, novelty, fancyness," this is a history tour. Two rooms, the parlor and Allen's bedroom, do feature furniture, many beautiful period pieces and some original to the Allen family, but, the rest of the rooms of the house have no furniture or decorations aside from what are original to the house.

My favorite area was the basement which served as an extremely large kitchen and storehouse. The cellar was there too, where Mr. Allen kept his vast wine collection. It was noted in his diaries that when he returned to live back at his home, after Bacon's rebels took it over, the largest amount of damage was in the cellar and that no wine was left drinkable. Archeologists from AVPA have found wine bottles broken in fireplaces and areas around the backyard where bonfires took place. They have amazing examples of these bottles reconstructed that are made by the fine people at the Jamestown Glasshouse.

Our docent was a brilliant 17 year old homeschooler. He had a strong passion for history and showed it through his tour of the house. He was honest - he didn't shy away from any topics (including slavery/women's roles in the house) or questions and got everyone excited (I was the youngest person, everyone was 60+) about the history of the site.

Another fascinating aspect of the property featured the gardens, which were believed by oral history and light documentation to be at one place, but, after APVA had the grounds scanned from the sky with radar/satellite photography they came to find the remnants of a garden hundreds of yards from where they believed they were. The gardens flourish today raising crops and flowers similar to what Mr. Allen would have grown himself (he was quite the gardener).

I'm not giving Bacon's Castle the credit it deserves, but, it delivered an honest, passionate and strong history of an amazing home in early America and breaths fresh air into plantation tours and a region that relies on Colonial Williamsburg and historic Jamestown. Don't forget to check out the home's website too.

The smokehouse at Bacon's Castle is one of the original buildings on the property (it has been moved from its original spot and I believe it dates to the 18th century).

The smokehouse exterior.

Bacon's Castle Exterior

After the delight known as Bacon's Castle I headed to Smithfield, home of the famous Smithfield Ham. It's sort of like champagne - it's a law that no other place in the world can call its ham Smithfield Ham, it can only be made in one county, and that's Isle of Wight County. This wasn't my main agenda though, and sadly I didn't eat any ham while there. My main agenda, however, was to check out the town of Smithfield, a historic town surrounded by amazing waterways and then drive up through Norfolk, Hampton Roads, and back to Williamsburg. Well, I did just that. Sadly, I didn't document enough through photographs, but the trip was "okay," it wasn't as exciting as websites and travel documents made it out to seem, but perhaps I'm too demanding on small town attractions.

Heading to Smithfield proper, I passed by Poole's Funeral Home which, according to historic signage sponsored by the state, is the oldest black owned business in the county of Surry dating back to 1890.

Poole's Funeral Home

Lovely old home in Smithfield. (Not the funeral home)

I went to the Isle of Wight Historical Society which had a young woman who for sure had to be a museum studies major working there. (She was young, smart, friendly, and almost seemed hiply out of place for this small town....) It was in a historic building (a bank) in downtown Smithfield and featured exhibits on the oldest cured ham (Smithfield!), the oldest peanut (on display from the 1800s!), some archeological objects from Native people in the region, and an exhibit about the world's largest ham biscuit that was constructed in Smithfield a few years ago. They also have a collection of duck decoys. My attention span catered primarily to the Ripley's Believe it or Not style exhibits and this bizarre general store room featuring two creepy mannequins:

They had a great little gift shop that featured stuffed animal pigs made with Smithfield Ham cloth bags (I bought one for a gift) and awesome postcards, books and other crafts from the county. This historical society was one of the better county societies I had been in. Decent exhibits, hands on activities, and topics that can appeal to all types of people (from war to peanuts).

I walked a block down the street to the old courthouse which was built to reflect the courthouse at Colonial Williamsburg. A delightfully manicured main street featuring quaint shops, homes, restaurants and galleries. However, no time to spend money - I headed straight for the history. No 18th century courthouse is complete without these, of course:


Another APVA owned property they had an informative Elder docent who talked about the dramas that erupted, the final use of the courthouse and how the courthouse provided the soap opera for towns people when it was in session.

Isle of Wight historic courthouse

A really crappy photo of the interior, it looks 95% identical to CW's.

After that, I headed out of town and to the shore area to the military mania part of this daytrip, which will be covered in the next blog.

  • Bacon's Castle provided one of the best home tour's I've ever experienced. A passionate docent staff and a focus on history, not just interior design, is what made this stand out from the rest.
  • A unique history on beautiful grounds, Bacon's Castle is worth visiting for lovers of history, architecture, and gardens.
  • Smithfield and Isle of Wight County features a fascinating little Historical Society with strange facts that we hold dear in these small non-profits. A delightful visit, and free!
  • A nice little quick afternoon that could be topped off with some good southern cooking at one of the well reviewed restaurants in the area.
Awesome tree in Colonial Williamsburg:


Saturday, August 1, 2009

Jamestown Settlement

Alright, let's conclude this trip to Jamestown Settlement. I also had been to Yorktown Victory Center with my mother, which had a decent museum and a very disappointing (but others were impressed) living history area. So, my hopes were in the middle for Jamestown. With the anniversary of the 400th year since settling Jamestown, I knew they had upped the ante (the Queen visited after all...) in design and renovations...

As previously mentioned, I had made it as far as the Powhatan Village at the Settlement. After passing the totem circle and learning about Native interpreters at the site (or lack there of) I headed into the heart of the village, where their reed covered homes were dispersed in a similar style seen in White's drawings and in John Smith's journals.


"This watercolor by John White depicts the village of Pomeiooc in the North Carolina coastal plain. It was this image that was used to create the computer-rendered village. The structures in the village are also similar in design to those that are reconstructed at Jamestown as a Powhatan village. It is very likely that the Indians of eastern North Carolina had contact with the Powhatans." (From Disappearing Indians?)

The structures, as mentioned in the caption, were reconstructed at the Village at Jamestown Settlement, not necessarily in a circle. The were beautifully constructed and reflected a theory based on John Smith's writings, Powhatan oral history, and anthro/archeo work done on Southern Woodlands communities.



I was disappointed that grouse weren'tt represented and mainly Anglo style chickens seen on Old MacDonald's Farm were, I'm not sure about chicken ancestry in America though. (How nerdy is that?)

The homes were quite nice, and well put together - I was curious how frequently they replaced the materials, they were in great condition and seemed to lack any type of deterioration. The object to the right of the home in the chicken photo is an infamous corn pounder. It seems to be the children and birds favorite hang out - any chance to violently smash corn into bits appeals to the children and the treat it provides appealed to woodpeckers, blue jays and common little scavenger birds alike.

The interior of the homes featured plenty of birds and furs alike, as well as space for fires.


Sorry for the slightly blurry interior shots. I like the gull that's been pulled in two. The interior descriptions are primarily based on anthro/archeo research and Capt. John Smith's infamous journals about his experiences at Powhatan's village. There were no interpreters inside the buildings and there were more deerskin to choke a horse. The shots above are from the main meetinghouse.

Well, that was that. There was a small area, which featured a non-Native third person interpreter cooking fish and they had stations of tightened deerskin for children to try their hand at "skinning." I meandered through a beautiful wooded area towards where I could see the ship's masts - I'm sure that pirate films and the overall coolness of big glorious ships made this a hot spot, and it sure did (for young boys especially! Seems young girls liked the Indian village and young boys preferred the glamour of ships..)

I learned from some of the signage and from individuals at other museums that the ships were made in Maine and made the trip down the coast to the docks of the Settlement. These ships were also used in the film
The New World. I even felt myself getting giddy as I headed towards the dock, the boats were beautiful.


The masts of the larger ship the Susan Constant.

Two were available to explore, Susan Constant and I believe Discovery. There was some nearby signage discussing the journey from England to Jamestown and a costumed interpreter did first person acting discussing his travels on the ships much to the enjoyment of adults while their children went wild on the ships.

Costumed interpreters were on both ships, three total, working in third person. One was from England, which provided "authenticity" to the experience of crawling around on a big meaty ship. I was able to take the ladder below (I don't know ship lingo...even with that trip to the Maritime Museum!) to see storage units, sleeping quarters, and the very fancy captain's quarters (the only private sleeping space on the ship it seemed!). Some areas were blocked off, which featured movable objects to add authenticity to the ship, bust most areas were open to the visitor, allowing one to stick your head out the windows, pose for photo ops, imagine what it'd be like to shoot a cannon and to pull that whole Leonardo DiCaprio stunt from
Titanic.

The Discovery from the deck of the Susan Constant.

Giant wooden bust which sat on top of pulleys for the ropes.


Captains quarters.

The interpreters seemed impatient and anxious. It was lunch time in Jamestown Settlement, so staff members were coming and going, relieving one another of his ship duty to go eat. They'd stop working with visitors to declare lunch time and ignore any questions as they scurried off the ship. I wasn't impressed with the information provided and was left rather clueless on how some of the ship's tools and tracking devices worked, the men seemed more interested in the specials in the dining hall. But, the ships were beautiful objects, well put together and well curated. It is quite a lovely experience to overlook the James River from these boats on a beautiful sunny day. I could only imagine the first site of the land when the original settlers arrived..

Conservation work was being done on the boats - lacquering, paint detailing and general duties to help maintain the quality appearance of the ships. The nicest staff members I encountered were the ship conservators (they travel all over the coast).


After exploring the dock, I headed to the fort of Jamestown on the property. This was a space I remembered as a child, where my mother took a photo of me wearing giant pieces of period armor (And I saw other parents doing the same to their children). Interpreters were more active here, discussing in third person the experiences and hardships of the settlers. The buildings were beautifully put together, and despite being in such a small area it was easy to explore and not feel to confined, it was quite crowded though. I visited a storehouse, a kitchen, the guard house, school house/church and some other random generic buildings. There was one female interpreter, cooking, and the rest (two-three) were men discussing the art of warfare. The blacksmith was no where to be found much to the disappointment of the youngins.



As you can see, the buildings were great. The colors, the techniques used to get the textures and the craftsmanship was wonderful. This was the busiest area on the grounds, which did cause problems due to the space constraints and the layout. But, it was well maintained - gritty and worn, and beautiful at the same time.


Costumed interpreter (3rd person) discusses the art of warfare in 17th century Virginia. He had the most impress costuming out of any interpreter on the grounds.

Lunchtime at the Blacksmith shop. It's not a living history museum without a blacksmith.

After spending about 20 minutes in this area I had to start heading back to Colonial Williamsburg to finish my day doing some research on treaties. I decided to head back to the visitor center/museum and check out the gift shop on my way out. It was appalling.

The majority of the objects for sale were cheap, made in China toys of "Indian princesses" and "little braves." You could buy costumes to dress your daughter up like a princess, bows, arrows, cheaply made dream catchers and more t-shirts then you can shake a stick at with tacky one-liners like "The original - Jamestown." I bought a few postcards and watched the children rampage the cheap toy section. Oh, I also scored a sweet Pocahontas crossstitching design which I'm making my stepmother stitch for me.

They had two gift shops, both were filled with crap made of stereotypical truck stop Indian wetdreams.

Smaller gift shop, I've seen my fair share of "Indian" themed dream catcher's at truck stops across the US, as seen here.


The main gift shops plethora of cheap "Indian" dolls and toys.


After that whirlwind, I headed back to work. Another fascinating museum experience in Virginia. A few things to summarize my experience...

  • Visitors were more interested in the living history aspects of the museum.
  • The African experience area of the museum was impressive and offensive at the same time and was largely ignored by non-black visitors. There were no African American intepreters on the grounds.
  • The Native exhibit was also impressive yet offensive. I really wish we could move beyond tacky mannequins.
  • A really impressive building and center with more information than an average museum goer can handle.
  • The cafe wasn't bad and the prices and taste wasn't too shabby.
  • Beautiful surroundings.
  • Fun experience for kids, as long as parental units are willing to educate their children about the difference between a white person dressed up like an Indian and a real Native person and how life wasn't all ships and blacksmiths.
  • Worth visiting the National Park site about a mile away especially if you're in a party of only adults.
Alright, time to go enjoy the last Saturday I have in DC, and perhaps another entry tonight!

Friday, July 31, 2009

Yes, I am alive + Jamestown Settlement

Yes, I am, I promise. Quite strange how I went from having minimal internet access in Williamsburg, to total full out hardcore internet access in D.C. and I stopped updating my blog. Ok, I have been busy, and staring at a computer for 8 hours a day doing research (and other such things) can make me want to avoid doing much writing or productive things aside from aimless "surfing the web" type activities when I get home..

...so yes, I am in Washington, D.C. Next Friday I pack up and ship out back to the Midwest, to enjoy the last few weeks of summer, then finish my final semester of my undergrad at IUPUI.

I have been working in the curatorial department of the National Museum of the American Indian for two months. I'm working under Maria Galban, who is the research assistant for the Infinity of Nations show. IoN (hip inter-museum shorthand) features over 500 objects that explore cultures ranging from Tierra Del Fuego (Patagonia) to Greenland. The show launches at the New York City museum in 2010, and there is still a lot to do.

My main projects involve breaking down consultations with anthros, historians, and community members and taking the information from these meetings and citing specific information pertaining to objects chosen for the show. This information will be verified and then eventually placed in the museum database (eMU) for future use, and will be used for label information as well. I've been reading fascinating interviews with remarkable people, and learning a lot about cultures I have not been as familiar with (specifically South America/Latin America). I also am assisting in culture verification - researching specific objects and providing a culture based on their provenance (i.e. it's not Eskimo, it's actually Inupaiq). I've learned a lot about the collectors themselves, good and bad things.

Today I spent the majority of my day in the photography archives, researching photographs to show people using/wearing objects that will be on display, which will be apart of a computerized photo book allowing visitors to put "two and two together" so to say - how the object is used or worn.

It's been an up and down experience. Lately I've been doing more research work, which is what I came here to do, and that's great. I've met some great people, some not so great people, and learned a lot about where I see myself fitting into the museum world.

I also have had a chance to live in the Nation's Capital during an exciting time - Obama is in office, and the hype and energy is powerful. Summer here is hot, but events like Smithsonian's Folklife festival took place and I've had a chance to travel to New York City and Philadelphia, and had amazing weekends in both places. I've also gained a couple of lasting friendships with some people in the program here.

So perhaps I can start at the beginning. I figure since I've slacked so bad on my blogging, I can share some things with you that I've been experiencing as I have been.

Oh, an my internship in CW? It was great. A little slow in the end, due to business and schedules, but, it was a remarkably fulfilling and education experience. I still have to send out my thank you gifts to Buck and Willie down there. If you're an intern - get an internship at CW, even if you have to write for grant money to do it. Their programming is amazing, the people are so nice, and even though it's a sleepy town, you'll have a fulfilling and educational experience.

So let's go back a few months...

Back in May I was living in Williamsburg, Virginia (if you haven't read back blogs) and I took an afternoon to go to Jamestown Settlement. The "Settlement" is actually a purchased plot of land right next to the original Jamestowne fort (National Park Service as seen in previous blogs) and features a gigantic museum and living history museum devoted to the early Euro, African and Native experience North America.

I remember as a teenager visiting here with my mother, there was a small museum, interpreters dressed up in period costume (I remember the soldiers...), and some huts based on the Jamestown archeology/drawings and some "longhouses" representing the Powhatan village. Well, my my my, how it has changed. Ever since the big 400th Anniversary of Jamestown rolled around, Jamestown Settlement had quite a face lift.

I started out in the museum, which is housed in a stunning building. No photographs were allowed, not even without flash, and the guards on duty did a *very* good job at alerting any visitor to put their camera away. The museum was quite amazing in size, design and craft. I did have some issues with representation there, as I will discuss...like...they had tacky mannequins of "early Native Peoples" and the docents liked to quiz the children about gender roles in Eastern Woodland society ("see, the women tend to the garden, the men hunt," overheard by a docent).

They discussed pre-history Native cultures in the area, Powhatan life just before contact, the "truth behind the term Indian Summer," and the break down of political and social life in the Virginia Indian world. Next, they discussed Anglo-European life - what it was like to live in London during the 16th and 17th centuries, featuring a cobble stone mock up (but no mannequins!) of olde London towne.

After experiencing the class system of old London there were detailed exhibits discussing the formation of the Virginia Company and failures at Roanoke. This is where my mind started to fade, there was so much, and my "hardcore museum nerd gotta read everything" mindset was starting to fall apart. I started becoming more of a typical museum goer (look, glance at label, look, walk) due to time constraints (I was heading to CW that day for work), but, if I had all day, I could have spent all day (probably 6-8 hours) there.

Anyway, after the story of England, the contact period between Native and English people, a big statue featuring Powhatan, and of course a display and "life size" statue of Pocahontas and John Rolfe, they then discussed the African experience. Gigantic dioramas devoted to African life - just like they treated the Native American dioramas with mannquins. It was bizarre, strange, and even with quality attempts to be "Realistic" and "authentic" I felt like I was back in a Natural History Museum from the 1950s. Art and culture of Africa was discussed in a beautiful multimedia show, however, the majority of the large exhibit was given little attention by non-black visitors, based on my observations for the 10-20 minutes I spent in the area. (And I was spending a long time there compared to 95% of the museum goers.)

After a discussion about slavery in Africa, contact with Europeans, and the transportation of slaves to the Americas, we are shown how contact with all three cultures collides, and then they feature an exhibit showing how European living influenced Native living (Anglo housing, etc) and what the "typical" home for English-folk was like in Jamestown.

I was overwhelmed, and was, I admit, glad to get out of the exhibits and grab a bite at the very nice cafe they had (okay food, nice staff, decent price, good options). After that, I was heading outside to the interpretation grounds!

There, I was allowed to take pictures, if I could have taken them in the museum - you would really get the jist of what I am talking about in regards to representation of cultures, communities, and "races" (note the quotations).

(Oh, and they also had a really fascinating exhibit about Jamestown and Bermuda - I bet if I would have not went to that before the main exhibit I would have given the main exhibit more attention, but the special exhibit was fascinating..)

Powhatan " ceremonial circle of carved wooden posts."

Detail of totem.

The first thing you experience when you walk out into the living history area is a circle of posts based on John White's drawing of the Powhatan dancing. While googling an image to reference I learned that the posts at the Village were created by Rose Powhatan (Pamunkey/Tauxenent) and Michael Auld (Taino). This was not mentioned at the posts, or not in an obviously place (and I consider myself rather observant). (Powhatan and Auld are amazing artists, check out Rose's posters!)

Now, these posts were really great - beautiful at that - but I can barely remember any signage, and it seems they weren't used for much discussion aside from a quick stop by a docent tour.


John White's drawing - visit Powhatan Museum to learn more (scroll down).

While checking out the posts, I spotted my first interpreter. A middle-aged woman dressed in a buckskin fringe outfit. She was working on basketry of some type. I wandered over to her, and that faithful question popped in my head (thanks to Playing Ourselves) - are Native peoples actually doing the "Indian" interpretation? I scooted over to her, told her I was a student (less threatening) and asked her politely if any Native people are involved with interpretation, she shook her head and said no but "sometimes people from around here come by and do things." I smiled, nodded, and stepped away not surprised by her answer.

I was curious as to why Virginia communities weren't currently active in the museum....perhaps sometime I'll find out.

The lady who answered my question.

Non-Native interpreter smoking fish. The family in the shot were overheard with the father asking his daughter if he saw what type of shoes the "Indian" was wearing and the girl howled "moccasins!!" and the interpreter said "yes, so I don't burn my feet when I cook."

So, we had another case of non-Native people playing Indian - I even saw a hippie chick with dreadlocks in her buckskin "maiden" dress walking barefoot with other costumed staff. Quite fascinating for a museum attempting "authenticity." I wasn't really surprised - I wonder what type of training they get when someone innocently asks "are you an Indian?"

Ok, sorry to disappoint, but, I'm quite sleepy. I think I've babbled enough for the night, and I will write more tomorrow! I'm looking forward to reviewing my summer with you. If you made it this far, you rock!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Mariner's Museum & USS Monitor Center

Last week I visited the Mariner's Museum & USS Monitor Center located in Newport News, Virginia. 

The Mariner's Museum and USS Monitor Center are connected, and for one price you get both experiences. I spent the majority of my time in the USS Monitor Center, and did a backwards worn out (as in tired) tour of the Mariner's Museum. 

The USS Monitor Center is the home of the Ironclad ship that fought in the Civil War. It sank, due to weather problems - a horrible storm off the coast of North Carolina's Outer Banks, on Dec 31st 1862. Located just off the southeast of Cape Hatteras, the wreck site, where the majority of the ship still lies, was the first marine sanctuary in the United States.  In 1978 exploration began to find the ship, and in 1998 the propeller was pulled from the water. 

The propeller on display. 

In 2001, the Sanctuary and the Navy brought up the steam engine, which I did not see at the exhibit. And then, in 2002, just as funding started to run out (days left) the huge turret was found - a revolving gun turret - was discovered, along with the remains of two soldiers, and two of the cannons. A conservation building was built specifically for the conservation of the turret and other objects found. The bodies of the two soldiers are in Hawaii, not sure why...awaiting identification. 

They have a great exhibit though. Despite the age and legend of the Mariner's Museum (which could go under some much needed updates) the USS Monitor Center is full of technology that is often seen in contemporary museums. 

The entrance to Ironclad Revolution at the USS Monitor Center.

When you enter you go through a series of films, leading you room to room, which discuss the documentation and the experience that took place on the Monitor the night of it's sinking. It's a powerful and stimulating film that incorporates the entire environment of the small theater room. It turns out the last thing seen of the ship, after most of the crew was saved, was the lantern - a red lantern light that kept flashing, flashing..and flashing, until it finally disappeared. After you watch a video of the finding of the turret, cannons, and lantern (very touching!!) you step into a room where the lantern is displayed. The display is like the Hope Diamond. It's just the lantern, which underwent a remarkable conservation practice. I wish the picture was better, but I didn't want to use a flash..


The lantern of the USS Monitor

After you see the lantern, you are led through a variety of exhibits discussing the history of ship armory and weaponry, with interactive HD tv's featuring actors posing as historical figures, a computer game that was virtually impossible to play, and really amazing miniature ships. People spent a lot of time in here, there was a lot to learn, and it was quite interesting. 

The next area discusses the atmosphere pre-Civil War and what led up to the War itself. You hear quotes from individuals like Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, Jefferson Davis, various military officials as well. It was semi interesting, but, I spent little time in this area for I knew the basics. The next spot discussed the lead up to the building of the ironclads, which was also slightly interesting, but not enough to make me want to stay in the large room made out to seem like an important officials meeting room - there were paintings, high end objects owned by regional military personnel of the period, etc. 

Next we learned about the building of the ship, and what went into it, and the competition between the North and South to create these ironclad ships. It was interesting, and the room that discussed it featured a replica of the Monitor, which you could walk into, etc. After exploring this, they then had built a replica of the quarters for the soldiers and officials who lived on the Monitor. The housing was beautiful, for it's small cramped quarters - silks, white wash, silver decorations, candlelight - all meant to feel at home. I learned about the food that was served, that their chef was African American, that a lot of cured beef and ham was served, and that everyone knew every one's business - cramped quarters, if you will. They showed tons of objects that were discovered at the site - silverware with the names of fallen heroes who sank with the ship, wine bottles, glasses, and personal goods. 

Then, they discussed the end of the war, freedom of slaves (in light) and such. And then they had a large display area that featured a remake of the huge turret - which was amazing, and they had reconstructed how the turret looked when they found it in the ocean - shells and barnacles, etc. You could walk into it, and it was well done - they even showed what objects were found there, based on photographs, and two casted skeletons showing the placement of the men who died in the turret. 

This area also discussed the weaponry, the power of the turret, etc. A hallway lead you to the conservation building, which was built specifically to house the turret, cannons, and some other objects. The turret and cannons are currently undergoing a chemical destabilization (?) process that will make it possible to do conservation work on these important pieces in the future. Special tanks were built. The turret tank was too big to be photographed. But, here is a photo of one of the cannons in it's custom tank. Wires exposed on top help to monitor (no pun intended) the chemical levels, temperatures, etc. This is a working conservation lab, 9-5, Monday through Friday, and they also have billboards and posters discussing what is going on in the lab "this week" and such...it was VERY cool!!


I always get excited about this stuff, being a lover of transparency. It'll be very cool to go back and see what takes place after the objects are ready to be removed from their tanks. 

The USS Monitor Center is very cool, and well worth it. I explored for about 1 1/2 hours. Lots of reading, and some interactive stuff that kids might think is cool. Great for even people who aren't big military history buffs - it's fascinating, slightly creepy, and very cool. There are also plenty of videos that are shown, I only saw the introduction one. 

It's part of the Mariner's Museum, which is a must see for lovers of nautical history, war history, etc. The museum features exhibits on Chesapeake Bay nautical history, cartography, miniature ships, military naval history, a ship building shop (it was closed that day), a miniature building shop (closed that day) and a really great exhibit about small boats. 

I put a ton of energy into my experience at the Monitor, which probably contributed to my struggle for attention at the Mariner's Museum area. I explored it backwards too, which I wish I wouldn't have. They don't do a great job at guiding the visitor, and since it's a chronological exhibit, it serves best to explore it the right way. 

I started out at the rotating exhibit featuring a painter from the early 20th century who painted the ship building experiences of builders in Norfolk. There isn't anything on the website, and I didn't write his name down, which really stinks - it was amazing. Regardless, I wish I would have taken notes! Boo!!

The miniature ships were so cool, and they have an exhibition featuring the miniature ships of August Crabtree. The ships are displayed like jewels, each in its own display case. Veterans play the roles of docents in much of the museum, and a docent was on hand to discuss the history and process of ship building. 

They have a small Titanic display, where you can see some artifacts from the tragic ship, and put on a life jacket and sit in a replica Titanic life boat. Then you explore the history of the naval world - from torpedo's (they have an awesome interactive with a torpedo hitting a Japanese ship) to submarines, and all the way back into history. The father back it goes into history (the beginning of the exhibit) the more jumbled and chaotic the displays are - tons of labels, images, and objects, but not enough concentration on the content. It's overwhelming. They discuss cartography in a confusing manner, and feature so many objects - including slave shackles from a slave ship, Native artifacts from the first whites to explore the continent, and more. 

This area needs major renovation, but, they have a ton of remarkable objects, and the mini ships are so cool! 

A small sea glass exhibit featured glass pieces from ship related culture. This was a sea glass window. Note the Prophet and Tukoseemalta. Bizarre!

The final part of the museum (not including the gift shop of course) is a fairly extensive exhibit on ship history in the Chesapeake. They start with the first peoples - Native people - and how they explored and created vessels. Then onto explorers, settlers, onto fishermen, oyster shucking culture, buoys (surprisingly cool!) and sailing. It really helps to encompass boating culture in the region, and was a nice regional exhibit. 

French made lighthouse lamp from the early 20th century, from the Chesapeake. 

Oh! Also, finally, they had an AWESOME building dedicated to small boats. It was really cool. Over 75 boats from all cultures - many made for the museum, some donated, collected, etc. From small viking boats to Inuit canoes to Japanese fishing vessels to pleasure boats and Criss Crafts. Super awesome, and worth seeing. 


Overall, the Mariner's Museum and USS Monitor Center provided an excellent afternoon of naval exploration. A great sight for everyone from Navy Vets to novice pleasure seekers. The main museum can use some updating, but, perhaps with the draw of the Monitor Center, this can lead to more income and donors. 

Oh, and the gift shop was full of plenty of Made in China goods, but a nice book shop. Nothing too exciting to see. 

Small boats, Mariner's Museum

Basket Making Workshop with Pamunkey Tribe, last Saturday

Last week I spent a good part of my time working on researching Pamunkey and Potomac related basket making techniques.

I went to the Rockefeller Library, which is part of the CW Foundation, and pulled books on Appalachian basket making. The techniques used by Appalachian basket makers are very similar to those of the Pamunkey, and other Virginia Indian groups. They use white oak, which ends in a beautiful, smooth, and natural basket, and durable too.

I spent quite sometime reading about basket making and the history of, including the influence of Indian basketry on Appalachian techniques. Buck chose sections from some of the books to include in a packet we were putting together to distribute to those who attended the class. This included a how-to portion featured in the book Appalachian White Oak Basketmaking, Handing Down the Basket by Rachel Nash Law and Cynthia W. Taylor.

We then copied some photographs from the book Basketry of Appalachian Mountains by Sue H. Stephenson. The images we pulled shows some of the similar technique that we read about in "Indian Notes and Monographs" which was a series of publications discussing Native Americans and First Nations people published int he early 1900s (1915-1925, etc) by the Heye Foundation (which was the original foundation for the National Museum of the American Indian). Anthropologist Frank Speck spent time exploring and living with Native Virginian Indians and wrote an article about the Rappahannock Indians, a tribe that traditionally fell under Powhatan's rule in the 16th century etc. Many of these related Virginian tribal communities have some similar craft styles, so we were able to take the small group of information featured in his document and include that into the packet. This document also featured some images of Pamunkey/Rappahannock basket makers.

Speck featured images, and most importantly some documentation in regards to a special type of rim weaving that is only see in Virginia Indian basketry, something even more specific among Pamunkey weavers.

We also took another article by Speck from another one of the "Notes and Monographs" series, discussing the Powhatan Tribes, which featured information on Pamunkey basketry.

I did some research through various museum websites in regards to baskets in collections. I emailed Crista Pack at the Eiteljorg as to any related basketry that they might have, but nothing was really related to what I was seeking. I did, however, find some baskets on the NMAI website that related to what we were looking for:


This basket was collected by Frank Speck back in the 10s/20s, and came from Potomac Creek, Stafford Co. Virginia. He says that it was made by the "Potomac Bank of Powatans" and that it is a large carrying basket of white oak splints. I'm not too savvy with explaining the aspects of basketry, but, the rim of the basket features a technique with those extra pieces of oak going down to hold the rim down, does that make sense? I'm not sure if it does..but, I'm not a basket expert.

We were also trying to learn more about fish/eel trap baskets that were made in the region. Here is an example, made by Gordon Bullock (c. 1925), which is from Stafford Co., VA, and is also made of white oak splints, from the Potomac community.



This is also in the collection at the NMAI.

We also included directions on basketmaking, provided by our basket making artisans here at CW, and a few things from the books mentioned above.

Buck then took all this information, some of the books, etc, and visited the Pamunkey Reservation last weekend, Saturday, and they hosted a workshop on traditional basket making. I was unable to attend, but Buck said it went well, with a great turnout and a lot of inspiration.

Here are some photos, compliments of Buck Woodard of the American Indian Initiative program here at Colonial Williamsburg:

All these pictures were taking at the Pamunkey Reservation:






Splitting the log, etc, from the white oak trees.

And then the process begins....



And the final product!!



The American Indian Initiative is working with Native communities, locally and beyond, to bring together community members to work together to instill traditional crafts, techniques, and history. This is just one of the many workshops planned off site from CW, which helps to not only reintroduce or work to perfect traditions within communities, but also helps to build a better rapport, relationship and strength between CW's Indian programming and Native communities near and far.