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.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Greensprings Greenway, James County, Virginia

Last week, after working, I decided to go on a hike through a local park area called the Greensprings Greenway, near where I am living. It's a beautiful park, that spans a nice distance, and connects into what is Williamsburg's own type of Monon Trail (minus train history, bars, restaurants and shops). 

I saw one doe, scared plenty of squirrels, birds, and lots of greenery. It's a beautiful area, which is a perfect example of the lushness that the area has. It also features an interpretive trail that discusses the history of the area, the environment, and the animals that live there. I took some photos, so please enjoy: 

These two pictures give a good view into what a lot of the water environments are like here. Wetlands with moderately sized pond/lakes with sparse trees, providing homes for frogs, osprey's, eagles, song birds, fish, beavers, and more. Sadly, I haven't seen a beaver in the wild yet!

I really love photographing moss, something about that strong green, and the lighting at the time I took it was really nice. 

Farm equipment off the trail. This equipment dates back to the early-mid 19th century, and has been abandoned by farmer's from the nearby plantation land visible from the trail. This plantation/farm has been one of the nation's longest running farms, since the 17th century. 

My friend, the deer that was nibbling on earthly delights when I was hiking. She stopped, we had a conversation discussing deer hitting my car, and I politely asked her to request that her relatives not cause me any more pain or sorrows in regards to vehicles. She was quite agreeable. 

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians visit Colonial Williamsburg

So, historically, Colonial Williamsburg has been a visiting place for various Indian nations to send delegations, trade, work, etc. 

In research produced by the Public History and American Indian Initiative departments, we have been lucky to discover that many Cherokee delegations visited CW. Some sources say that the Cherokee camped next to the magazine, borrowing tents from the magazine. They had trade goods, met with Virginia leaders and at night they ate, drank and danced. 

This past weekend members of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Nation "set up camp" outside the magazine. We were lucky to have the Warriors Anikituhwa there (though not performing, just hanging out, sharing their history, practices, and crafts) as well as the best basket maker in the Eastern Cherokee Tribe as well as the best buffalo weaver. It was quite cool, and I wish I could have gotten better pictures, but, there were so many visitors all day long that it was tough to get good shots unless I decided to push visitors out of the way :) 

Larry Pourier has been here all week as well, and is staying for the duration of the week. He's Oglala Lakota from Pine Ridge, and is working in public history advising us on programming and he will be charge of seeking Native talent for our Fall public history programs. He hung out all day, dressed in period as an assimilated Indian in the militia. 

This morning, I met with Larry, Buck and John Standingdeer Jr., the cultural ambassador for the Eastern Band and a surveyor for the tribe. We met various CW people at the Dewitt Wallace Museum to present Standingdeer with a replica of a peace medal that was is believed to have been given to a variety of Indian community members during the 18th century. This is a rare medal, and it's so cool that the collections department worked with our metalworkers to create a small number of replicas.  So, first, here is one of my not so great photos of the presentation, and then some photos from the camp.

The camp was quite cool, I was just sad that I wasn't able to really meet anyone from the Cherokee. However, I'm glad I got to meet John today, he's a really cool guy, full of insight, passion, and knowledge and I look forward to working with him in the future. Same with Larry. 

There was a lot of interesting stuff at the camp. Visitors were fairly well behaved, despite the classic comments of "my great grandma was Cherokee," which was mentioned quite frequently. I'd like to learn more about how Eastern Cherokee, and Oklahomans handle that. Buck and I also got the worst of the visitors, an older man in his late 60s to mid 70s asking me if I was "an Indian" (which I said "maybe...I could be...but no") and proceeded to tell Buck and I that alcoholism is the biggest problem on reservations and that Indians are making a ton of money from casinos and that they are all rich. As he proceeded to tell us this, and Buck diligently handled the man as I almost exploded, one of the Eastern Cherokee basket weavers just glanced at us, chuckled, and continued working on her amazing basket. Quite an experience. 

It's just an honor to finally work closely with these Native peoples, learn more about how they see life, and where I can fit in as a historical thinker, as a politically concerned and active person, and socially. I know that sounds so immature, but, to finally but faces with the names, and link my recent life's work to these individuals that I have read about, studied, watched films of, handled objects once owned by...it's really awesome. 

A member of the collections team, a "random 18th century guy" (as we called him), John Standingdeer, Jr. and Buck Woodard. John receives the medal.

Craftspeople from the Eastern Band of the Cherokee working on river cane baskets, pipe carving and buffalo hair weaving. 

Visitors take the opportunity to fell the soft texture of the buffalo fur and speak with the craftspeople.
Basket maker from the Eastern Band of the Cherokee

Detail of river cane, a plant found on the bottom lands of mountains near streams and rivers. 

River cane soaking.

Craftsman making pipe bowls. 

Willie from the public history department moonlights as an Indian trader sharing traditional European trade goods with visitors. 

Detail of trade goods

The Warriors share their talents, history and culture with visitors. Here people were able to learn about the art of moccasin making. 

John Standingdeer Jr. (Eastern Band of Cherokee), Larry Pourier (Oglala Lakota) and Buck Woodard (Lower Muskogee Creek) man the camp. 
Visitors and members of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee.

and now for something completely different

two awesome shots of the carpet at the governors mansion

Friday, May 8, 2009

Sweet! We made Indian Country!

We're quite giddy here today, because on May 6th (we're a little late...yes) our Cherokee Delegation press release went out and made it in Indian Country! This is basically the New York Times of the Indian world. 

You can read the article about the Cherokee delegation coming to camp for the weekend...here!

Yorktown National Battlefield

I was able to take sometime in the past week to do an incomplete visit to Yorktown National Battlefield, the final battle which won the Americans their independence from the British with help of the French. 

The entrance to the park.

The nice thing about the historic triangle (they call this, Williamsburg, and Jamestown that) is that when you go to both Jamestown and Yorktown you pay $10 and you get to go to both for one week as many times as you want. So I took advantage of the admission paid at Jamestowne to visit here. Again, I hadn't visited here in over 10 years, and I look forward to going back before my stay here is finished. 

The battlefield museum is highly out of date, where it's funny. The displays are okay, but things are dusty, old and not updated in regards to conservation techniques and lighting. I was pretty interested in the African American representation there, in regards to blacks fighting in the battle, and the personal "servant" of George Washington, Billy Lee. If was able to have written this fresh from leaving Yorktown, I'd have more to say. I guess that says things didn't stick with me enough - but an entire exhibit could be made around blacks in the revolutionary war, but, I was glad to see something. They did not discuss anything in regards to Native people fighting there, but I am not sure yet of Native peoples fought at Yorktown. 

So, after exploring the small museum, I took a walk to downtown Yorktown, but wanted to see the battlefields, so I didn't spend much time there. I do hope to go back, because I missed the surrender spot! I did however take a few pictures...

A section of the Yorktown Victory Monument at the town. It was passed by congress to be resurrected as early as 1781, but, ground breaking wasn't until 1876.

A replica American cannon and earthworks. 

The above three pictures are French cannon replicas in the area that the French armed the heaviest, the built all the earthworks within a day and when the English woke up in the morning, they freaked out by how close the French were, and how large the mounds were. 

Most people don't know that Civil War battles also took place on the land in the park. The Yorktown National Cemetery is here, featuring a small but nice plot of land catering to Civil War soldiers. There are a large number of plots dedicated to unknown soldiers, and they are all double buried, quite chilling! 

A Visit to to Historic Jamestowne

Last week Preston and I were able to visit Historic Jamestowne, the original site of the first permanent settlement by the English in America. I love National Parks, something about visiting them gets me way too excited, like a child, and I just want to explore as much as I can. I feel safe at these places, and it's been sometime since I've visited a National Park, and over 10 years since I had been to Jamestowne

First we visited the glass making house, where the archaeological site is wonderfully preserved and reconstructed glass houses are being used to create famous Jamestowne glass. 

The settlement failed with making glass, they made small portions and decided to retire the glass making attempts quickly. We even took a look around at the cool items made at Jamestowne, but, the items were WAY to expensive. Seems they were just as expensive as when my dad went there back in the 70s with my mom - he could only afford a small glass coaster, which was the same for us, but we didn't purchase anything! We did take some pictures, and hung out on the beach for a few minutes. 

Preston and I on the beach near the glass house. Our attempt at a self-couple portrait :)

The beach at Jamestowne near the glass house

The two glass houses, both in use. The two guys, dressed in pseudo peasant period clothes, were smoking cigarettes and drinking soft drinks when we walked up. It took a few more tourists to show up before they started working and talking about their personal lives to each other while acting like we didn't exist. Regardless, they're cool "pods" and the process of glass blowing is really fascinating to watch. 

Next, we walked over to the site of the fort, after briefly exploring the museum, which is fairly updated. I was impressed with the section (albiet small) dedicated to the Native people of Virginia, they discussed their historical importance and their contemporary worlds and contemproary photographs. This section also shows some interesting artifacts that relatives of the Rolfe family claim were Pocahontas (like a pair of really sweet pearl earrings!).

We saw a lot of turtles - swamps surround the fort area. It is a beautiful location, a shame so many people had to die to make it work. 

They have been doing archaeological digs here for over a decade and have been finding impressive things. There is an entire museum on site dedicated to the remains and the archaeological finds. These are the same people seen in "Pocahontas Revealed" exploring the Powhatan village across the James River. It was very windy, and the students and staff weren't there for sometime, then when they came back they covered up and closed down shop. 

The old church at Jamestown, this church is still a holy spot, but, it ceased having a steady congregation after the capital was moved to Williamsburg due to the tough terrain people had to pass to go to it. It's a haunting place, they believe a knight is buried there. 

I'm sure you can guess who that is - yes, Pocahontas. She is right next to the church, and her presence is almost saint-like. The fascination and reverence that people hold towards her is remarkable, and you can see this by how many times her hands have been rubbed. A volunteer told me that community members want her remains brought back to Virginia. I didn't question it.

Graves of settlers who most likely died during the starvation time, a painful time when 80% of the population died at Jamestowne. They have the names of those they believe are buried here, and the crosses don't represent the amount in this presumed mass grave. There is a name on the list that is a surname of P's family, so it's triggered curiosity for us. 

Preston "modeling" (not really...) at one of the reconstructed living spaces in the fort. 

Captain John Smith, the man who started it all. He exaggerates, he makes a ton of money writing overinflated books about his life when he moves back to London, then dies a pathetic man. 

the end.