Museum Studies at Tufts University

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Week 7 – Submissions – Theme “Death”

Abigail Epplett

Uxbridge, MA

M.A. Museum Studies, Office Manager at Fairlawn Christian Reformed Church

This bone is from a domesticated cow (Bos taurus) that lived and died on a beef cattle farm in Dudley, Massachusetts, which is about a thirty-minute drive from my house. It is an axis or C2 vertebra, which means it was the second vertebra in the cow’s neck. It connected to the atlas vertebra at the base of the cow’s skull and allowed the cow to turn its head. The main hole in the center of the bone protected the cow’s spinal cord, while smaller holes around the bone allowed nerves to connect to the main cord. The bone sustained some postmortem damage, perhaps nibbled by mice and deer as a calcium supplement before I found it in the woods.

The bone reminded me of Georgia O’Keeffe‘s paintings, which often feature cattle bones and other western motifs. Her art balances death and life, as longhorn skulls and arid landscapes are juxtaposed vibrant desert flowers.

The same balance of death and life can be seen in local farming, in which the cow played a small part. While agriculture in Massachusetts and the rest of New England had been in decline for several decades since the Industrial Revolution, it is fortunately no longer dying. According to the Massachusetts Agriculture Census, conducted by UMass Amherst’s Center for Agriculture, Food, and the Environmentin 2017, there are more than 7000 farms in my little state– up from around 4500 in 1974, the first year the census was held. While small farms were expected to disappear after the advent of genetically modified crops and enormous factory farms, they have instead evolved to find a niche in the slow food and organic movements.

The average person no longer farms and may not have a deep connection to their food, but there are still plenty of opportunities for agritourism in the region where the cow lived. Some of my local favorites are Wojcik Farm in BlackstoneDouglas Orchard & Farm in DouglasWest End Creamery & Farm in Whitinsville, and Foppema’s Farm in Northbridge. These are great places to see how local agriculture contributes to our food system, and how the cycle of life and death affects every season, from planting to growing to harvest.

Sayyara Huseynli

Medford, MA

M.A. Museum Education

I was getting frustrated in my search for an object which would fit the theme of “Death” when I noticed a door under the stairs. I have lived in this house for longer than a year but never paid attention to that door. As the door was located near to outside door and on the first floor, I imagined that it would be full of old or rarely used items, possibly old fashioned and dusty outwear.  When I opened that door, I did indeed see some old coats. One of the them was an old vintage fur coat. I asked my landlord about that coat. She told me that inherited it after her mother passed away. Her sisters suggested for her to take the coat with her when she moved to Boston from Germany, as in their opinion Boston had colder winters then their home town.

The coat was made of real fur, but my landlord didn’t know which animal’s fur was used to make it. Because of the cruelty involved in the production of fur clothing, the coat symbolized Death to me. 

 

Week 7 – “Death”

My Home is a Museum project which aims to create an ongoing conversation around the weekly prompts inspired by the events happening the globe. Everyone who sends submissions to  weekly prompts can suggest prompt ideas for the following weeks. The proposed themes are used in the order that they are received. 

Abigail Epplett, is the last week’s participant who suggested “Death” as a prompt for new – Week 7. This is how she explained her choice:

“I was inspired by the cow vertebrae I keep on the filing cabinet next to my desk. I got it from my aunt’s farm a few years ago– her family rents grazing land to the Boston Beef butchers. The vertebrae reminds me of Georgia O’Keeffe‘s western paintings, which often feature cattle bones. I know cultural perception of “death” is highly variable around the world, so I thought it would be interesting to see what mortuary objects other people had around their houses.”

Let me remind you how to participate.

  • Choose an object what fits the theme
  • Take 1-3 pictures of the object
  • Please describe how your object reflects the theme of the week. This is your chance to make your object shine and share its story 🙂

Please include the answers to the following information when submitting your entry:

  • What it your name?
  • Where do you live?
  • What do you do?

Email your pictures and descriptions to Sayyara.huseynli@tufts.edu

P.S. Please note that by submitting your response to this project you agree to its public display.

Responses for Week 6 – “Time”

The concept of time has occupied the brain of the human kind for millennia’s. The history of timekeeping  is just as ancient.  Nowadays, the passing of time can be observed through the changed in the environment, therefore it can be related to the concept of space but it can not be fully studied, for example in a lab. Therefore there is no universal explanation of time. Contrary to the highly concrete understanding of time, Cambridge professor Huw Price, argued that the basics of time stem from the inter world of an individual rather than the physical world. The fundamentals of time and its perception are related with the unique sense of a moments, its passage and the direction.

Despite the critical debates on the subject of time, I believe that the outbreak of the Pandemic and the global lockdowns is on the track of reevaluating certain, previously rigid concept of it. For this reason, I wanted to challenge the readers of the blog to find material representations of such complex concept as time without leaving their living environments. I am happy to share with the responses of the readers below:

Zahra Mammadova
Baku, Azerbaijan 
Curatorial/educational assistant at YARAT Contemporary Art Space

I would like to share my object relating to the topic of “Time” as a part of online exhibition. 

Although there should be nothing difficult about sharing this object, still I felt a little bit uneasy, even mysterious while preparing myself to it, which leads to an obvious thought – it matters to me very much. 

This little angel, that you see from the photos below, was bought by friend of mine, more specifically by our family friend in London, UK, in one of his trips. This person was a professional mountain climber, who was lost in mountains 3 years ago with his fellows and then was found dead thereafter a year. 
The last time I had any connection with him, was 10+ years ago, when I was still a little child, and barely remember everything.  I had very much sympathy and respect for this intelligent person, but sadly then our families stopped communicating for a while. After roughly 10 years, we reconciled and I was planning to meet him one day after such a long time, when I grew up to into an adult, and he was successfully doing his career in industrial alpinism. I still has this words sounding in my mind  how his mother would tell me several times  “come visit us, Namin have a lot of books to share with you, you will find so many topics to talk, it will be exciting”  And every time I would respond “I will come in recent days definitely , but unfortunately now I do not have TIME”. I was thinking in my mind, “yeah there is no reason to rush, hopefully we will meet soon” After he went missing, and then found dead his mother shared his belongings with people. And this little angel she gifted to me. She said that he bought 2 of such angels, one of them is his sister’s the other was kept untouched. She explained the reason: the two angels were bought for individuals who he considered special to him, one of them is the sister, as for the other – he was waiting for right person to give it to them. And, ironically this one was forgotten in its package for a lot of years. Now it is placed in the shelve above my bed. This is strange, how life can turn events in unimaginable ways, I still find it mystic why and how this little angel which was meant to be given to a special person ended up in my hands.

 
The lesson that I learned from this story and what this object symbolizes to me was the following: never, ever postpone meetings with friends, family, significant people in your life that you plan. Always be in touch with them and share your kindness, care, and time with them – do not be greedy in this regard. By doing this, you double good emotions and gift them to your loved ones. And now, sometimes I feel like this object angel is with me for a reason, I feel a spiritual connection with it. 

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Reflections on Reopening from Nick Pioppi, Senior Educator at the New England Aquarium

The New England Aquarium, along with many of Boston’s other cultural institutions, reopened on July 16th with pandemic-specific precautions. The Aquarium now has a one way path throughout the building, reduced capacity, additional sanitation stations, and requires visitors to wear masks. Now that the Aquarium has been open for almost a month, I checked in with Nick Pioppi, Supervisor and Senior Educator at the New England Aquarium, about the process of reopening.

Nick Pioppi conducting a virtual visit to the New England Aquarium.

How have things been at the Aquarium since reopening?

“Things have been very good. We feel very confident that we have established a safe, fun, and engaging experience for visitors. That doesn’t mean that there haven’t been some things that we’ve worked on or refined in terms of our process. We always come up with ways to become more efficient or make the process run a little bit more smoothly so we’ve definitely tweaked things as we’ve gone along.”

When the aquarium was closed, what were some strategies you used to reach your audience?

“We took a look at what we offered virtually and came up with some strategies to create new virtual content that was fun and engaging and kept people feeling connected to the aquarium, but also continued to foster and promote our mission. I think that was really important because we wanted people to understand that there were a lot of things that were still going on, like animal care and research efforts. We wanted to work hard to put those out front and use those as a way of connecting with visitors.”

With reopening, what are some challenges you’ve found with running educational programming?

A California sea lion reminds visitors to social distance.

“We are not leading any of our normal presentations on microphone. We are trying to avoid elements of an experience that might cause people to crowd and have difficulty maintaining physical distance from each other. Any sort of educational content or interpretation is happening on a one-on-one basis. We have staff that are stationed throughout the building with the primary goal of providing a logistically smooth and safe experience for visitors, but we’re slowly starting to integrate points of interpretation.”

“We’ve really had to just be a little bit more selective about that and focus more on safety and logistics and making sure the one way path is being followed. We’ve even had to close down elements of the aquarium, like the touch tanks or one particular exhibit called “The Science of Sharks” that is very interactive, just out of an abundance of caution.”

Speaking to the animals, how are they adjusting to having visitors again?

“For the most part, we are not noticing significant differences in behavior of the animals. Most of their daily routines were still going on during the closure. They were still getting fed regularly and the life support systems that keep them comfortable were being maintained. If they aren’t particularly reactive to our presence outside of their tank, then things are the same for them. There are a few exhibits that we’re noticing some subtle differences. To prepare the penguins, a week ahead of time we placed speakers around the exhibit and played crowd noise to get them accustomed to visitors again.”

Do you have any advice for museum educators during the pandemic?

“From my own experience, now is the time where it’s important to remember a lot of the basics of education, such as the customer service element and providing a nice alternate experience for visitors than what they’re having any given day. But this is also a time where innovation and trying new things out can be really beneficial. Trying to think of new ways to connect to people.”

“I think for institutions, it’s probably really scary to innovate and experiment because you’re worried about losing what little you have right now. But I think now is just a good a time as any to be innovative and stand out. Provide something that other museums and institutions aren’t necessarily providing.”

The New England Aquarium highlighted the work of the aquarists and researchers during the closure.

Are there any final thoughts you’d like to share?

“I think the community of educators is so important right now. I think it’s important right now to think about ways to connect. Connect with teachers that are struggling with virtual learning in the fall. Connect with people who may have been laid off from an institution because of budget cuts. Connect with people who might be educators but are doing a type of interpretation that’s really different from you. We can all learn from each other and support each other.”

Thank you so much, Nick, for meeting with me to chat about the Aquarium’s reopening. Follow the New England Aquarium’s Facebook and Instagram accounts for tons virtual content and updates. Also, the Aquarium is still fighting for COVID-19 relief funding, so use this link to contact your representative about providing crucial funding for both animal care and operating costs.

Memorial Day and Museums Reopenings

I suppose for myself, as a History major, museums signify places of remembrance that offer more vivid understandings of the past. Of course, this is the purpose of Memorial Day as well, as we remember our service members and oftentimes hear their stories. It is only fitting, therefore, that museums should play a significant role in remembering those members of our nation’s military who died serving our country.

But what does Memorial Day in a museum look like in the midst of a pandemic?

Many museums around the country have already begun to reopen in some capacity. For example, the National World War II Museum reopened yesterday in a limited capacity, in terms of both a limited staff and a limited crowd. 25% of the museum’s normal capacity was allowed to enter and 82 of its approximately 300 member staff were laid off. The museum’s reopening required careful planning to maintain the proper safety measures: guests had the option to purchase tickets online in advance, social distancing was maintained, and cleanings happened with more frequency.

Other museums that were not in a position to reopen, even in a limited capacity, resorted to other measures to commemorate the holiday. For example, volunteers at the Antique Gas and Steam Engine Museum in Vista, California painted the American flag on the back lawn of the property. The flag took 45 gallons of paint to complete and measures 137 feet long and 78 feet tall. Once it was completed, trumpeter Fred Ashman performed “God Bless America” and “Taps” as a tribute.

Wisconsin Virtual Commemoration

Finally, the Wisconsin Veterans Museum in Madison held a virtual Memorial Day ceremony. Many local politicians appeared in a video to commemorate Memorial Day: Governor Tony Evers held a moment of silence and Secretary of Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs Mary Kolar suggested that viewers pay their respects by flying a flag or lighting a candle at their homes.

A recruitment poster for the Coast Guard SPARs program. Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Many other museums have made their exhibits available online, as was mentioned in a previous post on this blog. Some virtual exhibits that are relevant to Memorial Day include the National Museum of African American History and Culture’s World War I-focused exhibit, “We Return Fighting.” The National Air & Space Museum offers an exhibit focused on Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs) during World War II, while the National Women’s History Museum offers content on women who served in the Coast Guard during World War II in the SPARS program.

These are just a few of the exhibits and content that I found particularly interesting (I had never heard of the SPARS before!). Many museum exhibits have become available online during this unprecedented time for museums — and for us all — and this has already shaped the manner in which we commemorate holidays such as Memorial Day. So while it was definitely an unusual holiday, at least we are still able to keep learning and remembering and honoring the past.

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