Museum Studies at Tufts University

Exploring ideas and engaging in conversation

Category: Personal series (page 1 of 34)

A date with Mrs. Isabella Steward Gardner

I decided to visit Isabella Steward Gardner Museum, as soon as I found out about its reopening.
The museum announced reopening on July 15th after nearly four months of the closure due to Covid-19. I missed going to the museums so much, that neither the long commute nor the rainy weather was able to stop me on the day of my intended visit 

New guidelines have been put in place to ensure the health and safety of the staff and the visitors. The museum visitors were required to prepare for the visit way before arriving to the sight firstly by reserving admission tickets online for a given time slot. A contactless scanning of the digital tickets took place at the admission desk which was shielded with a transparent plexiglas. All members of the staff and visitors were wearing facial covering. Arrow marks on the floors and stairs made socially distanced movement in the spaces much easier. The visitor capacity of the ISG was reduced to 25%. Overall, the museum felt safe and protected.

The visit to Isabella Steward Gardner even in this time of Covid-19, was extremely delightful. There were a few aspects of the visits which made the experience so unique. The first reason of a pleasant experience was that the museum was well prepared to receive visitors in terms of ensuring everyone’s safety.

As a result of the reduced visitor capacity, there was a prevailing atmosphere of peace and calmness, which is the second aspect which made this visit particularly memorable. Instead of feeling like a regular visitor much like how I felt being in these spaces during my previous visits, this time I felt like a special guest of Mrs. Gardner. The quietness around me allowed to free flight my imagination and ability to hear my internal dialogue. I pretended to be walking around the palace alongside the hostess. We talked about the artworks, debated about their meanings and even made fun of some. There was no rush, no distraction by other people or side sounds. I was so deeply engaged in my own world that I didn’t even notice the few other visitors who occasionally passed by me. 

The experience of being in nearly empty gallery spaces of ISG was so immersive that I didn’t notice how two hours have passed by and I had to head out. As I was walking back to exit the museum, I wondered about the experience of other visitors during in these strange circumstances. I stopped to question of the guides to find some answers. The guide was nice and answered my questions enthusiastically. They said that most people described their experience with such words like personal and intimate. I thought those words accurately described my experience as well. Further, I thought it would be an interesting experiment to compare pre and post pandemic visitor experiences in the museum. How did the visitor experiences change pre and post pandemic, if they did at all? What were the visitor motivations to visit the museum in the time when public spaces provoke anxiety? 

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.

“Pivotal life events” – responses

Last week’s theme was slightly challenging. A lot has happened in the lives of all of us especially in the last past 4-5 months. So I think it might have been hard to cherry pick one particular event from that myriad. Nevertheless, I am glad to share the following submission.

Fatima Huseynli

Student

Budapest, Hungary

An mage of an electric piano on a stand against a wall. 

“The object that fits the theme perfectly for me, is definitely my piano. I remember back in March, when the pandemic was just picking up and the lockdowns and preventative measures were partly in place, I purchased an electric piano from Amazon. Boy, oh Boy, was that an incredibly important, dare I say, perfectly timed an extremely impactful event in my life. I would be lying if I said what to expect from the following few months. What I did know for sure, was the pure joy, sweet, nostalgic melancholy that I felt while practicing my scales for the first time in over 5 years.

I never picked my piano before. During and after music school I only played my mom’s old, “BELARUS” that was perhaps 35 years old at the moment I took my first piano classes. It was and still is (it’s back at home in my hometown in Azerbaijan) a very reliable instrument (except for the C5 key that often got stuck to my frustration). It was also very large and hard to move due to its fully wooden carcass and mighty inner mechanism and stringing that made it overall a tad intimidating for little me. The grand and imposing silhouette of “BELARUS” seemed to judge me and longed to be played by a better, more experienced and skillful musician. I cannot say I never enjoyed my companionship with it, but I cannot say it inspired me and supported me-we lacked a deeper connection. Certainly, I am not blaming the old soviet piano for discontinuing my musical education on an academic or professional level, no there were many factors at fault there. However, it did play a role in my eventually deliberately emotionally distancing myself from music. 

How incredible is it, that when a few years ago having grown up to appreciate a lot of my prior experiences, I have gotten a newly formed passion and ecstatic almost feverish interest in music theory. I found myself on a quest to understand music, any music classical, baroque, contemporary, eastern, western, folk, techno, psytrance; you name it, I wondered what goes on within it. This time around I was taking a completely different approach that strangely does not have much to do with performing an elaborate repertoire. So I started using different online tools, got a few materials of the internet and started to learn about harmonics, tonics, modes, genres, compositional elements and structures, that composers and songwriters alike use in the magical process of creating a musical piece or song. 

Not long after I decided I simply cannot do without a piano. My piano to be more precise. A companion and friend who will help me further analyze the intricate weaving of the fabric of the nature of music itself.

Ana Perez 

Boston, Massachusetts 

Looking for a job and teaching art online. I paint almost every day. 

 

My painting: “Opportunities” is a response to the theme “Pivotal Life Events”.

Art matters to me, I can express there what I am feeling at the moment. Also, beauty in general is not the same to have a print (what used to be in the same frame) than a real painting on the wall.

A friend moved away to New York and I made the painting for her room one week before she left, I thought it was an opportunity to show her how much fun we have had these 2 years and even if she would see it just for a week I thought it was worth doing it. It will give the opportunity to a new roommate to enjoy it when she comes into that room. 

    

An abstract painting in a gold color frame.

A Reflection on Lee Mingwei’s ‘Sonic Blossom’

Museums in the Boston area have started reopening this past week. I am very eager to get back out there to visit my old haunts and find new exhibits to explore. I have not had the opportunity to visit one yet, so instead I wanted to take this week’s blog post to reflect on a past museum experience. Last fall, I went to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum to analyze a tour for ‘Teaching and Learning in Museums.’ Also last fall, Lee Mingwei’s Sonic Blossom was visiting the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum as part of their special exhibition In the Company of Artists.

Lee Mingwei

Lee Mingwei is a Taiwanese-American artist known for his intimate participatory experiences. While Lee cared for his mother after her surgery, they listened to Franz Schubert’s Lieder. “These songs came as an unexpected gift to us, one that soothed us both and clearly helped with her healing.” Lee Mingwei’s goal with Sonic Blossom is to spread the gift of healing and transformation with Lieder. Professional opera singers were to move through art galleries, offer participants the gift of song, lead them to a chair, and serenade them. This is where I come in.

I had just finished my tour, learning about Isabella Stewart Gardner’s eccentric life and art collection, and found myself wandering the first floor galleries when a woman in an ornate robe slowly approached me. She asked: “May I give you a gift of song?” At this point I had no idea what Sonic Blossom was, so I agreed. I assumed that I would join a group of people for a special presentation on Gardner’s collection of instruments. Perhaps she was collecting an audience for a small demonstration. I was wrong.

The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum courtyard.

The singer lead me to a single chair in the courtyard and began singing to me, and only me, with very intense eye contact. At the Gardner, the courtyard is the center of the whole museum, a lush garden surrounded by cloisters, and visible throughout the museum. When the music started, all visitors seemed to turn and stare, heads popping out of archways like little prairie dogs. This was not what I signed up for. My eyes flitted back and forth, occasionally making contact with the singer to let her know that I appreciated her talent while managing the awkwardness of the very public and very intimate performance. My heart was pounding, my face was flushing, and I had no idea what to do with my hands. After four minutes (or an hour, who’s to say?), the performance ended. I sheepishly thanked the singer and sunk back into the shadows of the galleries.

I wish I had known what I was getting into when I agreed to receive “a gift of song,” but knowing myself, I would have declined. I’m grateful for Sonic Blossom for pushing me out of my comfort zone. Throughout the rest of my visit, I paid special attention to the later performances, both appreciating their beauty and feeling immense relief that I was no longer the one in the chair. Now that nine months have passed, I can reflect more on the magic of Sonic Blossom. I was very lucky to experience a beautiful opera performance in a palatial courtyard. Was I healed or transformed? It’s hard to say, but it is certainly something that I will not forget anytime soon.

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