Archive for the ‘Museums’ Category


Museum Blessing

In Hong Kong,Museums on August 28, 2011 by triotriotrio

I like to think that I have had a full career in the museum field. I have had the opportunity to work at two of the most prestigious museums in the world, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and Colonial Williamsburg. And during my time at these institutions I was able to meet some incredible people and participate in some wonderful programming.

Me and three of my museum colleagues (I am on the far left)

Moving to Hong Kong has provided me the chance to build upon my museum career. Within my short time at the Hong Kong Maritime Museum I have been able to participate in transforming a museum that is preparing for a big move to a new location. During this move process I have had the chance to witness plans being formed and ideas being shaped. In August the museum took occupancy of its new home at Pier 8 Central. Now the real work begins. The historic pier is going to being renovated and a new interior will give this aging structure new life.

This week I was able to participate with fellow museum staff, city officials, architects and builders in a blessing ceremony. A blessing ceremony is a Hong Kong tradition that is tied with the beginning of any construction project. It was a solemn affair filled with a great deal of good feelings. As an outsider – it was especially rewarding to witness the event and make some observations.

First, I was moved by the opening speech of the chief builder. The ceremony began with him to promise to make this a good project. He stated that he would see the project “on time and on budget.”

Second, there was two huge roasted pigs and on display. I was quickly told that these were not just for “decoration” when the ceremony ended, there was going to be a feast. And it was quite a feast.

Lastly, when the ceremony came to an end and the feasting began, the chief architect, the museum director and the chief builder cut one of the pigs in half. As their hands pulled the ceremonial  cleaver through the flesh I thought this is far more difficult than cutting a ribbon.

It was a great feast. And I was so happy that everyone on the building crew was in attendance. Sure, there was roasted pig to be had but I think that they would be there even if that wasn’t the case. It was a Hong Kong tradition that I was proud to be a part of.


Enter the Natives

In Museums,Taipei,Taiwan,Updates on August 7, 2011 by triotriotrio

Four Figures

Four Figures from the Taiwan Indigenous Peoples Cultural Park

I still love the blockbuster – encyclopedia museums of the world but lately I have been drawn to ones that have a more defined story to tell. Defined should not be interpreted as “lesser” it is only to say that not all museums can be all things to all people. After all there are only a handful of British Museums, Metropolitans and Louvres.

Taipei is best known as the home to the National Palace Museum. And believe me when I say this museum is a gem that should not be missed. But near the Palace Museums sits another cultural institution, the Shung Ye Museum of Formosan Aborigines, whose mission is to tell the story of the native people of Taiwan. I found in this museum touches on the familiar and inspires a desire to learn more about is subject.IMG_1892 For example, the native people of Taiwan may have more in common with people from New Zealand than Mainland China.

I quickly learned that the story of the native people of Taiwan is not unlike the tale of those of Native Americans or the Aboriginals of Australia. These are people who through the years have been faced issues of discrimination, assimilation and extinction. But in the end they have endured to keep their traditions alive in an ever-changing modern world.

Sheng Ye Museum-- Reflections of Aboriginal CultureThe museum is divided into different sections that illustrate the different cultural techniques such as building homes, pottery, clothing and fishing. And the museum also touches on the issues of language and faith. Time and time again I could draw similarities between tribal groups of North America in the way information was presented.

Once again I have learned the important lesson that the further one travels from home, the more one discovers that home is never that far behind.


Dragon Boat Festival Exhibition

In Dragon Boat Festival,Hong Kong,Museums on June 9, 2011 by triotriotrio Tagged: , ,

Dragon Boat Exhibition at the Maritime Museum

Monday is an official holiday in Hong Kong for the observance of the Tuen Ng Jit Festival. Two events associated with the holiday are preparing and eating zongzi, and racing dragon boats. Zongzi are a type of rice dumpling sometimes known as Chinese Tamales. And dragon boats are long slender paddle powered boats like a canoe.

The Hong Kong Maritime Museum is currently hosting a temporary exhibition in celebration of the Dragon Boat Festival.

Here are three highlights of the exhibition:

Ming Dynasty Dragon Head

On display is a dragonhead figure that dates to the Ming Dynasty (1368 to 1644). One of the remarkable things of this piece, besides the age, is how detailed the carvings are. Many modern day heads have a generic shape and are composed of springs and cheap plastic bits. This piece is a work of art and would have been made at the hands of a master. Even though this piece was exposed to water conditions and unknown other elements for years it still contains its original hair pieces and remnants of its original lacquer paint.

Dragon Boat Dish

Also on display is a remarkable piece of porcelain which the includes images of dragon boats. But one of most interesting aspects of the plate is not what you can see but what you can’t see. On the back of this particular plate are a set of five Chinese characters that depict what is known as the five poisons. The five poisons refer to the snake, centipede, lizard, toad and scorpion. Placing these characters on pieces like pottery were thought to held ward off the poisons on the day of the Tuen Ng Jit Festival, the day where poisons had their most power.

Lastly the exhibition highlights the story of Qu Yuan (c. 340 BCE – 278 BCE). Many of the events connected to the festival are connected this famous poet and politician.  Qu Yuan committed suicide by drowning himself in the Miluo River on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month, the same day as the annual observance of the Tuen Ng Festival. It is said that the local people, who admired him, threw lumps of rice into the river to feed the fish so that they would not eat Qu Yuan’s body. This is said to be the origin of zongzi. The local people were also said to have paddled out on boats, either to scare the fish away or to retrieve his body. This is said to be the origin of dragon boat racing.

Qu Yuan

Although it is clear that Qu Yuan’s did not create the festival – his life and death are today intertwined into the traditions of today.

The exhibition will be up to the end of August. The Hong Kong Maritime Museum is located in Stanley at the historic Murray House. The museum is open every day except for Monday.


Museums in Interesting Times

In Museums,Shanghai on June 3, 2011 by triotriotrio

On my recent trip to Shanghai I was able to squeeze in three museum visits. The Shanghai History Museum, Shanghai Museum and the Museum of Contemporary Art Shanghai – they represent three different types of museums and each one provided an invaluable insight to the life and culture of this vibrant city.

Shanghai Museum in the People's Square

Sometimes it is difficult for me as one who works in the museum field to separate my day-to-day job and vacation mode. I am often drawn to look at the touch screen capabilities of the collections’ monitor for example before I try to absorb the content of what is on the screen. But on this visit I was completely in vacation mode and I was able to focus on the museums as a place of knowledge and entertainment instead of trying to calibrate the visitor flow patterns.

In part I think it was because the environment of Shanghai is so strange to me that I was suffering of sensory overload. Every experience was memorable and different. When one is completely overwhelmed by what they are seeing, hearing, tasting smelling and feeling the brain must shut down and fall back to trying to understand only basic reflections?

But I was able to glean a great deal from my three visits. I hope you enjoy my insights and observations:

Cricket Fighting

The Shanghai History Museumis located at the iconic Pearl Tower. And even though the observation tower and gallery arcade are a complete madhouse – the History Museum was almost empty. Most visitors don’t visit this hidden gem. If there is one word to describe why I love this museum it is “dioramas.” The museum is set up in a chronological walk through of the history of the city of Shanghai. There are wonderful wax figures and full-scale backdrops. I love a completely immersive experience like this. And although some of the scenes are a little stylized or a gloss over version of history I didn’t mind. I always try to accept things for what they are and not what I would want them to be.

Shanghai Museum of History

The Shanghai Museum is the city’s premiere museum. I was especially excited to see this museum because I had done a great deal of research on it during graduate school. The museum represents the best of China’s past with the best of what China is offering to the modern world. It is a world-class museum in every sense from the signature architecture, smart gallery design and aesthetically pleasing interpretive text panels.

Shanghai Museum Courtyard

The galleries are divided into different material types such as costumes, jade, coins, calligraphy and furniture. Each gallery is filled with so many objects that it would be impossible to see everything in one day. I would recommend to anyone to focus on one subject of interest and try to concentrate there. And then repeat visit as many times as possible.

Mask from Tibet - Shanghai Museum

The Museum of Contemporary Art Shanghai was a delight. This is China today. They were hosting an exhibition of young artists. The idea behind the exhibition was questions. Each individual artist presented a piece that provoked a question and a possible response. I think that the show was especially effective because it was capturing young artists at the beginning of the career. This is often a time when one has a lot of questions about the present and the future. Jennifer was especially taken with a mannequin head filled with Barbie heads. I am not sure what the question or the answer was with this piece but it was certainly thought provoking.

MOCA Museum Shanghai

Three museums, one city, three different points of views – all illustrating a common idea of China in the modern world. China must be seen through all three lenses. It’s strong past, its emergence as a world powerhouse and a driving passion for the future.

I can’t help but think of what is sometimes referred to as the Chinese Curse, “May you live in interesting times.” I believe we all are.


Museum Day

In Hong Kong,Museums on May 18, 2011 by triotriotrio Tagged:

The International Council of Museums (ICOM) has designated May 18th as International Museum Day. The purpose of the day is to promote museums and highlight stories that promote community. As a museum professional I did my best to support the day in Hong Kong. I spent the day visiting three separate museums around the island. All three museums are vastly different but they do all tell a similar story. That story is aligned with the special day in that they all serve as a community resource and help to protect Hong Kong’s past and culture.

Fireboat Alexander Grantham Exhibition Gallery – The Alexander Grantham was commissioned in 1953. It served for many years as protector to Hong Kong’s busy harbor. The gallery was especially memorable because of the many oral history videos of people that served on the ship throughout the years.

Law Uk Folk Museum – Nestled in a busy urban area of the city sits this 18th century home. It is amazing to walk the halls and see a traditional Hong Kong home. Unlike many museums that try to recreate a time and place, the home comes across as if the family has just moved out and perhaps could return at any moment.

Hong Kong Museum of Coastal Defense – Perched high on the hills overlooking the harbor sits the museum. But addition to the exhibits on the inside there is a wonderful walking tour that guests can explore the old powder magazines and cannon fortifications.

It was a great day. Glad – I am glad I could participate.


A Muse For a Museum Worker

In Hong Kong,Museums,Updates on April 1, 2011 by triotriotrio Tagged: , , , ,

Wedding Couple Being Groomed

Anonymous Wedding Couple Having Their Portrait Made

A Muse for a Museum Worker

More than one museum worker that I have spoken to has told me about walking through their own galleries in order to find some solace or meaning to their work. It is so easy when one hasn’t looked up from the monitor in several hours to stretch one’s legs, look at a new perspective or think about something other than the work at hand. A curator at the Isabella Steward Gardner Museum, my favorite museum in the world, once told me that it was policy that museum staff get out of their chairs once in awhile, walk through the museum and remember what it is that the museum is all about.

I have taken this to heart. But as I spend my current stint at the Hong Kong Maritime Museum, it is not the galleries that I head for when I need to recharge. I only need to walk out on to the museum’s walkway to once again feel refreshed. It is not art, history or science that I seek out but it is the hope that I can catch a glimpse of a new bride and groom.

I have been told that this phenomenon is not unique to Hong Kong; one may travel throughout Asia and experience this spectacle. When a couple gets married they sometimes have elaborate photos taken. These photos are often taken in prominent places so they convey a sense of time and space. Sometimes it is only the bride. Sometimes it is the couple. And sometimes these photos are an orchestra of family, bridesmaids, best men, and attendants.

And then there is the host of support people. The grip, light man, and photographer are all in tow as this moment is captured. At times there are scores of cars lined up on the road. In the backseat there are people doing make-up, painting nails and combing out big hairstyles. I once saw a couple with no less than 20 people to support the photographer.

The Hong Kong Maritime Museum is located at Murray House, a historic structure in Stanley Beach that is a haven for these types of photos.  Every day at lunch I spot these groups. And I am really sad when it is rainy and no one is out. It really has become a big part of my day. I guess everyone loves a bride and I am no exception. You can always tell that gleam of excitement in her eyes. Maybe it is the thought of the possibilities to come?

Weddings and museums have a long history with one another. Some museums depend on them for a significant portion of their earned revenue. But this is a new connection for me.


Hong Kong History Comes Alive

In Hong Kong,Museums on March 24, 2011 by triotriotrio

The Hong Kong Museum of History is a “museum person’s” museum.

On Display at the HK History Museum

I have been so excited about visiting the History Museum ever since I have moved here to Hong Kong. But the list of things to see and do is long and distinguished so until now I had not found the time. Fortunately I got around to it today and made my way over to Kowloon. The History Museum shares a space with the Science Museum which will be another “to do” thing that I will need to get to.

Hong Kong History Museum

I say that the History Museum is a “museum’s person’s” museum because it was clearly designed and organized by people who love the discipline. Now I will visit just about any kind of museum but when I run across a place like this it really makes me happy. The museum creates a completely immersive experience. It is set up like the stage of a movie where every sight, sound, light and touch has been carefully crafted.

The museum begins with the telling of the geologically times of Hong Kong. What a snooze that could be! But here the visitors can touch and experience all the different rock forms that make up the island. The pathway is through a cavernous space where volcanoes erupt in the background and rock formations cover the walls. Multimedia sights and sounds are everywhere creating a pathway through time.

But the thing that I absolutely loved about the museum was the full size dioramas! Full size Chinese junks, a New Year’s Parade and “old time” stores fill the gallery spaces. The visitor is completely immersed in the story of Hong Kong. One can board the boat and walk around on the deck. The stores reminded me of the “Old Streets of Milwaukee” at the Milwaukee Public Museum, but here one can do more than just peer into the windows. All the stores are full size and completely accessible.

Everywhere in the galleries are beautiful photographic backdrops that frame the artifact within the context of history. There are certainly puff areas of the gallery but the museum also handles some tough subjects well. The Japanese Occupation of Hong Kong and the 1997 British handover are especially well done. Each gallery is filled with first-person recollections and film footage. Very powerful!

Hong Kong History Museum

I look forward to spending some more time here down the road. I just need to find the time.

Please check out my Flickr Page for more photos: