Sunday, July 15, 2007


Observations from Away

I don't know how this works for you, but every time I go to an unfamiliar place, my observational abilities increase. I notice all sorts of things that I would not pay any attention to if I was in that place on a regular basis. I spent three days at a workshop at the Minnesota Historical Society's History Center (MHS) in St. Paul. The workshop was on learning to properly digitize museum collections. Leigh Grinstead, our fearless leader, taught us about Dublin Core and meta-data and best practices and loads of other gobbledygook that I'll spare you from here. Suffice it to say that it was interesting and informative and I now know enough to know I still have a lot to learn.

While at MHS, workshop participants were given a chance to go through the exhibits, which were interesting to me not just from a content perspective, but from a design and construction perspective. I had three favorites. One was the exhibit on our State Capitol. The Capitol can be seen from a large window in the central hall, where the exhibit is located. MHS has kindly provided those tourist viewer glasses/binoculars so that visitors can peek at the details. People always talk about the golden horses and the golden peak on the Capitol, but I was thrilled to find that there are eagles encircling the dome - looking very much like friendly gargoyles. The Capitol was designed by Minnesota architect Cass Gilbert, who not only designed the building, but the furnishings as well.

Another favorite exhibit was Camera Ojibwe, which is a compliment to a new book by historian Bruce White. The book is called "We Are at Home: Pictures of the Ojibwe People". The exhibit, which was mounted in three months, if I'm remembering correctly, shows photographs of the Ojibwe in posed shots and in every day shots. There are also bandolier bags and other related artifacts on display in the exhibit. It will only be up until early August, so if this interests you, high-tail it to MHS.

The other exhibit I loved, especially from a holy-crap, how'd they do that perspective, was Open House: If These Walls Could Talk, an exhibit that shows the history of one particular St. Paul house and the people who lived there. The exhibit is set up like a house, with a parlor, bedroom, bathroom, den, attic, living room, basement, hallways, and garden. As you walk through, there are all sorts of interactive features that enhance your knowledge about the house. There's a bed that has the words "Sit Here" shining on it. When you sit, the voice of a woman who lived in the house explains how the bed kept breaking - and then the bed breaks. Whomp! While you're on it. The really impressive part of the exhibit was the basement, which can be seen through a small window near the floor. When you look in, you see a staircase with boots and a thermos on the stairs, and below, a record player and suitcases and what looks like a child's scooter/bike. Here's the kicker. If this were truly a basement, the room would be hanging down in the MHS library below. It isn't. Can you guess how they accomplished this room? This exhibit recently won an award from the American Association for State and Local History and I'd like to think that basement had a little something to do with it.

On my last day of the workshop, I decided to walk around the outside of the History Center, which is gorgeous inside, but I'd already seen much of the inside and the day was too beautiful not to enjoy. When I got to John Ireland Boulevard, I saw the Capitol, and then looked over my shoulder and saw St. Paul's Cathedral. The two buildings are ornate and domed and book-end the boulevard most purposefully. I asked Marcia Anderson, Head of Museum Collections of MHS, which building was constructed first. She said that the Capitol was and indicated that the church didn't want to be outdone as far as view and grandeur, so they built the cathedral. Marcia assisted in mounting the Camera Ojibwe exhibit and has been studying Ojibwe bandolier bags and other handcrafts for years. She's very knowledgeable and gracious.

Obviously, there was a lot to observe at MHS, but the observations didn't end there. On the evening of July 11, there was a reception for an art show called Reworks at The Minneapolis Foundation in the IDS Center. My husband's motorcycle table was accepted into this show of art made from recycled stuff. I'm so proud! His table fit right into the scheme of the office, so much so that we caught people setting their glasses on it. The food was to die for and all organic; we were introduced to the music of Ron Cheese; and there were loads of people in attendance. It was fun to be the wife of an artist, rather than to be the artist myself for a change.

And then there was the hotel . . . the Holiday Inn River Centre, which is a few blocks down the hill from MHS, kitty-corner from the Excel Energy Center. Have you ever noticed that you can feel entirely alone in a hotel, not seeing a soul on your floor while coming and going? You can hear 'em, but you can't see 'em. Spooky. Also, there's the issue of bathroom tile. After having tiled our own bathroom and kitchen, I'm forever checking out tile jobs. Hotel bathrooms are notorious for having poorly executed tile jobs, where tiles are cut unevenly, or don't match up quite right at the corners.

On the opposite end of the block from the hotel is Cossetta's restaurant, which serves pizza and Italian food. I ate a chicken penne and asparagus salad the first night, and my husband and I had pizza the second night. Delish! In between the hotel and Cossetta's is this quirky pop culture shop called Maharaja's. Music, smokes, posters, incense, a replica of Han Solo in carbonite (can be yours for only $4999 plus tax!), Buddha statues, KISS dolls, and a black light room filled with fuzzy posters are just a few of the wondrous things that can be found at Maharaja's. While there, I found an old Dave Matthews Band album - real vinyl in the 12" square jacket, folks. I couldn't check the price because it was in a locked cabinet behind a 45 rpm record. When the hubby and I walked back to the hotel from Maharaja's, I looked at the Excel Energy Center and wondered in a half-formed fashion if Dave Matthews Band had ever played there. While online yesterday, playing catch-up, I found a little item on Weekly Dave Speak that was oh so coincidental. Turns out that DMB had played a private concert at the Excel a mere two days before I was ensconced in the River Centre with a lovely view of St. Paul's Cathedral. How's that for weird?

Okay, one more thing and I'll give you a rest. While we (me, the hubby, our children, and hubby's folks and sister) were waiting in the IDS Center for the art show to begin, one of the children had to use the bathroom. There is not a single public restroom in the public areas of the IDS Center. We had to go through the Skyway to the next building to use the restrooms in Barnes and Noble. While I was waiting for the restroom brigade, I found a book on artist trading cards, little hand-made one-of-a-kind cards that artists make and trade with each other. I was taken by the form and now must simply try my hand at it.

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