Exploring History with my Brother

November 7, 2018 |  Tagged , | Comments Off on Exploring History with my Brother

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 My brother finds history to be mildly interesting, but his interest level is far removed from that of his historian and genealogist brother. A twenty one year old artist, focused on the future, embedded in his personal pursuits, he has little time or interest in a distant past. When I saw this project, I knew I had the perfect person to prod into a historical adventure in my brother. He would not hesitate to critique an exhibit, complain if something was boring, or push us out the door if he felt it was a waste of his time. At the same time, he would not be unfair, and would try to appreciate the offerings from both an artistic and informational perspectives. I decided to take him to a place I had always wanted to go, the New York Historical Society, to take a look around at what they had to offer. I asked him what his initial expectation would be for the historical society, and he really was not sure. He anticipated exhibits on New York City history and maybe a couple of galleries of paintings and New York City memorabilia or documents. We went in blind, I didn’t do any research into the exhibits, so I was also curious to see what the experience would be like as well.

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 The beautiful old building on Central Park West was bustling that day, not with older people as my brother (and I) had expected, but with lots and lots of children, teens, and young adults alike. This initial crowd gathering was a surprise to us both, as a healthy flow of people lined up to see the new exhibit, Harry Potter: A History of Magic. While we didn’t get to see that exhibit, the crowds on the first floor were a sure indicator of success. My brother commented on how surprised he was that such an exhibit would be going on in a place like the Historical Society. We discussed a bit about how much of what J.K. Rowling created in Harry Potter was drawn from intense research into the world’s history of myth, magic, and the early days of science. He was impressed with not only the concept of the exhibit, but with the interactive and open feel it gave to people who might not ordinarily enter Historical Society’s doors.

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 We looked over some brochures to see what was going on that day and then wandered around aimlessly to see what the exhibits had to offer. The first stop was Black Citizenship in the Age of Jim Crow, a winding exhibition which brought attendees through a hundred years of triumphs, oppression, pain, and perseverance. The Reconstruction Era was laid out through visuals and artifacts that showed the complexity of the times. My brother paused and looked at the models of cabins reconstructed, read about the African-American elected officials who would rise to office briefly before these opportunities were stripped away. My brother and I spoke of the fallacy of “separate but equal”, as we examined photographs of those who rose in spite of the inequality that was mandated from officials throughout the United States.

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 I asked what the most impactful part of the exhibit was, and he chose a Ku Klux Clan robe which stood in a corner. The white and brown sheet itself standing above a letter filled with demeaning threats was one of the most difficult things to be in the presence of. “Symbols of oppression are hard to deal with”, my brother said, “but that was like standing in front of evil itself.” I felt the same way. It was a visceral reaction; you want nothing more than to remove yourself from that hatred simply because you hate it so much yourself. We both agreed, however, that it was vitally important to see such a thing in person. Being in the presence of that representation of darkness made the realities of a monstrous period so vivid. A book would be hard pressed to capture the emotion that exhibit brought forth.

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 Following this exhibit, we decided to head upstairs to see the Tiffany display which brought together one hundred Tiffany lamps for a great survey of their work. My brother was immediately impressed by the variety of shades and the intricacy of their designs. Some of the lampshades were made of over two thousand pieces of glass in a variety of motifs. “These are cool,” my brother said as he stared at a cascading blue shade. As an artist he was taken in by the colors and the light play, as well as the metal work of the stands. Impressed by their composition, my brother moved around the two floors of gallery space quickly. Not knowing much about Tiffany and Co. besides their reputation, he was surprised by the scope of what was on display. We moved through this space much faster than the first exhibit, as we spent more time looking than immersing, which was really very enjoyable.

6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 The last stop on our journey was a quick walk through a couple of galleries where my brother got to experience a little of what he expected: paintings and New York City. We walked quickly through one painting gallery which help a Gilbert Stuart painting of George Washington and a rather large Picasso. “Wow”, my brother said, “That’s the actual George Washing painting. What is it doing here?” He found the Picasso to be pause worthy too. We finally stopped in a room which offered an overview of New York City history in almost a timeline form. His favorite item on display was a bathroom door which had been tagged by hundreds of NYC street artists. He stared intently, calling off names of people and tags of famous graffiti artists of bygone New York.

7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 This was how we closed our trip to the city and the New York Historical Society. “I had a great time”, was his answer when I asked what he thought of the experience. He was surprised of the variety of exhibitions and exhibits the space had to offer, and found the artifacts and memorabilia a much more effective to make history come to life than reading. “Sometimes it’s hard to connect with the past,” he said, “but seeing something like this made it interesting.” I have to say that I couldn’t agree more. The New York Historical Society put together an excellent atmosphere, strong exhibits, and made people of all ages, backgrounds, and interest levels feel welcomed. Even though we didn’t get to see all they had to offer, I have a feeling I’ll be going back often. As for my brother? The verdict is he will go with me to another museum or exhibit sometime soon. I count this as a win all around.


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