history

Feeling Historical

Todd & I aren’t really museum people. You know who you are…you like going to museums, you choose to go without being a field trip chaperone. Don’t get me wrong, I like seeing Art (when I can recognize what it is), but it’s not high on my list of activities, as in “it’s Saturday…let’s spend a few hours browsing around in a place that makes me feel like a complete troglodyte!” I always feel like I haven’t studied for the test (or missed the entire semester) when I go to a museum – it’s so intimidating, with people wandering around saying things like, “I love the way the artist used the blacks and browns to convey the meaninglessness of life.” What?! I just see a picture of a field of flowers. It’s pretty!

But when you’re in a new place, part of the things you do is go to the museum to see what the curators there think is important. Everyone we’ve met here in Boston say you have to go to the Museum of Fine Arts. Luckily, it’s a 15 minute walk from our apartment, there was a threat of snow last Saturday, and we could go to 5 Guys Burgers & Fries for lunch on the way. Score! So we went. Now, being in Boston, there is history everywhere, but it’s on a grand scale. The old beautiful buildings, the statuary in tucked away corners or on the street medians, the Boston Common & Public Gardens…it’s easy to feel like you’re walking where Samuel Adams, John Hancock, Calvin Coolidge, or Michael Dukakis (depending on your political bent) walked. This is an OLD town…and being a Cali girl, that feeling of history is overwhelming. Yes, we have the Missions in CA, but you have to want to go there. It’s hard to feel the weight of history at the Foothill Ranch Towne Center. But I digress…

The Museum of Fine Arts is history on a smaller scale. I was expecting the usual European paintings, Egyptian relics, etc, but they had a wing, a wing, of Art of the Americas. Here you found furniture, no whole rooms, from the Puritan and Revolutionary periods. They had silver that Paul Revere had wrought. The had the Torah finials (the crowns for the top handles) that were from the oldest temple in North America:

18th Century Torah finials from the Touro Synagogue, Newport, RI
18th Century Torah finials from the Touro Synagogue, Newport, RI

And they had the original paintings from John Singleton Copley, Gilbert Stuart, and John Singer Sargent. You may or may not know these names (famous American artists from the 18th & 19th centuries – see I don’t want you to feel bad!), but you’ve seen their works:

John Singleton Copley's "Paul Revere"
John Singleton Copley’s “Paul Revere”
Gilbert Stuart's "George Washington at Dorchester Heights"
Gilbert Stuart’s “George Washington at Dorchester Heights”
John Singer Sargent's “The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit”
John Singer Sargent’s “The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit”

Todd and I left the museum vowing to become members. There was so much more to see, and we had only spent about 3 hours viewing the America wing (1 1/2 hrs on a free guided tour), and quickly at that. We enjoyed the room with all the ship models and the John Audubon prints. We really enjoyed the Impressionist paintings of Renior, Degas, Van Gogh and others that had a special exhibit all to themselves. There still is the Mayan and Aztec artifacts, the European, Asian, and Egyptian wings, and so much more that we haven’t seen. It’s still overwhelming (especially for us non-Art History majors), but what I walked away with is that these pieces are the things that root us to not only a time, but to a place right here outside the door. Except for museums in Israel, I haven’t had that feeling of rootedness before in a museum, that it belongs to me. This may not be my genetic  story (I’m a first generation/3rd generation American maternally and paternally, respectively), but it’s my country’s story, and I take that very personally. Now you’ll have to excuse me…I have to go study!

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