Sunday, March 1, 2009

Hudson River, Native Americans & Oscar

A friend and I met up to visit the Albany Institute of History and Art today. Our plans were to view the new Hudson River Panorama exhibit, as well as to hearThis old fold-out map has been turned into a wall-length display. the featured speaker: Joseph Bruchac's "First Voices of the River: American Indian Stories and Traditions of the Hudson."

We are both museum mavens and soaked up the learning while viewing the special exhibit and the galleries. In addition to the new show, there are also many of the intricately detailed "Hudson River School" paintings, with their dark foregrounds and pale receding backgrounds, which creates such an illusion of depth. Some of the interesting artifacts we saw while checking out the Hudson River Valley's history included:
  • an icebox - quite literally, just a chest-sized wooden box with a metal lining and a fitted lid, used for storing food along with the heavy ice blocks that were sawn from the river in winter, with a hole in the bottom for melted ice to drip out. Since the water dripped down over the food in the box, we also saw old advertisements admonishing housewives to be certain they were buying only the best "sanitary ice."
  • a beautiful cast iron parlor stove molded to look like a house in Amsterdam.
  • an intricate wooden tabletop stereoscope, which allows one to view two side-by-side images which, when viewed through the lenses, gives the image a OMG - my first real OSCAR sighting!3-D appearance; these images were the main source of news photos for the general public in the mid to late 1800s, before photos could be reproduced in newspapers.
  • huge and beautiful family bibles, with scrawled records of births, marriages, and deaths.
  • replica birch bark and dugout canoes (the dugout was made by burning the wood in part of a log, and hacking out the ashes).

While walking about, we happened to step into a small "what we're working on" room. In this quiet room, behind a large glass wall, visitors can peer into a vault of artifacts that may appear in an upcoming exhibit. And, what to my wondering eyes should appear, but an OSCAR! A real, genuine, honest-to-goodness Academy Award. It's the first one I've ever seen in person, and it was such a moment for me.

This particular Oscar was won by Edwin Burke in 1932 for Writing Adaptation of "Bad Girl." As you may know, I'm in the process of watching all Oscar nominees since the awards first began in 1929. I only recently watched "Bad Girl" even though I'm currently watching films from 1940; so many of the older films requested through Netflix end up on a rather long waiting list (though I'm very happy I can get them at all...many are so old and obscure). Anyway, it was such a thrill to actually SEE an Oscar, especially so close. Now, to hold one in my hands...

After our tour of the museum, we headed to the lecture hall. Today's speaker, part of the educational lecture series that accentuates the exhibit, was Joseph Bruchac. He is an accomplished author (more than 70 books!) and storyteller, reflecting his Abenaki native American heritage and PhD education in his work. (He and his son made thOne of the beautiful Hudson River School paintings.e dugout canoe in the exhibit!)

As Joseph gave us historical accounts and wove mesmerizing tales for us, he also displayed his many other talents...he spoke and sang in his native language, and played the drum, rattle, and flute. Sometimes when he played the drum, he held the padded drum stick in part of his hand, and the rattle in another part. So, with every beat of the drum, the rattle kept time, and the combination made a lovely rhythmic sound.

Before he played his beautiful wooden flute for us, he told us the story of the first flute: once a tree had a dead limb, which left the branch hollow. Soon, a woodpecker came along and made a series of holes in the hollow branch. And, when night came, the wind blew over the holes in the branch and a lovely sound drifted out. And so we have flutes, which bring together the sounds of the plants, birds, and wind, mixed with the breath of man.

We learned that a young man would play his flute for the woman he was wooing. If she accepted his song, they were soon married. She then put words to his music, and that song became the lullaby for their children. Such a lovely circle.

Joseph's stories and descriptions of the history of the Abenaki and other New York tribes helped bring the Hudson River exhibit to life in a meaningful way. Such an enriching day.

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