Monday, May 27, 2013

"No one looks at a flower, really. One hasn't time."

Michael and I usually spend our trips to cities in art museums. We spend a lot of time looking at the world of the past and the present from the perspective of others. Our experience at the Peabody Museum on the campus of Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts was quite different, because the exhibits (many of them unchanged since my last visit on an elementary school trip) do not interpret the cultures they present. They offer beautifully arrayed artifacts, and you (or I) are invited to learn something about the experience of the people who used them. It is a pretty self-directed museum experience, and one that can change from visit to visit. I found myself comparing fish hooks used by people oceans and centuries apart, and marveled at the fact that people who would never have had any sort of contact with one another managed to figure out how to weave reeds and cloth into baskets and clothes.

We also experienced the marvelous mixture of sculpture and botanical illustration that allows us to learn more about the natural world than the natural world will allow us in real time. As Georgia O'Keefe once said, "No one looks at a flower, really. One hasn't time." I don't remember seeing the Glass Flowers when I was a child. It's really hard to believe they are made of glass because they look exactly like the flowers that line the sides of roads in summer. The flowers are three-dimensional botanical illustrations that invite you to compare not only the stems, roots, petals, reproductive parts, fruit, and leaves of the flowers, but they let you see what a cross section of a seed or stem looks like when viewed under a microscope.

I only recently learned about the way a cashew grows, and was trilled to be able to see it in three dimensions. This photograph (from the Wikipedia article about the Glass Flowers) doesn't really do justice to the real thing because it turns a three-dimensional sculpture into a two-dimensional image.

Somehow the only things that made it into our camera were the descriptive cards that accompanied the flowers. You can find more images here, and read an excellent article about the Glass Flowers here.

Most of our experiences in Boston and New York last week involved interaction with people (people we knew, and people we didn't know who happened to share a sidewalk with us or an awning in a rainstorm). We both found that kind of lively and living interaction extremely meaningful. It took us a few days to come back to earth (including the one day to took to drive back to Illinois).

My walking route is full gardens of real flowers. I experience them differently now. Unlike the Glass Flowers, I can touch the real ones. I can look inside their petals. I know that they won't last more than a day or two, but I can experience their beauty while it's there.

Though it really has nothing to do with the substance of this post, I was struck by a statement made by the Headman of Cabrua in 1953 to the anthropologists Robert and Yolanda Murphy that was displayed in the museum.
Before you came to live with us, our lives were as always, and we were happy. We worked, we ate, and then we slept. When you came we were glad, for you brought us many fine gifts. And every night, instead of going to sleep, we sat with you, drank coffee, smoked your tobacco, and listened to you radio. But now you go, and we are sorry, for all of these things go with you. We now know pleasures to which we were accustomed, and we shall be unhappy.
Michael and I have learned to take the pleasures we find with us, and we both feel fortunate to be able to share them in the blogosphere.

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