Archive for the ‘Outside Pioneer Valley’ Category

Submitted by Penni Martorell, Wistariahurst Museum Curator and Holyoke City Historian.

In recent years, I have proudly brandished the title of “history nerd.” It was only recently that I realized that I was not like most of my peers. I have always been the one who wanted to know more about an item or artifact–who made it, where did it come from, how was it used and why don’t we still use them. As I reflect, I realize this character trait comes from spending many days after school at my aunt and uncle’s antique store. Many hours were spent in “The Shop” under the guise of dusting for a few cents spending money. But mostly I was imagining, playing with, and handling the many wooden, ceramic, glass, decorative and furniture items. I can still conjure up the smells, textures, and colors of many of the standard items—ceramic jugs, wooden bowls, candle holders and molds, tin boxes and all sorts of chairs.

What a gift my aunt and uncle gave to me, allowing me to experience these material items, with a quick lesson in colonial American history as my Uncle walked by posing questions–what it was used for, where did I think it was made, and why it might be valuable. The wash basins, the cooking utensils, the medical instruments, the tables and chairs—they all had a story. I learned to distinguish the claw and ball feet of certain chairs; how a flintlock rifle mechanism worked, and how dovetailed drawers are put together. Documents, newspapers, books, and photographs backing up the history I was learning at school. But nothing was more exciting than helping out at the local historical society on occasion. Here there was a colonial schoolhouse set up with desks, slates, and primers for children like me. And oh what fun it was when my Aunt donning colonial period clothing as the school marm and teaching school for visiting patrons.

For me History has always involved material culture—the physical objects of the past left for us to examine and explore, and providing all the fodder necessary to drive an historians’ research and inquiry.

So it is no surprise that museum work was a natural fit. For me there is nothing more satisfying than seeing a child engage their imagination with what it might have been like in the past; to hear their questions; to see their faces light up with curiosity; to hear the who, what, when, why and how questions uttered with hands raised and the “Oo, Oo, Oos!”.

Thankfully there are many folks who have never grown tired of pondering history. The pioneer valley is full of small historical museums, societies and associations staffed by tireless volunteers who also enjoy sharing material culture with anyone who is interested. Perhaps they too had a historically engaged childhood.

I encourage you, reader, to take advantage of these local historical sites to challenge your children to ponder and question the materials that fill the rooms. And if you don’t know where to start — it is here — exploring the Pioneer Valley History Network website.

Read Full Post »

China's Terra Cotta Warriors

China’s Terra Cotta Warriors

By Cliff McCarthy, Museum of Springfield History

Zheng was only thirteen when, in 246 BC, he became King of Qin, the westernmost state of China.  By his thirty-eighth year, he had achieved what no other warlord before him had done — he had conquered and unified all of the “warring states” of China, proclaiming himself Qin Shihuangdi, the Great August First Emperor of Qin.  Although successful in this life, the First Emperor greatly feared his own death.  If he could not conquer his own mortality, he could at least create for himself a comfortable afterlife filled with his treasures and riches.  And so, to guard his tomb, the First Emperor produced one of the world’s most amazing wonders — a military force of life-size, terra cotta warriors.

Numbering between 6 and 8 thousand, each figure is unique, averaging about 6 feet tall and weighing around 500 pounds.  There are infantryman, archers, charioteers, and cavalrymen, each with the sculpted face of an individual.  They wear their hair in different styles, sometimes with headdresses indicating social rank.

A comfortable afterlife requires more than just an army and so the First Emperor also brought with him entertainers — acrobats, strongmen, and musicians — to accompany him.  He  must have expected some level of red tape in the next world, because he brought “civil authorities” with him, as well.

All this was discovered by chance by some peasant farmers in 1974.  Since then, these treasures have been the subject of massive archeological digs, revealing new finds and opening a window into a culture more than 2000 thousand years old. Some of the figures have made limited tours of the world’s major cities and they are now on display in New York City at the Discovery Museum on 44th Street.  While not within the bounds of the Pioneer Valley, this exhibit is so extraordinary, and the figures so magnificent, that it merits special consideration for Valley residents looking for an amazing museum experience.

Actually, the Discovery Museum is easily accessible.  It is about a ten-block walk from Penn. Station, so the intrepid Valley adventurer can take Amtrak out of Springfield and return the same day, without the hassle of driving or parking in the city.  The exhibit runs until August 26th.  For more information, go to: www.discoverytsx.com

Read Full Post »