On Friday night, I went to one of my favorite yearly events in Chicago: the Field Museum’s Members Night. I’ve only been a handful of times but every time is a marvel. I love going behind the scenes at museums. Also, its fun to see new exhibits as well.
My favorite part are the behind the scenes parts. They open the basements and third and fourth floors to the public that night. In the past, I’ve seen where they treat animal skins and fish. There’s the room of giant objects including sarcophagi and canoes. The third floor reminds me of a history building at a university or college. It has that feel with all these offices with newspaper articles, photos, and cartoons taped to the walls. Various departments are represented there: paleontology, entomology, the library, and so much more.
This time, I found myself in one of the paleontology lab where one of the researchers was talking about the bones of a new dinosaur recently found in Utah. It’s named an oviraptorosaur. These were bones that the public probably won’t otherwise see. Very neat. Then we stumbled into the bird section. I have this weird fascinating with living and dead birds, so it seems. In this large room, there were dozens of bird specimens laid out, some from the Amazon region in the fields, while others were from Australia/New Zealand. And there was also a live hawk and a peregrine on the other side of the room. What magnificent creatures. We continued on to the hallway where there were more bird specimens including several pigeons of different sizes. Respect to the pigeon! In another room, we could actually touch stuffed birds. I got to hold a blue jay, my favorite bird as a child. There were two researchers preparing carcasses of an owl and a seagull that was mesmerizing. Guts and all! This room also contained the famous carrion beetles that help strip the bones. Apparently, they can finish a bird in a day. That’s pretty awesome and a little terrifying. After this room, we took a brief sojourn into the library where I saw a Carl Akeley sculpture of a gorilla, which was really sweet.
In the main hall, there was a lot going on. There were several large and small puppets including an impressive T-rex and a small friendly bumble bee. Readers of this blog know that I have a tremendous love for puppets. There was also African drumming (I think).
After a brief dinner, we headed to one of the new exhibitions that I was really excited about: Women of Vision. It’s an exhibition of six photographers from National Geographic. I had actually seen two of them speak in the last year. Jodi Cobb spoke at the Goodman Theater through the National Geographic Live series and Lynsey Addario just spoke at the Field last Monday. Lynsey Addario is a photojournalist who just published her memoir It’s What I do: A Photographer’s Life of Love and War. She had been kidnapped twice, once in Iraq and another time in Libya. (I just finished her book).
What an incredible exhibition. All of the women have taken incredible photos covering myriad subjects including war, nature, people’s intimate lives, and more. The photos are so full of emotion and meaning. I was talking with someone about the issue of the gaze, particularly with respect to National Geographic. It’s a good question. How does one represent a culture that is not your own? Should one do so? I’m not sure. But Lynsey Addario’s words ring out to me: she’s showing a side of the world that we don’t get to see. But it’s important to think about the power of the person taking the photo versus the subject. And as a side note, I hate that natural history museums contain indigenous/ ethnic
We ended the night with a brief walk through of the new Cyrus Tang Hall of China, which is awesome. It’s got the best use of technology and artifacts that I’ve ever seen. On the way out, we had some fun with a green screen where my husband’s green shirt blended with the green screen. I also got to pass some more Carl Akeley sculptures. Wonderful.
What a lovely event! We’re so lucky to have this opportunity to peak behind the museum curtain.
That’s all for now!