Monday, March 25, 2013

Three Days with The Smithsonian's Amy Ballard

Kristen says...

 I mentioned in the last post about John the Artist that the reason we were invited to his home was because of the arrival of Amy Ballard, Senior Historic Preservation Specialist at The Smithsonian Institution. Yeah. :)

 Clearly, if you know me (or if you happened to follow my travels this summer/fall or to read my tatting blog and see my quest for tatting in DC's museums) you know that learning that Amy was coming to Vladivostok interested me for a number of reasons:
  • I have subscribed to Smithsonian Magazine (more or less) since my early undergrad years
  • I have visited many of the museums on my three visits to DC. My favorites are the National Museum of American History (naturally--their Within These Walls exhibit is magical), the American Art Museum and National Portrait Gallery, and perhaps my overall favorite (and new discovery) the Postal Museum! (Although the creepy stuffed dog is a little...creepy for my tastes!) :)
  • I worked at (and lived across the street from) the State of Iowa Historical Museum just after Chris and I were married. I made some WONDERFUL friends from that experience, and I learned so much about museums, and how much I like museum people...
 So, with all that behind me, of course I jumped when I was given the chance to meet Amy and watch her various presentations here in Vladivostok.

 The fact that she is an absolutely delightful person (and, full disclosure, yes she will probably be reading this post, although I would write those exact words even if she wasn't) was a total bonus! :)

 Amy has a life-long interest in Russia, and has visited St. Petersburg often over the past many years, but this was her first trip to Vladivostok. It was fun for me to actually know a little more about Vladivostok than someone else for once! :) She came to make multiple presentations at local universities, and I was lucky enough to be invited along!

 Although she'd already had a full day beforehand, I first (besides the visit to John) joined Amy on Monday evening for her presentation at a local art gallery, the same place John exhibits his art:
 This presentation was about museum curators, and was really interesting for me because of all my friends at the Historical Museum. Also, many of the places/items Amy talked about in her presentation were places/items I saw this summer in DC.

 The crowd was very interested in her presentation, and it went really well, especially given that she had to pause every sentence or so to have her words translated into Russian!

  The next day was a very full one. We started off at Vladivostok's Far Eastern Federal University, where Amy was scheduled to present to a group of students.
 First, though, we were given a tour of the University's' 4+ museums, which were very well done and very interesting!
This is the Archaeological Museum. We spent most of our time here because the gentleman who took us around the museums is an archaeologist. We learned all about the digs the University and its personnel have been involved in, including a recent one due to the building of the new bridges.
This map was on the wall of the Archaeological Museum. Here our guide is showing the migration pattern of people who crossed the land bridge to the Americas. Amazing how almost 30 years in North America makes you think about the American side of that story, but not about where the people came from originally...that, by the way, would be the area in which I am currently living!
  As I said, the University houses 4+ museums (I think one is in progress). Here is a shot of part of another:
This was a very interesting look at images of women and women's fashion over the years in honor of International Women's Day (March 8). It was very interesting and very well done.
 After visiting the museums Amy gave her talk to a large group of students. We were located in the library of the University, a large and sunny area. Amy's presentation was more generally about the Smithsonian this time, but again I learned a lot.

  After this presentation we were whisked off to the Philharmonic Building (the same place we saw Ty Stephens a few weeks ago) where Amy made yet another presentation (I don't know how she didn't drop from exhaustion!), this time to an assembled group of representatives from all over the Primorsky Krai region.

 Amy was one of many speakers that day, and focused this presentation on the administrative side of The Smithsonian. She talked a lot about budget and the process of gaining approval to build new buildings (or modify old ones) in Washington, DC, which was really interesting. I learned quite a lot about the process of building both the newest museum, the American Indian Museum and the future newest, the National Museum of African American History and Culture. (This makes sense when you realize that Amy is interested in the architecture of The Smithsonian--she co-authored a book about it!)
 Afterwards, it was well past lunchtime, so we went downstairs and had a WONDERFUL lunch at the café attached to the Philharmonic. Yum!
And I had a most interesting dessert:
This looks like a chocolate sundae...but IT'S NOT! It's a BALSAMIC VINAIGRETTE SUNDAE! And, believe it or not, it was really quite good! If you were expecting chocolate and got this, I'm sure you'd be quite disappointed, but as I knew what I was getting, it was quite enjoyable.
 Thoroughly refreshed (and stuffed!) we walked across the street to spend a couple very enjoyable hours at the Arseniev State Museum:
 Once again, traveling with an honored guest (thanks Amy!) was a perk, and we were given a personal tour by the museum's director. What a tour, and what a museum!

 Here is one of the first things I noticed about the museum (and, incidentally, about The Smithsonian museums as was allowed.
The director told us this was one of many new initiatives he and his team have implemented to bring visitors to the museum. Apparently many other Russian museums charge a fee to those who wish to take photos...but also alienate visitors that way. Another new initiative: equal admission charges to Russian citizens and foreigners (to promote equality and elude xenophobia) and free admission on Monday for anyone who wishes to visit!
 The museum had a nice variety of exhibits, including natural flora and fauna of Russia on the first floor.

This tableaux particularly struck me...
I originally saw just the tiger...and then realized what it was "hugging"...grizzly bears are, of course, "common" in some parts of the United States, but not fighting tigers! :)
It's very hard to tell in this picture, but in the glass case to the right there is a baby bear gazing curiously at a baby tiger...right next to the two adults grappling...the taxidermy at this museum was really good!
 There were 3 or 4 levels to the museum, and each held new and interesting exhibits and architectural delights:
You can read a bit about the discovery of this interesting wall art here
 Here is and exhibit of some Soviet art and sculpture:
 The artwork for one of the current exhibits, full of amazing fashions and photos from a Russian settlement area in Harbin, China:
  A room dedicated to the years when Eleanor L. Pray, the wife of a US businessman, lived in, photographed, and wrote about Vladivostok:
Pray's diaries were recently translated into Russian and published in a Russian/English book, along with an album filled with photos taken by and of Mrs. Pray and Vladivostok. If you click here you can watch a 10-minute video that shows (in part) the building of this exhibit!
 Another neat architectural detail of the building was this window, which from far away looks like regular stained glass:
 But up close is so much more interesting (and 3-D)!

 Even the bathroom area is interesting at this museum! A local artist was brought in to create an interactive experience for those waiting in cool!

 It was a great day, but I was sooooooooooooo tired when we got home--I can't even imagine how tired Amy was!

 At any rate, the next day we were at it again, for one more stop and presentation before Amy flew off to the north to give more presentations...

 Our final stop was the Vladivostok State University of Economics and Service, a large and sprawling campus where I was very glad to have an escort, because I would have totally gotten lost!
All the buildings on this campus are connected: dorms, classrooms, dinning halls...the students never have to go outside! They also have (center building with the large blue sticker) a training hotel for their students, among other opportunities.
 The last of Amy's presentations in Vladivostok was given to a large group of design students, and so she again focused on the challenges presented in building the new African American Culture museum. The students were very interested and asked some good questions at the end.
 During this presentation Amy mentioned that we'd visited the Far Eastern Federal University's museum the day before, and of course was invited to the delightful small museum at this university. I enjoyed visiting that one as well, although I don't have any pictures to share with you!

 Following this final presentation and museum visit we went back to the Consulate to have lunch and, sadly, to say goodbye. Amy flew off later that afternoon, and I came home to do laundry, cook dinner, and catch up on my tv shows! :) I think Pip has enjoyed having me home again, too! :)

 It was a really nice three days, both because I got to meet a new friend, and because I had the chance to LEARN again! What fun!


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