The Creation Museum

Before we left Pittsburgh, we went to St Anthony’s Chapel. The Chapel has over 5000 relics, which is, outside of the Vatican, the largest collection of relics in existence. The collection also used to be much larger – I think 24,000 relics, but many were sold off by family (against the wishes of parishioners) when the collector/priest died. The parishioners raised money to buy the 5000 relics that were left, and those form the core of the collection. Rich Pell at the Center for Postnatural History recommended that we go here, and he described it as a precursor to a natural history museum, which it really was. We did the audio tour, and it was interesting and informative and the space was quiet and also totally gorgeous, completely at odds with the violent deaths that had resulted in the bits of teeth and bone that ended up on the shelves in the church. I’m glad we went.

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In fact, I’m very glad we went, because our next stop was the complete opposite scale of religious experience. We stopped at the Creation Museum in Peterburg, Kentucky. So let me preface this by saying that I’ve actually been teaching about this museum in the Museum Studies class for several years, as an example of a private collection/museum with a very obvious ideological bent that is displayed as if it is a public museum. It is very controversial. The museum cost $27 million US to build and it was funded entirely by Answers in Genesis supporters, or people who believe in Young Creation Theory, that is, that the earth is less than 6,000 years old, that God created everything in that time, and that all answers lie in a littoralist reading of the Bible. Many museum professionals, including the American Alliance of Museums, refuse to accept its status as a museum, but I find it fascinating because it adheres extremely closely to museum principles as a way of granting a fairly ridiculous theory some legitimacy and authority. The museum employs several hundred people, and all have to sign a statement of faith saying that they are in agreement with the principles of the museum. There was a huge debate surrounding its building, but at each turn, private enterprise won out – it won over teachers, scientists, the museum community and on and on. And since it opened it has been extremely popular, both for believers and for people like me and Tim, who are really there to ogle. Overall, we both found it pretty depressing – there are a lot of families going through there and people taking notes, it is completely nonsensical in parts, unsurprisingly ideological and actually really boring in other parts. It also feels like you might never get out – there are huge gates at the entrance and security guards with dogs wandering around. It’s also located right under a giant cloud of smoke from a nearby coal-burning electricity plant, which gives an overall sense of apocalyptic doom (which maybe they were going for).

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This is right in the entrance way – happy children and dinosaurs. It gives a sense of what’s coming.

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The obsession with dinosaurs is focussed on the age of dinosaurs. Paleontologists say they’re millions of years old, but no … this can’t be. There’s a weird questioning of fact that goes on: where did the fossils come from? How did they get there? And then there’s an exhibit that supposedly “explains” that they have been there less than 6000 years. “Different interpretations from different starting points,” is the overarching theme of this section. Canyons can appear in a matter of years (example, Mount St Helen’s), landscapes can change dramatically overnight, dinosaurs and humans could have lived together etc. etc. etc.

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The paleontologist is on the right with his scientific notes and the Believer (who is also possibly the museum founder – they certainly look alike) is on the left with his Bible. One is supposed to leave thinking the paleontological interpretation is on shaky ground – it is mere opinion.

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There’s a Garden of Eden, with Adam hanging out with penguins, dinosaurs and monkeys (who are most definitely not our ancestors). What I didn’t realize about this room before I went to the museum is that there’s an incredibly loud repetitive soundtrack – one line from the Bible, on repeat, at epic volume. It’s completely overwhelming.

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Dinosaur eating pineapple – dinosaurs and humans got along because all dinosaurs were vegetarian in the Garden of Eden (it actually says that, I’m not making it up).

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A lady friend for Adam (at which point the soundtrack switches to yelling about ribs. It’s very disconcerting because I know these passages from my childhood, but here they sound like army drills).

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Adam and Eve and a friendly vegetarian dinosaur.

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Adam and Eve in the lotus pool. This is actually supposed to demonstrate their innocence prior to knowledge, because who is above them but the non-friendly serpent….

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And then the museum visitor gets kicked out of the Garden of Eden, along with Adam and Eve, and is sent into a room with movie screens and terrible scenes (heavy on women in labour).

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Dinosaurs are no longer friendly, nor vegetarian.

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And honestly, this was probably the most disturbing thing in the whole museum. Adam and Eve now had to clothe themselves, so this horrifying diorama shows them skinning their former sheep friends so that they can dress fashionably.

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In the next rooms, there’s a great deal about the depravity of humans. Depravity is often equated to graffiti.

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And the museum goes on and on and on and on. I’ve shown maybe 1/10 of what we saw. Near the end one ends up at a diorama of the Ark.

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with a few extra passengers.

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I think I can say with complete honesty that this was one of the weirdest places I have ever been, and I’ve been to some weird places. We were both so uncomfortable – at first it was kind of funny, but then it wears you down and is totally exhausting. The amount of money that must go into keeping the exhibits running (a lot of them are animatronic), making new films and constantly changing the exhibits shows that there’s a lot of support for its existence. I was glad we didn’t see any school groups – apparently they do visit quite regularly though.

We hit the road again, pulled into Cincinnati (only about 20 minutes away from the museum), and went somewhere very different.

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We went to the American Sign Museum, and just happened to be there for a tour from Tod Swormstedt, who started the collection and knows A LOT about signs.

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I now know more than I thought possible about neon, plastic signs, lollipop signs, sputnik signs, backlit signs etc etc. It was actually very interesting and totally different from our last excursion.

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 I was clowning around, trying to imitate Big Boy. I think I sort of got it. But I actually had to stop after this attempt because my trying it made everyone else want to try it. New trend at the Sign Museum!

We only stopped in Cincinnati overnight before making our way back into Kentucky. As requested, the next post will contain many, many pictures of Lucy. I might even title it “Lucy’s Big Day.”

London to Buffalo to Pittsburg to Peterburg

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We left London hours before a gigantic snow storm walloped London and St. Thomas. Good timing on our part as there is no way we could have gotten out on Friday – 55cm of snow overnight! But we also left so early because I’d made an appointment with Dennis Maher in Buffalo to see Fargo house, which I had in my head as “his house,” as in the site where he makes art, not as in “his house,” as in where he lives. Actually, it’s both.

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This is what it looks like on the outside.

And then the door opens, and it looks like this:

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His website says, “Since 2003, Dennis Maher has been developing a hybrid art/architectural practice that explores approaches to demolition, renovation, and restoration. His work has involved the harvesting of discarded building materials from sites of demolition, and the construction of aggregate environments of urban waste. His ongoing Undone-Redone City project suggests new spaces, places, and events that emerge from assemblages of city fragments.” We talked a lot about collecting and reassembling collections, about cutting away space in the house (it’s hard to see in the photos but there are a lot of layers in the wallpaper, and the floors are cut through to show the framework of the house), what it’s like to live in the space (interesting, but not always relaxing), hoarding, and about John Soane (we’re both fans, and there is one room in Fargo House that looks like a modern rendition of a room in the John Soane house).

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The pictures really, really don’t do it justice. It’s an immersive space for certain and definitely crowded, but it also feels welcoming and organized – definitely a collection rather than a hoard. I’m hoping I can organize some kind of collaboration with the Museum Studies students in 2014-15…. We visited a couple of other things in Buffalo (including Maher’s show at Hallwalls gallery, a pretty amazing bike store, a totally random estate sale) but the combination of having played derby for the first time in two months, flu shot aftermath, a late night with friends and a very early morning caught up. Nap time. Fortunately we were staying with a parrot named Stella, so an early afternoon was all right.

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We left the next morning for Pittsburgh and had some fairly bad weather en route. Can I just say that I had never even heard of lake effect snow before I moved to London, and I wish it had stayed that way! It is the ruiner of all fun. Fortunately once we actually got to Pittsburgh we were out of reach of the Great Lakes. It was bitterly cold the two days we were in the city, but blue sky and sunshine all around.

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So it wasn’t quite Dennis Maher, but the place we were staying was super sweet. No joke, there was a pool table in our bedroom. A pool table! In the bedroom!

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We squeezed a lot into two days. We went to the Warhol Museum. I had hoped that the Time Capsules would be up, but they’re still cataloging them. I’m not a Warhol fan, to be honest, but the Time Capsules capture my imagination. He used to collect all the stuff on his desk in boxes and would occasionally just sweep everything on the surface into the box (including, infamously, an apple core), tape them up, and date and sign them as “works of art.” There are hundreds of them, all at the Warhol Museum. They had one on display from the 80s when Warhol had befriended Jean Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring. The box was full of their sketches and small gifts to one another, as well as random birth certificates, a tonne of sycophantic Christmas cards, receipts, letters, notes etc. I would love to get my hands on those other boxes, but right now you can only see them through two windows, locked tightly in a visible archive. The rest of the museum, I could take or leave.

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We took Lucy for a walk at Fort Pitt and ended up ducking into the little museum there because we were so cold. The museum itself wasn’t very memorable, but I did find a picture of my brother as an 18th century aristocratic baddie. And one of me as peasant girl possibly celebrating, possibly running away in terror.

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We went up to the university for lunch because I’d read a lot about the Conflict Kitchen and wanted to try it out. It’s part art project, part social experiment. The idea is that they only serve food from countries with which the United States is in conflict. Last month it was Cuba and now it’s North Korea. They also organize discussions, teach-ins, talks etc. focussed on the countries in question and conflict in general. The food was delicious, and cheap.

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Might have eaten in the car because it was so damn cold…. Nothing warms the belly like kimchi!

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We also went to Alien She, which was fabulous and made me feel like a teenager/twenty-something. So good. The nineties were the best. Riot Grrrl was the best. Trying to remember the words to My My Metrocard in NYC, and then hearing it in a coffee shop in Toronto, and then seeing it in an exhibition in Pittsburgh was also the best. Zines forever, awesome girl bands forever, etc. etc.

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Channeling Celebrating Girl from the Fort Pitt Museum to pose with Allyson Mitchell’s Ladies Sasquatch.

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One more museum…. We were in Pittsburgh, so we had to go to the Centre for Postnatural history. I’m not sure there are many museums where you can go and talk to the director about how he drove to Utah with a van to pick up a taxidermied genetically engineered goat named Freckles. But, there is one, and it’s in Pittsburgh. Actually, this goat might be familiar to Canadians or textile peeps. Freckles is the Nexia Technology spider goat – the one with arachnid proteins in her milk that could be spun into high tech BioSteel. Here she is, beside a transgenic taxidermied fish (a theme in this blog) and other specimens. The museum was interesting and fun (it goes on – there’s another room behind that black curtain), and currently has several other parts that are touring around the world.

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And then we ate dinner in a Church-Brewery (thanks for the recommendation, Christine!). Apparently Pittsburgh is the pierogi capital of North America, so we had to test that claim. The “church” also brews its own beer and has an altar to beer. Yep.

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The next morning we took the public funicular up Mount Washington opposite the city of Pittsburgh. The views from the top were stunning.

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We took Lucy for a walk through a canyon, and gave her extra pats for being such a trooper.

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It was really cold, so we went to the Botanic Gardens to warm up. The gardens were really nice – very Victorian. And very warm.

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There was one room that had a model railway in it, depicting a town that backed on to Jurassic Park. Some dinosaurs had escaped, which I only put in here because we seem to keep encountering dinosaurs in dioramas (more about that tomorrow).

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Today we drove to Cincinnati. We stopped at the Creation Museum in Peterburg, Kentucky en route. Oh man…. I think that particular museum deserves its own post….

Hiatus

Our last stop before returning to Canada was in Vermont. I had originally planned on having two days in Vermont because there are some deeply interesting little museums (the Museum of Everyday Life, the Vermontasaurus, the Experimental Balloon and Airship Museum, to mention just a few), but we had to get to Montreal for the Skilling Deskilling Workshop, so we had less time than we would have liked. Really, it’s just an excuse to return to Vermont in the near future.

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We stayed in a little tiny village called Plymouth. It is, quite literally, 3 buildings at the bottom of the hill, and then at the top of the hill a little village preserved almost intact from the 1920s.

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It has two claims to fame: 1. It’s the birthplace of former President Calvin Coolidge, and 2. It has a delicious little cheese factory that has also been there since the 1920s.

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The factory has a little museum on the top floor, where you can learn all about cheese making.

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The collection includes a garden rake that was once used as a stand-in when a whey rake was unavailable (for making delicious, delicious curds).

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Swiss Diplomat making a “delicious cheese” face.

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Purchases were made, and then we hit the road again.

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And what a road. Driving in Vermont is a pleasure, unlike pretty much everywhere else. Almost empty roads and gorgeous views. And no snow when we were going through.

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We made a second quick stop in Waterbury, home of the Alchemist Brewery. It was the very last day that their retail store was open, and the beer that they brew (Heady Topper) is virtually impossible to get at any store in Vermont, and totally impossible to get outside of the state.

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More purchases were made!

And then we headed for Montreal, where we took almost no pictures. We were there because I was going to the fabulous Deskilling/Reskilling workshop at Concordia. I wish I had taken pictures because it involved my wishlist of speakers, fabulous talks, a pretty sweet little apartment to stay in, and pieorgies. It was really excellent, and I’m so glad that I was invited.

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I did see a lot of art … Cory Arcangel at DHC, Beat Nation (second time, just as good) at MAC, Mishka Henner at the McCord. And some good friends – it just happened that my collaborators from the IP project were all in Montreal at the same time. Breakfast was had! So nice.

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On our way back to London we stopped in Hudson to see our friends Duncan and Anna. Tim and Duncan had found a recipe for maple syrup beer in Catherine Parr Trail’s 1857 Emigrant Housekeeper’s Guide to the Backwoods of Canada and decided to try their luck with brewing it.

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I built robots with Owen.

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And a modernist sculpture garden (featuring art critics in their cups, a Takashi Murakami mushroom house and a Surrealist police bear).

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And then we went back to London.

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Despite her expression, Lucy was happy to be back. We took her over to the house, and she and the cats (who are in excellent spirits) had a nice furry reunion. It was really bizarre to be home but not home. And to go to the house and see it half filled with our stuff and half with someone else’s. We were staying a block away with our friends Patrick and Kelly and it was so much fun that we all pledged to No Stress 2014 (among other things). And… we were once again neglectful of pictures. None of us with our friends. But one of the food!

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Heady Topper and Plymouth cheese were consumed. Both delicious.

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I went with Kelly and Patrick to Toronto. We saw the Geoffrey Farmer show, but we were really there for the Theaster Gates talk at the AGO. I’m honestly not sure how to describe the talk, which was more of a performance than a talk. It was charged, moving and lyrical in equal parts and I’m sure there are plenty of critics out there who can do a better job of analyzing it than I can. I felt changed by it, and that’s high praise for a talk. Then, as you would, we went on a search, in the dark, for a 34 foot unicorn horn, and then we went back to London.

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I went to derby practice on Thursday night and strapped my skates on for the first time in more than two months (yikes). I managed to have fun and not break any more bones, both of which felt like an accomplishment. My legs were pretty sore when we left London very early on Friday morning and drove out to Buffalo just ahead of a giant winter storm (parts of which reached us here).

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The leaves en route from Fairfield to New Paltz were gorgeous, and I’m so glad we saw them. After New Paltz we ran head on into winter.

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No smiles before coffee.

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New Paltz is a great little place full of art and antiques and beautiful walks.

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All smiles after vegetarian soup.

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We walked around the Huguenot Village, which is still pretty intact. Tim should really be posting about this – he had all the facts.

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We were staying with the mum of one of the interns that I met at Elsewhere (yet another reason that Elsewhere was amazing). She took us on a hike on Shawangunk ridge. It was such a beautiful afternoon and the dogs loved it.

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Possibly not as much though, as Lucy enjoyed sharing Nixie’s bone collection

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and as Nixie enjoyed sharing Tim’s lap.

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Haha. I totally love this photo – Nixie was so funny.

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We left for Ithaca the next morning, but stopped in Woodstock en route. Woodstock the town, not the field/concert. But it was kind of true to form anyway … lots of tie dye and organic vegetables.

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And a bit of ongoing counter-culture. These signs are everywhere in New York, but most of them aren’t this fun.

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It’s a cute little town.

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yarn bomb!

It started raining in Woodstock, and we set off back on the road for Ithaca. Our GPS, which we call Debbie Downer because she’s got this Eeyore kind of voice, has a bit of a personality disorder. Or whatever the equivalent is for inanimate objects. In any case she sent us on a “short cut” where we basically made our way into the back woods/fields of New York State, past decrepit farms definitely full of axe murdering zombies. She also found every single steep hill in New York – the steeper the better. The Yaris was struggling, which was incredibly nerve wracking given that stopping at Dan’s Deer Cutting and Guns was not on my list of things to do. We eventually ended up (not accidentally) in Bloomville New York, which is in the middle of nowhere (picture evidence to follow), but has an amazing cafe that wouldn’t be out of place in Brooklyn. It felt totally bizarre, because outside it looks like this:

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And inside it looks like this:

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We had some gorgeous and changeable weather en route to Ithaca, which was good, because the Yaris was making ominous noises and seemed to not be in good shape after our tour through vertical New York. And then we got to Ithaca, and the hills in Ithaca actually made the hills in back woods New York look like nothing. We made it to the top. Took a picture from Cornell out over the hill. Got back in the car and it made a truly disturbing noise. Kind of like a tin can getting crushed.

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So we all piled out of the car, and while I had a panic attack, Tim did useful things like kicking the tire to see if it was flat, or if the transmission was about to fall out or whatever people are looking for when they kick tires. And he kicked it again and a GIANT piece of hard plastic fell out of the car. Somehow the mud flap that goes on the interior of the wheel well had come off and gotten stuck in there, probably when we were driving through pot holes trying to get to Bloomville. Long story short, the car is fine, but I most definitely had had enough. We just went to the place where we were staying, ate dinner and went to bed.

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The place where we were staying was great. It was a little tiny cottage that was part of an off-grid farm/co-op outside of Ithaca. There are six people living there communally, and they built the place themselves from straw bales and plaster, with solar energy etc. And a shetland pony. And MINIATURE DONKEYS (which we didn’t see. Sad day).

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The full house.

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Our little cottage. The snow didn’t start until the morning we left, the first day was pretty nice.

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We went hiking in the Ithaca gorges.

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We also went to Cornell to see the Blaschka glass invertebrate models. I’m a little obsessed with them – they’ve been on this blog before, when I was in London. I just think they’re so beautiful, and I can’t imagine making something so accurate in glass.

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And brains. Because brains in jars never get old. That one right in the middle belongs to Edward Ruhloff who was a tricky academic and a murderer. It’s also the second largest brain ever recorded. The others also belong to the more or less famous. One of them was used to show definitively that female brains were not inherently smaller or less intricate than male ones.

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This morning, despite the snow, we made our way to Vermont. The Yaris was no longer banging and clanging around, and we ignored all suggested detours from the GPS. It was a much more relaxing drive. We stopped in Bennington, Vermont, inspiration for Shirley Jackson’s story The Lottery, and home of the Blue Benn diner. And now we’re staying in Plymouth. Tomorrow, we’re making our way to Montreal.

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Maybe the square that inspired the Lottery?

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New York City!

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We stayed in Fairfield Connecticut for two nights and used it as a base to get to New York City. Such a good idea – I don’t think driving in New York City is something I ever want to do, much less driving with two bikes on the back of the car.

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We spent our first day in Brooklyn. It was pretty amazing – I’d emailed a couple of tiny collections and off beat museums that were closed for the season (or the day), but they all agreed to let us in. Somehow this made it even more exciting.

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First up was the City Reliquary in Brooklyn, which is a tiny museum dedicated to the city of New York in all its bizarreness. There’s really no rhyme or reason to the collection other than that they collect things that might otherwise go forgotten, get thrown out, or just be seen as unimportant to “real” museums. When we were there they were all engaged in a vigorous debate over whether or not to include a fish. The fish in question was from Fulton Fish Market, a fish market in the Bronx that had been established in 1822 and lasted until some time in the mid-2000s. In any case, one of the collection curators went to the last day of the market, picked up a fish and put it in his freezer to be taxidermied and hung in the gallery. Seemed like a good idea at the time – a real piece of NY history. But, this was against the wishes of at least one vegan board member, who didn’t want animal remains in the collection … and so the fish still languishes in the freezer (packed in Fulton Market ice), its fate unknown….

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It was dark and crowded, and labels were made with a label gun, and there was a rollerskate hanging from the ceiling (also a New York City toilet alligator), so pretty great all around.

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From there we went to the Interference Archive, also in Brooklyn. But, ahem, we might have gotten a little distracted en route by the Brooklyn Superhero Store. It’s one of Dave Egger’s tutorial centres (tutoring at the back funded by ridiculous/hilarious things sold at the front).

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Who’s your hero? Testing out the sparkly capes.

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Evil Villain mind reader (Tim was thinking about boogers).

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Then we made our way to the Interference Archive, which is housed in a kind of converted warehouse in Brooklyn. Basically it’s ephemera from social movements that has been collected over the years by activists and now it’s open and available to anyone who wants to do research. It was closed on the day we were there, but they let us in to look around for an hour. It is really an anti-archive archive, especially in the way that they want people to touch and use things – it’s a no glove space. They had some pretty amazing things there – definitely documents and buttons and posters that otherwise would never have been collected. We had a good time looking through the stuff – I found some buttons and posters from the anti-FTAA protests in Quebec City that I remembered, and they had some fabulous posters from the Maple Spring. I would really have loved to have more time there just to see what’s there.

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A small part of the carefully organized button archive.

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Our final stop of the day was at the Library of Morbid Anatomy. I’ve been following the Morbid Anatomy blog for a long time, and was very excited to go there. It’s Joanna Ebenstein’s collection, and she’s basically been running a museum, library and school on a tiny shoestring budget. But where else can you find a collection of objects to do with death, possibly take a class on taxidermy or hear a lecture on burial practices in North America, all while looking through bookshelves stuffed with books on collecting, medical museums, death objects and so on? We talked for a long time about museums, about how she’s moving the collection somewhere bigger, about anti-institutional spaces and learning outside of the academy.

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Went to an old New York favourite for Mexican corn for dinner, and then made our way back to Fairfield.

Tim stayed in Fairfield with Lucy the next day, so I was on my own for a second visit to the city.

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Vodka makes you a great artist ad, side one.

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Side two. Get drunk and paint everyone! Or maybe I’m missing something?

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Robert Rauschenberg Foundation/Marfa Dialogues, exhibition on climate change. I thought I should prep myself for our upcoming visit to Marfa. The exhibition was okay … I liked the pyramids – they’re full of oil, clean water, and polluted water from the Rio Grande.

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Maya Lin’s nail map of the flood path of Hurricane Sandy

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A walk on the Highline – one of my favourite things to do in NYC.

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So this slightly out of focus picture of a door is actually a picture of The Museum, housed in a elevator shaft in Cortland Alley. Cortland Alley is really scary. There is definitely rodent wildlife, and when I was there, there were definitely criminal activities taking place. As well as people walking their dogs, which made it seem slightly less terrifying. But it looks like this:

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And then you look through the windows in the door, and inside is this:

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It is an assemblage of collections, including “Personal Ephemera from Al Goldstein, The Rocks and Tools from Tom Sach’s Mars expedition, Objects Made For Prisoners or by Prisoners in US Prisons, Fake Vomit from Around the World, Tip Jars collected by Jim Walrod, Surf and Turf Potato Chips, and more.” I didn’t stay for long, but it was pretty fun. Reminded me a bit of the Parker Branch in London.

I was actually in NYC to meet with artist Derick Melander. I’m hoping that he’ll be able to come to do an installation with students in one of my classes next year. His work looks like this, and his Tumblr is here:

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He makes work from piled clothing. It’s a commentary on the memories housed in the used clothing, and also on the immense waste generated by the textile and apparel industries. We had a fun lunch – so I hope that I get the grant I applied for!

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I made a final stop at the Museum of Reclaimed History in Alphabet City, near Tomkins Square (not sure I spelled that correctly). I was pretty tired at this point, and the museum is really about tours of the neighbourhood, sort of like the Tenement Museum. There wasn’t a tour available when I was there, so I just saw the permanent collection. It’s a nice space though, and it’s in the C Squat, which is a legal squat in New York.

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Not surprisingly, after having been in fairly isolated places for a lot of the past 5 months, New York was totally overwhelming. A typical conversation went something like this: “mmmmbmblblsls.” “What?” “MMMMMMBLBMBMCM” “I CAN’T HEAR YOU!” “WHAT DID YOU JUST SAY?” “I DIDN”T SAY ANYTHING I JUST ASKED YOU WHAT YOU SAID.” And so on. Apparently one gets used to talking quietly. Also to not hearing constructing, sirens, horns and people yelling at one another. But there was, as always, good food, good coffee, and super amazing tiny little museums and collections. Success all around.

Next up: New York State.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Portland to Peterborough to Hopkinton to Hartford to New Haven to Fairfield

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We set out from Portland early Tuesday morning and made our way to Peterborough, NH. It’s a cute little town that was the model for the play Our Town (which, to be honest, I don’t remember anything about except that the dead people in the cemetery sit around on stage making comments). But the town is pretty, and there are lots of nods to the play:

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Peterborough is also the home of the MacDowell Colony – artist retreat par excellence. We did a little bit of spying, but didn’t really see anyone – it’s very private and secluded.

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We were there to meet the artist Anna von Mertens, whose work I really admire. She uses traditional quilting techniques like hand stitching and dyeing to make conceptual quilts. The one above is “Frida Kahlo’s Aura, with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird” where she took Polaroid aura photographs of famous paintings and reworked them as sewn and dyed panels. I like the aura panels a lot, but my favourite works of hers are ones that use data – weather events recorded in the rings of trees, star patterns at moments of particular historical significance. Her website has lots of examples. In any case, it was fabulous to meet her and to see her gorgeous off-grid house and her latest work.

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This is the view. Not too shabby!

From Peterborough we drove to Hopkinton, where we were staying at Breakwind Farm. No joke, that is the farm’s name, and has been since the 1790s. But now, they also make organic baked beans. And, of course the beans are called FARTOOTEMPTING. We tried them – they were delicious.

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We had kind of a perfect traveling experience here. When we arrived the whole place was deserted, it looked like zombies might have gone through already, and it definitely looked like the kind of place where at the very least you might get devoured by bears. But it turned out that everyone was just outside picking potatoes, there were no zombies (although there might have been bears) and it was actually magical. We ended up staying with the people who own the farm (and make the beans) and some other travellers who had retired, sold their house and were moving around the world helping people at various jobs in exchange for room and board. So we all ate beans and then went outside and sat around the fire pit while the night sky turned white with stars. It was so dark that at one point I dropped Lucy’s leash and completely lost her, but she was actually huddled against my leg. We talked about all of our adventures and what it felt like to just walk away from a house full of stuff (good), and the fire was warm while the night was cold. I’m not sure that I would want to live in an isolated farm all the time, but for a night it was pretty special.

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Lucy, post-drive, still wearing her seatbelt, showing us how it’s done (again).

The wallpaper was something else. Totally loved it.

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We left Wednesday morning for a long day of driving and made it to Fairfield, Connecticut at dinner time after stopping in Hartford and New Haven en route. We managed to hit four states before 11:20 (New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts and Connecticut).

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In Hartford we went to the Museum of Natural and Other Curiosities. It’s in the old State House – sort of like walking into a provincial legislature and finding someone’s collection of two-headed cows, unicorn horns and portraits of politicians. Deliciously macabre. It was actually a collection that belonged to an 19th century painter named Joseph Steward. But he thought that the public should be able to see these objects and the state legislature agreed. The collection was closed down in the late nineteenth century, but it had been advertised in newspapers so when it was put back together in the 1990s, the curators knew what to look for (although the new collection is much more about local flora and fauna than the old one with its obvious tinges of colonialism and pillage).

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Finding a two-headed calf to replace the collection’s 19th century star attraction presented a bit of trouble, but then one was stillborn in 1996 in Michigan and donated.

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Horn of a unicorn! It was advertised as such – mostly so that people would come and see the collection and Steward would get more portrait commissions. He probably knew it was a narwhal tusk (it’s still displayed as a unicorn horn).

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The juxtaposition of historical figures and taxidermied specimens was pretty funny. Chomp chomp.

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From Hartford we went to New Haven. We wandered around Yale for a while, mostly to see the Beinecke Rare Books Library.

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Plain on the outside….

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Not so plain on the inside!

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We also went to the Cushing Brain Collection, which made us both a little queasy. All those brains in jars. And most of them not healthy brains. The collection used to be housed, hidden, in the basement of a student residence at Yale. It was an adventure to crawl over pipes, take away a wall panel, and find yourself in the dark with 500 jars of brains. Not a pleasant thought. But I absolutely would have crawled over the pipes.

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Now we’re in Fairfield, CT. Lucy is totally flaked out – so far she’s been a champion, but she’s pretty tired. It was a long day and tomorrow we’re going to New York City.

Kingsburg to Portland, Maine

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Things did not start well. Originally, we had planned to take the ferry from Digby to St John on November 1st. And then:

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So the ferry was cancelled, and we somehow had to make it to Portland, Maine by November 2nd. We decided, in the end, that we would drive it, but conditions were pretty treacherous, and we had to stop in Amherst, Nova Scotia when greeted with a giant sign saying that small trucks were forbidden from driving on the highway through the Tantramar Marsh because of high winds. This was the parking lot of the place where we stayed:

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Also, there was no power. So we stopped, and it was probably a good idea because the storm ended overnight and when we left the next morning the highway was scattered with upside-down trucks and fallen hydro pylons. This made some of us anxious, while others took it in stride.

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Anyway, it meant a really long drive and it took us 11 hours to get from Amherst to Portland. Fortunately the drive was pretty beautiful.

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(not my photo, it’s from a postcard of Camden, Maine, which we passed … but it really did look like this the whole way).

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St. Croix Island

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Bar Harbor, where we stopped en route

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Exercise is important.

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And we kept going, and going and going. Ten hours on the road and we landed in Wiscasset. By this time, I was starving, like really, really, really jumping out of my skin, plotting to distract the people next to us so I could steal a piece of their pizza, hungry. And then this cheesy fish burger came my way and I can honestly say that this was one of the best things I have ever eaten in my life. I think I devoured it in 2 minutes flat. For the record, Tim managed to eat a lot more peanut butter en route and thus had picture taking energy. He ate crab cakes. I’m sure they were delicious, but I wasn’t watching.

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We finally made it to Portland well after dark. We ended up staying in the Inn at St John, which is basically a faded Victorian grandeur hotel that caters to hipsters, giant families looking for a cheap place to crash, and serious drunks, one of whom put his head through the front window on our second night here, and was escorted out by the police. Which made these signs all over town pretty funny:

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If I’ve learned anything so far, it’s that a hotel that accepts dogs but doesn’t have specified pet friendly rooms is going to be full of characters. Just for the record, I felt pretty bad for the drunk guy – his dad had died and he’s gone out on a major bender. He probably didn’t intend to put his head through the front window.

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Lucy taking the stairs like a champion. A giant feat,as anyone who knows Lucy will know. Definitely worthy of a photo op.

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Portland is pretty awesome.

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It has great flea markets.

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Good breakfast.

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Great bookstores.

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Delicious coffee.

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Beautiful autumn leaves.

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My new house (you’re all welcome to stay).

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Strange Maine.

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Fabulous used-tarpaulin fence decoration.

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Mysterious Google barges.

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Anti tar-sands activism (because Portland Port might become a depot for the delivery of tar sands crude).

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Gorgeous lighthouses.

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But best of all, Portland has the International Cryptozoology Museum, which was really why we came to town.

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So good! The world’s only cyptozoology museum, the Portland one was founded a decade ago, and is really the vanity project of cryptozoologist Loren Coleman, who is the world’s leading expert on Bigfoot, Yeti, the Lochness Monster and all sorts of other beasties and oddities.

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This is my absolute favourite kind of museum – full of bizarre artefacts, off-the-book curatorial decisions, earnest labeling, over-the-top exhibits, all done on a shoestring budget. They are so much fun! I also learned that Maine and Massachusetts are really beast-filled places. Don’t go walking in the woods without looking for giant footprints. Although you might find a lover-man like this one.

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That thing at the front is a carefully-crafted model of a sea serpent that was found in the belly of a sperm whale, in case you were wondering.

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The museum disputed the veracity of having a Sasquatch and a UFO in the same image, but the artist is famous, so, you know….

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I completely and totally loved it. Goodbye Portland! Tomorrow we head for New Hampshire.