I’ve been spending an awful lot of time over the past few months reading about museums and historical societies and historical parks and monuments and such, so today I figured it was time to visit one of those places to see what I might see now, after all that. I hopped on my bike in the much cooler and much windier weather and headed down the hill. I settled on the Maryland Historical Society, which I thought a lot about this week while reading about Fred Wilson and his work, Mining the Museum. Wilson spent several years combing the archives of MdHS and used the museum’s own objects to mount an exhibition challenging the invisibility of African American and Native American histories in the museum. Check it out–it’s quite something. In an interview in the exhibition catalog, he said: “The museum is like American society at large. I grew up in an environment where I was alienated, and yet everybody kept smiling…There I was feeling bad about myself because of how I was being treated, and meanwhile everybody’s acting like there’s no problem. In the museum, you’re in this environment you’re supposed to understand and you’re supposed to feel good about. All of these ‘supposed to’s’–and the artwork’s all there, but there’s all this stuff that’s not being talked about as it relates to the real world.” I thought about that as I moved through the museum 20 years after Wilson’s exhibit. The metalwork cases are still there, but it’s all fine silver, slave shackles moved out of sight. The cigar store Indians are still there, but not confronting pictures of “real” Indians, part of a display of folk art instead. And then I passed through a room filled with equestrian oil paintings and ended up in this room, with its built-in shelves stocked with books about hunting and fishing, leather chairs, busts of people I guess I’m supposed to remember for being important, and these two, all chummy over the fireplace. Yep, you’re in this environment you’re supposed to understand and you’re supposed to feel good about, but there’s all this stuff that’s not being talked about. I circled back through, looked at the display of Civil Rights era photographs–temporary exhibitions, you can do stuff there–and pedaled back up the hill against the strong head wind. I can’t believe people drive to these things.
I sense your feelings here and I pick up on some depression about your discovery within these experiences. Some incidences in my past have effected me the same way. Keep pedaling up that hill. Education is wonderful to have but feeling the feelings is another education I think.