Posts Tagged ‘smithsonian museums’

Splendors of Morocco – The Fabric of Life

Monday, July 26th, 2010
Moroccan textiles to be sold at a town market.

Moroccan textiles to be sold at a town market.

Strolling through a souk, it’s hard not to notice the intricately woven textiles of Morocco. The Smithsonian found these textiles to be so fascinating, they created an exhibit at the National Museum of African Art called The Fabric of Moroccan Life.

The traditional world of Moroccan textiles was predominantly filled with wealthy women, who learned to sew, embroider, and design as young girls. The women adorned themselves with exotic fabric and jewelry both to show their economic status and create their own style. What makes these particular textiles so unique is that Moroccan style borrows from various other cultures -  the dominant influences are Islamic and Berber, but elements of Jewish, African, and Mediterranean styles are also incorporated.

Once married, women would continue to embroider and might have joined harems where they learned and shared their technical skills and ideas with other women. Because these textiles brought critical income to their communities, women also enjoyed a certain amount of creative freedom.

If you were shopping at a Moroccan souk, what would you buy? Jewelry, blankets, artwork, clothing?

Shop at a medieval maze of souks on our Splendors of Morocco tour.

Human Origins: Misconceptions about Evolution

Monday, June 7th, 2010
Starting with a cast skull, artist John Gurche builds layers of muscle, fat, and skin to create hyper-realistic busts of human ancestors featured in the new David H. Koch Hall of Human Origins at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History. Pictured: Homo neanderthalensis

Starting with a cast skull, artist John Gurche builds layers of muscle, fat, and skin to create hyper-realistic busts of human ancestors featured in the new David H. Koch Hall of Human Origins at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. Pictured: Homo neanderthalensis

Here at the Smithsonian, we’ve been very excited about our new Human Origins exhibit at the National Museum of Natural History. The exhibit mixes research, technology, and new developments in the field of anthropology in a way that isn’t intimidating, even though the idea of humans being around millions of years ago can seem overwhelming. With current research being done places such as Kenya and China, and discoveries that have been made in Iraq and Indonesia, evidence of our origins span the globe.

Yet, there are some common misconceptions that have been made about evolution that are worth clarifying. For example, it is commonly believed that evolution is about progress and that each living thing is changing for the better. The reality is that some organisms don’t change over time—including some mosses, fungi, opossums and crayfish. They are a great fit in their current habitat, so there is no need for them to change. Others, such as beetles, need to change in order to survive due to changing climates or new competitors. Humans weren’t the first or last organism to change or evolve on planet Earth.

Another misconception is that humans are no longer evolving, so we can’t observe evolution in action. Plus, humans seem far too complex to have evolved in the first place. The reality is that evolution takes places over a large span of time, and human evolution occurs over so many generations that we can’t observe it in one lifetime. Evolution occurs to populations and species, not necessarily individuals. For example, a giraffe may not grow a longer neck during its lifetime, but over time a community of giraffes with longer necks will survive while the ones with shorter necks will die out. As a result, longer-necked giraffes will mate with each other over many generations, creating a noticeable difference over a long period of time.

To relate this to a human change, most adult mammals (including humans) are lactose intolerant and cannot digest milk. But 80% of adults of European ancestry do have a gene that allows them to consume milk. Why? About 5,000 to 10,000 years ago, dairy farming became a part of European life, and there was a genetic response to this change in diet. We see this evolutionary response when we drink milk today.

There are so many ideas to explore in the Human Origins exhibit, including the big question—What does it mean to be human? Is it how we care for each other? Is it our belief system? Is it biological unity? These are some pretty big questions.

What does it mean to be human? Share your ideas below.

Experience the Human Origins exhibit at the National Museum of Natural History (now celebrating its 100th year!) Also, enjoy a exclusive reception at the museum on our Celebrate Smithsonian tour.  Want to see what you might have looked like as a Neanderthal? Check our our new mobile app, MEanderthal.

Smithsonian Institution: Our Top Five Picks

Wednesday, May 12th, 2010
The Smithsonian Castle

The Smithsonian Castle

There are millions of objects in our collection, so picking only five isn’t really fair. But each of us has our own personal favorite that might be off the beaten path. That’s why we have Celebrate Smithsonian, the tour that takes you behind-the-scenes to see objects you might not have noticed.

  1. Let’s face it, Americans love their television. From 1971 to 1979, “All in the Family” was one of the most popular and influential TV shows in the United States. It addressed blatant bigotry and self-righteousnes in our culture, while actually finding the humor in its absurdity. Archie Bunker, played by Carroll O’Connor, spouted his opinions while sitting in his chair — which is now on display at the National Museum of American History.
  2. Military history fans and aviation nuts love the Curtiss P-40E. Also known as the Warhawk, Tomahawk, or Kittyhawk, this plane was incredibly versatile during World War II. But the Smithsonian has an even deeper connection to this plane. It was flown by the former Deputy Director of the National Air and Space Museum, Donald S. Lopez, who passed away in March 2008. Before it was hoisted to the ceiling trusses for permanent display, Mr. Lopez sat in the cockpit and posed in front of the airplane in the exact same position as a photo taken of him in China.  ”It was wonderful,” Lopez said about that day. “I am proud to have a P-40 here. It felt good to sit in the cockpit – I’d have no trouble flying it today.”
  3. For the kid in all of us, our next pick comes from the National Museum of the American Indian. As an incredible mix of tradition and modern life, Kiowa artist Teri Greeves decided to take her Converse sneakers and beaded them into a work of art. They are now on display on the third floor in the Our Lives gallery.
  4. We have all made a mistake, an oops, or maybe even a “whoopsie daisy”. Well, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing had their turn during the week of May 6- 13, 1918 when one sheet of one hundred stamps with an inverted image of a blue airplane escaped detection. After a series of purchases, the sheet has been broken into individual stamps, creating the legendary “Inverted Jenny” stamps. It’s now the most requested object to see at the National Postal Museum.
  5. For the true music fan, it doesn’t matter if it’s a harpsichord from the 1700s or Prince’s guitar. All of it is fascinating. The National Museum of American History’s music and musical instrument collection ranges from Dizzy Gillespie’s B-flat Trumpet to the Servais Cello, created by Antonio Stradivari (b. 1644). There are even early sound recordings of Elvis in this collection.

What’s your favorite object in the Smithsonian collection? Share Below.

Celebrate Smithsonian with us this October and explore the Smithsonian Institution’s  Museum Support Center made famous in Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol!

Video: Smithsonian Craft Show

Thursday, September 24th, 2009

This year’s Smithsonian Craft Show showcased more than 100 outstanding artists and their limited edition artists. The most prestigious juried exhibition of contemporary craft, the Smithsonian Craft Show takes place here in Washington, DC each April. Below, check out some of 2009′s beautiful works, courtesy of YouTube user Maskirovka77.

Sorry you missed this year’s show? Experience the 2010 Smithsonian Craft Show with us. Reservations still available at publication.

We Recommend: Museum Day 2009

Thursday, September 10th, 2009
Dale Chihuly's stunning pedestrian bridge at Tacoma's Museum of Glass. Photo: S.M. Leen

Dale Chihuly’s stunning pedestrian walkway is a highlight of the Museum of Glass, a Museum Day participant. Photo: S.M. Leen

Thanks to Smithsonian magazine, enjoy free admission to hundreds of museums and cultural venues across the USA on Saturday, September 26, 2009. It’s all part of this year’s Museum Day. Click here to request your free admission card. It’s all online and it’s easy to do.

Featured museums range from the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City to the Imiloa Astronomy Center of Hawaii and hundreds of others in between across the country.

Also, don’t forget to mark your calendars for our upcoming Smithsonian Education Conference on Climate Change. This free online conference takes place September 29 – October 1, 2009. Click here for more information on the event and here for the conference blog, which is already underway, thanks to Smithsonian Secretary G. Wayne Clough and other distinguished contributors.