USA

Columbus, OH: Wexner Center and the Billy Ireland Cartoon Museum (Again!)

Every so often, I have one of those posts that is basically just a long angry rant about how much I hate something, and I’m afraid this is going to be one of them. I went back to Cleveland for Christmas, as is my custom, and my mother bought us a night at the BrewDog hotel in Columbus as an early Christmas present (for Marcus, I hasten to add). We drove down early that day so we would have time to see a couple of museums before meeting up with my uncle and his partner for dinner and drinks in the evening (we weren’t going to have time to do anything the next day as we had to drive back right after checkout so I could meet Hanson that afternoon!!), and one of the museums I chose to see, solely because I hadn’t been there before and it was in a convenient location, was the Wexner Center for the Arts, located on OSU’s massive campus. I think the Wex is also a venue for film screenings and performances, but the museum is what I visited, so that is what my ire is directed towards.

I knew we were off to a bad start when we were charged $9 each for admission, despite the website clearly stating it was $8. I didn’t question it because the woman at the admissions desk wasn’t very friendly, but I wasn’t happy. The exhibition at the time of my visit was HERE: Ann Hamilton, Jenny Holzer, Maya Lin and I foolishly assumed that HERE was merely the temporary exhibition, and there were other, permanent exhibitions. Nope, HERE is all that was THERE. The exhibition consisted solely of two rooms with words written on the walls, a room full of marbles, and another room full of tables of copies of images from OSU’s archives that you were meant to tear off and mail to yourself or a friend (it wasn’t clear if postage would actually be provided, and also this was a huge waste of paper). I was annoyed enough at having paid $9 for something that took all of ten minutes to see, but I was about to get even more annoyed.

Do you see all those marbles in the picture above left? They were all glued to the floor in some formation that was meant to look like rivers or some shit, which I guess was kind of cool, but they were just standard glass marbles of no real value, plus they were affixed to the floor, so were unlikely to be disturbed by footfall. Well, I walked to the end of the exhibition and tried to leave by stepping over the marbles at their narrowest point, which was only a few inches wide, because there was no other obvious exit. A guard ran up and started yelling at me and forced me to walk all the way around the exhibition to get out. She was accompanied by not one, but two other guards, all seemingly employed solely to guard the marbles. Although I didn’t say anything at the time, aside from a remark to Marcus about not disturbing the precious marbles, this is where I got angry. Leaving aside the fact that the exhibition probably shouldn’t have led you up on the wrong side of the marbles if you weren’t meant to step over them, or at least have a sign saying as much, I just can’t get over how many security guards this museum had working there to guard what was essentially a valueless artwork.

I don’t talk that much about the museum where I work for various reasons, and I’ve agonised over posting this, but I need to be honest about the realities of working in heritage for myself, my colleagues, and doubtless scores of other people throughout the UK. To say circumstances are not ideal is an understatement. Most of us spend years volunteering before we manage to land what will inevitably be a low-paying job not commensurate with our levels of education (and generally the bigger the museum is, the less they pay because people will settle for anything just for a chance to work there). And once we get that job, we put up with so much crap because we’re relieved that we have paying jobs at last – in my case, working in an office with horrible strip lighting that literally gives me a migraine every time I turn it on, so I have to work in the dark; getting verbally abused by mentally unstable visitors; having to stop what I’m doing fifty million times a day to direct people to the toilets that are just beyond my office (yes, we have many signs pointing the way, but people don’t look at them, and no, I’m not allowed to close my office door, so any member of the public can just walk right in at any time and demand things, yell at me, or make creepy comments); and despite the existence of the public toilets, sometimes even cleaning up after people who puke, pee, or shit inside the museum because our cleaner only comes once a week and we can’t just leave it there (I’m talking drunk adults doing these things, not children). I could say more, but I think it’s better if I don’t publicly post the rest. Now, I have been working in customer service in one way or another since I was 16 (not by choice, but I can’t seem to get a job that doesn’t involve it), so these are more or less all things I’ve had to deal with at some point in the past, as has probably anyone else who works with the public, but when I worked in retail and events, I at least knew there were always security staff on the premises if I needed help. At the museum, we are an entirely female team with no security staff, so we have to deal with any incidents ourselves. We don’t even have front of house staff – our welcome desk is entirely volunteer-run, by one volunteer at a time, and as their manager, I do my best to deal with any issues myself so they don’t have to, which means that even though I technically have an office job, I spend a lot of time in front of house dealing with any problems that occur. And despite all of this, I know I’m lucky to even have the job at all, since more budget cuts are imminent, and the future of the museum is currently very uncertain. So when I look at my working environment, and then I look at a museum that can charge $9 so they can employ three people to guard marbles, I get angry. And then I write a long rant like this one.

I’m going to end that rant there (even though I could go on for longer) but suffice it to say I definitely will not be returning to the Wexner! 0/5. Fortunately, my old favourite, the Billy Ireland Cartoon Museum, was there to save the day, as it is located in the building right next to the Wexner. Not only is it a free museum, but their temporary exhibitions at the time of my visit were very much up my alley. These were Drawn to Presidents: Portraits and Satiric Drawings by Drew Friedman and Ladies First: A Century of Women’s Innovations in Comics and Cartoon Art.

Any longtime readers will know how much I love presidential history, and I also love political cartoons when done well, and Friedman’s were pretty great. Not only did he draw a portrait of each president for his book All the Presidents (I didn’t buy it because it is literally just pictures of all the presidents) which all managed to be accurate yet hideously unflattering, he also drew cartoons for MAD, SPY, TIME, et al, and many of those were in the exhibitions as well as a whole section devoted to each of the presidents from Reagan through to the current President Fart (as I like to call him). I loved this.

 

I also liked the exhibition on female cartoonists, with works ranging from late 19th century cartoons advocating women’s suffrage to modern graphic novels, and everything in between. Many of them were funny, but there were also some thought-provoking and emotional cartoons, including one about a woman discovering the story of her older sister, who died when the cartoonist was a baby from a scalding accident, and how it affected her mother. I’m not going to go into too much detail on the Cartoon Museum because I’ve blogged about it a couple of times before and I’ve already made this post quite long by including that rant, but it is a fabulous little museum and I highly recommend visiting (and ignoring its neighbouring museum). The current exhibitions are great, but I’ve honestly never seen anything here that’s been a dud.

 

Rochester, NY: The George Eastman Museum

The final stop on our trip to upstate New York was Rochester, home of the George Eastman Museum. One of the curators at work had just been there to do research a few weeks before and had recommended it to me, and I also wanted to see Mount Hope Cemetery, where Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass are buried (along with 350,000 other people). So after fortifying ourselves with very delicious waffles from Funk ‘N Waffles in Syracuse (I can highly recommend the banana bread waffle), we made tracks for Rochester.

 

The museum was very large from the outside, consisting of a theatre building, the museum building, and George Eastman’s former mansion, so I was expecting the inside to be huge! However, it wasn’t quite what I was anticipating. Admission was $15, and I’m not sure if it was because the site was undergoing construction at the time of our visit, but there didn’t seem to be quite as many galleries as the exterior would have implied, and virtually no permanent collections on display, which was a surprise. Because Eastman was the founder of Kodak, I was expecting the museum to have more of a comprehensive history of photography, and it didn’t really. But let me tell you about what actually was there.

 

Because the museum building solely has temporary displays, almost nothing that we saw is still there, save for Tanya Marcuse’s “Woven”, which was a collection of photographs of leaves and other things taken from nature. Her pieces were actually quite cool and tapestry like, but it was a small gallery, so it didn’t take very long to see (and by the way, I hope you appreciate the fact that there are photos in this post, since my brother took photos there with his fancypants camera (so I didn’t bother to take many photos with my phone) that I then had to spend the subsequent two months asking him to send to me. He finally did the day before this post was published).

 

The museum does admittedly have a History of Photography gallery, but it is only one room, and also has changing themed exhibitions of artefacts taken from the permanent collections. At the time of our visit, it was all about the moon, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11. There were some very cool images in here, but we didn’t spend as much time as we would have liked due to some very annoying fellow visitors. We tried coming here right after entering the museum, but it was full of a very noisy tour group, so we decided to come back later. But when we returned, there were a couple in there who were basically shouting at each other about the photos, and then a tour guide came in, and they shouted questions at her too. So irritating. There was also a display of historical cameras in here, which I suspect is probably here all the time, but I didn’t spend much time looking at them because I couldn’t wait to get away from the shouty people.

 

This meant we headed to the special exhibition pretty quickly, which took up all of the museum’s main galleries. This was “The Art of Warner Bros. Cartoons,” which wasn’t necessarily photography related, but obviously did relate to moving images, etc. I had mixed feelings about this going in. I absolutely loved the classic Looney Tunes growing up, and spent many a Saturday morning happily watching them. But then there was some weird Warner Bros. revival in the mid-90s, where everyone got obsessed with Taz and got lame tattoos of him, and it just kind of put me off. There’s also all those wartime cartoons that Warner Bros. produced that are hella racist. But this exhibition reminded me of all the good things about the classic cartoons, and I was quite happy to stand and watch some of the best ones, which were being projected on screens throughout the exhibit.

 

The exhibit mainly featured the cartoons themselves and a lot of animation cels, along with captions explaining how each character evolved over time. For example, Elmer Fudd was originally called “Egghead,” yet bizarrely, had hair at that time, and also simply wanted Bugs for a pet, rather than to shoot him. Porky Pig is the oldest continuing Looney Tunes character, and he went from being a child to an adult, and from being Bugs’s antagonist to sometimes being on his side, though those cartoons where Porky was hunting never made any sense to me. Why would a pig hunt a rabbit? My favourite Looney Tunes were always the ones with the monsters in them, like Witch Hazel and the Big Red Monster, who is apparently named Gossamer. We both really enjoyed this exhibit, and also the fun photo ops throughout (especially appreciated because you weren’t allowed to photograph any of the animation cels).

  

These exhibitions were all that was in the main museum building, but we still had to visit Eastman’s mansion. This was an attractive Colonial Revival building accessed by cutting through the garden behind the museum. The building itself is interesting because Eastman decided to enlarge the conservatory about fifteen years after the house was built, but he didn’t want to ruin the symmetry of the house so his architect cut the house in half, jacked up half of it and moved it forward 9 feet on tracks, a process that took three months. This should give you some indication of how much money Eastman had to burn.

 

The house itself was nice, but nothing really stood out in way of decoration except for the pipe organ. If I had one in my house, I would definitely wake guests up every morning by playing some kind of Phantom of the Opera music, and I swear there was a sign that mentioned Eastman doing something similar, though I can’t find proof of it! This was the only place in the museum where there was biographical information about Eastman himself, and he seems to have been an intriguing man. He never married, but had a long-term platonic relationship with a woman with the unfortunate name of Josephine Dickman. The museum did seem to be implying that Eastman might have been gay, and based on the evidence that does seem likely, but I’m not about to posthumously out someone. He gave to a number of philanthropic causes which strangely included both dental clinics for underprivileged children and historically black colleges, but also the American Eugenics Society. So in some ways he was kind of a shit, but in others not. He killed himself at the age of 77 as he had developed a number of degenerative health conditions and didn’t want to lose control over his own body. His suicide note, which was inside the house (in facsimile form), read, “To my friends, my work is done – Why wait?”

 

On a less depressing note, the house was also home to an interactive room probably intended for children that included a giant zoetrope and a room sized camera obscura (the earliest form of camera, basically a pinhole in a darkened room that projects an upside down image of whatever’s outside inside the room) and one forlorn room at the back of the second floor that (finally!) had some information about the history of Kodak. Other than the rooms downstairs, which you could peek into, the rest of the house is used as a research room accessible by appointment only, so we headed back to the main museum building.

 

There is of course a shop with some pretty good camera themed merchandise, and a small cafe that we did not visit. Although it wasn’t at all what I had expected, I really enjoyed myself, though I probably could have done with some more examples of early photography, which is what I had been hoping to see. Because the exhibitions have changed now, your experience will be different from mine, but hopefully it will still be worth the visit! I also have to mention the car that was parked outside during our visit, which is apparently not Eastman’s (per the sign attached to it), but belongs to a member of staff. Based on the sign and the skeleton astride the car, I suspect we’d get along. 3.5/5 for the museum.

 

We did also briefly visit Mount Hope Cemetery, and it was a bit too manicured and sunny for my tastes, but still worth seeing, though the map I found online wasn’t much help when it came to actually finding the graves of famous burials (I only managed to find Susan B. Anthony). We were disappointed in our quest to find ice cream in Rochester when the pretentious chocolate shop downtown only had the grossest of flavours (fig and wine? Blech!), but we did manage to grab excellent doughnuts outside Buffalo at Paula’s Donuts, which were a sweet end to our road trip, and helped keep us from starving to death when stuck in traffic most of the way back.

Syracuse, NY: The Erie Canal Museum

After leaving the disappointing Women’s Rights National Historic Park, we headed over to Syracuse for the Erie Canal Museum. I was super excited for this mainly because of my love of the “Fifteen Miles on the Erie Canal” song (apparently its real name is “Low Bridge”) which we learned in elementary school, and which I still catch myself singing at odd moments; but also because I grew up near the remains of the Ohio and Erie Canal, and spent a lot of time walking the old towpaths that have been turned into hiking trails (usually not walking by choice. I was not an outdoors kind of kid. Or adult).

 

We found parking in a lot nearby and headed on in, as we only had a little over an hour before the museum closed. We were already enticed by the canal boat inside we could view from the street, and the excellent mural painted opposite the entrance. Admission to the museum is free, though they do recommend a $5 donation, and we were the only visitors for most of our visit, which was lovely, though probably not great for the museum. The museum is housed in an original 1850 weighlock building, the last building of this type standing.

 

The layout reminded me a lot of the museum I work at, sort of narrow and labyrinthine, but the contents most definitely didn’t, because this museum was actually kind of fun! They had quite a few interactive things where you could see how a canal works, and even a computer game where you had to weigh various canal boats and then assess fees based on the weight. Unfortunately, the game that looked like the most fun, pictured above (badly, because the lighting was not conducive to taking photos without glare), was out of order, but at least we got to enjoy most of the things. As you might expect, the museum was primarily about the building and operation of the canal, which was completed in 1825. Labour standards not being great at the time, conditions for the men building the canal were horrendous, particularly when building through the Montezuma Marshes, which we had visited earlier in the day, but conditions for passengers were mixed, based mainly on how much money they had to spend. Some of the boats actually looked pretty luxurious.

We got to experience canal boat lives a bit ourselves by boarding the replica canal boat that we had glimpsed from outside the museum. Though accommodations on this model were spartan, the boat felt more open than a proper seafaring ship, and there was definitely a lot more head room! Of course I plopped myself down on the privy so I could show you my patented fake pooping face (again). On canal boats, men and women were typically forced to bunk separately, even if they were all part of the same family, though since canal boats weren’t all that large, they would have usually been in the same room with just a curtain pulled across the middle. The canal originally ran between Albany and Buffalo (though later canals would pass through Pennsylvania and Ohio and link up most of Lake Erie), and took about a week to travel in a boat pulled by mules, about half the time of the overland route.

 

The upstairs floor of the museum was all decked out like ye olde Syracuse, and you know I love a fake historic town. Disappointingly, you couldn’t actually walk through the shops, as you were separated from them by an alarmed rail, but it was still pretty OK. My favourite thing up here was the sign on the saloon till reading, “All Nations Welcome but Carrie,” which was a total history nerd joke I had to explain to my brother (Carrie Nation was a famous temperance advocate who was famous for smashing up bars with a hatchet). There was music playing in the background – all songs about the Erie Canal, though “Low Bridge” didn’t come on, at least not whilst I was standing there.

 

The last room of the museum contained a temporary display on the different types of canal boats, which felt a little half-assed to be honest, as it was just a handful of sign boards in the middle of an empty room, but I did enjoy looking at the images of people travelling along the canal (especially the boats that had become completely snowed in, because New York gets lake effect snow just like Ohio). I also enjoyed trying on hats in the hat corner, even though I wasn’t totally sure if you were supposed to.

  

My other favourite thing in the museum, which had nothing to do with the museum itself, was the poster advertising the “Eerie Canal Run” – you guessed it, fifteen miles on the Erie Canal! I hate running more than most things, but if I lived here, I would had to have done it. Halloween and Erie Canal puns? Yes please! The shop, though small, had some rather charming merchandise, and I couldn’t resist the Christmas ornament painted with a very crude mule. For some reason I always thought “Low Bridge” was written from the perspective of the mule, though the museum taught me it was meant to be the guy leading the mule singing it. Either way, I really like canal mules, so lucky for me that there was a statue of one right across the street from the museum! I thought this museum was totally fun and interesting, and the fact that it was free made it even better (it’s not a very big museum, but to be honest, it was bigger than I was expecting). 3.5/5.

Seneca Falls, NY: Women’s Rights National Historic Park

After leaving Corning, we headed north along the edge of Lake Seneca, one of the Finger Lakes, ultimately Syracuse-bound. Since this was very much a Russell (my brother) and Jessica (me, obviously) trip, we made the following pit stops: a cider farm, so we could get freshly made cider doughnuts; a brewery called Climbing Bines, so we could split a taster of their beers (this was a Russell stop); an ice creamery that uses duck eggs in their ice cream rather than chicken eggs (as in, they make their custard with duck egg yolks, not that they put whole eggs in the ice cream. That would be gross) where we got an actual flight of ice creams (so much better than beer), and finally Seneca Falls to see the Women’s Rights National Historic Park.

 

I remember reading an article about this area in the Plain Dealer a few years ago which made it sound as though the museum had been recently redone, and suggested that a long weekend would be an appropriate amount of time to spend in Seneca Falls in order to see all its attractions. Because of this, my expectations were somewhat different to what was actually here. Apparently the “historic park” consists of four different building sites, but since we hadn’t properly researched it in advance, we ended up at the main visitors’ centre. Like many NPS sites, admission was free, so that at least was a step in the right direction. We were greeted by the collection of bronze statues downstairs that initially looked like they were made out of chocolate, but in the first of many disappointments, they were sadly not.

 

The museum was located in the upstairs part of the building, and was much smaller than I had been expecting. It consisted of a number of very visually appealing displays containing information about women’s fight for equality, but the overall impression was that it was that it was style over substance, as the displays were a bit short on content. I was also disappointed that every single interactive element was no longer working – maybe I had misread the newspaper article, but it certainly didn’t look as though it had been redone in the last few years (though not quite as outmoded as though it hadn’t been touched since 1980, when the site opened).

 

There was also a small section on the Seneca Falls Convention, which after all, is the whole reason the museum is here! Held in 1848, it was the first women’s rights convention, and produced the Declaration of Sentiments, a version of the Declaration of Independence that included rights for women. It was held in Seneca Falls because many suffragists lived in the area, including Elizabeth Cady Stantion, the oddly apostrophied M’Clintocks, Lucretia Mott, who was visiting Stanton at the time; and Susan B Anthony and Frederick Douglass, who lived in nearby Rochester. Although it didn’t immediately accomplish anything, it did introduce the country to the women’s rights movement, and clarify that the main goal for women’s rights activists at that time should be women’s suffrage. Again, I could have done with more information about this on the site, as the text provided seemed to be a somewhat patchy account (I couldn’t quite work out how Amelia Bloomer, who also lived locally, fit in to all of this).

The museum also had a very small temporary display on Sojourner Truth. The role of black women in the women’s rights movement is often a depressing one, because despite the presence of Frederick Douglass at the Seneca Falls Convention, and the abolitionist stance of most of the suffragists, some of them were still hella racist, and thought it was appalling that black men were granted the right to vote before white women had it. So if black men were looked down upon, black women didn’t really stand a chance. Despite that, women like Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth still got involved in the fight for women’s suffrage. One of the most interesting sections here was on Truth’s famous “Ain’t I a Woman?” speech. Although several sources reported on her speech after it was delivered (in Akron, Ohio, by the way), which originally did not contain the words “ain’t I a woman,” a version of it that was published twelve years later did, and the name stuck. This same inaccurate version also gave Truth a stereotypical black Southern dialect, though she had actually always lived in the North, and spoke Dutch as her first language, so it is highly unlikely that she would have had a Southern accent. Because of this latter, inaccurate, but most famous version of her speech, her actual words have virtually been wiped from history.

 

The Methodist church next door, where the convention was actually held, is also part of the historic site and is free to enter, though there was no one in there at the time of our visit, and virtually nothing to read. The other sites that are part of the park are the Elizabeth Cady Stanton House, and the M’Clintocks’ house, though as no one at the park actually spoke to us or provided any information, I didn’t realise this until I was researching this post. We did stop, however, at the “When Elizabeth met Susan, plus Amelia!” statue (not its official name), which I only discovered existed after picking up a tourist brochure in the church. Although there was a map included, it was still a total pain to find due to a road being closed, and we had to park (probably illegally) across the road so I could run over and grab a photo whilst wearing my new suffragist sash (not as good as the suffragette sash. Green is better than gold). It depicts Amelia Bloomer introducing Stanton and Anthony. The statue was great (after we found it), but I’m sorry to say I was very disappointed in the visitors’ centre, particularly since NPS rangers are usually super friendly and helpful. Not here. 2/5 for the portions of the park that we saw.

 

Corning, NY: The Corning Museum of Glass

Long time readers are probably familiar with the awful family vacations I used to have to go on whilst growing up, because I complain about them a lot. I suppose I should be grateful we got to go anywhere at all, as I had some friends whose families never travelled, not even to other parts of Ohio, but honestly, most of the time I would have much rather stayed home with a good book. Memorable (for the wrong reasons) trips include the year we drove all the way to North Carolina to go to a really big furniture factory outlet, and my parents didn’t even buy anything; the trip to Washington where the only museum we were allowed to visit was the Air and Space Smithsonian (the one I had the least interest in), the trip to Vegas when I was 16 and had to spend the whole time hanging out in the hotel’s crappy arcade with my then 9 year old brother, whilst getting hit on by the unattractive nerd that worked there; and of course, the trip to the Finger Lakes region of New York (known for its wineries, because 15 year olds love nothing more than going to wineries where they can’t legally drink, just like 16 year olds love nothing more than going to Vegas where they can’t legally do anything) where we stopped at the Corning Museum of Glass, but couldn’t actually go in because my father was too cheap to pay the admission fee (my policy is if you’re not willing to pay to do anything when you’re on holiday, you’re probably better off not going anywhere at all). Well, on my recent visit home, my brother and I decided to take a road trip together, minus the ‘rents, and since he travels to upstate New York a lot for work and knows the area well, we thought we’d give ourselves a redo of that Finger Lakes trip, only this time, we would go to the glass museum, and plenty of other places besides. And not a single winery!

 

Corning was our first stop, and having gotten an early start, we arrived around noon. We first headed into the quaint (albeit small) downtown for some tasty pizza by the slice and seriously one of the best ice creams I’ve ever had (if you find yourself in Corning, you must go to the hilariously named Dippity Do Dahs. Get the Butternut Toffee in one of their homemade cones, which comes with the option of hot fudge in the bottom, which of course only a fool would refuse. Don’t be a fool), and then to the museum in time for our glass blowing session. Yes, glass blowing. Having been denied the joys of the Corning Museum of Glass the first time around, this time we were taking advantage of everything they had to offer, including glass blowing! Admission to the museum is $20 (which is admittedly on the steep side, though I’m quite sure it wasn’t nearly so much nearly 20 years ago), and the glass blowing classes were another $32 per person on top of that – we booked ours in advance to be sure of a place.

There are various things you can choose to make, including ornaments and jewellery, but since we were visiting during glass pumpkin season, the choice was obvious! There are some more intensive classes where you actually learn how to shape the glass yourself, but in the class we chose, the instructor shaped the pumpkin for us – all we did was the actual blowing (ha) and we got to choose the colours we wanted to use. Although I would like to take a proper glass blowing class one day, this is a good choice if you just want a quick taster, and honestly, not that expensive considering pumpkins in the museum’s shop were at least $32, and at least this way we got to customise them. My brother and I were thrilled that we got chosen to go first so we didn’t have to hang around watching everyone else make theirs (you can’t collect the pumpkins until the next day, as they obviously need to cool down in a controlled environment, but they do offer shipping within the US if you’re not going to hang around that long). My blowing technique was semi-ridiculous, but it seemed to work fine, and I’m super happy with my purple and blue pumpkin (which survived the trip back to the UK intact!).

 

And then it was time to explore the museum, which was huge! I think there are six main galleries, with a couple extra in the outbuilding where we did the glass blowing. Some of the galleries have scavenger hunts that you can access via the Glass App available on the museum’s website – these were fun, but the museum’s wifi kept cutting out without my noticing, so I ended up accidentally using quite a bit of my expensive overseas data, which is a bit annoying.

 

Coincidentally, not long before visiting here, Marcus and I had watched the Netflix series Blown Away (which I like to call Blow Master), which is a glass blowing competition that is strangely compelling. I super hated the woman that won because she seemed ultra-pretentious and kept referring to everyone else’s pieces as “pedestrian,” and since the grand prize was a year’s artist in residency at the Museum of Glass, I was really hoping there’d be some of her work here so I could stand in front of it and call it pedestrian. To be honest, I quite liked her sausage chandelier (meant to be some kind of metaphor about the patriarchy), but I called it pedestrian anyway out of spite. Unfortunately, we were a week too early to see an exhibition of work from the show (I would have planned the trip differently if I’d known), but I was glad I at least got to see one thing.

In addition to the modern glass art, the museum also had a huge gallery of glass throughout history (entitled, rather overwhelmingly, “35 Centuries of Glass”), with pieces dating back to the Ancient Romans. This was a bit too large to take in properly all in one go, but they had a paper version of a scavenger hunt in here, which was definitely intended for children, but my brother and I of course still did one, and at least it gave our visit some sort of focus. I loved the crazy intricate miniature glass tableaux, which were mostly religious in nature. I forgot to grab a picture of the captions, and can’t find them on the museum’s website, so I can’t tell you more about them other than that they were early modern European, but they were definitely my favourite things in here, and the museum had at least ten of them.

 

There was also a gallery on the science of glass blowing, and that was where all the fun interactive stuff was hiding. This included a lot of different mirrors, science experiment things where you could see the different ways glass refracts and reflects light, and even a thermal camera so you could see how double glazing helps to hold heat in (I’m always more interested to see how cold my body is compared to other people’s – my nose and hands are always freezing!). This was also the area where they gave science demonstrations, so we hung around to watch one on glass breaking (demonstrations are free and offered throughout the day) – my brother and I took strongly against the obnoxious kid who was picked to assist, and cracked up when the woman worked there kept referring to him as “Garius” instead of “Darius”, which was actually his name. We now call all obnoxious children “Garius”.

The shop, which was all we were allowed to see of the museum on our first attempt to visit all those years ago, is also really big (seriously all the glass pumpkins and gourds), though as we had already made our own glass pumpkins, we didn’t feel the need to buy anything. Since Corning is where Corningware comes from (hence the glass museum being located here), they had a whole separate section in the shop just for that. $20 is definitely a lot for a museum visit, but we spent three hours in the museum, and could easily have spent more if we had been bothered to read all the information in “35 Centuries of Glass” (it was so much information though), so I think it was a worthwhile splurge, and of course I love my pumpkin! 4/5, and I’m glad we got to remedy this failure to visit at last! I also liked that our hotel was within walking distance of the museum, as was the downtown area, so it was that rare American city where you didn’t actually have to use a car. Bonus points for that and the amazing ice cream.

 

Cleveland, OH: Grays Armory

Grays Armory is meant to be one of the most haunted buildings in Cleveland (right up there with Franklin Castle, which is not open to the public), and it’s certainly one of the coolest looking ones. Even though I grew up in Cleveland and went downtown with reasonable frequency (considering there’s not actually much to do in downtown Cleveland), I don’t recall ever seeing this building before. It is open to the public for tours on the first Wednesday of every month from 10-4, which happened to coincide with my recent visit to see my family, so my mother and I decided to check it out (though we were not optimistic about actually seeing any paranormal activity).

 

We managed to find metered parking on the street behind the Armory (we were short on quarters, so we paid for an hour, which was cutting it close – I’d probably pay for at least an hour and a half to be on the safe side) and headed in, only to be greeted by one of the biggest dogs I’ve ever seen (picture does not give sense of scale). I can sometimes be a bit scared of big dogs, so walking in to see one the size of a wolf waiting for me was initially a little intimidating, but he was very friendly, and I was happy to give him all the pats once we’d gotten better acquainted and I realised he was a total sweetheart. Tours normally cost $8 per person, but the day we visited was free for some reason (though we did leave a donation at the end).

 

We were initially the only visitors, but after waiting a few minutes with no one else turning up, the guide was happy to start the tour (a couple came in about a third of the way through, and she offered to recap for them at the end, but they just left immediately after the tour finished). Since I was keen to see the building, I thought we’d start walking around it right away, but most of the “tour” was actually just a talk delivered in the reception room (which also served as the ladies’ waiting room back in the day before ladies were allowed to join), which was fine, just not what I was expecting, so the whole time we were sitting there I was anxious that we wouldn’t actually have time to see the rest of the building.

 

I didn’t really know anything about the Armory going in, and the poster behind our guide was a little misleading because of its incorrect punctuation, which read “Gray’s Armory,” so I reasonably assumed it was named after someone called Gray. Nope. It should actually be Grays’ Armory, or Grays Armory (as they call themselves on their website), because it is named after the Cleveland Grays, one of America’s oldest militias, and it is America’s oldest independent armory. I’m not really down with the whole militia thing, especially given what it’s become today (weirdos with a million guns living in compounds in Idaho), but I can concede that there probably was some need for law and order in the days before a police force when Cleveland was essentially frontier. The Grays were founded in 1837 and the current building dates to 1893, its two earlier incarnations having burnt down. This building actually partially burnt as well, but the thick stone walls saved the front portion of the building where the reception room was located. I guess after the third burning, they finally learned to stop using fire in a building where gunpowder was housed, or they just stopped housing gunpowder there.

 

Given the armory’s reputation as super haunted, I would have assumed some people died in the fire, but apparently no one did (which is good news, but not great for alleged paranormal activity!). So maybe the whole haunting idea stems more from the fact that some of these men did serve in the American Civil War, where undoubtedly some of them died, and maybe they returned to this building in the afterlife. The Grays were named after the colour of their uniforms, so you can imagine that caused some confusion in the Civil War, what with being a Northern unit and all! They were pretty quickly switched to the standard Union blue, and veterans of the war were subsequently allowed to wear a blue uniform to militia related events, including standing guard over Lincoln’s coffin, which they did when it passed through Cleveland on the funeral train and was laid out in Public Square. They were meant to take part in the Spanish-American War, but by the time they completed training, the war was basically over. And the US government got rid of independent militias in 1903, so that was the end of the Grays as a fighting unit.

 

However, the Grays still exist as a social and historical organisation, which women are allowed to join (the tour guide gave us a bit of a hard sell, but since I don’t even live in Cleveland (and am not much for clubs), I declined), and they still have their original uniforms, which is pretty bad ass! When we were finally allowed to leave the reception room, one of the rooms our guide took us to see was the uniform room, which had been ingeniously designed with flip down seats in front of each locker, and air vents at the top to keep things ventilated (not great for keeping out clothes moths, but I don’t think they’re as much of an issue in the US as they are in Britain). They also still have some of their original bearskin hats, which look very similar to what the Queen’s Guard wear in the UK. The guide mentioned that the type of bear they’re made from is now endangered, so they will fortunately be switching to a synthetic version when they need replacing.

 

I’d like to really emphasise the social part of the organisation, because when the militiamen weren’t off fighting, they just seemed to party. The Armory, although it did house weapons, was basically a big clubhouse, and I get the impression the men just hung out upstairs drinking and smoking. Women were allowed to attend certain events here, and the large drill hall was the perfect space for dances and performances by the Cleveland Orchestra. It has housed a 1930 pipe organ since 1969 when Warner Brothers decided to donate it, so they still put on concerts using it, as well as hosting lectures and “haunted evenings,” none of which took place during my visit to Cleveland, sadly.

 

We were eventually allowed up to the first floor as well, which had some uber masculine wood panelled rooms, one of which is meant to be haunted by a cigar smoking former member (the only ghost mentioned by the tour guide). I don’t know about all that (definitely didn’t smell any cigar smoke, and to be fair, the guide pointed out that a smoke smell likely seeps out of the walls when it gets hot outside, so she wasn’t exactly credulous either, which I appreciate. I like to learn about ghosts, but people who take them seriously are a bit much), but there was a splendid little collection of taxidermy, including a furry deer butt, and a goat in a sailor hat.

 

Unfortunately, the second floor is currently closed for restoration, so that ended our tour. Considering it was free, I think it was really pretty informative – though there were a few incorrect facts (general historical ones – I don’t know enough about the Grays to know if that information was accurate) and of course the irritating punctuation mistakes throughout the signage (at least get your own name right!), it was definitely interesting to learn about this lesser-known piece of Cleveland’s history, and the building was of course fantastic. I can’t say if it’s actually haunted (probably not, since ghosts aren’t real), but it sure looks haunted, and that’s really all I care about. I will say that there are various Haunted Cleveland tours that will take you in here, but they are about ten times the price of the Armory’s tour (when it’s not free), and they have pretty crap reviews, so I think this is your best way in to the building, and at least this way you know the money is going to preservation. 3/5 for the Armory tour. As I said at the start, you can’t go inside Franklin Castle, which is meant to be even more haunted (if ghosts existed), but it is nearby (Ohio Cityish, past the West Side Market), so if you want to grab a shot of the exterior whilst you’re downtown, it is definitely doable. You can see my photo of it below. Spooky!

Cleveland, OH: “Medieval Monsters” @ the CMA

I think this week is less of a stretch than last week in keeping with the Halloween theme of October. C’mon, monsters?! Scary! But obviously the Cleveland Museum of Art doesn’t agree with me, because this exhibition closed well before Halloween, on 6th October. So you can’t visit it now, but I couldn’t have blogged about it in time anyway because I didn’t see it myself until the week before it closed, what with not living in Cleveland (frankly, I was glad I got to see it at all, after longingly watching CMA post about it for months on Instagram).

 

“Medieval Monsters: Terrors, Aliens, Wonders” was a free exhibition, as is the museum itself, but good luck finding parking nearby other than in the museum’s $10 lot (and public transport in Cleveland? Forget it!), but I can’t really begrudge them that income before it is such an excellent museum. However, they could have had better signage, because it took me ages to figure out where this exhibition was (I could only find paper maps, when a big mounted map somewhere would be much more eco-friendly), and I couldn’t even find a member of staff to ask. Eventually I realised it was downstairs, opposite the main special exhibition that you have to pay for (on Michelangelo at the time of my visit. I skipped it).

 

As you may have guessed from the title, the exhibition was divided into three sections: Terrors, which was meant to be about how monsters “enhanced the auras of those in power,” though I seem to recall it being primarily about saints and the ways in which they were tortured to death (admittedly, many of those pictures and manuscripts were originally owned by various kings and queens, hence the power I guess); Aliens, which was about marginalised groups in medieval European society; and Wonders, which was more in the vein of teratology, and included fabulous beasts and anomalous (and imaginary) humans.

 

The museum had also produced a rather fabulous free Field Guide to Medieval Monsters, which included images of all the monsters featured in the exhibition, with a brief description of each. This included some of my old favourites like Blemmyae (the supposed race of headless people with faces on their chests) and the Hellmouth (literally a mouth that was meant to be the entrance to hell); and others I’d seen but never knew the names of, like Gryllus (a human head on horse-like legs. Different from a centaur, because Gryllus is just a head sitting right on top of legs, no body) and the Ziphius (meant to be a horrible sea monster, but he’s grumpy and adorable! I want one as a pet. Please go look at him via the link at the start of this paragraph).

 

Even considering that much of the art was religious in nature – which is not normally my thing – because it was for the most part so weird and gory, this ending up being so my type of exhibition. There was thoughtful text in each room describing how the idea of monsters shaped the medieval world, and covering serious themes like mental illness and xenophobia, but I have to admit that I was mainly in it for the illuminated manuscripts and the promise of marginalia, and that is what has stuck with me the most when it came time to write this post. Though I probably shouldn’t, I find many medieval pictures depicting the martyrdom of saints completely hilarious, and my favourite here was the piece above left depicting St. Bartholomew keeping his chin up with a jolly grin whilst being flayed alive (and clearly the medieval church had a sense of humour just as sick as mine, because he is the patron saint of tanners, leather workers and butchers. Talk about black humour).

 

There was also some charming marginalia here, including my personal favourite, a man mooning some sort of ceremony (I forgot which) with his thumb up his butt to indicate disrespect (in case the mooning wasn’t disrespectful enough). Not quite as good as a butt trumpet, but close enough!

 

I also loved all the beasts – even the real ones like elephants and crocodiles appeared to have been drawn by someone who had never seen such things in person, and I find the naive nature of their illustrations endlessly charming. This exhibition was an absolute joy to look at, and I’m sorry you won’t be able to see it too, but I hope my (poor quality) images at least gave you a sense of what was there. My only complaint was that the postcards in the gift shop didn’t feature the best of the monsters, but I know having custom postcards made is always a bit of a gamble, so I can’t bitch too much. 4/5.

 

Whilst I was here, in addition to visiting my favourite Henri Rousseau (Fight between a Tiger and a Buffalo) and Jacques-Louis David (Cupid and Psyche) paintings, I also popped in to see their “Color and Comfort: Swedish Modern Design” exhibition, which was in one of the small galleries upstairs. Based on the name, I was expecting something IKEA-esque, but it was so much better than that. This was actually about textile design, and though it was a bit light on signage (perhaps because it had been put together by grad students at Case), the fabrics themselves were absolutely lovely, as you can hopefully see from the images below. It only took me about ten minutes to view, but it’s worth the detour if you’re here anyway. Good old CMA!

 

 

Canton, OH: The MAPS Museum

I’ve mentioned before how my brother is not necessarily the biggest fan of museums (which isn’t to say that he won’t visit them, just that he doesn’t get excited about them like I do), but he does like military museums (if you couldn’t tell from my Belgium posts), and there is one right in Canton, Ohio that I hadn’t yet been to (though he had, on multiple occasions). So, we decided to visit it together, and go see They Shall Not Grow Old right afterwards (since I liked it so much when I watched it on the BBC I was more than happy to watch it again on a big screen) for a full-day of war-related fun (if war is ever “fun”).

  

The MAPS Museum is primarily an aviation museum (MAPS is an acronym for Military Aviation Preservation Society), but they do have some galleries on Ohio troops from all branches of the military.  Admission to MAPS is $10, and includes the option of a free guided tour, though as we had to leave at a specific time to catch the film, we opted to guide ourselves. (Also, they have one of the cutest mailboxes ever, as you can see above.)
  
We were still greeted by one of the volunteers right after entering the museum, and he told us more about some of the objects we showed the most interest in. It was nice to see such friendly and passionate volunteers (without being scary, like the woman on the USS Cod). My attention was grabbed right away by the Sopwith Triplane 1916, since the Sopwith factory was in Kingston upon Thames, which is where I work (Kingston that is, not the Sopwith factory, which has been defunct since the 1990s). According to the volunteer, it was built (or restored? I don’t remember which) by a man in Ohio with advice from former Sopwith people in Kingston. We don’t even have a Sopwith in our museum, just some models and an old time clock from the factory (I mean, that’s partially because we don’t have room for a plane, but it would still be cool), so it was good to see one here.
  
I’m no aviation buff, but the hangar was full of an interesting array of aircraft, including a couple planes you could climb into, and the gondola from a Goodyear Blimp (Goodyear have a massive blimp hangar not far from the MAPS Museum. They usually have a Christmas event where you can drive through it. It’s neat!). There are even more aircraft housed outside, which you can view in the summer, but the gates were locked when we visited. Apparently many of the planes are on loan from the Air Force, so the MAPS Museum can restore them and send them back, which is really pretty cool. Also cool (temperature-wise) was the hangar, a little too cool, frankly, as they tend to be, so my brother suggested heading into the gallery at the back to warm up a little.
  
This turned out to be about aviators in a number of wars, but primarily WWII. There were a lot of great newspaper clippings and artefacts in here – in fact, almost too many, as there was too much text to read it all on one visit. But I would rather have too much information than not enough, and there was interesting stuff, like the story of the unfortunately named Lt. Reamer “Buzz” Sewell (I can see why he went by his nickname, but it was evidently a family name, as his father was a Reamer too), who was captured by the Germans and served out the remainder of the war in a POW camp; and that of the “Romanian Princess” who helped to save 1200 airmen during the war (there was a sweet little article about how they threw her a party after she moved to the US in 1955, and she was thrilled to see all her “boys” again).
  
Oh yeah, and there were some fantastic mannequins. Just really superlatively doofy, as you can probably see. And Dilbert the parachute dummy.
  
There was also a gallery upstairs, and this was a more general history of wars that Ohio troops had some involvement in, going all the way back to skirmishes between Native Americans and some of the earliest settlers (obviously not a shining moment in Ohio’s history), up until roughly the present day (I can’t remember where exactly it finished but there was definitely stuff about the Vietnam War, and possibly the Gulf War as well). There were also displays about the Civil War, which were of more interest to me (the Civil War is great for social history, because it had such a huge effect in shaping the country America became (for better or worse) and totally changed American death practices, in addition to being fascinating from a medical history point of view), including a small display about Harvey the dog, who I encountered 5 years ago at the Massillon Museum (not the real dog, obviously (though I suppose he could have been taxidermied), but a display about him).
  
I liked the section on WWI also, though I could have done with more stories about individual soldiers from Ohio, like the one about Eugene J. Bullard, the first black fighter pilot (he fought in the French Foreign Legion because he was living in Europe when the war started, having found that it offered many more opportunities than still segregated America), and less general history, though I suppose most Americans aren’t particularly well versed in WWI (since we were only in it for about a year) so perhaps it’s for the best that it’s there. I did enjoy the display about failed WWI inventions, like the poor fellow who had to wear the giant headset shown below (captioned simply and amusingly “didn’t work”).
  
I also have to mention the story of a teacher named Eva Sparrowgrove, because it made me tear up a little. She wrote to all 310 of her former students that enlisted during the war, and made a window banner to commemorate their service, including gold stars for the 9 who died in combat.  There was a fire at her house in 1950, but another one of her former students who became a fire fighter was able to save the banner, albeit with a little water damage. Lest you worry, Eva also survived the fire and continued to teach until 1973. She died in 1985 at the age of 82.
  
The museum was more on the scale of the Wings Museum than that of some larger aviation museums I’ve visited, but had far better (and more coherent) content than Wings (though sadly, nowhere to put my ass where Damian Lewis’s ass had been). Because we did have to leave to see the film (and get frosty chocolate milkshakes after!), I didn’t read everything completely thoroughly (honestly, it was just too damn much to read), but I guess that will give me a reason to return (my brother informs me that their displays also change regularly). I think they could be a little more discerning about the amount of material they’re including (as in, there doesn’t need to be quite so much of it!) but I get the sense that they are largely volunteer-run, and the volunteers were all super friendly and helpful, so I’ll cut them some slack. 3.5/5.
  

Youngstown, OH: Arms Family Museum and Tyler History Center

When I mentioned a few posts ago that I hadn’t done anything particularly Christmassy worth blogging about, it wasn’t entirely true. I did go to a decorated historic home, but it was after I wrote the post that would go out near Christmas, and I wasn’t allowed to take pictures of the house’s interior, so this post won’t look very festive anyway. But yes, whilst I was in Youngstown, I also went to the Arms Family Museum, which is just a few buildings down from the Butler Institute on the edge of the YSU campus.

Admission to the house is normally $7, and though I can’t find confirmation of this on their website, I seem to recall that when we visited, it was a little bit more, maybe $9(?) presumably on account of their Christmas event “Memories of Christmas Past,” which runs throughout December. This also includes admission to the Tyler History Center, located across Youngstown, of which more later.

There wasn’t much about the family inside the home, other than a small display in the museum section, so I’m not even sure what they were known for, if anything, but I get the impression that they were sort of like the Seiberlings of Stan Hywet, on a much smaller scale (obviously not many are going to match the wealth of the founder of Goodyear). Like the Seiberlings, the Arms family were also ardent Anglophiles (say that five times fast), with a special interest in the Tudors (at least their architecture), and thus they collected as many old world antiques as they could reasonably stuff their home with. And, like Stan Hywet, the Arms House (named Greystone, another similarity, as Stan Hywet is old English for stone quarry – looks like the Seiberlings were more pretentious too) also goes all-out when decorating for Christmas, albeit not quite as all-out, since the Arms House doesn’t have gardens (or a glass house, or a restaurant or a gingerbread stall) like Stan Hywet. The two families would have roughly been contemporaries, though Greystone was actually built first, in 1905, whilst Stan Hywet wasn’t completed until 1915.

Anyway, enough about Stan Hywet, and more on Greystone. The ground floor of the house was adorned with vintage decorations, with a different era/theme being represented in each room. The only text in here was about the decorations, and there was a scavenger hunt where you had to try to find certain decorations in each room, which was probably intended for children, but of course Marcus and I did one together (there weren’t prizes though, just the satisfaction of having completed it, I guess). I do wish there had been more about the family – there were volunteers stationed in each room to make sure we didn’t touch anything, who would presumably have been happy to provide information if I’d asked, but I much prefer to just read it for myself. I did get the impression that 99% of their visitors were from Youngstown and come every year for the Christmas event, so maybe they just assumed everyone knew about the house already, but it’s not the best way to attract tourists, and it made the whole thing feel a bit cliquey, especially as everyone there seemed to know each other.

The decorations were mostly adorable though, and there was a lot more information (though mostly not on the house itself) once we got upstairs to the museum section. This included a room full of mid-century modern furniture manufactured in Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley, another full of the collections of Benjamin Franklin Wirt (a lawyer and Ohio state senator who loved collecting all sorts of crap), a display on the First World War (I was a little disappointed that the song they’d chosen to accompany it wasn’t “Over There” or the “Madamoiselle from Armentieres,” the latter of which has become a particular favourite since twice watching They Shall Not Grow Old), some illustrations from a Christmas children’s book that I’d never heard of (by a Youngstown-based author), and finally, a room full of Olive Arms’s architectural plans for the house, which I guess at least explained something, though not being particularly well versed in architectural terms, I would have much preferred something about the family and how they got the money to build their damn house in the first place.

Once we’d returned downstairs, we thought we had finished, but were instead directed to the “North Pole” in the basement. This was obviously aimed at children, though fortunately there was no Santa on site when we were there (he sometimes is though, I think), so we were free to put on teeny costumes and get a picture in Santa’s sleigh (the hat was about all we could fit into, and even that was a squeeze), or participate in craft activities (we gave those a miss). The shop on the ground floor had a wonderful collection of vintage decorations that you could actually purchase, and if I was richer I would have bought almost everything, but the prices were a little high and I was worried about transporting stuff back to the UK (my suitcase is always so full of bagels and cereal that I don’t have much room to spare), so I left empty-handed.

  
But we weren’t finished with the Mahoning Valley Historical Society yet, as we had to head across town to the Tyler History Center, which wasn’t actually all that far away, since Youngstown is pretty small. They had parking right outside, along with a creepy old advert for Good Humor products, since the company was started in Youngstown.
  
The museum is in quite a large building, as you can probably see, but only one floor of it is currently actually museum (they might occasionally have displays on some of the other floors, but one of them just looked like it was used for events, as it had tables set up on it). This was a reasonably comprehensive journey through the history of Youngstown, told mostly through panels, with some artefacts. It was fairly standard local history fare, but I did like many of the artefacts, especially the roller coaster car from Youngstown’s old amusement park (why is every amusement park that looked cool now defunct?!), and the old police ledger from 1932, where 90% of the arrests were for drunkenness (bearing in mind Prohibition was still in effect). I also thought the layout was quite good because the panels divided up the space and made it into more of an experience since you had to work your way through chronologically.
  
There was also a small gallery in the back that contained more of Benjamin Franklin Wirt’s possessions – at least we were allowed to take pictures of these ones, so you can get a better idea of the sort of thing he collected (other than my earlier evocative description of “crap”); mainly Eastern artefacts, and a bit of presidential memorabilia. The History Center had a shop with a freezer full of Good Humor products, which is smart if you ask me, because after reading about the company in the museum, I’m sure many people go on to crave an ice cream (I totally was, but since it was winter, I worried they might have been sitting around for a while, and it’s probably for the best that I didn’t, because we stopped for pizza at this little hole in the wall with a brick oven (literally a hole in the wall) in Akron on the way home, and I stuffed myself stupid on NY style thin crust margherita and fried provolone wedges). I did, however, buy a t-shirt for Marcus featuring anthropomorphic peppers in oil (apparently a Youngstown thing due to their large Italian population, but this wasn’t explained in the museum, so I looked it up later. I thought maybe it was peppers sauteed in oil, like some people (not me!) put on sausages or whatever, but apparently they just can peppers in olive oil, and eat them on bread or toast).
  
So I did learn a lot more about Youngstown (which to be fair I knew almost nothing about going in, other than Handel’s), and got to enjoy some Christmas decorations. I don’t think the Tyler History Center is worth the price of admission if you’re not visiting the Arms Family Museum as well, but I think they figure people will go to both properties, in which case I do think you get your money’s worth. 3/5 for the Mahoning Valley Historical Society as a whole (more signage in the Arms House though please!).

Youngstown, OH: Butler Institute of American Art

I might have taken a bit of a break from blogging over December (though you wouldn’t know it because I wrote so many posts in November, which went out in December), but I certainly didn’t take a break from visiting museums, since that is fortunately still more of a joy than a chore (even with working at a museum. I wouldn’t visit the museum I work at on my days off though!). I was back in the States as usual for Christmas, and actually managed to hit up a few new-to-me museums on this trip, which was great!

  

I had never actually been to Youngstown before this trip, but I did have some negative associations with it, thanks to my disgusting pervert former boss. I worked at an ice cream shop throughout high school and college, as I’ve mentioned before, and the owner was truly revolting and sexually harassed us pretty much every time he was there (fortunately, because Youngstown is over an hour away, he only came up once every couple of weeks, which is the only reason that job was bearable. Well, that, and the free ice cream), and it soured me on the whole city, especially because Youngstown (or rather Boardman, just outside Youngstown) is where Handel’s Ice Cream was started in the first place. So when my mother suggested checking out the Butler Institute of American Art there, I was initially apprehensive, but their website actually made it sound pretty good, so I acquiesced.
  
The museum is located right on YSU’s campus, and was easy both to find and access, with parking out front. On the day of my visit, they were evidently going to be hosting a wedding later in the day (and having seen the place, I would absolutely get married there. And have a buffet table full of dumplings, as the couple in question seemed to have been planning, judging by the signs on the tables), so the main hall of the museum was somewhat taken up by people setting up tables and the like, but there weren’t very many artworks in that section, so it didn’t overly affect my visit.
  
Admission is free, and there wasn’t even really an admissions desk. The only members of staff we saw on our visit were the ones setting up for the wedding, and a security guard by the back entrance, so I guess it wasn’t great if you’re the sort of person who has a lot of questions, but I am not that sort of person. The museum opened well enough, albeit not terribly excitingly, with some 18th century American landscape painters, but quickly got a bit creepy with these terrifying twins and disturbing Santa (I don’t want to find him coming down my chimney), which is really what I prefer to landscapes anyway. I thought Washington looked rather fetching in the painting of his wedding to Martha, but it obviously wasn’t drawn from life since it was done about a hundred years after the fact by the excellently named Junius Brutus Stearns, who was born 11 years after Washington’s death.
   
One of the Butler’s prize pieces is Winslow Homer’s Snap the Whip, which is totally charming in a ye olde kind of way, even though some of the children’s faces look a bit too adult, in my opinion. They even have a Van Gogh (despite being called an institute of American Art), though it is definitely one of the lesser known, fairly unmemorable ones (so much so that I can’t even remember what it was). William Paxton’s painting Sylvia (pictured above left) caught my eye though – there’s something about her expression that I really love.
  
From here, we wandered into a gallery with some holograms on the wall and a giant zoetrope, then into a section with a video showing the destruction of an IKEA living room set, and then into a really cool display of lenticular photographs by Margeaux Walter, which all starred Walter herself (I didn’t realise this until after reading the exhibition description, even though one of her photos was of an entire crowd of people doing the wave. I did think that one man who kept appearing in all the photographs looked a lot like the woman who was in them all, but figured they just might have been siblings). I also really enjoyed the mirror art just outside this gallery, which had an X to stand on in front of it so you could get in the optimum spot to capture yourself in all the mirrors (I’ve failed slightly, but it was a nice idea).
  
At this point we made our way upstairs via the flight at the back of the gallery, even though there was obviously still more to see downstairs, as I was hoping to escape some of the noise that the wedding set-up was creating (nothing too noisy I hasten to add – just people discussing where to put things, but still a bit more background noise than I like in a museum). This floor was much quieter and contained a nice mix of temporary and permanent exhibitions, an example of the latter being the American Western gallery with loads of paintings of Native Americans (and I hope it’s not culturally insensitive for me to say that I think the mask in the above picture is kind of adorable), as well as some background information about their lives and culture. There was also a gallery full of busts, including a giant one of Martin Luther King.
  
I wasn’t too keen on Todd Gray’s Pop Geometry, as it was meant to be a sort of homage to Pop Art (even though it was just mimicking Pop Art as far as I could tell, which isn’t really an homage), which is far from my favourite genre. I did love Winfred Rembert’s pieces though, which were made with carved and dyed leather, and featured vignettes from Rembert’s difficult life, including growing up black in the still heavily segregated South, picking cotton, and being forced to work in a prison chain gang. Despite the often depressing subject matter, his paintings were vibrant and full of life (as seen above).
My absolute favourite part of the whole museum was the Americana and Folk Art Gallery, located in a separate wing of the museum (accessible by a footbridge, and overlooking the interior of a chapel). I love American primitive folk art, and there was loads of that, including wooden signs (the Raven and Ring is the best. I would go to that pub for sure) and a whole room full of carousel animals (I felt bad for the poor sad donkey stood in one corner all by himself).
 
I also loved the intricate wooden bird carvings by Cliff McGinnis, and the giant facsimile of Audubon’s bird book, and even the collection of glass bells, though I couldn’t quite see the point of them (they were given as wedding gifts, but were obviously strictly for decoration, because how do you use a glass bell?). But I think the best and creepiest part was the gallery full of dolls showing off a century of American fashions. Both dolls and outfits were made by Pete Ballard, and he even gave them all names (Marcus was so freaked out by them that he spent no time in this gallery at all, other than to snap a couple quick photos, and I did my best to scare him even more by seeing if I could bring the dolls to life by calling them each by name. No dice). The only improvement would have been to move the captions explaining each outfit next to the doll in question, as they were all just up on the wall, and the dolls weren’t numbered in order of display, so it gave me a headache to keep looking back and forth to figure out who was wearing what.
  
The final room in this section was about ship art, and even contained a tiny diorama of a whale hunt (I in no way condone the killing of whales, but I am fascinated by how horrible whaling was, and I also love tiny models of things, so pretty great).
  
Having seen all this, we still had a few galleries downstairs to check out, including one with sports themed art that only got a cursory look from me, and then a few galleries of more modern stuff. Marcus and I were both initially a little apprehensive around the “Security Guard” installation, as we both thought he was a real person at first glance (and the painting on the wall behind me with all the faces is by the singer John Mellencamp, aka John Cougar, aka the voice of the Midwest, which I didn’t realise until I was researching this post). The other piece shown above is a triptych featuring residents of Youngstown in 1978 (I would totally wear the one woman’s penguin sweater).
  
Because the shop was on the other side of the museum from where we ended up, I gave it a miss, and I also didn’t get to see the Print Room downstairs because they were installing 100 Years of Print at the time, which opened in January. Even without these things, the museum was so much bigger and better than I was expecting, and I really enjoyed myself. It felt much more laid back than the CMA (even though I do love the CMA), with the only steward being an automated voice that came on and told you to step back from the paintings if you accidentally stood too close, and as a result, I felt more at liberty to really enjoy myself and interact with some of the art (unlike in some museums where I’m terrified that my shoe will accidentally squeak and a security guard will yell at me for it). And there were a lot of secret corners and stairwells with things hidden on them, like one containing a miniature of every single US president (including the current one, sadly) – it seems like you really need to visit more than once to find everything, since Marcus and I walked around separately from my parents, and we found that my parents had seen things we hadn’t, and vice versa. This is really a fantastic, little-known museum (at least in NE Ohio, maybe the CMA overshadows it?), and I highly recommend paying it a visit if you’re nearby. 4/5.