More Smithsonian Museums!

Posted by barb on Dec 31, 2004 in Around DC, Pictures |

To cap off a very good year, Andrew and I visited two Smithsonian museums that neither of us had visited before: the National Museum of the American Indian and the Postal Museum.

We started at the American Indian museum. It just opened a few months ago, and it’s still very busy. We had to line up to get in, but the line moved fairly quickly. The crowd inside, however, kept growing the entire time we were there. There was a dancing demonstration at about 1PM, when we were leaving, so that might explain the crowds, or it could just be that the museum is so new.

Unfortunately, my impressions of the permanent exhibits was not very positive. Our Lives aimed to show where and how modern Native Americans live, was overcrowded with both people and information. The second I walked in, I felt overhelmed by the number of panels to read, and there was no clear feeling of where to go first. Andrew and I merely made a circle of the exhibit and walked out a few minutes after walking in.

The exhibit I wanted to enjoy was Our Universes, which dealt with the different ways that different tribes describe the universe and their place in it. There were about 10 different viewpoints covered in the exhibit, each with a separate small room, sometimes mimicking the tribe’s meeting place or “religious” house. However, each room was so small that the presence of just three people made it all but impossible to see and read the materials, and made me clausterphobic. We only made it through 4 or 5 of the alcoves before I needed to leave this exhibit as well.

I think the only exhibit we both thoroughly enjoyed was Native Moderism featuring the art of two modern Native American Artists: Allan Houser and George Morrison. That’s one of Houser’s sculptures pictured below.

The National Museum of the American Indian  Scultpture at the National Museum of the American Indian

From the American Indian museum, we trekked up to Union Station for lunch. There was a huge toy train running that we could see from our balcony seat at America (a restaurant featuring dishes from across the US).

Model Railroad at Union Station

The Postal Museum is just across the street from Union Station, so rather than trekking back to the Mall, we made a quick decision to change plans (we were already a bit tired from all the walking). Neither of us was expecting much from the Postal Museum, frankly, but it was rather enjoyable.

The main exhibit starts in the woods of early America. The earliest postmen walked through the woods, notching trees with an axe so that following postmen could follow. The exhibit follows the history of the postal service, from letters delivered to a central post, like a pub or general store, in town, to rural home delivery. At the end of this main exhibit, there was a fun exhibit on direct mail which I had to spend a lot of time at (much to Andrew’s chagrin) — but, hey, I learned that to ship an overcoat in the early days, it was often cut in half and sent in two packages because sending one that was that heave was more expensive. And early mail-order catalogs were used for text books in some rural communities, and as, um, toilet paper sometimes.

The travelling exhibit was on the first postage stamp — if I was a collector, I would probably have quite enjoyed this. However, I’m not a collector, so I found it a bit boring.

This picture is from a collection of fun mail boxes — the Muffler Man:
Mailbox at the Postal Museum

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