What Was the First Museum That Had an Impact on You?

What Was the First Museum That Had an Impact on You?

Published on Monday, May 18, 2015. This article appears in the June/July 2015 issue of American Craft Magazine.
Department Voices
Author Staff
University Of British Columbia Museum Of Anthropology

Craft is tightly interwoven with ethnology and natural history at the University of British Columbia Museum of Anthropology. Photo: Courtesy of UBC Museum of Anthropology

Fine arts weren’t something I had much exposure to as a child. My first memorable museum experience was the Atlanta Cyclorama in the mid-1980s. The Cyclorama is basically a Civil War museum. I’m not sure I completely grasped the concept of the conflict; I was fascinated, though. Most interesting was a massive painting (accompanied by a diorama) that depicted the Battle of Atlanta. It was around 350 feet wide and, from my understanding, the largest oil painting in the world. From the perspective of a young child, artistic endeavors seemed confined to 8-by-10-inch construction paper. This was my first realization that creative pursuits aren’t necessarily bound by convention. ~Ryan Barr, designer, Atlanta

The earliest memories I have are of the Museum of Appalachia just outside of Knoxville, Tennessee. I remember the grass bending over the dirt pathway, the stairs creaking up to a tiny attic, and the barn with its low overhang. I remember being able to touch things like the silvered pine siding, aging into both soft and hard like buttery stone, and seeing nooks everywhere perfect for forts or magical hideaways. ~Serra Victoria Bothwell Fels, artist, Brooklyn

My fondest memories are of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. My college was literally next-door, the museum was free, and I would wander through the galleries during breaks or free time. The MIA’s collection was incredibly diverse, with works from all around the world, prehistoric to the present. Some of my favorite pieces to contemplate were the sort of humble, utilitarian artifacts made by unknown crafters centuries ago. ~Amber Jensen, designer/makerMarshall, NC

The High Museum in Atlanta forever changed how I view an exhibition. A contemporary glass display included a glass casting by Bertil Vallien. I recalled seeing Bertil make this piece at Pilchuck Glass School several years earlier: how particular he was with the placement of the several inclusions, and how a small trapped air bubble concerned him at the time. The bubble was still there in the piece; I wondered if he achieved what his vision was the day he made it. I no longer look at museum pieces as artifacts, but as an expression of creativity captured in time when the piece was made. ~Bryan Ethier, glass artist, St. Paul, MN

The museum that made a marked and measurable impression on me was the University of British Columbia Museum of Anthropology. Discovering all kinds of objects – textiles, totem poles, painting, carving, craft, beadwork, design – in a location especially designed for this specialized collection was remarkable to behold. The seamless blending of context, lifeways, objects, people, and story created an immersive and tangible experience that was both craft and science museum, technology and ethnology, art and natural history. My visit there has informed my views on exhibition making, objects, and storytelling. ~Nicole Nathan, deputy director and curator of collections, Museum of Contemporary Craft, Portland, OR