Local Museum Adventures

Though museums are always a centerpiece of trips, I’m generally terrible about making time to visit museums when I’m at home. There’s no good reason, other than what we all know is our biggest competition: the couch. But this summer, there were two exhibits at local museums that I wanted to make an effort to see. And I did it–only waiting to close to the last minute on one of them.

The first was Sergent, Whistler, and Venetian Glass at the Amon Carter Museum. It has now closed, but is heading to Mystic Seaport next month. I’ve been working two days a week in Fort Worth, so the key was tying that schedule to the days the Carter was open late–and timing it so that my friend Jenn could also join me.

It has been a few years since I’ve been in the Carter, one of my favorite local museums. Blame the pandemic and also my general inability to regularly visit local museums. The first thing we noticed–and took many pictures of–was a delightful children’s area! This great, light filled space with a fabulous view of downtown Fort Worth, included all sorts of great activities for kids, all thoughtfully designed. No kids there when I was there, but it was easy to picture them in the space–and there is plenty of space for them to move around.

One of the interactives in the kids area at the Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth.

The main attraction for us was the kind of art exhibit that history people are bound to enjoy. It wasn’t just about the art from the region, but the tourist economy, the revival of historic crafts, the eyes of famous artists–and how the idea of Venice captured so many imaginations in the late 19th century. I didn’t take many pictures, but some favorite items were cards with all the types of Venetian beads for people to order and the step-by-step process of glass blowing, created by a local glass blowing studio. We lingered and read most of the labels–and I really felt like I learned something. That’s not always the case for me at an art museum.

I learned even more during my other local exhibit experience. Cartier and Islamic Art: The Search for Modernity at the Dallas Museum of Art was one of the best exhibits I’ve seen in recent memory. It just closed, and it’s only other stop will be in Paris. It was a last minute aligning of stars that got me there–and enabled my friend Ani to join me. We were both fully expecting lots of beautiful sparkling things. What we weren’t expecting was the sheer range of objects used to illustrate the Islamic influence on Cartier–architectural sketches, books, photos, textiles, and more. They included everything from the scrapbooks in which designers had gathered sketches to the plaster casts used for production. We were amazed at the depth of holdings in the Cartier archive.

All the design stages for just one piece.

And then there was the design of the exhibit itself. The casework was simple, but stunning. We’re not people to gush often about cases, but we did that day. However, our very favorite thing was the way they used technology. Some of these pieces are tiny. You can only get up so close and see so much. So they used digital imagery to take the visitor from inspiration to design to how they physically put the piece together to how it would have been worn. In giant, wall-sized images. It was mesmerizing. And though we were just standing there, watching, it felt interactive because of how they pulled us into the story behind the piece.

In the last gallery, there is one necklace, alone, in a case. Slowly, the necklace rises and that black base forms a bust. That movement completely changes the way the piece is seen–so subtle, so beautiful–but probably a very complicated feat to pull off. As we exited, we continued to rave at the great use of technology throughout the exhibit. The security guard said to us: “Isn’t technology amazing?” We agreed and started to chat–and then quickly realized that we were talking about two different things. And that’s how we learned that Queen Elizabeth had died.

What sets these two exhibits apart was the mix of items–it was never “just” art, but so much more. And both exhibits had a strong narrative. I left, knowing a little bit more about Venetian culture, European tourism, and Islamic design, along with some really practical ideas to make other exhibits more meaningful. And isn’t that the point of a good exhibit?

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