Wednesday, February 11, 2009

I own several Van Gogh paintings, some dinosaur skeletons, and Abe Lincoln’s hat - And so do you

See something da Vinci painted. Study the bones of an eons-old giant, armored fish. Honor the memory and legacy of Abraham Lincoln. Marvel at bizarre Soviet space capsules. And, leave your money at home.
Like archives (which I wrote about some time ago), museums offer opportunities for people to make use of common wealth, to learn, and to interact with each other. By sharing artifacts and works of art with other members of our community, we enjoy their benefits without having to personally bear the costs for their protection and care. (How do you clean a stuffed chimpanzee in a space suit, anyway?) This public ownership and use is also a means for creating and building value without making more stuff that will just be thrown away.
For those who want to learn more about the natural environment, its histories, and the ways that other people (past and present) perceive and relate to it, many museums have much to offer. Aside from obvious option of natural history museums, many art museums and galleries offer exhibits on landscapes or nature photography, while history museums frequently tell stories of the reciprocal influence between people and nature.
For those living in the DC area, these treasures are offered to the public virtually every day, free of charge at the Smithsonian Museums and at the National Gallery of Art. For anyone in the area interested in an outlandishly cheap* way to be the solution there are some great environment-related exhibits going on now:

Freer + Sackler Galleries:
Winslow Homer: Four Views of Nature

National Air and Space Museum:
Looking at Earth
Earth Today: A Digital View of Our Planet

National Gallery of Art:
Oceans, Rivers, and Skies: Ansel Adams, Robert Adams, and Alfred Stieglitz

National Museum of Natural History:
Dig It! The Secrets of Soil
Orchids through Darwin’s Eyes
The Sant Ocean Hall

Smithsonian American Art Museum:
Accommodating Nature: The Photographs of Frank Gohlke
George Catlin's Indian Gallery
1934: A New Deal for Artists

And, if you’re not in the area to make the trip downtown, many of these exhibits and all of these museums have online collections and exhibitions.

*The museums are free, but you’ll probably want a Metrorail fare card to get to and from the Mall. And, remember to pack a lunch to keep costs down.

Image source: Smithsonian Museum of American Art


Sue said...

Wonderful advice -- but unless things have changed awfully in the past twenty years, you might want to take a little spending cash in order to eat in one of the great cafeterias found beneath the museums on the Washington Mall. In the past the food was good, and not particularly expensive.

For those wanting to plan a nice long day in Washington's museums, leave the National Air and Space Museum for last -- it's open the longest, into the evening.

Pat Jenkins said...

beyond your great suggestions erd you know what i think is one of the "great" museums, a cemmetary!

E. R. Dunhill said...

These days, some of the cafeterias are great, some of them less so. The National Gallery's cafe in the Sculpture Garden serves bistro fare at reasonable prices. Also, the eatery at the National Museum of the American Indian is almost worth a trip in and of itself. They serve staples of various indigenous cultures of the Americas. Alas, it's not cheap. Most of the other Smithsonian museums's eaterise are (by my reckoning) just way too expensive for what they serve. For folks who aren't pinching pennies, there are some nice places to eat in Penn Quarter, a couple of blocks north of the Mall.

E. R. Dunhill said...

I'm so glad you brought that up. Cemeteries were popular places for families to spend the day in the late 19th and early 20h century. It was common in many commnities for folk to pack a picnic and congregate at a cemetary after church on Sundays. It's unfortunate that these places have adopted such a somber air.