After leaving the gems and minerals behind us for the day, we headed deeper into the museum, to find the North American Indian Cultures exhibit area. We had to leave before really getting a chance to explore everything to catch a show at the planetarium (Cosmic Journey: A Solar System adventure….and yes it was as fantastically nerdy as it sounds) but we came right back afterwards. I have a bit of a ….tempestuous, relationship with museums and their exhibits of Native American artifacts and the way they recount their history, but the Denver museum was- at least in my very humble and not overly scholarly opinion- really well researched, honest and above all, respectful. I would definetly recommend visiting for a chance to learn more about the cultures that span North America and getting a chance to see beautiful works of art (both ancient and modern).
Something of particular fascination to me were the signs you would see every so often behind the glass cases, just under a blank spot where an artifact use to sit. A small sign saying the object that used to be displayed there had been returned to their respective tribe or historical owner. I know the subject is something of intensely furious debate among certain groups, so I won’t go into it too much here, both because I don’t really come from a culture that has had it’s history taken to be displayed in museums without proper permission and also because I don’t have a Ph.D in…well anything really, but I will say it was something I though was interesting in many ways to see documented within the displays themselves. I ended up buying a really fascinating book on the subject in the gift shop (because of course I did) called Plundered Skulls and Stolen Spirits: Inside the Fight to Reclaim Native America’s Culture which was actually written by the senior curator of anthropology at the museum and I recommend as an interesting read on the subject.
We finished off at the small but super informative and fun Egyptian Mummies exhibit and then meandered our way down to the gift shop where as you can probably tell by now, I spent a stupid amount of money at. Books, postcards, souvenirs and even a new notebook, I would say don’t exit through the gift shop but… that would be so very hypocritical of me, no?
Following up on my last post regarding my at times overzealous interest in geology and pretty much all subfields therein, it’s only fitting to admit the #1 reason we decided to visit this particular museum over any others. We (and by that I mean ‘me’) had been undecided on which museums in Denver we were going to try and make it around to, since there’s a fantastic abundance of them (the Denver Museum of Art, Museum of Contemporary Art Denver, Byers–Evans House, Wings Over the Rockies Air and Space Museum, Museo de las Americas, Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Art and of course the the historically interesting Molly Brown house museum) but a quick google search through the current exhibitions they had going on at the Denver Museum of History and Science had me 100% decided this was the one we would definetly have to make time to go see.
Specifically, it was the exhibition regarding the Russian folk life gem carvings of Vasily Konovalenko that caught my eye. I didn’t know it at the time, but the museum is home to the most significant collection of these gem-carving sculptures in the world- actually the only collection on public display outside of Moscow. I could probably wax poetic about these amazing works of art for pages on end but the thing that struck me the most when I first saw these carvings in real life was not only their beauty, but the sheer mastery of skill displayed in each of them. These are sculptures carves from gems, and not only are are they wondrously- almost magically- gorgeous, they’re also engaging. Each carving tells a story and there’s not a single one that doesn’t draw you in with the magnificent play of colors and the forever frozen flexing of stone hands and candid features.
– a short video regarding three of the sculptures displayed at the museum and the background and history behind their beauty: A Stone Live On
– this is one of my favorite quick reads for a little more information on the artist behind these wonders.
The exhibit is in a very quiet part of the museum, tucked away in the back of the second floor, just off the Explore Colorado area, easily overlooked if you weren’t determined to find it. While we were there, people shuffled in, wandered around the glass cases and then shuffled right back on out, few really taking the time to look at each display or read the placards beneath them. On the one hand I was glad to have the room pretty much all to myself, to get the chance to look for as long as I wanted to at each carving and take photos from all angles….but on the other hand, I really wanted to rush up to each person that just walked away after a quick look-see and beg them to appreciate the beauty of each sculpture, to linger just a little bit longer. Of course, i’m not that big of a weirdo and eventually I too shuffled out- though I did end up buying a book at the giftshop below, called Stories in Stone , which I would very much recommend if you’re interested in the carvings but can’t quite make it out to Denver just yet.
And if you do get a chance to visit, I hope you give yourself the time to really enjoy this room and all the beautiful and compelling work it holds.
I’m a pretty nerdy person. I read economics books for fun, go nuts over things like Masdar City and most anything involving Elon Musk, will gladly talk about the Byzantine Empire with anyone that has half a passing interest and i’ll probably breakdown in tears if I ever get to actually touch a piece of Hadrian’s Wall. So it should come as no surprise that I would make it a priority to hit the Denver Museum of Nature and Science while in the area.
It’s certainly been a good while since I visited a museum that truly captured my attention, the last time being when I was in NYC and visited the American Museum of Natural History with my good friend Kat and I about lost my mind in the opulence of their minerals and gems exhibit. You could say I have an er….mild interest in geology (somewhere I can hear the slightly hysterical laughter of friends and co-workers i’ve sunk into boredom with my talks on exactly why geology is so dang interesting).
We hit the museum early on our last full day in the Denver area and we had plans to spend just a couple of hours there before checking out the Denver Art Museum, but I ended up mesmerized by the Gems & Minerals exhibit (as well as two others, but more on that later). The crowds were pretty mild, probably because we went during a weekday and I’d definetly recommend a visit if your in the area and are interested in learning more about Colorado’s rich (ha) mining history. The exhibits were informative, engaging and definetly fit with the whole atmosphere they had going on, managing to make the experience intimate without toeing the line towards claustrophobic that i’ve seen some geological exhibits veer into. Eventually though, the kiddos on field trips streamed in and so we headed out towards the next stop.
(Btw, just a heads up- if you’ve no interest in museums, feel free to skip the next two posts which will be on the Konovalenko Gem Carvings and North American Cultures exhibitions.)