May 7, 2013
Andean bear cubs, Curt and Nicole, played in the rain for the first time in their new outdoor home. Before making their public debut Saturday May 11, the cubs got to know their space on a rainy Tuesday morning. Under the watchful eye of mother Billie Jean, the two cubs, born last December, took to the rocky walls and steep climbs. Staffer Craig Saffoe says this species has a particular fancy for heights and a flair for daring acrobatics that can sometimes leave visitors breathless.
“But I’ve never seen them fall,” says Saffoe. Curt and Nicole both took a few small tumbles as they tried out their mountaineering skills, but they seemed to be in good spirits bounding about the grass, tackling each other. Billie Jean was a bit less enthusiastic but still attentive.
The cubs were a big victory for the Zoo. Since 2005, only three litters of Andean bear cubs have survived longer than a week, two born to Billie Jean, and the mortality rate of Andean bear cubs in their first year is around 40 percent, according to the Zoo.
Saffoe says the cubs will likely come out around 10 each morning to play, but, just like kids at a park, he says, when the cubs start to crash, they’ll head back inside. The cubs first explored the enclosure in March after Billie Jean finally allowed them to leave the den. The Zoo staff then began baby-proofing the yard with extra hay bedding.
The cubs will make their debut just in time for Mother’s Day.
May 6, 2013
“None of us know the Lord’s will,” Burtis J. “Bert” Dolan wrote to his wife about his journey on the new airship, the Hindenburg. He had purchased his ticket for the trip on May 1, 1937, two days before setting off from Frankfurt, Germany. It cost him 1,000 RM, equivalent to about $450 during the Great Depression, according to the National Postal Museum. His ticket survived the disaster on May 6, 1937. He did not. He died, along with 35 others.
The exhibit, “Fire and Ice,” which opened in spring 2012 for the 75th anniversary, included never-before-seen discoveries like the map of the Hindenburg’s route across the Atlantic, but now, thanks to the Dolan family, it will also include what may be the only surviving passenger ticket from the disaster.
Had Dolan not listened to his friend, Nelson Morris, and changed his travel plans, he would’ve headed back from Europe by sea. But Morris persuaded him to try the passenger airship and surprise his family with an early return. It was the perfect plan for Mothers Day and so Dolan agreed. When the airship caught fire just before docking at the Lakehurst Naval Air Station in New Jersey, Morris jumped from a window with Dolan behind him. But Dolan never made it.
Not knowing he was on board, Dolan’s wife learned of her husband’s involvement through Morris’ family and, along with the rest of the country, followed the newsreel and audio reports from the disaster that made headlines. Debates continue about what caused the initial spark and ensuing flame that consumed the ship within 34 seconds.
As part of the museum’s exhibit “Fire and Ice: Hindenburg and Titanic,” visitors to the National Postal Museum can view Dolan’s ticket and passport and learn more about the disasters that still captivate audiences.
May 3, 2013
When Christopher Columbus set off across the Atlantic in search of a Western route to Asia, the continent became a footnote in the discovery of America. But before the country was even founded, Asians and Asian Americans have played integral roles in the American story. Some chapters of that history are well known: the impact of Chinese railroad workers or the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. But countless others have been overlooked.
In honor of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, a new traveling show developed by by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES) and the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center seeks to provide a more complete story of Asian American history. Now on view at the American History Museum, the exhibition “I Want the Wide American Earth: An Asian Pacific American Story” begins with the pre-Columbian years and spans the centuries, to tell of the Asian experience with a series of posters featuring archival images and beautiful illustrations that eventually will travel the country. A condensed set of exhibition materials will also be distributed to 10,000 schools nationwide as teaching tools.
Though often marginalized with legislation like the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, Asian Americans were central to American history, “from the Civil War to the Civil Rights Movement,” explains Konrad Ng, director of the Asian Pacific American Center.
The densely packed exhibit resonates with many of today’s conversations around immigration, identity and representation. Beneath the broad banner of Asian American identity dwells a deeper, more diverse set of experiences. The Puna Singh family, for example, represents a unique blending of cultures that occurred when Punjabi men–unable to immigrate with Indian brides–became employed in agriculture in the West, and met and started families with female Mexican fieldworkers. “The story of Asian Americans,” says Lawrence Davis, who worked on the exhibition, “is very much one that’s not in isolation.”
The Asian experience is one that includes a diversity of cultures and countries. As early as 1635, Chinese merchants were trading in Mexico City. By the 1760s, Filipinos had set up fishing villages in the bayous of New Orleans, and Vietnamese shrimpers and fishermen are a large part of the Coast’s current economy. Asian Americans fought on both sides of the Civil War, including two brothers, who were the sons of the famous conjoined twins Chang and Eng, brought to the U.S. by circus-owner P.T. Barnum. In 1898, Wong Kim Ark, a Chinese American, won a landmark Supreme Court case, which established the precedent of birthright citizenship. In the 1960s, Filipino workers marched alongside Cesar Chavez for farm workers’ rights.
The exhibit borrows its title from the 20th-century Filipino American poet, Carlos Bulosan who wrote:
Before the brave, before the proud builders and workers,
I say I want the wide American earth
For all the free.
I want the wide American earth for my people.
I want my beautiful land.
I want it with my rippling strength and tenderness
Of love and light and truth
For all the free.
“When he arrived in the U.S., like most immigrant stories, it wasn’t easy,” says Ng of the poet. “And yet he still came to love this country.” Despite the hardship, discrimination and even vilifying, many Asian Americans came to love this country as well, and from that love, they improved it and became an integral part of it.
Though Ng had a hard time singling out any favorite chapter from the show, he says many present “new ways to think about the community,” including the politics of international adoption, the spread of Asian food cultures and much more.
“I Want the Wide American Earth: An Asian Pacific American Story” will be on display at the American History Museum through June 18, 2013 before traveling to the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles.
May 1, 2013
UPDATE: The results are in. The Zoo’s new adorable sloth bear is now officially named Hank, a combination of his parents’ names—Hana and Francois. Voted most favorite on the Zoo’s Facebook page, winning 830 votes, the name Hank beat out the other two options Ravi (615 votes) and Bandar (219).
Born on December 19, 2012 and busy bonding with his mom ever since, the Zoo’s sloth bear cub is need of a name. The Zoo opened up its Facebook poll to fans May 1 to allow everyone to weigh in before noon on May 3. So, does the little cutie look like a Ravi, a Bandar or a Hank? You decide.
Because the cub was born in December just before the winter solstice, maybe Ravi, which means sun in the Hindi language, fits the furry creature. Or perhaps his adventurous spirit and mad climbing skills have earned him the name Bandar, the Hindi word for monkey. Or, in the tradition of Brangelina and Bennifer, perhaps a combo-name to honor his parents Hana and Francois is in order, hence, Hank.
We offer up these photos to help you make your selection.
When you go to the museum for a show, what you see is the final product: a painting, a photograph, an installation. But now at the Sackler, you can see the process behind the product in the new exhibit “Nine Deaths, Two Births: Xu Bing’s Phoenix Project.” The exhibit explores the two-year effort to complete Chinese contemporary artist Xu Bing’s “Phoenix Project” and offers a look into the ways both creation and destruction can be part of the artistic process.
Now on view at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, the final product, two giant phoenix sculptures, were originally commissioned in 2008 and intended for a building in the heart of Beijing’s central business district. But after delays for the Olympics, a global financial crisis and funding issues, the installation found different sponsors and a new home. At 12 tons and nearly 100 feet in length, the sculptures need lots of space. Mass MoCA had the room and desire to display it and the Sackler decided to offer its companion exhibit having worked with Xu in 2001 for his show “Word Play,” when it also acquired the iconic ”Monkeys Grasping For the Moon” sculpture.
The phoenixes reference the traditional Chinese motif but rendered from construction site materials, take on a new and modern meaning in the saga of China’s economic development. “My two phoenixes are quite different,” says Xu. While traditional lacquers, paintings and even hair ornaments from China (some of which are on view as part of the exhibition) draw on the mythical bird as a symbol of wealth, nobility and peace, Xu’s industrial installation is in tension with these qualities.
When Xu went to the site where his sculptures were originally going to be and saw the construction of the new building in Beijing, he says he came in contact with the conditions of the workers there. He saw before him the face of Chinese development–its soaring architectural business buildings–and the hands–the laborers who did not seem to reap the benefits of the country’s boom. “The contrast was the inspiration,” he says.
Because of the scale of his project, he had to rely on the same labor. He relied on their know-how and expertise when designing and modifying his work. He also spoke with engineers and architects to help design the massive birds.
But, in the lead up the Olympics, he, along with everyone else engaged in construction, was ordered to stop. The government wanted to ensure pristine air quality for the international games so as not to draw any criticism. It’s an irony not lost on Xu, who included official government notices in the exhibit at the Sackler. After the financial crisis, he then had to find alternative funding and ended up turning to Taiwanese-based businessman, Barry Lam, founder of Quanta Computer.
Citing the many ups and downs of the artistic process, curator Carol Huh says, “What we’ve tried to do here for the first time is really show the process.” Sketches, clay models, computer-generated renderings as well as a special documentary about the works comprise the exhibit. The title, nine deaths and two births, refers to the many challenges he faced and the two children born to his staff during the process, a symbol of the phoenix-like quality of artistic creation.
On view at Mass MoCA until November, the phoenixes will head next to New York City’s Cathedral of St. John the Divine.
“Nine Deaths, Two Births: Xu Bing’s Phoenix Project” is on view through September 1, 2013.