February 9, 2012
Friday, February 10 Mourning
Before the Iranian Film Festival draws to a close next week, be sure to catch Morteza Fashbaf’s debut film, “Mourning,” which won the top prize at South Korea’s 2011 Busan International Film Festival. The film follows a road trip with two characters who are deaf and dumb, spending most of their time bickering almost entirely in sign language. The breakout feature led the Institute of Contemporary Art in London to speculate that it “may herald the arrival of a major new Iranian talent.” Free. 7:00 p.m. Meyer Auditorium, Freer Gallery.
Saturday, February 11 The Power of Chocolate Festival
Start getting your sweet tooth in shape now, because this weekend the American Indian Museum is chock full of chocolate. Considered a “food of the gods” by the Mayan and Aztec peoples, chocolate has a rich and complicated cultural history that will be on full display. Grind your own cacao beans and froth your own drink, or learn from the renowned chef Richard Hetzler of the museum’s Mitsitam Cafe about the many different ways you can cook with chocolate. And this just in—sample tastings will be offered. See the full schedule here. Free. 10:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., Saturday and Sunday. American Indian Museum.
Sunday, February 12 The Emerson String Quartet
Join the acclaimed Emerson String Quartet for an evening of diverse global music ranging from Bach to jazz to Brazilian Choro. Fresh off their induction into the American Classical Music Hall of Fame last year, the Emerson String Quartet has nine Grammy Awards and the Avery Fisher Prize under their belt. Buy tickets through the Resident Associates Program. $51 for members, $63 for general admission. 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. Baird Auditorium, Natural History Museum.
January 27, 2012
Popcorn dates pretty far back—way earlier than Orville Redenbacher—according to a study published last week. The paper, which appeared in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and was co-authored by Dolores Piperno, curator of New World archaeology at the Museum of Natural History, reveals that archaeologists have unearthed a number of corn samples from a pair of Peruvian excavation sites. Several of the specimens indicate that among many uses the ancient Peruvians found for the maize was one we still know well today: popcorn.
The samples include corncobs, husks and stalks, and date to 6,700 to 3,000 years ago, making the discovery the oldest corn sample ever found in South America, says Piperno. “Corn was first domesticated in Mexico nearly 9,000 years ago from a wild grass called teosinte,” she says. “Our results show that only a few thousand years later corn arrived in South America, where its evolution into different varieties that are now common in the Andean region began.”
The excavation sites, Paredones and Huaca Prieta, are located in a climate that allows such samples to be preserved for a long time. “The sites occur in a very, very arid climate, the coast of Peru, where it almost never rains,” Piperno says. “Those kinds of conditions are particularly good for preserving things, because it’s humidity that affects the preservation of plant remains over time.”
Although there had been previous discoveries of microfossils—such as starch grains—finding entire cobs provides valuable information. “Microfossils give an excellent picture of if they’re eating corn, if corn is present, but what was missing was the morphological detail,” says Piperno. “This site provided actual cobs, information on the sizes of the cobs, and what they look like.” These findings will help researchers trace the early domestication of corn from teosinte, a complicated transformation that occurred thousands of years ago.
The samples indicate that the inhabitants of the site consumed the maize in several different ways—apart from popcorn, they consumed corn flour—but that it was still not a common food at the time. “It was probably a fairly minor component of the diet, because despite the very good preservation, not many cobs were found,” Piperno says.
How did the corn travel all the way from Mexico, its birthplace, to Peru, thousands of miles away? “People just passed it along,” says Piperno. “Farmers like to exchange goods and ideas, so it was probably just passed from person to person, from farmer to farmer.”
Got a burning question about popcorn or some other zany topic? We invite you to submit questions to our new reader forum, Ask Smithsonian. Each month, we’ll select a handful of reader-submitted questions to publish in Smithsonian magazine with answers from the Institution’s experts.
January 19, 2012
Weekend Events January 20-22: An Evening with Alice Waters, Create Your Own Peacock Room and Dance for the Dying
Friday, January 20 An Evening with Alice Waters
Meet organic food icon and chef Alice Waters both in the flesh and in still life at this presentation of her new portrait on view at the National Portrait Gallery. Following the presentation, enjoy light fare at a reception catered by several local celebrity chefs, including José Andrés of ThinkFoodGroup and Mike Isabella of Graffiato. Waters will be interviewed in the Nan Tucker Auditorium at 6 p.m., the reception follows at 7 p.m. in the Kogod Courtyard. Ticket prices vary, National Portrait Gallery.
Saturday, January 21 Create Your Own Peacock Room
Kids and families, learn the story of the Freer Gallery’s Peacock Room, which is now recently restored to its appearance circa 1908, when the museum’s founder Charles Lang Freer purchased it. Next come to the ImaginAsia workshop and curate your own miniature Peacock Room to take home with you. Free. 2:00 p.m. Sublevel 2, Sackler Gallery.
Sunday, January 22 Dance for the Dying Unplugged
The Luce Foundation Center’s “Unplugged” series welcomes local band Dance for the Dying for an intimate acoustic performance at 2 p.m. Based out of Alexandria, Virginia, the group says their music is a “perfectly mismatched marriage of macabre and melody.” Get there early for a pre-concert art talk. Free. Art talk meets in F Street Lobby at 1:30 p.m., performance begins in Luce Foundation Center (third floor) at 2 p.m. American Art Museum.
November 23, 2011
With Thanksgiving Day at hand, the ATM team combed the collections for the some of the best feasts depicted in art. Visit the American Art Museum and its branch, the Renwick Gallery, to see these and other masterpieces of holiday food festivities.
1. Sioux Dog Feast: George Catlin was a self-taught artist who traveled the American West during the 1830s. This painting portrays a feast given by the Lakota people to visiting U.S. government representatives, likely observed at Fort Pierre in 1832. Recounting the event in his Letters and Notes Catlin wrote, “Near the foot of the flag-staff were placed in a row on the ground, six or eight kettles, with iron covers on them, shutting them tight, in which were prepared the viands for our voluptuous feast.”
2. Vegetable Dinner: This 1927 work, painted by artist Peter Blume at the precocious age of 21, depicts a pair of women—one, seated and smoking, the other, standing and chopping vegetables. “Blume was involved with a style called Purism, which emphasized exquisite contours and simplified shapes,” writes museum director Elizabeth Broun. “Still, there’s something in the way the knife slicing away a potato skin is poised against the vulnerable thumb, perhaps to cut more deeply. Blume could find a dark tension in this game of edges and surfaces.”
3. Thanksgiving: During her lifetime, Doris Lee was a popular mainstream artist whose work evoked Norman Rockwell and appeared in Life magazine. This 1935 painting provided a look back at the simpler domestic life many yearned for during the years of the Great Depression. The bustling kitchen is full of preparation for the annual feast, and although the work appears simple in terms of subject, it is filled with countless realistic details.
4. Archelous and Hercules: In ancient Greek myth, the god Archelous took the form of a bull during flood season and carved channels into the earth, while Hercules tore off his horn to create a cornucopia of plenty. Thomas Hart Benton’s 1947 oil painting adapts this legend as a parable for the American Midwest, where engineers worked to tame the Missouri River. The plentiful harvest spilling from the horn represents the future bumper crops farmers would enjoy as a result of this work.
5. Bancketje: This sculpture—named after the banquets often featured in 17th century Dutch still-life paintings—is a literal feast, but one already eaten. Contemporary glass artist Beth Lipman worked with 15 other artisans to create the extravagant installation, piling 400 pieces of hand-blown glass tableware, stemware, candlesticks and serving dishes atop an oak table. The 2003 piece manages to combine an initial impression of abundance with a subsequent awareness of emptiness and decay.
April 11, 2011
Monday April 11 Born to be Wild 3D
Born to be Wild 3D features the conservation efforts of primatologist Birute Galdikas with orangutans in Borneo, along with that of Dame Daphne Sheldrick‘s work with elephants in Kenya. Both women live near the animals, rescuing them and returning them to live in the wild. Film is shown at 2:25, 4:25 and 6:25 daily. The Johnson IMAX Theater at the Natural History museum. Tickets are $9 adults, $8 seniors and $7.50 children ages 2 to 12. Toll free phone 866-868-7774 or online.
Tuesday April 12 Draw & Discover
Be inspired by the paintings, sculptures and installations at the American Art Museum and spend some time sketching at the Luce Foundation Center’s workshop. Free, but bring your own sketchbooks and pencils. American Art Museum, 3:00-4:30PM. This event repeats every Tuesday at the same time and location.
Wednesday April 13 Nile Style
How does a nation’s history affect its food? Cookbook author Amy Riolo provides a virtual tour of Egypt’s history and cuisine. Light refreshments will be provided by the Embassy of Egypt. Riolo’s books, including Nile Style will be offered for sale. 7:00 PM to 9:00 PM. $25 members, $30 non members. Tickets may be purchased online or at the Resident Associate Program box office located in the Ripley Center on the National Mall. Ripley Center.
Thursday April 14 Smithsonian Craft Show
More than 100 American artists will be displaying and selling their wares at this year’s Smithsonian Craft Show. The National Building Museum makes a perfect backdrop for the beautiful hand-crafted work of the nation’s top artisans. 10 AM to 8 PM through April 17. Reduced price tickets are $6 after 6 pm Thursday and Friday. Daily admission is $15/person, 12 and under free (no strollers permitted). Two day admission is $20/person. Call the Craft Show Office at 202-633-5006 or 888-832-9554 or online. Event is at the National Building Museum.
Friday April 15 DJ Toxic Avenger
Disco Dance Party at the Postal Museum provides visitors and locals alike a lively end to a long work week or a spring break vacation. 9 PM to 1 AM. Must be 21 or older to attend the event. Tickets are: $30 members, $35 general admission (and includes 2 drink tickets). Purchase tickets online or at the Resident Associate Program box office, located in the Ripley Center on the National Mall. Postal Museum
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