National Heritage Museum

Barbara and I, along with my sister Ellen, spent the afternoon today at the National Heritage Museum in Lexington. There are two exhibits there that I can enthusiastically recommend, so go see them while you can!

The first is entitled Augustus F. Sherman: Ellis Island Portraits. I can’t do better than quote from the museum’s own description:

Ellis Island, our nation’s foremost immigration station, processed an average of 5,000 immigrants per day during the peak years from 1905–1907. Augustus Frederick Sherman entered public service as a clerk with the Immigration Division at Ellis Island in 1892, the year that the “Golden Door” was established. An accomplished amateur photographer, Sherman’s position enabled him to take an astonishing body of portraits of over 200 families, groups, and individuals while they were being detained either for medical reasons or for further interrogation. “Augustus Frederick Sherman: Ellis Island Portraits, 1905–1920” brings together for the first time a collection of these striking photographs, presenting an unprecedented historical document. The exhibition is on view at the National Heritage Museum, 33 Marrett Road, Lexington, MA, October 11, 2008 through April 26, 2009. Admission is free.

“Striking” is indeed the operative word. Most of us are children of, or descendants of, immigrants, and many of us have ancestors who came through Ellis Island. These portraits provide an eloquent commentary on immigration from 1905 to 1920.

The second exhibit that we saw is entitled ’Keepers of Tradition: Art and Folk Heritage in Massachusetts.” Again I’ll quote from the description:

…over 100 works by 70 Massachusetts artists who preserve and revitalize deeply rooted traditions. Reflecting the populace of Massachusetts, their art takes many expressive forms, from Native American basketry to Yankee wooden boats, Armenian lace, Chinese seals, Puerto Rican santos, and Irish music and dance. Passed down from person to person within both long-settled and new immigrant communities, traditional art involves the shaping of deeply held cultural values into meaningful artistic forms.

These keepers of tradition are recognized in their communities as outstanding practitioners of craft, music, dance, and sacred arts. Yet much of this work is hidden to the public at large, remaining essentially unknown beyond the local community in which it flourishes…

I wasn’t sure what to expect, but this fascinating exhibit greatly expands one’s view of art, even to include such a simple thing as a stone wall. The last room in the exhibit focuses on masters and apprentices and is not to be missed.

Unfortunately we couldn’t see a third exhibit, “‘There’ll Be a Hot Time in the U.S.A.’: Illustrated American Sheet Music, 1917–1924,” since it wasn’t open on Sundays; now it has closed altogether.

Categories: Teaching & Learning