10 December 2011
On the cusp of Bowling Green in the financial district looms the National Museum of the American Indian, an imposing Beaux Arts backdrop behind many tourist photos of the Wall Street bull. Designed by renowned architect Cass Gilbert, the building was originally completed in 1907 as the Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House and operated under this guise until 1974. I was disappointed to learn this wasn't the same Custom House where Herman Melville battled corruption and Chester A. Arthur basked in it. (Prior to 1907 the Custom House was located in the Merchants Exchange at 55 Wall Street, though Melville apparently worked out of another office on Gansevoort Street.)
Security is airport-grade, due to the museum's status as a federal building. After clearing the metal detector without incident, I caught the tail of a guided tour on Native American clothing piloted by a member of the Hupa tribe. On display in the Infinity of Nations exhibit were a Hupa dance skirt outfitted with beads and thimbles, a Lakota war shirt possibly belonging to Crazy Horse, an Inuit parka made from caribou hide, and a disconcertingly out-of-place Victorian wedding dress worn by an advocate for Ponca tribal rights named Susette LaFlesche Tibbles, who went under the nickname Bright Eyes.
A second tour focused on the architecture of the building itself and granted me access to the locked chamber of the splendorous Collector's Office, these days often used as a movie location. An events planner had commandeered the stately Rotunda, but our group was able to slip along the perimeter to admire Reginald Marsh's series of seafaring murals and the marble columns of solid Vermont marble which flank each end.
On display in the contemporary gallery was an exhibit for the Ojibwe mixed-media artist and sculptor Carl Beam, in which ravens, stencils, and cultural iconography meet at the crossroads of the spiritual and political. Photography was forbidden in this gallery but examples of his work are available online.
I should mention admission to the museum is free, always a welcoming figure.
The National Museum of the American Indian.
Formerly the Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House (1907-1974).
The Custom House was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1976.
Entrance to the Infinity of Nations exhibit.
Tlingit spruce-root hat, ca 1900.
Nisga'a mask, British Columbia ca 1875.
Kwakwaka'wakw mechanical mask, ca 1900.
Nisga'a mechanical mask, ca 1870.
Alaskan Inupiaq parka, ca 1900.
This Lakota war shirt, decorated with human and horse hair, allegedly belonged to Crazy Horse.
Lakota square hand drum.
Aymara powder horn, ca 1910.
Kuna Kantule hat, ca 1924.
From a gallery of photographs of the Isleta Pueblo titled "Time Exposures."
The central Rotunda. The dome is, unsettlingly, made from concrete.
During World War II this skylight was tarred over, as was standard practice in event of an air raid.
Muralist Reginald Marsh deliberately obfuscated the name of this ship, the S.S. Normandie, after Joseph Kennedy protested the lack of America-centricity.
One of several solid Vermont marble columns.
Inside the Collector's Office.
Inaccessible to casual visitors, the Collector's Office is occasionally used as a movie set, most recently seen in Boardwalk Empire.
Glancing upwards from the base of the curved staircase.
A patriotic bald eagle newel.
"Future Clone" by Fritz Scholder, 1993.
Nautical ironwork ornaments the former Cashier's Office.
03 December 2011
November is an advantageous month to visit the Bronx Zoo. Though some of the attractions are closed for the season and many of the animals in hiding, the low density of screaming heathens more than compensates. The gorillas lay low and the Wild Asia Monorail is off its rails but there are still plenty of photogenic inhabitants roaming about.
The zoo, which opened in 1899 and boasts over 4,000 animals, is situated in the center of the Bronx, much like Central Park is to Manhattan, which means despite being momentarily convinced you are in the midst of a jungle, you can then round a corner and find yourself confronted by apartment buildings towering over the wilds. Which also means there must be nearby residents who can regularly glance out their living room windows at a meandering giraffe.
The southeastern Asia Gate entrance.
Camels out of spitting distance.
The spotted hyena turned out to be awfully hard to spot. Eventually he emerged from his hiding place long enough for this shot.
This one was a little shy.
The African wild dog flirts with endangerment by straying from the confines of Africa's national parks to nearby ranchland, where it finds itself at odds with armed ranchers.
Most giraffes despise tall jokes.
The Reptile House.
The Volcan Darwin tortoise was a key player in Darwin's formation of the theory of evolution after he observed the differences in subspecies among the Galapagos Islands
Tortoise wins by a hare.
A little boy worried about the strength of the glass between him and this gaboon viper. His parents assured him it was safe, but he sounded unconvinced.
I can only assume this is the same restless Egyptian cobra who caused the kerfuffle back in March when she pulled a Shawshank Redemption. She was found a few days later in a nonpublic section of the Reptile House.
A stack of chuckwallas.
An alert polar bear named Tundra.
The Zoo Center.
It was difficult convincing these ring-tailed mongeese to sit still long enough for a photo op.
A leisurely California sea lion.
In Germany the cottontop tamarin is known as "Lisztaffe" due to its resemblance to Hungarian virtuoso Franz Liszt.
Southern bald ibis.
Tern on lookout.
The penguin in the center is poised in mid-trumpet. His cry sounded a little like a deflated Volkswagen.
The elusive snow leopard, hungrily eyeing a hapless photographer.
A fleet-footed red panda, who answers to the name of Bam Bam.
A peacock putting the moves on a fire hydrant.