art & exploration in the ‘lou

Anyone who has spent even a short amount of time in the state of Missouri has borne witness to the inexplicable warring between Kansas City and St. Louis.  Speaking in the most general terms, one city describes itself The Gateway to the West,  a sophisticated first cousin to metropolises such as New York City and Chicago while regarding its neighbor to the west as a Cowtown.  The other, a City of Fountains once dubbed “The Paris of the Plains,” strives to shake off its ranching roots while scoffing at its neighbor to the east’s attempts at making a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.

I have lived in Missouri most of my life and have always thought the whole thing ridiculous.  With the exception of the 1985 World Series, I rarely have a dog in the fight.  It seems that Kansas City and St. Louis collectively suffer from an inferiority complex of the highest order.  Rather than aspiring to be like any other city or convince Missourians that one place is better than the other, it would serve both cities to revel in the remarkable things that make each place unique and special.

With that in mind, Memorial Day weekend found me on picturesque U.S. 50 Highway headed to St. Louis.   The city has lately become the go-to destination when The Roommate and I need a change of scenery and a Trader Joe’s fix.   Our repeated visits have paid off as we now comfortably explore historic neighborhoods and take culinary risks.

treasure hunts & haunted marionettes

Driven by my desire to see Yinka Shonibare MBE‘s Mother and Father Worked Hard So I Can Play, we ventured to Forest Park, home of the  Saint Louis Art Museum.  I’ve been a fan of Mr. Shonibare’s work since seeing his sculpture in Tapping Currents at The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.

Rather than gathering all of the sculptures in one gallery, they are placed throughout the museum’s period rooms (highlighted in blue).

Accustomed to seeing period rooms filled with staid, ornate furniture, fixtures and rugs,  Shonibare’s  headless, child-sized sculptures covered in vibrant Dutch wax fabrics brilliantly bring each space to life.  This seemed especially true when the moving marionette freaked us out, but our Ghost Hunters-esque debunking determined it was caused by an errant breeze (or was it?).    The exhibition was one of the most dynamic things I had ever seen at the museum and I was dying to tell them so via Twitter but alas, they do not tweet.

boy with (haunted) marionette

reluctant revolutionary & doomed pirates

As I’ve related in a  previous post, The Roommate loves science museums.   I have to admit that they have won me over.  These centers of exploration and wonder speak to the inquisitive side of everyone.  If there is ever a place where you can freely ask “why?” or “how does that work?” over and over again it’s a science museum.    This wasn’t our first visit to the Saint Louis Science Center, but it was the first time that so many awesome things were going on that we decided to purchase a membership, resulting in on-the-spot substantial savings (free parking, store, cafe & exhibition discounts) and future cost-cutting when visiting science centers near and far.

Darwin A Reluctant Revolutionarya free exhibition detailing the life and work of naturalist  Charles Darwin, was enlightening.  I thought I knew his story, but as I moved throughout the exhibition here’s what I learned:

  • He was the grandson of  Josiah Wedgwood.
  • His groundbreaking voyage on the Beagle was intended for two years but stretched into five.
  • He was distraught that the results of his work in heredity and evolution provided unintentional fuel for racist and classist philosophies.

The highlight of the visit was Real Pirates.  A National Geographic exhibition, it tells the story of how the British slave ship Wydah became a pirate ship after being capture on its maiden voyage, complete with artifacts dredged from where the vessel met its tragic demise in the waters of Cape Cod.    The information was presented holistically, which I appreciated, beginning with the Transatlantic Slave Trade.  A thorny subject, few punches were pulled in relating the horror of that interprise and its long-lasting effects.  Piracy of that era was remarkably democratic, with all men receiving a fair share of the spoils.  Crews were diverse, often comprised of displaced seamen, indentured servants, freed and escaped African slaves and Native Americans.  The Wydah was no exception, with even a young boy serving on its crew.

Overall, it was certainly an impressive and immersive experience, complete with smoke, olfactory and lighting effects, life-sized recreations of the ship’s lower berths and hundreds of salvaged items from the everyday (silverware, clothing) to the extraordinary (dubloons, jewelry) from piracy’s “Golden Age.”

the wydah’s bell

inside the vatican’s walls

Our final excursion took  us to the Missouri History Museum for the first time to see Vatican Splendors: A Journey Through Faith and Art, an exhibition of  200 artworks, objects and artifacts dating back to the First Century, many of which have neither been displayed inside nor outside of Vatican City.   It did seem fitting that one of the tour stops is St. Louis, “The Rome of the West.”

I attended Catholic schools throughout my elementary and secondary education, so I have always had a certain affinity for that religion’s stories and symbols, but you need not be well-versed in Catholicism to appreciate the works in the exhibition.

The eleven galleries told the story of the Catholic Church from its founding to its current state.  Some of the more intriguing items included a reliquary containing bone fragments of saints, detailed busts of popes throughout history (however the controversial Julius II was excluded from the lineup) and bricks from St. Peter’s tomb.

I am not alone in my disappointment that so many of the items were reproductions, but it was a remarkable assemblage of items and until I can finance a trip to Italy, it will have to suffice.

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