Monday, March 18, 2013

The Pocahontas Challenge

The Mitsitam Café at the National Museum of the American Indian is one of my favorite places to eat lunch in Washington, DC.  They serve traditional Native American dishes with the best ingredients (fresh vegetables, whole grains, etc.).  My desire to go back to the café put the American Indian museum at the top of my Learn at Lunch list. 

My lunch was excellent. I had a great time just looking at the dishes on display, but eventually settled on the mustard greens and acorn squash. Both dishes tasted like they were cooked in my own kitchen, except more flavorful. I love fresh, whole foods and it’s so rare to go out to eat and not worry about whether there are preservatives or fillers in your meal. The Mitsitam Café didn’t disappoint and it was only a five minute walk from my office.

After lunch, I had just enough time to check out a short exhibit on native Chesapeake residents.  I especially enjoyed the “Pocahontas Challenge,” an interactive question and answer segment designed to test your knowledge of Pocahontas’ life.  Although I only missed two out of twelve questions, it turns out I didn’t know that much about Pocahontas. I thought she served as a guide for early English settlers and knew that she had a special relationship with one, John Smith.  I didn’t know she actually married another English settler, John Rolfe.  Their marriage helped maintain peace between the English settlers in Virginia and native tribes for a few years.   Pocahontas, her husband and their son eventually went to England  where she served as a kind of Native American ambassador and even met with royalty.  She died on the journey back to the Americas.

History really doesn’t do the story of Pocahontas justice.  To be fair, I may not remember the details of my history classes that well and perhaps teachers taught a lot more about her than I can recall.  However, even movies seem to focus more on her relationship with John Smith.  I would be interested to learn more about the latter years of her life. Being in an interracial (perhaps political) marriage, assimilating, meeting with all sounds fascinating.  Perhaps that will be the focus of an exhibit to come.

Monday, March 11, 2013

The Royal Butterfly Brooch

I stumbled across this Smithsonian Magazine blog post earlier this week regarding the Royal Butterfly Brooch by Cindy Chao, a Taiwanese jeweler. The brooch recently became the first piece by a Taiwanese artist to be included in the National Gem Collection. After reading about it, I couldn’t wait to visit the National History Museum to see the new addition.  The piece appeals to so many aspects of my personality, my love for Asian art, brooches, and my own Taiwanese heritage.  I thought it would be a great way to brighten an otherwise dull lunch hour.

The butterfly brooch seemed modest compared to some of the other pieces in the collection.  I was surprised to read that it weighed 77 carats and contained over 2,300 gems. I almost completely missed the four large diamonds that make up the flat panels of the butterfly’s wings.  A lot of other pieces in the collection were of course stunning to look at, but not something I could ever envision myself owning or wearing.  Many of them were originally owned by royalty and I'm sure were worn for extravagant, official ceremonies hundreds of years ago.  Even though Cindy Chao's pieces can range from $15,000 to $1 million, the brooch felt a little more relatable and less ostentatious.

I'm glad the Royal Butterfly Brooch is part of the National Gem Collection. The "wow" factor of 80 carat earrings is always fun, but it’s also nice to see more simple, classic beauty that people can envision wearing. I'm now an instant fan of Cindy Chao's work. Although, I'll probably never be able to afford one of her pieces, I hope to own something similar one day.