Monday, August 12, 2013

Rubber Tire Tour: Museums, Roanoke Region

The stone, glass and steel 21st Century Taubman Museum of Art lifts itself from the 19th Century brick surround of Roanoke.  Somehow, this building now belongs in its place; it has settled into a reflection of its neighbors, with a slight and welcome patina. Inside, even better.  Della Watkins, Director, and her colleagues, offer choice, quality exhibitions by turns tender, playful, provocative, and compelling. Programs align with the exhibitions and include many opportunities for families. The museum is free, the gift shop well-stocked, the new cafe welcoming.  

Museum visits begin with the website. Taubman writes about its exhibitions and programs with an unusually sensitive intelligence.  

Supporting a museums of this scale and quality in a market the size of Roanoke is no small achievement.  As reported by the press, the museum has faced financial hardships, to be expected of any museum opening at the start of the economic downturn.  It founders have returned to the Taubman, sometimes wishing they could release it, I’m sure, but with it nonetheless.  It looks to me as if this museum is going to be one of those that could, and did, and does for a long time to come.  www/

Roof Top Garden, above, Center in the Roanoke, reopened, completely renovated, May 2013, houses three museums: the all volunteer Harrison Museum of African American Culture History Museum of Western Virginia, and the Science Museum of Western Virginia.  

The exhibitions of the History Museum of Western Virginia are as good as history museums get. One explains the human migration through Southwest Virginia through the 20th century in the region.  A Civil War exhibition commemorates the sesquicentennial.  Both excellent.  The museum can be said to be fully formed.
Two week’s after opening, the museum laid off its director and fund raiser.  It has a debt of more than $1 million.  A board member has stepped in as acting director. This serious situation remains unresolved.

The Science Museum of Western Virginia remains a work in progress, rightfully so. They have not raised (or spent) the money necessary for all new exhibitions so they have smartly revitalized old exhibits which work perfectly well in their new space.  A new butterfly garden, knowledgeably staffed, occupies the top floor.  An OmniGlobe, animates weather patterns over millions of years on Earth and even other planets.  Everything I saw works and many families were enjoying, engaging, learning, having fun.  www.smwv.or
Still under wraps, before opening, Science Museum of Western Virginia
D-Day Memorial
Eighty-eight acres hugh, built in Bedford because, proportionally, this tiny town lost more men than any other town in American.  Washingtonians (me) love their memorials, so I can say the D-Day Memorial stands shoulders above anything in DC. We have nothing of this scale, grandeur, or poignancy.  Perhaps having the memorial in Bedford where so many men lost walked to school, kissed a girl for the first time, helped their fathers in the fields adds to the grace and meaning.  The artistic quality of the sculpture, the landscape -- hard and soft -- and the water features working together provide a transcending experience. 

The D-Day Memorial has undergone recent leadership transitions.  Considering the fiscal sustainability of this site might wither those with the sternest military bones. Currently, the memorial is a private 501(3)c nonprofit and no doubt must find a suitable partner to share in the on-going care of this astounding American treasure.  To my thinking, this should be a federal partner because this site has undeniable national and international reach.

Mr. Jefferson’s Summer Retreat:  Poplar Forrest

A website is never a substitute for an on-site visit, but if ever there was a website worth reading, is one. Here you will find rich depth, built layer-by-layer, over years as painstaking archeology uncovered Jefferson’s creative genius.  Thomas Jefferson’s very private retreat house were nearly lost to encroaching redevelopment when, in the 1980s, a small group of local residents joined together to protect the site. Today, as they say so well:

        Poplar Forest's unique contribution lies in its unparalleled personal scale,
        its contemplative character, and the immediacy of its message for the life of the mind.
        It can stimulate reflection and learning through providing high-quality experiences for 
        smaller numbers of people onsite and through radiating ideas to greater numbers via technology.

Poplar Forest also has a new director -- Jeffery Nichols, a man with historic site experience, and like Jefferson, unbounded intellectual curiosity, dreams for a better future and a commitment to generations to come.


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