Saturday, December 22, 2007

Virginia Road Trip Part III: Museum-a-Go-Go

Yet another reason to avoid the Comfort Inn Executive Center: their absolutely free continental breakfast ends at 9 AM - 15 minutes after I was packed and out of my room >:( On the plus side: at least there was a Waffle House next door. On the minus side: it was either that or the Taco Bell.

So I was out of Der Waffle Housen by 9:45 and on my way into Richmond. I stopped by a few museums before I hit Carytown again for lunch. First stop: the Museum of the Confederacy. This building is seemingly being engulfed on all sides by the VCU Medical Center, which offers parking so it wasn't so bad. Richmond was the Confederate capital, and the Confederate White House is right next door. The MOC is the source for all your Confederate memorabilia and history. Well okay, not all of it, but every Civil War battle, shot and bit of bloodshed (including the Baltimore Riots in April 1861) is documented in maps, and all the major battles have artifacts behind glass. Some interesting things I found out:

  • There's a big statue of a rockfish (Mmmm. Rockfish.) painted in Confederate designs on the porch of the MOC. Rockfish are big in Virginia, too;
  • The two-story entrance room has every Confederate flag you can imagine, plus the flags of all the states that either seceded or considered doing so. Wouldn't ya' know, Maryland's flag is nestled in with the rest (NB: we considered secession until Abraham Lincoln prevented it - not a good idea to have Washington engulfed in Confederate territory);
  • The regent at the desk, a pleasant woman, told me that the legend about Jefferson Davis being captured in a dress is simply not true, contra the misconceptions of some of their Northern visitors. I myself have never heard that; neither has my father, who is a big Civil War buff;
  • They made a reconstruction of Gen. Lee's tent, but you can't go inside it - it's behind glass;
  • There were quite a few African-Americans, free and enslaved, who served on the sidelines in the Confederate army (some by choice, others not) - not allowed to fully join as soldiers until the last few weeks. Some blacks joined the army if they could "pass" as white;
  • Because this is Virginia, there is an entire floor chronicling the Dominion's role in the Civil War;
  • There is more about Maryland in the MOC than I expected, including not just our flag and relevant artifacts from Antietam, but also artwork by artist Allen Christian Redwood, a Virginia soldier who got injured, recovered, and joined Maryland's 1st Confederate Cavalry (he later became a celebrated writer and illustrator for the New York-based Harper's Magazine). There are also a few CD's of Civil War songs, several of which feature renditions of our own state song, "Maryland, My Maryland" - about those same Bawlmer Riots. Plus, the women who sewed the prototype for the Confederate flag? They were from Baltimore (Everything seems to stem from Baltimore);
  • Admission to the WHOC is just as expensive as the MOC ($8), and it's tour-guide-guided only, so I opted out. Who needs a tour guide?
After buying a commemorative Stonewall Jackson pin (Christmas present) I headed to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, which my friend Kurt highly recommended to me. It's not on par with, say, the Philadelphia Museum of Art or the National Gallery of Art in DC - this is more of a Walters Art Museum or BMA-quality place. One problem: half of it was closed. And it wasn't just one whole wing, but a room here, a room there - everywhere I turned there was a shuttered gate blocking my easy passage into "Chinese and Japanese Art", for example. And the half that was closed was all the stuff I would've found interesting! But at least it was free (more than I can say for the MOC). I still managed to see some interesting things:
  • Of what I did see, it was a standard fine art museum: about 3/5 of it is devoted to European art of the last 500 years, another 1/10 to American art done in the same style, and the rest dedicated to European art of the Renaissance and before (not counting the sprinkling of objects here and there from Burma and Gabon);
  • The one exception was a special exhibit on "Mystery" which featured art, furniture and costume from around the world all dedicated to the idea of hiding behind masks;
  • The largest collection of Fabergé eggs outside of Russia is in the VMFA, including some gaudy fakes;
  • A large collection of English silver is also featured, though I found this a bit less interesting than the eggs;
  • A small collection of Medieval sculptures and such, including a macabre sculpture of St. Denis carrying his head (Oh, those wacky medieval artists!);
I was done with museums after that. I headed back to Carytown for some lunch.

Other photos:

Flags (and Woulda-Been Flags) of the Confederacy - Find Maryland's

Because sometimes, ya just gotta use flash...

On Jefferson Davis' front lawn

The purtiest of all those Fabergé boxes, in my opinion

Excuse me, can I check this?

An Egungun costume from the Yoruba culture, no mask - but do you need one?

Henri Rousseau (1844-1910) painted this. It's called "Tropical Landscape - An American Indian Struggling with a Gorilla" (1910). Um, does anybody know what's wrong with this picture?

Dude, is it cold in here?