Our itinerary for the first half of Day Four didn’t feel overbooked when we first arranged it. By the time we finished touring the Molly Brown House and standing next to the Colorado State Capitol, we had a little over an hour to walk a few blocks east to the Denver Art Museum, walk a few blocks back to our parking space, and arrive at the Buckhorn Exchange in time for our 1:30 reservation. After allotting for the hot round-trip walk through the artsy part of town, we found ourselves pressed for time on our whirlwind self-guided tour of the Denver Art Museum.
Further complicating matters: my camera batteries died, and my spares were safe and sound in our hotel room back in Aurora. Fortunately my wife is diligent in keeping her camera’s built-in battery recharged nightly. Between Molly Brown and the museum, we found not a single shop of any kind that sold batteries. Even the Art Museum gift shop was of no help — theirs isn’t the kind of place that stocks up on incidentals for inconvenienced tourists. At best, they might’ve carried a commemorative spoon with a painting of a battery on it. Once again, as with the GenCon costume contest, the day is saved thanks to my wife and her superior camera.
A few outdoor sculptures greet you as you approach the Art Museum from the east. Between the museum and the Denver Public Library is Acoma Plaza, in which stands Mark di Suvero’s sculpture “Lao Tzu”, named after the author of the Tao Te Ching. I read the latter in college, but wasn’t prepared to interpret the artist’s meaning here, unless some of these shapes represent Chinese pictographs.
Our game plan, once inside: we three each selected one museum section for the group to peruse. I chose the Pacific Northwest section, featuring art from the U.S. and Canadian tribes who dominated that particular coast. Our museums in Indiana and the surrounding states have more than their share of Native American art and artifacts, but I was curious to know if other tribes had their own individual styles unavailable for display in the Midwest. I’ve seen all the maize-based manufactured goods I’ll ever need to see in our museums, but this exhibit was successfully different from those, highlighting the works of the Haida, the Tlingit, the Inupiaq, and the Kwakwaka’wakw (I’m not sure which letters are silent, if any).
Totem poles tower above all.
Warrior figurine dangles from a clothesline, threatening us from its overhead perch.
If placed in the wrong hands without context or conscience, I could imagine these animal-based items being misused as prototype merchandise for a new Cartoon Network series starring Beanbag-Toss Platform Bear, Feather-Eyed Shirt Spirit, Big Tongue Puppy, and Surprised Red Ghost and his Army of Floating Eyes. Assign it to the studio that brought you Adventure Time and you’re all set to do the wrong thing.
Assortment of masks, none for sale or allowed a quick try-on. Feel free to create your own and see if curators of the future think well enough of your results to pay for preservation efforts. Doubtful.
My favorite of all the masks in the room: this Kwakwaka’wakw Bear Mask, which well conveys the sartorial message, “Do Not Mess With Wearer.” I found this much more intimidating than the average mass-produced Halloween product.
If you grew tired of accurate representations of the cultures and era, you could step over to the children’s play area, exit a door to the roof, and observe an opposing viewpoint that insists, “No, this is how it really was.”
Note the exacting, almost obsessive attention to period detail — the way in which the combatants would stand inches apart before opening fire; the arrows longer and thicker than the bow that ostensibly launched them; the shirt sewn from an Italian restaurant tablecloth; the veins popping out at strange angles from the back of the cowboy’s hand, possibly symptomatic of carpal tunnel as a result of using his gun too often or too angrily.
Perhaps I’ve overestimated it, and this is actually a large-scale model of a scene from someone’s favorite episode of Flapjack. My attempts at online research of the whys and wherefores of this Tribute to Cowpokes ‘n’ Injuns came up empty-handed tonight. If nothing else, the sight of this during your family museum visit opens a door for some interesting discussion with your children about changing mores and racial perception in popular entertainment. For extra credit, follow up that evening with a viewing of Walt Disney’s Peter Pan and try explaining away some of those Neverland scenes that haven’t aged too well.
To be continued!
[Link enclosed here to handy checklist for previous and future chapters, and for our complete road trip history to date. Thanks for reading!]
To be continued!