Landed in Waco, Texas


Well, I’ve landed. I’ve landed in Waco and I hope I can stay in one place for a little while.

In March I accepted a new position as Collections Assistant at the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame & Museum, and moved from Richmond up to Waco. They haven’t gotten rid of me  yet, in fact they even seem to like me! And I like my new job (as my friends and family can tell – I’m always posting pictures of the interesting things I see in the course of my work). From meeting donors, researchers, and real life Texas Rangers, to handling historic firearms and photographs, and learning about things like the role of the Texas Rangers in the killing of Bonnie and Clyde, and more recent events like the 1993 Branch Davidian siege – my work is interesting.

And from my new home base in Waco, I’ve continued to explore more of Texas. I’ve been hitting more of the state parks on the weekends, including Garner State Park and Dinosaur Valley State Park. Garner State Park is the furthest west that I have been in Texas so far – it’s about 100 miles further west from San Antonio! And Dinosaur Valley is so called because of the dinosaur footprints that have been fossilized and preserved in the bed of the Paluxy River. Besides the footprints, lounging in a river is a great activity for hot Texas summer days. And there have plenty of hot days, today’s high is 107F!

And I got to escape home for a weekend, for a friend’s wedding. Unfortunately, its always too brief whenever I go home. But what can you do? Home is the best.

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My Chicago Adventures: Pullman and Argus Brewery


Once again, I’ve let life get away from me, and this blog has remained largely forgotten. Or maybe not forgotten, since I’ve often thought “I should write on my blog again”. But, as I’m gearing up for another major adventure, I thought I would write a post to get back in the swing of things. And this is the one that I most wanted to finish.

The Pullman neighborhood is a hidden gem in Chicago; I’ve vaguely known about it for a while now, but the topic is timely because earlier this year President Obama stopped by to celebrate the new designation of the Pullman National Monument, under the National Parks System. Which presumably means even better preservation for the site, and greater recognition of its’ historical significance.

The historic district itself is smaller than the neighborhood of Pullman, between 111th and 115th streets, and Cottage Grove and Langley Avenues. This is considered the far South Side of Chicago, as even the red line trains don’t come this far. Take the red line to the end of the line, and you still have a 15 minute bus ride to get to the Pullman Historic District.

The district includes the Pullman State Historic Site, the Historic Pullman Foundation, and the Pullman National Monument NPS. The Historic Pullman Foundation is housed in a very unassuming looking building, and is a good place to start. While I have yet to visit the museum (the hours were rather limited), I had time enough to ask for the self-guided walking tour brochure, which led me around the neighborhood and gave simple explanations about the buildings and their use and architecture.

The very simple explanation is that Pullman was a company town for employees of the Pullman Palace Car Company. George Pullman wanted to uplift his lower-class employees, and built a town with some of the first worker housing with indoor plumbing, a hotel, market, church, and factory buildings, and attempted to provide for his employees in every forseeable way. However, it was not a true utopia. “The opportunities that Pullman provided went beyond social uplift—they amounted to social control. A Chicago Tribune editorial stated that, “none of the…advantages of the model city will compensate for the restrictions on the freedom of the workmen…” Limitations on freedom sowed the seeds of social unrest”, which resulted in strikes, boycotts, and bloody conflict between labor and employers (http://www.nps.gov/pull/upload/PullmanUniGrid.pdf). If you are at all interested in the industrial and labor history of America, then you’ll just have to come visit.

What brings me to the Argus Brewery were these “limitations on freedom”. Saloons and drinking establishments were forbidden, so many of these thirsty employees wandered over to the other side of the tracks to find what they were looking for. Argus Brewery is a new enterprise, but it is housed in an old horse stables that was the distribution center for the Joseph Schlitz brewing company – heard of it? You’ve probably at least seen the logo somewhere in Chicago, with the Schlitz banner over a globe. Schlitz was just one of several breweries along the same street, catering to the large population of German, Polish and Eastern European immigrants that worked for Pullman. On a tour of the Argus Brewery today, the guide will share a little bit of this Chicago history, along with the requisite explanation of how beer is made, and how Argus fits into the growing craft beer culture of Chicago.

My Chicago Adventures: Lincoln Square/Ravenswood


I love Lincoln Square! But seriously, the neighborhood of Lincoln Square seems to have a lot going for it. As per usual, my copy of the “Open House Chicago” sites was my guide to exploring the neighborhood, and I’ve made repeat visits back to the DANK-Haus German American Cultural Center. The museum there is free and worth a visit to learn about the German legacy in Chicago. After having just read the book Death in the Haymarket, and the Haymarket Affair and labor struggles in late nineteenth century Chicago, it was strange to see this poster below; the poster called for workers to meet and discuss recent events and labor strikes. Little did they know the firestorm that would start that night (http://www.history.com/topics/haymarket-riot).

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Inside the DANK Museum at the cultural center; historic political leaflets in English and German.

It’s true that Germans made up one of the largest portions of the immigrant population in Chicago, when they started arriving in the city in the nineteenth century. Imagine then that they arrive in Chicago, set up their trades to be bakers and beer brewers etc., and some teetotaling mayor decides it is illegal to drink on Sundays, their only day off of work! That Joseph Medill… Anyway, I liked the German cultural center so much that I came back for an art exhibit, German cinema night, and now I’m volunteering for their booth at the street festival “Maifest” at the end of the month. This is all in line with my next big adventure, which has yet to be announced. Something to do with German language and culture, that’s all I’ll say for now!

Below are a few more pictures of the place, complete with a view of Lincoln Square from the rooftop terrace of the building.

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The club room inside the DANK Haus is full of character!!

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International art exhibition and the opening event at the DANK Haus.

Dank Haus Panorama

View over Lincoln Square from the rooftop terrace.

And… I leave you with a few more favorites from the area:

A very German and international type of place :)

A very German and international type of place 🙂

The exterior of the old Krause Music Store on Lincoln Avenue.

The exterior of the old Krause Music Store on Lincoln Avenue.

Architectural Artifacts is a warehouse full of... architectural artifacts for sale.

Architectural Artifacts is a warehouse full of… architectural artifacts for sale.

Fall Fun and Germany in October


Gosh, I didn’t realize it had been quite that long since I blogged. How did that happen again??

Long story short: I went on vacation, I got a new job, I moved, I went on vacation again, I presented at a conference, I got a promotion, and then I looked at my blog. That’s a lot of stuff happening.

My vacation was with my Mom to Brown County, Indiana and a stop in Indianapolis too. Since Dad was finally returning to work in August, after several months of medical leave, Mom and I went on our own vacation. It was one of those reading, hiking, eating, and shopping kind of vacations.

Imagine this view on a warm sunny day in the State Park!

Imagine this view on a warm sunny day in the State Park!

Upon returning from vacation, I started my new job as Sales Assistant at the Art Institute of Chicago, which essentially means I work in the museum gift shop. It’s a nice place to work, and was made even more exciting when it was announced they’d been voted Tripadvisor’s #1 museum in the world for 2014.  They hosted a fancy breakfast for staff to celebrate, and took a group picture on the Grand Staircase:

It's hard to get so many people in one photo....

It’s hard to get so many people in one photo….

My next vacation had been planned for a while: Germany! I traveled with my brother and sister in law, and we visited loads of places including Berlin, Erfurt, Nuremberg and Rothenburg. There was still more to see, so Brian and Jessica continued their trip, while I had to return home for work. Poor me!

Sharing a meal on an outdoor patio in Nuremberg.

Sharing a meal on an outdoor patio in Nuremberg.

Brian and Jessica at the Brandenburg Gate in the center of Berlin.

Brian and Jessica at the Brandenburg Gate in the center of Berlin.

The amazing German food at the Augustiner Brau in Erfurt.

The amazing German food at the Augustiner Brau in Erfurt.

The week after my vacation, I was set to present at the Illinois Association of Museums Conference in Rockford, IL. I presented to a small group on the topic of Leadership, mentoring, and the next generation of museum professionals. It went as smoothly as can be expected, and the rest of the conference was informative and even entertaining. There are a few museums I want to go back and visit in Rockford, like Midway Village…

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Lastly, I’ve moved out of my parent’s house and into an apartment in Chicago, mainly to lessen my commute to work. It’s all going pretty well, so I can’t complain. We shall see what adventures come next.

 

Old World Wisconsin


This was going to be a post about my visit to Madison, Wisconsin, but my day at the living history site Old World Wisconsin was the star of the show! What is Old World Wisconsin? It is an open-air museum on more than 500 acres of land, that portrays the lives of immigrants in 19th century Wisconsin. The buildings are grouped into ethnic areas, based on the immigrant populations that came to Wisconsin, such as Germans and Scandinavians. And in most of the houses there are costumed interpreters, learning to do things like use a loom, make wool into yarn, harvest crops, and make bread in an outdoor oven.

The best thing about the experience was not just having the place to ourselves for much of the day (the benefit of Tuesday museum visits!), but the fact that staff were genuinely excited to talk and show you things of interest. When staff are excited, it makes visitors excited! You are learning how to use a spinning wheel, and do I want to watch? Absolutely! Check out the park map below…

A map of Old World Wisconsin shows how truly big it is.

A map of Old World Wisconsin shows how truly big it is.

It is hard to imagine, but the 60+ historic structures at Old World Wisconsin were brought to the site from all across the state, before the museum opened in the 1970’s. A schoolhouse from Raspberry Bay far north on Lake Superior, to a one-room chapel from an African-American community in the southwest corner of Wisconsin. How did they get the buildings here? Well, I honestly can’t imagine.

In front of the Schulz house in the German area.

In front of the Schulz house in the German area.

This place has a lot going for it, including excellent staff and interpreters, hands-on interaction and more than enough to keep you busy for a full day. We stayed for a solid 6 hours, and commented that we could see ourselves coming back again. Perhaps celebrating the summer solstice Scandinavian style, or an old world Fourth of July parade…

Women in bonnets diligently working the garden!

Women in bonnets diligently working the garden!

AAM Annual Meeting in Seattle


Last weekend I took the long 4+ hour flight from Chicago to Seattle to attend the American Alliance of Museums Annual Meeting. The conference was about four days of non-stop action, from thought-provoking sessions, to special museum events, to networking receptions. Lots of coffee was involved, mostly to get through the long days, but also because Seattle is a coffee mecca and home to the first Starbucks!

Monorail Espresso on Pike St, right in the middle of downtown.

Better yet, check out the little coffee spot above, Monorail Espresso, which was recommended by my host. It has a tiny window and counter with picnic tables on the sidewalk for customers, and a yummy “black cherry and almond latte”, which I ordered more than once during my stay.

In order to save money on the conference, I managed to find another museum geek who lives within 20 minutes of the convention center and was willing to let me sleep on the futon for a few days. She manages the collection at a small museum outside Seattle, and I peppered her with questions on how she got where she did. The view below is from the neighborhood, looking out over the suburb of Bellevue.

Looking down from a high point in the comfortable Capitol Hill neighborhood.

Looking down from a high point in the comfortable Capitol Hill neighborhood.

Some of the worthwhile sessions I attended at the conference included Banishing Guided Tours; Confessions of an E-Volunteer; Fail Early, Often, and Off Broadway; and an entertaining keynote session with the bestselling author Erik Larson. He talked about his process in researching and writing his most recent book In the Garden of Beasts, and what he looks for when he first begins the search for a new book idea. And the relief he feels when he discovers the perfect story and can begin the writing!

The session that will cause the most talk back at the break room was the Banishing Guided Tours session, as I happen to be one of several paid Tour Guides in a historic house museum. According to the presenter, only a third of museum visitors claim they even like guided tours. I wonder, where did they get such information? They suggested that house museums create more immersive experiences like cooking in the kitchen, and using storytelling and narrative to help visitors connect personally with the past.

Live demonstration at the Tacoma Museum of Glass.

Live demonstration at the Tacoma Museum of Glass evening event.

Many of the highlights of the conference were also the evening events, like the Tacoma Museums Tour I attended on the Monday evening. We took a bus down to Tacoma, an hour south of Seattle, and were free to visit any of 6 museums within walking distance of the downtown. I only managed to visit three of these: the Tacoma Museum of Glass, the Tacoma Art Museum, and the Washington State History Museum. The fancy food, drink and souvenirs made it an unforgettable night, and the staff were out to impress!

Now the conference is over and I begin the process of reaching out to the museum professionals I met during the week, and making the most of my network in my continued search for another job!

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Saying goodbye to Seattle; the view out the plane over Mt Rainier.

History is Everywhere


The last few weeks have been an education for me. This month I felt a sudden surge in enthusiasm and starting volunteering at TWO different museums. At the Glen Ellyn Historical Society I have been making an inventory of some items in their collection of historic quilts and textiles, and thinking of ways to improve the textiles storage.

The discovery of numerous boxes of rug braiding material inspired me to… learn how to braid rugs! Luckily, I had an expert nearby (thanks Grandma), and I’ve been working on a project with her help.

Crash course in rug-braiding - a friend thinks I should make a rug shop on Etsy!

Crash course in rug-braiding – a friend thinks I should make a rug shop on Etsy!

A historic quilt from 1895 - I presume!

A historic quilt from 1895 – I presume!

And at the Elmhurst Art Museum, I’ve been tidying up the collections records, adding some new donations to the database, and making sure that every artwork is where we think it is (and doesn’t go wandering off somewhere).

An example of some beautiful modern dinnerware I got to work with.

An example of some beautiful modern dinnerware I got to work with.

I’ve also decided to attend the American Alliance of Museums Annual Meeting this May, so that all this learning can continue. I’ve actually started a fundraiser so I can attend the conference, and several friends have already helped me out. While I try not to complain about my tiny income, it does make it near impossible to attend such a conference. Which is why I’ve asked for help.

Take a look: http://www.rockethub.com/projects/40194-rachel-s-first-professional-conference