curated by Richard Wilkinson and Jo Nelson
Big Picture Press, 2015
by Vicki Palmquist
In a large, folio-sized book, the curators of Historium present a printed-page trip through a museum, grouped by cultures and described in detail so you can understand what you are seeing without being rushed along by the crowd. Much like those rentable museum audio tapes or the placards on the wall, it’s an enhanced experience of the artifacts. Unless you are a well-traveled museum habitué, many of these items will be unfamiliar to you.
There are articles from cultures all over the world over a great length of time, represented for context by a timeline. From one million years ago, a Stone Age hand ax to the early nineteenth century, a stone statue from Polynesia, traveling to Melanesia, The Levant, Ancient Islam, The Hopewell, and the realm of the Vikings.
This museum is open 24/7, without the need for signing a field trip permission slip or paying for parking.
On page 35, a beautifully decorated jug from the Pueblo is explained in this way: “pottery skills and designs were passed from mother to daughter. Each Pueblo settlement would try to keep the location of its clay deposit a secret, to prevent it from being plundered … they often refer to the clay as female.” This kind of detail provides depth for our understanding of the world.
On page 50, there is a double-headed serpent mosaic from the 15th or 16th century, “intended to both impress and terrify the beholder.” We learn that “the craftsmen best known for their turquoise mosaics were not Aztecs but Mixtecs …” which results in a tangential search to find out more about the Mixtecs, just as a bricks-and-mortar museum would do.
I’m not sure I understand why the artifacts are presented against darkly-colored backgrounds … sometimes the contrast makes it harder to study the items, but overall this is a book that will satisfy the curious in your family or classroom. Like all good museums, it is the beginning to a journey of discovery.