They have one of the most beautiful Tiffany dragonfly lamps in the
traveling Smithsonian exhibit. It took my breath away. The base was
golden lily pads rising into stalks of reed stems. Then the lampwshade
had georgeous dragonflies against the tops of the reeds/*** willow tops.
All golden light - too breathtakingly beautiful. Artisans like that must
be a thing of the past. Couldn't make a joke of that, but the rest of
this is my comedy-tary!
Went to the Smithsonian Exhibit today at the convention center in San
Jose, the only California location --- another day trying to entertain my
mom and sister (who are cheap and don't like to do anything that involves
money; but hey, they're PARENTS!). If you order your tix in advance, they
charge you $3.50. If you just show up, take your chances, you can get
them free --- be aware that they only hand out so many for each hour. To
pick up your tix, you have to go to the Center of Performing Events---a
block away---avoid heat stroke and park in front, run in and get your tix.
We got there and got tix for 1/2 hour away---which flew by as we found
parking in the garage ($5), went up the elevator and then the escalator,
made our way through 2 security checkpoints. "You don't have any mace,
pepper spray, guns, or knives in there, do you?" Mom shakes her head NO
and seems wide-eyed in amazement that anyone would also feel the need to
have her open each zipper of her 5-compartment purse. I crack, "good
thing we brought our small bags."
Inside at last, and one of the best and favorite exhibits is right in
front - The Tucker automobile! I don't even notice the most obvious
difference at first, the third headlight. I am hypnotized by the roll of
silver, the gleam of chrome, the flash of whitewalls. This is not a car
YOU drive; you are DRIVEN by a chauffer! Cool! You can also get in a
crowded line and get an audio set to accompany you (or you can just read
the signs next to each exhibit).
The show isn't particularly large, and during the weekdays, just a few
people deep. I was amazed that the items were NOT all from the United
States. I already knew that James Smithson had donated his fortune to the
new republic because of his contempt for the English society that scorned
him because of his illegitimacy (yes, I learned that on A & E's
Biography!). And then the Americans didn't want to accept it because the
fortune was delivered in the coin of the British realm. It wasn't until
some clever legislator decided to melt down the British gold and have
American coins minted that the money began being spent for the purpose of
education and sharing/collecting of items of significance - historical,
social, artistic, etc.
What were the significant items, comments, reactions? A few quick ones
heard on the fly: "I don't like closed spaces, crowds."
"Some people ought to learn to take a bath. Body odor!"
About the huge sculpture of a reclining woman, "The Thinker must have
gotten tired and decided to lay down."
About the huge Rodin sculpture (headless and armless), "That sure took a
lot of bronze."
About the chunk of meteorite that landed in Egypt and supposedly came from
Mars, "Looks like a rock to me." An old lady slapped me on the back when
I said that!
About the moon rock, "It looks like something you'd see on the street, and
About the Singer-Sergeant painting of a rich woman in Paris, "How do you
think he painted that? Like the Happy Painter (on t.v., if you guys don't
I did, by the way, love the selection of art they presented. Not only
were there American painters and artworks I didn't know (Hassam, an
impressionist who did a painting of a lady sitting on rocks by the sea;
and what everyone thought was a ship in a storm---but really was a remote
station on the Alaskan plain with the aurora borealis huge in the sky and
reflecting throughout the landscape), as well as wonderful representations
by non-Americans (modern, exquisite Japanese ceramics); jewelry that
looked like computer chips studded with gems, cloisone balls, and a
bracelet that looked like a lego metalwork with a tabletop and full table
"They must have been tall!" (Mom, as she gazed at an Eagle feather
bonnet; me, in reply, Or they could have just dragged it around.")
"Wow!" the comanche war bonnet made from parrot feathers.
General concensus was that Lincoln was a pinhead - the tophat was very
small and not that tall, and most of the beaver hide had worn off over the
years. One guide said, "He wasn't wearing it when he was shot because men
were gentlemen in those days, and took their hats off inside. Too bad."
Was he referring to the sorrow because the hat might have deflected the
bullet, or if he had been wearing it we would be able to see the hole of
the bullet that killed Lincoln?
And the wierdest thing - Lincoln's life mask. "It doesn't look like the
face in the photo." It was like a death mask, no muscles to give the face
intelligence or personality, the skin was just stretched over the bones.
Kind of creepy that they just squashed in the eyes (on the mask). "That's
strange, men with such big ears are supposed to have a long life." "Not
if they get shot, Mom."
As we came up to the geology exhibit, Mom thoughtfully tapped the fake
cave walls. "Where can I get some of this stuff? I want some big rocks
in the front garden."
At the Vin Fizz, the Wright brother plane that made the first
transcontinental flight, "Is that a bicycle chain?"
The carousel is georgeous, beautifully decorated and painted - and whizzes
around at a fast pace. None but the brave want to get on it!
The most popular exhibit is that of the *** Diamonds and the Star
Sapphire. My sister said, "This is what I came to see!" The diamonds
were spectacular and worth the wait. While we were in line, the guide
told us about the Tucker automobile---one of the fine results of the U.S.
seizures of drug dealers! The *** diamonds are gloriously golden
yellow (not champagne, like on Home Shopping Club). At first you think
you're looking at a bunch of small diamonds cut together, but if you get
your face right up to the glass, you see that each is a separate emerald
shape diamond, with a starfire "cut" that gives it the blazing twinkling
effect! Then the Mackay emerald, equally costly in platinum and diamonds,
but more artificial looking. The old lady behind me said, "But it's so
long." My reply, "Just take off a few links." She laughed, she'd been
interested since I explained the cut of the *** diamonds to Mom. After
all the glitter of diamonds, the large blue Star Sapphire given by Douglas
Fairbanks to Mary Pickford wasn't very interesting.
The model of the astronaut in the shuttle nosecone gave us all the
claustrophobic creeps. Earlier, my sis looked at the lunar rover and
said, "Is that what we spend all our money on for the space program?" To
which I replied, "No. It's for the research and to pay someone else to
The music display was a bit of a letdown when we realized that fake fronts
of vintage t.v.s and radios had been placed in front of ordinary t.v.
monitors. Couldn't they collect a few old tube radios and t.v.s from the
flea market or antique shops? Skip the computers - don't we get enough of
that here in the valley!?
And the finale - the gift shop! Get your catalog, poster, CD-rom, coffee
cup, t-shirt, astronaut pen (writes upside down, under water, over
fingerprints), and freeze-dried ice cream, among some things!
So if the tour isn't coming to your town, hope this brings a bit to you!
Cousette Copeland (bought the mug, catalog, and some of the pens; will
also join the Smithsonian because I love their magazine!)
Santa Clara, CA.