Museum Avenue

A blog about life in the museum world.


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The two bridges I use the most, the Clay Wade Bailey on the left and the Brent Spence Bridge on the right.

I cross the Ohio River every day. Living in Kentucky, or as I refer to it, Cincinnati’s South Side, and working in Ohio, means at minimum two crossings a day. If I have lunch in Kentucky, or have errands to run those crossings can increase. There are times where it is easier to get to where I’m going in Kentucky by going into Ohio and back into Kentucky. I’ve always taken these crossings for granted until a recent experience at the National Under ground Railroad Freedom Center.

I attended the artist panel discussion for their new exhibition And Still We Rise which surveys 400 years of African-American history through 85 quilts. It is the largest exhibition of African-American quilts ever assembled. Seven of the quilters shared their processes and inspiration into making some of the quilts on exhibit. Each quilt tells a unique story including a quilt that talks about the slave pier in New Amsterdam, “Pier 11,” to a quilt dedicated to Gwendolyn Brooks, the first African-American woman to win the Pulitzer Prize.

The quilt that moved me the most was the quilt dedicated to Underground Railroad conductor Levi Coffin. Now, I know what you guys are thinking, “Of course Marcus would be moved by the Levi Coffin quilt, Levi’s UR station was in Indiana.” It was more than that I promise. It was the discussion that ensued around the hardships that slaves faced when attempting to escape for freedom. The Ohio River was the boundary between slave and free states and to cross it was the first step toward gaining freedom. I realized at that moment that I cross that same river every day, sometimes multiple times a day, and I take that for granted. For many African-Americans before me crossing the Ohio River was the difference between slavery and freedom. For me it is simply the difference between going to work and coming home, and this is how far we have come in 150 years.

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Levi Coffin: President of the Underground Railroad
Cynthia Lockhart
Cincinnati, OH

One of the quilters on the panel said that these quilts chronicle “where we’ve been, where we’re heading, and what work there is still to do.” While there is still work to do, I’m going to take my simple crossings of the Ohio River a little less for granted from now on.

Have you had a similar eye-opening experience at a museum? Where was it, and what did you realize?

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A museum for UFOs? Sure. A museum about the scintillating history of barbed wire? Why not? You can even visit a museum of dedicated to Bad Art right outside the men’s room of an early 20th century theater! There are several thousand museums in the United States, and most of them focusing on Art, History, Nature, Science, or providing children a place to learn through play, but there are also quite a few museums, that… well… don’t really fit very neatly in any of those categories. While I would love to wax poetic on the amazing exhibitions at the Trash Museum,  I cannot, but I would like to tell you about a museum I visited while in France.

Le Musée International de la Chaussure

Le Musée International de la Chaussure

In 1992, I was an exchange student and spent three weeks in Southern France. During these three weeks, my other exchange classmates and I attended school, and of course had field trips to museums. One of our day excursions took us to the beautiful city of Romans-sur-Isère where the hottest attractions are the Church of St. Barnard and Le Musée International de la Chaussure – yes, you read that right: The International Museum of Shoes. This museum showcases footwear from five continents and spans thousands of years of history. We learned that different shoes had different purposes and helped early peoples conquer various terrains. We also got to see more glamorous shoes, gem-encrusted high-heels fit for a queen and shoes worn by many French historical figures. The museum proving that indeed, shoes often do make the person.

What is your unique museum experience? Shoes? Trash? The National Museum of Funeral History?