Although this may be an unpopular opinion, I wasn’t quite blown away at the International Spy Museum. I thought that the museum prepared beautiful, colorful, and lively exhibitions but I couldn’t help but feel like I missed a certain depth in the information. The part where I felt like the museum did the best job with effective storytelling was the James Bond exhibit, “Exquisitely Evil: Fifty Years of James Bond Villains.”
The exhibition had quite a bit of depth: long videos to help introduce the cast of characters, some great text panels, and tons of objects that were used in the actual films. I particularly enjoyed seeing the teeth that Jaws wore in several of the Bond films.
Villain Jaws’ teeth from the Bond movies
Dress worn by female villain, Elektra King
It was very disappointing to hear that this exhibit would not return to the new building. I understood, of course, since the museum actually didn’t own any of these objects. Perhaps that is where some of the issues lie for the Spy Museum. The museum was littered with great, short and interesting stories. However, as a visitor, I felt I missed out on the context and often yearned for collection objects to correspond to such stories.
Story of Garbo at the Spy Museum
One such example was the story featured above in the photograph. I had never heard of a man that fabricated an entire spy network to fool the Germans. I thought that this was such an interesting and unique story, but beyond the photograph on the panel, the museum didn’t provide much else. The museum set up the scene for great stories, but didn’t actually follow through with them. It was also overwhelming to jump from story to story within the same gallery.
It was refreshing to hear from the staff that they are aware of this problem and are intending to deepen the visitor experience in the new museum building.
Today, we went to the Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM)/ National Portrait Gallery (NPG) and also were able to tour the Lunder Conservation Center. Although I have visited this museum before, I was excited to see the space again. I had forgotten how vibrant the colors were and the variety of the collection.
“Jane Adams,” National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution. Location: S322
My favorite thing today was the story-telling activity. I chose the Julia Adams (1860-1935) portrait pictured above. I didn’t know who Julia Adams was prior to reading the panel. However, what struck me about the painting was her expression. She seems to be very focused and firm. Instead of looking straight ahead at the viewer, she keeps her gaze to the side and fixed on the road ahead. I also got the sense that she seemed somewhat tired. After reading the panel’s information, I came to the conclusion that it might have been done intentionally. Adams was one of the first women to receive a college degree. In the nineteenth-century, this certainly would have been quite a feat. No doubt, she overcame many challenges in order to meet her goals.
“Eudora Alice Welty,” National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution. Location: S342
My partner chose the portrait of Eudora Welty (1909-2001), a woman from Mississippi who was an accomplished author and Pulitzer prize winner. Together, we combined the stories of these two collection objects to create an entirely new story. Surprisingly, it wasn’t much of a stretch to intertwine these two portraits.
We presented a mother and daughter story. Jane Adams, acted as the mother to Eudora Welty. From the portrait and object label, we concluded that Adams would be eager to reminisce her struggles and experiences to her daughter during her last moments on earth. As a writer, we believed that Welty would be eager to write down her mothers’ words and later become inspired by them.
Although Adams lived in Illinois and Welty in Mississippi, the story seemed very plausible. The women were very similar; they were trailblazers and a great example of female determination. Both worked hard to complete great accomplishments. I was glad for this exercise today because I realized just how powerful museum objects are. Museum objects can show common struggles and experiences. It was a great warm up for our group project, where we will need to intertwine three museum objects to tell a greater American story.