Thursday, March 1, 2012

All Good Minneapolitans, Hie

Being unemployed, I have a lot of time on my hands. More than I know what to do with: I know with great confidence, once I do get a job I'm going to have all sorts of busywork for myself in my free time, and I will curse my past-self bitterly for squandering the riches of my free time so brazenly. I've done it before and I'm sure I'll do it again.

Hennepin History Museum,
Minneapolis, MN
On this clear and relatively warm day (it was 31° F when I went for a walk), I decided to take in a museum. It turned out to be two, but that wasn't my fault, unless "failing to check museum times" counts as my fault. I'd intended to hit the Hennepin History Museum, but I arrived half an hour before they started business, so I simply tripped kitty-corner over to the MIA. I like the MIA, it's a tremendous mansion stuffed full of the treasures of the world, the treasures of the past. It's astonishing, and it's free, and it was open so I wandered around through the Asian exhibits. I'd seen them before but how can you look at an ancient funerary statuette collection and be done with it?

Anyway, it was also populated by other unemployed people: schoolchildren. Droves of kids in their single-digit years, mobbed and marked by monochromatic ID t-shirts, ran excitedly up the stairs and listened disinterestedly to old adults who forgot how to speak to children. When I'd had enough of this, I went back to the Hennepin History Museum.

Full disclosure: my friend Alis was working there and asked me to check the place out. I'd been there once before, found it by accident, actually: I discovered a set of signs on the road that said "museum" but didn't seem to belong to the MIA. It was its own place, a very large and old house converted into a storehouse for some of the essential but distinctly local treasures of the City of Lakes. When I went, there was a turn-of-the-century exhibit of funerary clothing and rituals in the United States. It was dead fascinating and edifying, and I urged all my friends to hurry down and check it out.

"Cool yer jets, Towser, I'm tryin' ta
say goodbye ta all da nice kiddies!"
This time around, however, the focus was on a local artist, William Dietrichson. If you're old enough, you'll recognize the name Axel and his Dog, a radical and sometimes uncontrolled children's show, featuring a portly guy in a sailor's shirt, an engineer's cap, wearing a very narrow push-broom mustache who lapses into flawless Norwegian yodeling at the end of each show. William painted the backdrop for this show, emulating the interior of a treehouse, in which the show was supposedly filmed. Normal wear-and-tear being what they were, a painted paper background wouldn't last too long, but it only needed to be replaced every few months: just in time for a new season to evince itself through the window.

On his own, however, William painted "a garageful" of portraits depicting his vision of otherworldly demons. In a strange and earnest oeuvre he represented the royalty of demonic court and festivities, rendering these extraplanar beings with what reminds one of Thai or Japanese influence. Himself, he did not consider these paintings much more than a lark, being more praiseworthy (and surprisingly self-congratulatory) on his natural setting and still-life work.

Those portraits are not featured. It's all demons, all the time, at the Hennepin History Museum since September.

What else is there? Why, it has its own reference library, for the real students of Minneapolis history. There's a medical exhibit, displaying the best (and most frightening) of local physiologic understanding (and collection). One corner of the house has a little display of vintage roadwear and a copy of a magazine dedicated to this pastime, as it manifested a century ago. There's a review of regional celebrities and the nightlight a young rounder might've enjoyed on the weekend, and there's an area of Minneapolis' darker history, as well.

My favorite is the children's exhibit, what childhood looked like and was stocked with at the turn of the century and since. It's interesting to me to see what binds us across the channels of time, what fascinations and basic necessities endure and manifest to suit the era, time and time again. Toys would be one of those things, and among the pictures of joyless entrepreneurs attempting to sell bags of acorns, decked in the headgear of their nations of origin, there's an irresistible sweetness that hasn't lost its life after all this time.

If you've got five bucks and a free hour, and if want to feel like a part of the city in which you live, all good Minneapolitans will take a little time out to patronize the Hennepin History Museum and brace themselves for the unexpected, the dazzling, and the delightful.

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