The first memory I have that led to a global connection comes from one summer day when I climbed Prophet's Rock in Battle Ground, Indiana with my brother, Michael, and our childhood friends, Peter and Eric. Standing atop that rock we boys looked through the tree branches and out onto the site of the Battle of Tippecanoe, which took place on November 7, 1811. The night before that famous battle, a man named Tenskwatawa ("The Prophet") is purported to have come to this spot in preparation for battle. I don't remember what we said to each other that day on that rock - did we imagine that we were The Prophet himself, or that we were watching the deadly battle between the Native American coalition forces fighting against troops led by eventual U.S. President William Henry Harrison? Did we listen for the echoes of 170 year old gun shots, did we try and understand the terror of that battle?
I can now see that after this experience I began to understand more clearly that the land around our parent's homes contains a past, and today I understand that the area where I grew up is part of our global heritage, that it has a history, that all was not new when we my family moved there, and that all was not ours.
Today, it seems to me that this realization can come a little slower for U.S. citizens because so much of our cultural is constantly being remade new - from the new housing additions sprouting up everywhere, to the new, bigger, and brighter superstores, to the fast food restaurants that occasionally get torn down just to be rebuilt absurdly on the same exact same spot. It's as if we're always just starting right now to build our culture.
As I mentioned in my last post, I'm in Munich and will soon be on a train to Salzburg for the start of the Seminar, but it's hard not to think of global connections when I'm here in this city that was the birth place of The Third Reich. Munich's motto now is "MÃŒnchen mag Dich" (Munich Loves You), and I have to say that I've had such a great time being in this city and meeting so many interesting and kind folks that live and work here. But this was also a city wrecked in WWII by bombs dropped 20,000 feet from B-17 Flying Fortresses from the U.S.A. And though that happened more than 50 years ago, this history has been alive with me as I walk the streets and see the historic buildings and monuments of the city, as I visit the museums, collections, churches, and gardens. It's the first thing I thought about when I arrived: would I still see evidence of damage on the buildings?
Walking around town I think of the Jewish people so vulgarly destroyed. I think of the Dachau Concentration Camp just outside of the city that I had planned on visiting, but just could not bear seeing. I look for the buildings that were destroyed and restored, and the places meant to remind us of that war and that time, and I see how the city of Munich also points away from that past to a bright future.
These thoughts crystallized for me yesterday when I went to the new and strikingly beautiful Jewish Museum & Synagogue. The Synagogue with its massive and rough-hewn stone walls and a soaring glass roof, and the museum with its glass walls and smooth stone upper walls seems to affix the past to the present by being at once solid, massive, open and clear. It embodies hope.
The quest becomes how do our collections serve to remind us of our past, our successes, our mistakes, and our beauty? How do we care for them, and how do we get more people allied in this cause. Back in the U.S., I recently I visited two labs that are making the work of conservators known directly to museum visitors. Among other museum, both the Regensstein Pacific Conservation Laboratory at the Field Museum of Chicago and the Lunder Conservation Center at the Smithsonian American Art Museum have clear glass walls that give first-hand accounts of art conservators working on collections.
Another project that deserves to be looked at as a model is the late-1990s project Save Outdoor Sculpture!, which organized more than 7,000 volunteers to examine and catalogue over 30,000 outdoor sculptures. I was reminded of this project once again by my brother, Michael, who was out on a bike ride and came acroos this sculpture:
The buildings made to stand eternal in memory, to teach us now and remain for the future? What is it we want to save and why? We save what is important to us at the time being. How do we pool our resources? As a former Fulbright Scholar to Spain I take seriously the notion that the way to make peace, to recognize other cultures is by living on other ground. By walking the streets of foreign cities. But now these cities are closer. The internet connects me to the world. I can connect from Indianapolis to anywhere in the world.