Expanding the Diversity of Interpretation at the Museum of American GlassKristin Qualls, Director of Exhibitions & Collections
This fall the Museum of American Glass at Wheaton Arts and Cultural Center embarked on a new programming endeavor – the installation ofRemembering Ginen: Haitian Vodou Bottles, Flags, and Veve. In order to make room for the new exhibit, we deinstalled our long standing historic bottle display, which explored the wide variety of glass bottles made in America from the 1800s to the 1920s with particular focus on the manufacturers. In its place went the same core object – glass bottles – but in a very different context. As I have learned through the processes of designing and installing the exhibit, hand decorated recycled glass bottles are a key component of Vodou shrines and ceremonies, reflecting the character of the spirits, or lwa, for which they are created. The design themes that appear on the bottles are also seen in the intricately hand-sewn sequined flags that are displayed alongside the bottles.
The historic bottle display had been in place since 1974 when the building was opened so it was with some trepidation that we took it down. How would our visitors react to an exhibit showcasing a contemporary Haitian-American artist in a space known for taxonomic displays of the material culture of the past? Much to our joy, the audience response has been very positive. The beauty and craftsmanship inherent in the pieces themselves are engaging to all, with or without a background in Haitian traditions or the history of Vodou. One visitor told us she decorates eggs and was inspired by the patterns painted onto the bottles. A number of visitors are needle workers and have commented on the techniques used in hand sewing beads onto a piece of old fabric to create narratives through pictures and symbolism for flags used in the Vodou ceremonies.
Of particular joy was giving the Vodou drum and dance troupeMakandal a private tour of the exhibit after their concert on site. Stuck in traffic, they did not arrive early enough to see the exhibit before their show. Thus I opened up the museum after hours and they were quite appreciative. I enjoyed chatting with them about Haitian arts, glassblowing, and their connections to the Vodou culture.
As a temporary exhibit,Remembering Ginen came down January 6th, 2014, but, I look forward to continuing to work with our Education and Cultural Studies department to broaden the interpretation of American glass in the museum at WheatonArts.