Monday, August 29, 2011

The Hamptons: Various

Ok, so obviously the Hamptons are in Long Island and not part of NYC.  However, I thought I could not let the entire summer go by without at least mentioning that many New Yorkers spend their summer weekends in the Hamptons.

As a Los Angelino, when I first moved to NYC, I thought this was ridiculous.  Who would pay the outrageous sums to share summer rentals (of varying degrees of disrepair or maintenance) and then drive (or ride in the Jitney bus service) 2.5-3.5 hours each way to spend some time by the beach?  Well, in the professional set, you'd be surprised.  Some claim that it is because all of the partying goes on out there in the summertime, and if you are single there is no one to hang out with left in the City on the weekends.  But families also partake of what the Hamptons have to offer.

I will say that the beaches are quite nice (not crowded, see right and below) and the dining is good.  There are quaint little villages of antique shops, coffee shops, and yoga establishments too.  And while not my venue of choice, there are fun bars as well.  You can also visit wineries if that is more to your taste.  Perhaps the variety and the space is really what the Hamptons offers to bedraggled New Yorkers--a little respite from an otherwise stiflingly hot and humid City packed with residents and tourists (although I wonder if regular year-round Hamptons residents think of the summer rental visitors as tourists with as much disdain).

I went as a guest of a friend who had a rental and had a lovely time.  We relaxed on the beaches, had good fresh food from the local farms sold at the many farm stands, dined at nice restaurants (like The Homestead, Paradise Cafe, and Nick and Toni's) and coffee shops, and I partook of the famous BBC at Cyril's.  My visit was cut short due to Hurricane Irene, but we packed a lot into our 4 day retreat.

As you can probably tell from my description, I am not a convert, but I think I understand the appeal for others.  Frankly, I like that many of the Manhattanites flee to the Hamptons, as that makes the City much more pleasant for those of us who remain (restaurants that are usually impossible to get into are available for reservations during this period each year).  So if you get a chance to go to the Hamptons, please do (but don't forget the insect repellant or you may be eaten alive by the mosquitos).

Monday, August 22, 2011

Hudson River Museum (Yonkers): Warburton Ave

This is a true gem in NYC.  Yes, it is a little remote (you have to take the Hudson Line Metro North to Glenwood Station and then walk about 5 to 10 minutes), but it is absolutely worth the trip (besides, Metro North offers a special if you ask the ticket agent for a "One Day Getaway" to the Hudson River Museum, which includes the roundtrip train fare and discounted museum admission for $14.50/adult).

The Hudson River Museum has something for everyone.  That is not an exaggeration.  They have historical home furnishings from the late 1800s (see period library with fireplace and ebonized bookshelves at left) in the architectural beauty, Glenview (see above, the house behind the modern facade of the museum, which was built and lived in by the John Bond Trevor family), which was built by the same architect that built the Armory on Park Avenue.  

They have modern exhibitions, like the photography work currently on display of the Hudson Valley, from Manhattan and Westchester County to the Catskills by Susan Wides.  This exhibit explores the juxtaposition of suburban and urban perspectives and the descriptions of the works in the artists own words are fantastically informative.

The museum also has a respectable collection of 19th and early 20th century scenic paintings of the Hudson Valley as well as some beautiful portraits and sculptures done in the times before mass photography.  I particularly like the intimacy and innocence of this lovely child's portrait, likely painted by her father, John George Brown (see right).

They also have modern or more contemporary artwork.  My favorite piece in the whole museum is Red Groom's "The Bookstore" (see left).  This 3D installation of an animated bookstore, complete with inflatable figures, uniquely titled 3D books, an electrified fireplace, and 2 entrances (a grand one mimicking The Pierpont Morgan Library and a modest one of a second hand bookstore, called Mendoza's Bookstore), is hyper-life-like in color and specificity  As I walked through and tried to take in all of the details, I was reminded of theater/movie sets (particularly Hagrid's hut from the Harry Potter series).  I LOVED this piece and don't think I've seen anything like it before.

The museum also has a great nature exhibit for kids (and adult-kids) called Riverama.  In it, they have live catfish, carp, seahorses (see right), and almost innumerable interactive stations educating visitors about the marshes, trees, wildlife, soil and pollution related to the Hudson River and New York City.  I think it really is fabulous (although I suppose I can't be sure about how this would be received by kids since I did not have any visiting with me).

Finally, the highlight of the museum is the planetarium.  Because it is only open on weekends I was worried it would be incredibly crowded, but actually, the whole museum was pretty sparsely attended (there were about a dozen people there at any given time during my 3 hour visit).  They have different shows 3 times each day, and it is really zen and beautiful.  The show is narrated by a live host with a very soothing voice and the background music is cosmic (ah yes, I admit I snuck a little cat nap in there -- I couldn't help it).  While I haven't yet been to the planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History (still on the list), I would say that this planetarium is wonderful, expansive, and somehow intimate too.

If you have not trekked out to the Hudson River Museum, you are missing out.  This is a fantastic place to visit and spend the day (and evenings when they have special planetarium shows or musical concerts--check their calendar of events).  You can't beat views like this (see above).  I would add this to my top 5 list of places to visit in NYC, especially for New Yorkers yearning for a hit of nature and something off the beaten path.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

South Street Seaport Museum: Fulton St by Front St

New Ticketing Office at 12 Fulton (they've moved from 207 Front Street)
I'm a fan of experiential history.  That is, I like to look at in person, smell and touch things from history (not just read about them or watch movies about them--although these options are not bad in a pinch).  I'm not a fanatical fan (I won't be dressing up for Revolutionary War reenactments), but I will go out of my way to have an experience (see my blog about Grant's Tomb or Governor's Island).

So I was surprised and a little chagrined when I recently discovered that the South Street Seaport was more than a Disney-esque shopping mall, and that it was in fact a museum that allowed visitors to board old ships.  Could I have really lived all these years in NYC and not realized that this was available?  I had mistakenly assumed that those old ships docked at Pier 16 were only for rent for weddings or corporate parties (for which they are also available).

Unfortunately, when I went to the South Street Seaport Museum Friday evening (it's supposed to be open and free to the public from 6-8:45 pm every third Friday), it was closed.

Peking (Built in 1911 in Hamburg, Germany) Docked at Pier 16
Ambrose, Built for NY Harbor in 1908
Like numerous other visitors, I did wander the pier and took pictures of some of the old vessels docked there, but I was sorely disappointed that I could not experience the ships from on board.  The museum is supposed to include tours of the Peking (see above) and the Ambrose (see one of the 2 light towers of the Ambrose at right), and of course there is also supposed to be a gallery of shipping artifacts (but those I could not see, as the museum was closed).

I was, however, able to learn some interesting facts about these old ships from the well-drafted descriptions posted along the pier.  For example, I learned how the Peking was one of the last sailing ships used for shipping fuel and goods to South America and returning around Cape Horn with nitrates mined from Chile.  After more reliable steamship engined ships were invented, sailing ships like the Peking were defunct.  I also learned about how the Ambrose was a kind of floating lighthouse that was used when technological deficiencies prevented the establishment of lighthouses in waters that were too deep and where the ocean floor was too soft.

All in all, it was kind of a bust (see the Peking anchor at left that reflected how I was feeling about this excursion), but perhaps one day, I'll try again (after I get around to all the other wonderful and amazing places I have yet to experience in NYC -- yes, after over 100 entries there is much more).  I will say that they have quite a collection of historic ships (and even a beautiful "time keeping" lighthouse -- the ball at the top used to drop at noon signalling to nearby ships the time of day -- that is a memorial to the Titanic and marks the entrance of the South Street Seaport).

Noteworthy Aside: I would say that if you haven't already done so, the Bodies Exhibit at the South Street Seaport is definitely worth a visit.  What they were able to do in plasticizing human bodies and coloring blood vessels is truly amazing.

MoCADA (Brooklyn): Hanson Pl and S Portland Ave

"Powerful but limited" is how I would describe the Museum of Contemporary African Diaspora Art (MoCADA). This little museum in Brooklyn has some great artwork, but the space is very limited and it is sparsely displayed.

I loved the current Fiona Foley exhibit of the HHH (Hedonistic Honky Haters), the fictional group of African Australians who are dressed in caps and cloaks of African print fabric in a style similar to the Klu Klux Klan.  The direct, head-on blow up photos are powerful, a little self-deprecating and oddly fun (see right).

The other piece that really spoke to me were Vicki Couzens' possum pelt bone bags (see left).  These bags are replicas of bone bags carried by aboriginal women for up to a year after the death of a loved one.  Something about the richness of the fur and the blood colored exposed skins was touching.

Finally, the exhibition of contemporary photos of African American men in classy, dressy attire called "Dandy Lion" was fun and fashionable.  It was interesting to me that these photographers thought it was important to show these men in this type of attire, contrasting against more typical gangster or hip hop looks.  I could appreciate their desire to demonstrate this other side of the African American community (given I, as an Asian American, am more sensitive to negative portrayals of other Asians--whether we want to admit it or not, people of the same minority group are often painted with one broad brush rather than as individuals so it matters to us how others in our group are viewed).

This is a good little museum, but I wish there were more.  At this point, I could recommend it to others if they happen to find themselves in this part of Brooklyn, but I would not suggest a special trip to visit the MoCADA.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Brooklyn Historical Society: Pierrepont St and Clinton St

If you have an interest in classic movies set in Brooklyn, the Brooklyn Dodgers, American Revolutionary history, or Civil War history, the Brooklyn Historical Society is the place for you. 

As you might imagine, there are loads of T.V. series and movies that are based in Brooklyn, but I hadn't really thought about it until this visit to the society.  From Spike Lee movies, Cher's "Moonstruck" and John Travolta's "Saturday Night Fever" to Jackie Gleason's iconic "Honeymooners," the star power of Brooklyn as a is undeniable.  Brooklyn's coolness, ethnicity, raw edge, and earthy beauty is almost like another character in these shows and films.  The posters, memorabilia and looped video remind visitors of Brooklyn's major role in media.

They took down Ebbets Field in the 1960s, but the society has one-of-a-kind nostalgic artifacts--from pennants of their World Championship year (see above), original wooden bench seats, and uniforms (see Roy Campanella's wool shirt, card, and autographed ball at right). The historic papers, score keeping cards, video testimonials and fan yearbooks all provide a picture of the incredible tie that Brooklynites had with the Dodgers before they moved to Los Angeles after city officials (including Robert Moses) failed to step up and provide the larger stadium the team needed.  With a little time, this unique collection can give visitors a glimpse into the heartfelt connection Brooklynites had to the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Finally, if you have an interest in early Brooklyn or American history, the society's collection of American Revolutionary artillery (see rifle and sword at left), Civil War memorabilia, and WWI and WWII posters (the society's building was once the Red Cross NY Headquarters during the WWII) deserves a look. 

Overall, I'd give the Brooklyn Historical Society a 6 out of 10.  Why so low?  Well, the society has a lot of wasted space.  Between empty halls for events, a whole floor dedicated to offices, another floor set aside for class rooms for small groups, the small collections on display are unfortunately pretty weak.  However, what they do have, particularly if you are interested in baseball history, is great.  If you happen to be in the neighborhood, I'd recommend it, but I wouldn't plan to spend much time there.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Temporary Closings: Various

As I have been researching things to do in NYC, I have found a few things that folks should be mindful of when they want to visit a new-to-them location.

First, check the website of the location the day you plan to visit.  Yes, you might think that checking the week of or even the day before may be sufficient, but you would be wrong.  I have researched locations (like the Tibet House and the Swiss Institute of Contemporary Art (which is moving to 18 Wooster from 295 Broadway)) the day or the week before visiting only to find that it is closed for a new art installation the day I went for a visit.  Ok, sometimes the website won't be updated even on the days a location is temporarily closed (like the Austrian Cultural Forum's 2-week-long closing for a new installation) but really, the only way to avoid such a disappointment would be to call ahead on the day of your planned visit.

Second, if you are really interested in visiting a place and it is currently closed (like The Grange (Alexander Hamilton's house), the New York Historical Society, and Edgar Allen Poe's cottage), consider joining the mailing list so that you are informed as renovations or changes to a re-opening schedule may be updated.

Third, you might think that most places would be open most days and you just have to keep in mind reasonable operating hours, but there are very odd hours for some of the less-visited sites (like the Bartow-Pell Mansion, which is only open on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays) or locations that have reduced resources at various times of the year like the Neuberger Museum of Art at Purchase College, which does not offer gallery tours in July and August).

Finally, while some websites and online articles may rave about a certain tour or public offering (like the tour of The Plaza Hotel), if you really want to be sure something is still available, you should call ahead.  The internet is a huge benefit to disperse and share information, but if it not updated regularly, it can cause a lot of confusion and disappointment.

Hope you are all taking advantage of all that NYC has to offer.  Don't get discouraged when trying to visit the smaller hidden gems in NYC.  Many of them are well-worth the extra effort.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Museum of the Moving Image (Queens): 35th Ave & 37th St

I am a little ashamed to say that I dismissed this little museum because it was in Astoria, Queens.  It is marvelous, especially for T.V. addicts, movie buffs, or video game aficionados.  The Museum of the Moving Image has so much to offer and seems well endowed by the industry with one-of-a-kind items that you might never have the chance to see in person if you fail to make the trek by car or on the N, Q, R or M subway lines.

What really drew me to the museum was their current exhibit on Jim Henson.  While I was never a big fan of Sesame Street, I really thought the Muppets were wonderful, and I had heard that Jim Henson was an innovative advertising creative genius.  I was not disappointed.  They had what seemed like hundreds of sketches, planning boards, and, of course, puppets (including, among others, an early Kermit (made from Henson's mother's coat and a ping pong ball for the eyes), a full Miss Piggy in wedding gown, and, one of my favorites, Rowlf).  The collection, which will be on exhibit until January 16, 2012 is a fantastic representation of Jim Henson's work, from his early days in film making on the experimental "Time Piece" to his later work in fantasy on "The Dark Crystal."  While photographs were not permitted in the Jim Henson area upstairs, I thought I would include the puppet of Mayor Bloomberg that was in the lobby (see right).  It is a magical world, and I had fun walking through and realizing that for all the successes he had, Jim Henson had many failures and unrealized creative visions that led him to his huge body of work.  It was quite inspiring.

There is so much that was nostalgic in the games room that I didn't know where to turn.  There was a working original Pong game (see left--do you remember those old "graphics?").  There were also other classics like Donkey Kong, Ms. Pac-Man, Galaga, and Frogger.  Just a little farther in, there were also T.V. show inspired board games and action figures.  Games like the Lawrence Welk Show music maker, coloring books based on celebrities like Our Gang (aka The Little Rascals) and Debbie Reynolds, and action figures like those from Star Trek and all of the Star Wars (see the figures from Episode IV at right).  I was mesmerized, but kept myself moving along for the sake of being able to write this blog post in a balanced way.

There were sections that were also dedicated to each main function in movie making.  From make up (see Chewbaca base form and mask at left) to costume design like Glenn Close's gown from "Dangerous Liaisons," the Savage Huns gang uniform from "The Warriors," and Robin William's body suit and clothing from "Mrs. Doubtfire" the museum has an amazing unique collection.

There were whole areas dedicated to main and supporting actors, directors and producers, but the part that caused my jaw to drop was the special effects areas.  I mean, how can you put a price on getting to see the possessed Regan MacNeil (Linda Blair's character in "The Exorcist") (see right)?  I think I was traumatized for years with the image of Regan's head turning completely around on her body.

There were also first run model televisions (where the apparatus was as big as a large bureau but the screen was about 4 inches), camera lights, motion picture film cameras, and pre-film rotary crank arcades like those with shorts of Charlie Chaplin (see left).  I felt like I was walking among key pieces of movie and television making history.  There are also really neat interactive areas where you can change the musical score to famous scenes in the "Wizard of Oz," change the voices in an episode of "The Simpsons," or see an example of "live" editing of a sporting event, taking shots on the fly from about a dozen cameras.  It is all really cool for kids, adults, techno-geeks, well, for everyone.

I will be checking the museum's calendar routinely and hoping to catch their special showings, like their recent exhibitions of Frank Sinatra films and the award-winning Korean film "I saw the Devil."  They have family events too.  Just check it out (Fridays after 4 pm are free).  You won't be disappointed.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Governor's Island (2 of 2): Via Ferry from Downtown

Battery Maritime Building for Governor's Island Ferries
Boy am I glad that I went to the sesquicentennial (150th year anniversary) honoring of the Civil War yesterday.  Today's downpour has been relentless.

I would imagine that visiting Governor's Island on any day would be relaxing and interesting, but I was glad that when I visited there were historians re-enacting artillery drills, marching (see right), and answering questions about the lives of Union and Confederate and soldiers.

The 10 minute ferry ride from downtown is free and although if busy (like it was yesterday) it can feel a bit like a cattle call when boarding, the ride can help separate you mentally from the hustle and bustle of Manhattan in a refreshing way.  Once docked at Governor's Island, I would start a visit with a pit stop at the bookstore.  There you can pick up handouts about Governor's Island as a Civil War depot and training center, the way soldiers from Governor's Island helped put down the draft riots of 1863 in NYC, how Fort Jay and Castle Williams were used to house prisoners of war, and do-it-yourself walking tours of the island.

Barracks Surrounding the Parade Grounds
Without a stop at the bookstore, you might just wander around the parade grounds or around the various walkways.  You can spend a wonderful afternoon lying on a blanket on the grass or leisurely cycling along the paths, admiring the architecture  (see left) and imagining the history that took place here (President Ronald Reagan and Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev held their final meeting here as heads of state in 1988).

I really enjoyed the Civil War demonstrations, which included military encampments, musical performances (see right), a woman washing clothes in a bucket with a wash board, artillery firing (see below left), and cannon firings.  The historical reenactors were also very receptive to questions and explained, among other things, the differences in the French-styled caps (which were horrible in the rain and sun) and the civilian style hats with a wide brim which better sheltered the soldiers.  All in all I would highly recommend visiting Governor's Island during their annual Civil War Weekends, but if you can't make it I would simply recommend just going for a wonderful lazy day.

While the Civil War activities and shows won't be there most days.  What you could enjoy are the art galleries in the grounds by the Small Ferry Dock.  Each of the houses circling the grounds are dedicated to a form of art.  Currently, there is a painting gallery, a gallery dedicated to the sculptures of Mark di Suvero (who has numerous modern steel sculptures sprinkled around the island and is represented by the Storm King Art Center in Mountainville, NY), a collage gallery, a pop-up Etsy store where handmade goods are sold, and so much more.  What an unexpected artistic treasure on the island!

Finally, check out the Governor's Island's event calendar to see what concerts may be available.  You can get lunch at the numerous concession stands and sit and listen to free live concerts (see right).  The music I happened to hear was great 80s tunes, and the atmosphere by the Water Taxi Beach was relaxed and open.  Can't beat a free concert. And the crowds are nothing like the concerts in Central Park.  This was really enjoyable and a pleasant bonus of the visit.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Governor's Island (1 of 2): Via Ferry from Downtown

I'm on my way to Governor's Island for their annual Civil War Weekend.  They are supposed to have re-enactments, tours, live music, and other activities for history buffs and families.  I just thought I would post this note so that folks who may read this and are free can go check it out today or tomorrow. 

Sure there are other activities and tours there normally (the island is open to visitors generally from the end of May through the end of September), but this is a very special weekend.  It is the 150th anniversary honoring the Civil War.  If you have some time, take advantage of the fabulous weather and head on over.  I'll report back my findings when I get back.  Enjoy all!

Friday, August 12, 2011

St. Paul's Church (Bronx): S. Columbus Ave

I didn't really know what to expect other than an old church and surrounding graveyard, but with the weather as pleasant as it was yesterday, I figured that it would be a good day to take the #5 subway to the end of the line and embark on the 15 minute walk to St. Paul's Church.  I was the only visitor there during my 2 hour visit, but the 2 lady docents were as accommodating and helpful as could be.  I believe they have school programs and special organ performances (the organ in the church is one of the oldest still functioning in the country -- see left) from time to time, but individual visitors like me seem unfortunately scarce.

The church has a quaint, very modest design, with high-walled pews (see right) owned by individual families (closeness to the altar meant higher costs; and it was noted that the Roosevelt family pew was in the far back corner with an intruding post--those Dutch were known even then for their frugality).  Most of the original windows were also in place, although there was one stained glass window by the famous John LaFarge from the Romanesque period of the church (see below left). 

The most interesting part of the church tour was the special walk behind the organ up the wooden steps of the tower to the belfry.  It was a narrow entrance (larger folks won't be getting by), followed by a steep climb in the dark, but it was well worth the spectacular breezy views from the top and the chance to ring the famous 250 year old bell (which I did!). 

In 1758, the Church of England minister at St. Paul’, Reverend Standard (who is buried behind the church) gifted it to his parish upon his retirement.  The bell (see right) was made at the same London Whitechapel Foundry as the "Liberty Bell," and thankfully it was saved from being melted down for ammunition during the American Revolution because a parishioner hid it in his barn as the battling approached Eastchester.

After the tour, I took 10-15 minutes to look through the museum, which was the old carriage house for the church.  Presently, they have an exhibit of various Revolutionary battles fought in the area.  The dioramas are very detailed and the uniforms and artillery take one back to how brutal and difficult the battles must have been (perhaps they were more vivid for me than most, as I had recently seen the documentary "Gettysburg"). 

They also show a short video of the history of the church, from the first 10 local farming families who built this church (and the prior one that was torn down for firewood during the Revolutionary War, when the Hessians used the church as a military hospital (see rudimentary "medical" tools at left)), and later when the church became a gathering place for residents from far and wide and services lasted all day (with a break for a picnic lunch in the family cemetary plots -- see cordoned off areas, below right).

There is also an exhibit about Ann Hutchinson (after whom the river is named), who moved down to this area after she was banished from Boston for her religious beliefs, only to be killed by Native Americans who believed she and her family were taking their lands.  Parts of the Ann Hutchinson story were familiar to me, but one that I had at least temporarily forgotten was how Ann's 10-year-old daughter, Susanna, was taken by the Native Americans and raised for 4 years before being forcibly returned to white society.

I ended the visit with a walk through the cemetery (see left).  They provided me with a hand drawn map of notable plots and headstones that made the walk interesting.  I was surprised to see a freed slave buried in the same cemetery as the white residents, as well as a marker for the Hessians who were buried in a mass grave here.  I am not easily spooked (besides it was a gorgeous day), but some might find that the old and sporadically overgrown parts of the cemetery are a little creepy.

In any event, I would highly recommend a visit to this historic place.  It is a hidden historical treasure that deserves support.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Tibet House: 15th St between 5th and 6th Aves

Tibetan Prayer Wheels, Called Manis, Into Which Papers With Mantras Are Placed And Spun
Unfortunately after weathering a torrential downpour I arrived at the Tibet House in Chelsea only to find that the gallery was closed.  I had checked their website at Tibet House Info and found that their limited hours of noon to 5 pm M-F and was free, but there was no mention that it would be closed today to prepare for a new exhibit.

While disappointing, I was able to check out their offices, their library and gift shop and snapped a few photos.  They had the expected intricate brass tantric sculptures, detailed colorful tapestries, primitive jewelry (see belt above left), religious artifacts (see stupa of crystal and gold at right), works made by monks like the thread mandala made at a monastery (see below left), and fun animal/god (?) masks and Tibetan dolls in traditional dress hanging along almost every beam or soffit.

Actually, I was really impressed with all of the things that were available for viewing even with the gallery closed.  The style of Tibetan art is not really my style (which leans more toward the clean and contemporary), but what they had was beautiful in its own right.  Much of their collection is what they term repatriation art (donated Tibetan art collected and held in trust for eventual return to a National Museum in a free autonomous Tibet), and is part of the Tibet House's mission of preserving the Tibetan culture while it is endangered by the Chinese occupation in its own soil.  Tibet House was founded at the request of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, who at the 1987 inauguration wished for a long-term cultural institution to ensure the survival of Tibetan civilization and culture.

One of the most prevalent things I noticed were the numerous pictures of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, in just about every room.  As I mentioned in my blog about the Museum of Biblical Art, I am not religious.  However, I will say that something about his aspect made him look peaceful and kind.  I especially liked the bronze bust of him in the entry lobby (see right).

I plan to swing by the Tibet House again, perhaps the next time I am in Chelsea, and I hope to see the rest of their collection.  It is definitely worthy of a look (visiting is free, although of course they accept donations and this seems like a great cause to support).

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Ukrainian Museum: 6th St between 2nd and 3rd Aves

The Ukrainian Museum is a beautiful contemporary building in the lower east side that was completed in 2005.  Currently there are exhibits about Ukrainian weddings and the clothes, wreaths, breads, head wraps, and ritual cloths related to Ukrainian weddings; the art and writings of Sviatoslav Hordynsky; and, of course, the famous Pysanka eggs from all the regions of the Ukraine. 

The textiles are colorful and beautifully decorated with embroidery and ribbons.  However, more than just pretty to look at, they embody the Ukrainian belief in warding off evil with good luck symbols in the decorations and positive thoughts of the maker while she is embroidering or embellishing.  The traditions and details vary from region to region (see right and left), but they all include emblems intended to protect the wearers. 

There are displays related to the decoration and giving of handkerchiefs from single women to single men to signify interest and courting.  There are blessed elaborate wedding breads decorated with ribbons and twisted knot birds made out of dough (see below). 

Really, all of this exhibit is a feast for the eyes and shouldn't be missed, but unfortunately it seems it usually is.  The receptionist seemed shocked to see me and when I told her I had discovered the museum's existence online, she was so pleased and surprised she couldn't do enough to make me feel welcome.  As the only visitor to the 3 story museum at the time of my visit, I was a little saddened by the lack of visitors much the way I was about the Hispanic Society of America.

Upstairs there is an exhibit that displays the breadth and depth of Sviatoslav Hordynsky, a talented Ukrainian artist and writer.  There are numerous works in a variety of styles--from German Expressionism, to Picasso-like cubism, delicate gestural and detailed watercolors (see left), and religious studies that were later used in the most famous piece by Hordynsky, the mosaic murals in St. Sophia Cathedral in Rome (see right).  I had never heard of this artist before, but I can assure you that I will be on the lookout going forward.

Finally, the piece de resistance, is their small but beautifully displayed collection of Pysanka eggs (see below).  If you are not careful, you could miss the whole thing.  They are in a small side room just inside the front doors on the left before you get to the admissions desk.  The eggs decorated using a wax-resist process, vary from region to region of the Ukraine, but are all decorated with the traditional symbols like eternity (never ending connected lines), the sun (circles, broken crosses, or stars with up to 8 points), triangles, animals, and nature (leaves, flowers, or trees) to protect and bring good fortune to the recipient of these eggs. Although now just decorative, originally they were thought of as talisman. 

If you find yourself in the Lower East Side, stop by the Ukrainian Museum and you won't be disappointed.