With the photos I posted earlier in the week, I’m going to guess that you aren’t shocked that My D.C. (late, again, I know) focuses on the National Geographic Museum at Explorers Hall.
Probably best known for its photographically stunning, yellow-rimmed magazine, The National Geographic Society was founded in 1888 as an organization “for the increase and diffusion of geographic knowledge.” Throughout its history it has sponsored a number of expeditions, including Robert Peary’s trip to the North Pole and Robert Byrd’s flight over Antarctica (making its idolized mention by the young George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life not as offbeat as I had originally thought). Its funds have helped excavate Machu Picchu and pay for the study of primates by such notable scientists as Dian Fossey and Jane Goodall, and it currently sponsors the National Geography Bee and hosts its own television station. Its magazine is published in 30 languages in addition to English and is read by 40 million people around the world.
The museum is off the beaten path, tucked in a campus of buildings in the Farragut area of town. (As a matter of fact, you’ve seen pictures from that area before today, since the Sumner School is located just across the street.) The museum space is located in two of the buildings — the one behind the frog and the one behind the Trash People installation — and includes outdoor installation space and around the exterior of the former, as well as in this courtyard.
I assume that the window displays are part of the museum’s permanent collection because they include artifacts that I would assume could have been acquired in expeditions funded by society money. They include things like this Terra Cotta Warrior, the skull of a T-Rex, and ancient bowls. In fact, the window displays call to mind the cover of the magazine collection my grandparents had in their basement.
The museum works hard, though, to avoid that connotation. When I visited, back on Mother’s Day, they had a number of very current, relevant exhibitions. You can see the photo of the Trash People installation above. That was a disturbing army of faceless figures by German artist H.A. Schult built out of discarded soda cans, water bottles, and computer parts found in a dump. It (intentionally) made me uncomfortable, even more than the accompanying exhibit, Human Consumption, did.
The museum also had two photography exhibits — one on China and one entitled A Camera, Two Kids, and a Camel: Photographs by Annie Griffiths Belt. Fellow Conn alums will understand why I was particularly keen to catch the second exhibit, but I found even outside of its title that Griffiths Belts’ work was visually compelling. She and her family have travelled all over the world, and she has captured some amazing scenery and people — from humanitarian crises to global celebrations. The work above is her shot of a Zambian man in Devil’s Swimming Pool at the very edge of Victoria Falls.
And, finally, the whole reason I finally dragged myself to the museum in the first place was the frog exhibit, Frogs! A Chorus of Colors.
The fellow to the right is the Golden Mantella Frog, a tiny frog about the size of my pinky finger nail. The size you see is pretty true to life. You could probably fit a hundred or so in a plastic cup.
The poison frogs were adorable, blue and green and red and yellow with stripes and spots and interesting patterns, which makes it that much more impressive how deadly they are. They’re like the stereotypical sorority girls of the natural world.
Only three of the 175 species of “poison dart” frogs are aptly named, since most seem not to have actually been used for poisoning the tips of natives’ spears, arrows, and blowdarts. Their skin is toxic, though after spending time in captivity, they are usually less poisonous than in the wild. The most deadly of the frogs is the Golden Poison Frog.
Others were just interesting, hanging out, blending in, seeming or not seeming to mind the hundred or so screaming toddlers. This fellow is a Borneo Eared Frog. It’s terribly tempting to anthropomorphize him, assigning him thoughts of boredom and tedium by looking at his face. Doesn’t he just look like he’s counting the minutes until the exhibit closes?
You can see more frog and exhibit pictures in my National Geographic Flickr set.
And I leave you with a final shot — the Waxy Monkey Frog, which reminds me of a Jim Henson creation.