Last week I got a glimpse into what I would consider a little slice of heaven. For one afternoon, all my troubles, all my worries were swept away by the various wonders of Paul Allen’s EMP (Experience Music Project) in Seattle, Washington.
Now, before I really get into this, I realize that we all have our own ideas of what constitutes paradise, Shangri-La or Heaven. For some, it's a secluded tropical beach, but for others it could be a Five Guys burger joint next to a Half Price Books, or a canoe journey with family and friends up the coast. Or maybe it's just a quiet evening on a lake. So what I am describing as my concept of heaven is purely subjective — although my wife was right next to me the entire time, I am fairly certain that, while she enjoyed the tour, she did not quite feel the same as I did.
On our private tour of the facility, all the pop culture that filled the walls of Frank Gehry’s famous ear-shaped building set my mind reeling. It was a wonderful moment, verging on a religious experience, for a lifetime nerd like myself to view all these icons and relics of genres that have helped shape my life for over the past 39 years. I was truly awestruck and inspired by the works of men and women who, at one moment in their lives, were just like me — simply desiring to create something new, to share a message or to just have fun creating things.
I saw an original model from Ed Wood’s Plan 9 from Outer Space, an early sketch of Darth Vader (before he was Darth Vader), pages from Bram Stoker’s original Dracula manuscript, one of the original Xenomorph costumes from Alien, and even a bloody shirt that Simon Pegg wore in Shaun of the Dead, one of my all time favorite films. I could have geeked out for hours.
The coolest piece — I mean, magic — was some of J.R.R Tolkien’s original notebook pages from The Lord of the Rings, complete with map sketches, and personal notes. I stared at and examined it for quite a long time, and I could have gazed even longer. I couldn't get enough of that feeling of being right there at J.R.R.'s elbow as he jotted down his ideas, in ink, to be forever captured on those blank sheets of paper.
To me that is the cool thing about museums and collections. For artists, or anyone seeking to learn about where they came from, it is a chance to have a personal connection to people, places and things that otherwise might have been forgotten or lost. A museum gives each person a chance to tap into the magic imbued into art and artifacts by their creators. And we all hope that some of that magic might rub off.
Over the years, I have known many Native artists who visit Native collections for the purpose of absorbing power from our ancestors. The knowledge we get from books and film is limited; experiencing the work left behind by original craftsmen brings us closer to the truth we seek. We can feel the time and effort that went into each piece, we can hear the story that only the art can share. It is a supernatural experience that transforms an artist, making him or her a new carrier of the cultural torch.
Museums are magic.
As a creative person, when I walk through the sacred halls of each museum, I get the feeling of fraternity and belonging with the creators before me, knowing that even though we exist in different eras and use different materials, we both have earned and share the right of title as Artist.
As Natives, when passing through collections of our ancestors in places like The Burke Museum and National Museum of the American Indian, we gather a once-forbidden knowledge and gain strength from our people’s previous struggles, each serving as reminders that, above all else, we shall endure. That even though times, technology and the world all around may develop and change, our culture shall remain.
Museums are magic.
Jeffrey Veregge, Port Gamble S'Klallam, is a graphic designer and lifelong comic book fan based in Seattle. To see examples of his Native/superhero art, read the ICTMN story "Superheroes Meet Native Design in Jeffrey Veregge's Work" or visit his personal site, jeffreyveregge.com.