It's always exciting to visit New York City in December. The lights...the window displays...the energy. On a recent visit, I was particularly excited to see the new American Wing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. That part of New York's iconic museum contains the stuff I studied while earning my first master's degree in Early American Culture from the H.F. DuPont Winterthur Museum between 1976 and 1978.
Thirty years ago when I was a student, collectors of Americana focused on objects made or used in the original 13 colonies before 1840. States beyond those on the seacoast were largely ignored even though there were well over 25 states by the mid 1800s. If you visited the Henry Ford Museum, Dearborn, Michigan, or the Boston Museum of Fine Arts in the 1970s, you saw the same kinds of American furniture and silverware from the East Coast, and ceramics and glassware from the States or Europe and Asia.
As the time for our visit to the Met approached, I wondered if the collection displayed in cases and in period room settings, might now include things from a wider range of states such as Tennessee or Utah. Would the timeframe be extended into the 20th century? Would the Metropolitan attempt to tell the full American story?
What I found was a newly designed and very beautiful space. My kudos to the curators, some of whom are fellow graduates of the Winterthur program. Objects individually displayed in the balcony galleries now date from throughout the 19th and into the 20th century, and they come from a greater number of states. In contrast, only two or three of the period rooms venture into the second half of the 1800s. And, only one room, a stunning installation taken from a Minnesota home designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, steps into the 20th century and represents the Midwest.
Having lived in Indiana for 10 years, I can't help but wish that the Metropolitan would expand the geographic representation of the room displays. Granted, the mission of an art museum is to present the best examples in any art form, not to comprehensively review. Nevertheless, New York City is the place where many international visits to America begin and end. I hate to think of tourists from abroad missing the fuller and much richer sweep of American life and culture. Over 300 years, the objects made here have provided evidence of how separate ethnic traditions have evolved into a distinctly American style. If you have visited Conner Prairie, you know that we present this evolution through costumed interpreters and period settings.
Perhaps I should have left a sign in the Met that read: "Please note: This is only part of the American story. For a more complete picture, please visit www.connerprairie.org."
I hope you will also visit and participate in our programs to get a sense of how America grew and changed through the years.