Sunday, December 16, 2012

The National Building Museum: A Brief History

So my friend Patricia pointed out in a comment how absolutely beautiful the National Building Museum is.

I know, right?  Totally gorgeous.  

The building was originally built in the 1880's to host Inaugural Balls and to serve as the offices of U.S. Pension Bureau.  Multi-tasking!   In the years following the Civil War, the U.S. Government paid Union Soldiers increasing amounts for their past services.  This building is where hundreds of Pension Bureau employees worked.  

I teach a program where 6th graders with no knowledge about the history of the building develop the visual vocabulary necessary to figure this out.  There are plenty of good architectural and ornamental  clues that help.  Also plaques.  This is a great example:  

There is a terracotta frieze of Civil War soldiers running along the entire building.  I wonder why?  Do you think this building had something to do with Civil War soldiers?  It's a really neat program, because the kids really learn to look at old buildings in a different way.

I'm also really fascinated with the architect who designed the building, Montgomery C. Meigs.
He was trained at West Point as an Engineer and served for many years as the U.S. Quartermaster General.  Meigs was responsible for Arlington National Cemetery, which he intentionally built ON ROBERT E. LEE's FRONT LAWN.  One of my favorite history facts right there.  Meigs and Lee had served together prior to the Civil War, and Meigs was personally offended at Lee's choices.  That's some good revenge there.  

Aside from the story of Arlington National Cemetery, Meigs was very good at his job.  He designed the Pension Bureau with ventilation holes in the lower floors and opening celestory windows, so air would float into the great hall, be heated, and then rise out of the building through the windows.  Originally, the air in the Great Hall circulated fully within 3 minutes.  That's amazing for the late 19th century!  Partially because of this feat, Pension Bureau employees took on average 5 less sick days each during the first year they moved into the building.  Amazing!  

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Museum Teacher

It's been a long time.  I've been busy with school, and I know everyone understands what that's like.  I finished both finals for the semester yesterday. (yay!)  I still have projects and the comprehensive exam and work, but now I'm down to only one more semester in my academic career.  That fact is both exciting and a little terrifying.  I'm ready to be done, but I'm scared about how competitive this field is and how bad the economy is.  I know we're all in the same boat.  Sigh.

Anyway, one thing I really have enjoyed this semester is my job which happily continues through the school year.  I work at the National Building Museum as a museum teacher.

The National Building Museum looks like this:

How lucky am I that I get to work in a building that looks like this?  Very lucky. That's the answer.

I teach school groups, special events like home-school day, and birthday parties on the weekend.  Let's get this straight:  this job is really hard.  It's scary to get up in front of a group of kids, teachers, and parents you've never met and keep their attention and teach them something.  I'm not always very good at it.  I forget classroom management techniques.  I get nervous.  But I love it because it's hard.  And because it's fun.  And because it helps a new generation feel that museums aren't intimidating.  

I hope once I graduate I get to keep teaching in a cool historic place.