Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Victoria and Albert Museum

On April 5 I went to the Victoria and Albert Museum of Art and Design. Knowing that the boys would want to race through gathering pamphlets and that I would want to linger, Keith agreed to stay with the boys.

Once I arrived and looked at the map I was so excited....that I needed to find a bathroom ASAP. (I'm sorry--I know that's TMI. But because of this I saw the museum in fits and starts as I walked swiftly about looking for a toilet.)

It's amazing how much gold and silver and frocks and sculpture and jewels and gemstones and paintings and tiles and tapestries and design artifacts one can find in this building. Bathrooms: not so much. Partly my dilemma was my fault as I am basically incapable of reading a map correctly. However, I also blame the complete lack of signage. Even asking guards for directions wasn't very useful. "Go past the silver, turn right at the lion. There will be a staircase. Don't go up it, but nearby will be a wooden door. Just through there." Finally, after I'd encountered the same guard a couple of times, he sighed and walked me to the door. Teeny weeny sign. Inside the door, no signs, all white, stairs going down. I go down one level and find a door for the gents. No signs. Down another level and I find a handicapper level. Down another level and I see a sign to exit for the cafe. Having started on the 3rd floor, I was now in the basement and still no bathroom in sight. I inquired of a couple of women adjusting their jackets and they pointed to a door under the stairs. At last! But no.....there were only 3 stalls. One was clogged and 2 were occupied. Oh, will I ever get to see the museum??? Of course, eventually.

Okay, Victoria and Albert may or may not have been great rulers. They (well, their minions) were without a doubt incredible collectors and as their legacy the museum continues gathering and presenting artifacts. One of the most remarkable exhibits was a temporary one showcasing a very large cape and a shawl made from the golden silk of millions of female orb spiders. The time consuming process of removing the silk involves capturing individual spiders and placing them in a contraption that holds them still. Then a worker pulls their silk out all day. I couldn't gather from the short movie what happened to the spider after her ordeal. Did they let her go? Could she live a normal spider life after being debauched in such a manner?

The 'harvesting' of the silk and weaving of these gorgeous garments was accomplished in Madagascar over a period of 8 years. From the 'short sharp science' blog: "Weight for weight, typical spider silk is 20 times as strong as steel and four times as tough as Kevlar. It's also extremely flexible, stretching up to 50 per cent of its length without breaking. Silk is also biodegradable and does not elicit an immune response, which means it could be put to a range of uses within the human body." All in all, spider silk seems like a great resource. How long before PETA (or PETI?) become involved?

Like much of the V&A, the first floor is pretty boggling to walk through. A long sculpture gallery is flanked by exhibits from various parts of Asia. I was weaving in and out but I'm sure I missed some marvelous little room with an incredible little nugget of perfection. At some point I will learn how to post pictures here. In the meantime, I'm posting them on facebook.

Just a quick note: this museum was incredibly treacherous for me. Steps without warning. Large hard things looming everywhere. Children running underfoot. I just walked very slowly---which is not in my nature(unless I'm staring at a piece of art)
and little children ran around me and almost over me (well, over my feet). It's interesting getting used to being the woman that kids will secretly laugh at. I don't begrudge them--I was the same way--and I can let it roll off.

The 3rd floor is where I wanted to be. There I saw a wonderful display related to performance art----costumes, programs, posters, props, etc. At the end there was a place for trying on costumes. I will bring the boys back for that. They can dress up like Frog and Toad. And other fabulous things. One poster made me stop in my tracks: it was for an opera written by Carl Nielsen, my purported great grandfather. I once bought a CD of his music and Nielsen was spelled wrong. It was clearly right on this poster and so validating to see!

This is for you, Gal Friday: there was a hallway devoted to sketches and watercolors by Beatrix Potter. Super sweet. Some were of the characters with which you are familiar. Some were sketches of landscapes, etc. Very nice. I tarried awhile.

I will have much more to tell,but that's it for now.


  1. Our conversation after I read the part to Chris about the cape made from female orb spiders' silk:
    "You know, Kristy could go see that."
    "She wrote it."
    Perhaps I should have started with telling him where I was reading it from.

    1. I also wonder: wasn't the silk sticky? The garments were behind glass so we couldn't touch them but I'm curious--wouldn't you stick to everything around you?