I would like to formally introduce myself as the new manager of Beyond Bones. After a full year of working front line, as we like to call it, in the Visitor Services department, I understand that this blog is a trusted source for the latest in science, history, culture and the like and I hope to strengthen the foundation laid before me while continuing to share fun and thought provoking stories for all to enjoy.
That’s what it should be about, right? Science. History. Culture. Stories. These elements combined and crashed into all that makes me one huge nerd! My first week presented me with an opportunity to follow HMNS photographer and recent featured blogger Mike Rathke to our off-site collections facility. An unassuming building at glance should never have been judged by first impression, for inside curators and volunteers work closely with a variety of wonders from different locations in time and space. Here, the museum houses and safe keeps its artifacts, specimens, etc. for future exhibits and for loan to other museums. We were quickly met with possibly the most polite gentleman I have ever met, Dirk Van Tuerenhout, Ph.D., curator of anthropology, and as he escorted us up to his realm of specialty, I was rushed with inspiration.
Picture this, if you will. Stepping off a vintage-style freight elevator to enter a room of cultural wonders. To your right are rows of African figures, weaponry and other treasures. On your left, shelves of antique encyclopedias on sea life studies from the 1800s to present day. The far corner is designated for paleontology, where an elephant tusk stands out from the shelf immediately. But what truly left a mark on me was what surrounded the two center island workstations, Amazonian body costumes and pottery. Given what we are coming to understand is happening in the Amazon currently, it hit me that institutions such as this are preserving practices and artifacts of peoples, areas and ideas that, for one reason or another, may one day be unable to do so themselves.
As I marveled at the overwhelming presence of history around me, Mike set the stage. Under spotlight today are miniature models of Tenochtitlan, the ancient capital of the fallen Aztec Empire, which is now covered by what we know as Mexico City. Crafted by twin brothers Scott and Stuart Gentling, writers, historians and artists who resided and flourished in the Fort Worth area, select pieces of their labors of passion were previously displayed in the Curator’s Choice exhibit. These tiny replicas were created to scale; an incredible act of engineering that would later be used as reference for the brothers’ art. Paintings to compliment the structures depict greater detail of the day-to-day goings on and the Aztecs who once walked the pavement that now lies buried beneath modern day dwellings.
For hours, the three of us, a writer, a photographer and a learned man of the very artifacts that sat quietly for their closeups, fused knowledge, art and questions into one bonding session. Dr. Dirk offered stories of the Aztecs as they held off their oppressors, the Spanish, from 1519-21. Mike arranged lighting and tripod just right for each shot of the model version of a stage in which those very old world warriors would have defended their home and way of life. And I soaked it all in, taking notes along the way while history met art. The very same principle the Gentling brothers must have had in mind as they brought these models into being.
Some years ago, Dr. Dirk had the opportunity to acquire details of the Gentling brothers’ process straight from the source. Scott Gentling, the then surviving twin (both have since passed) showed Dr. Dirk notebooks, not unlike mine, that were used as part of the Gentling creative process. Mike and I were given insight on a firsthand account of the initial blueprints of these replicas. When opened, the left side of the notebook, as Dr. Dirk began explaining, was filled with drawings, depicting individual Aztec temples, buildings, etc. which gave the brothers an idea of angle and scale to refer back to during construction. The right side held a translation of sorts of the structures in written form, explaining temples’ purpose and usage, for example. These notebooks are, unfortunately, not in the museum’s possession, but stories like this give me a deeper appreciation of the models we do have.
The Gentling Study Center in Fort Worth is compiling the brothers’ works under one roof in the coming years. HMNS hopes to collaborate and loan a selection of the models to the center for future exhibits. Many of the items found in the off-site location may never be seen by the public eye within our museum’s walls, but opportunities like this allow for research, education and possible enjoyment felt by groups we could not have touched on our own.
A life-time spent in the Houston area and numerous visits to HMNS from a young age have lead me to a reality where a place that always felt larger than life now welcomes me as a member of the team. I continue to walk the halls and speak with curators, tour guides and staff of all levels in search of those gems of significance that I can turn around and share with all of you.
With that said, I encourage you, the readers, to join in on the conversations by commenting below, interacting on social media or even telling us your thoughts, feelings, ideas, etc. in person during your future visits to the museum.