Mark Your Calendars for these events happening at HMNS 7/18-7/24

Last week’s featured #HMNSBlockParty creation is by Batton (age: 12): 

block party 29

Want to get your engineering handwork featured? Drop by our Block Party interactive play area and try your own hand building a gravity-defying masterpiece. Tag your photos with #HMNSBlockParty.

Behind-the-Scenes Tour – Cockrell Butterfly Center
Tuesday, July 19
6 p.m.
On this special behind-the-scenes tour led by Butterfly Center staff. In addition to the Butterfly Center and Insect Zoo, you will visit the containment room and rooftop greenhouses-areas not open to the public-where staff cares for the Museum’s caterpillars, butterflies, other insects, food plants for the butterflies, and the celebrity corpse flower Lois. Kids 5 and above welcome.

Behind-the-Scenes Tour – Solar Superstorms 
Tuesday, July 19
6 p.m.
Solar Superstorms is an incredibly beautiful close up of our Sun during a violent eruption and recreates the Carrington Event of September 1859 when a series of powerful CMEs (coronal mass ejections) hit Earth head-on with a potency not felt before or since. A similar storm today could have a catastrophic effect, exceeding $2 trillion or 20 times greater than the costs of a Hurricane Katrina in damage. These extreme solar storms pose a threat to our high-technology infrastructure, and analysts believe that a direct hit by an extreme CME could cause widespread power blackouts, disabling everything that plugs into a wall socket. Join Dr. Carolyn Sumners and HMNS Astronomy Staff for a special evening viewing of Solar Superstorms in the newly upgraded Tru 8K Burke Baker Planetarium, plus remarks by the scientists and Q&A.

Weird Science Event! A Summer Science Experience
HMNS at Sugar Land
Friday, July 22
6 p.m.
Raise your “Sci-Q” this summer at HMNS Sugar Land during Weird Science! A hands-on experience for creative, curious kids. Get your digits dirty making gobs of goop, feed the fish and other fauna – it’s our biggest science night of the year!

Class – Planting Your Fall Vegetable Garden
Saturday, July 23
9:30 a.m.
One advantage of living in Houston is how easy it is to grow vegetables in the fall and winter seasons. In this course, instructors Dr. Jean Fefer and Dr. Bob Randall will teach you what, when and where to plant your vegetables; along with soil preparation, seed germination and transplanting.
Fall vegetables may include: lettuce, endive, radicchio, cress, kale, chard, cabbage, collards, bok choy, mustard, mizuna, arugula, kohlrabi, carrot, beet, rutabaga, potato, turnip, parsnip, radish, celeriac, broccoli, cauliflower, celery, snow peas, onions, multiplying onions, leeks, garlic, garlic chives, cilantro/coriander, sorrel, fennel, parsley, rosemary, sage, thyme, pea shoots and mint. Cosponsored by Urban Harvest.

Summer Cockrell Butterfly Center Events 
Summer Cockrell Butterfly Center events continue through Aug. 19.

  • Wing It | Tuesdays at 10:30 a.m.
    Come fly away into the world of butterflies at the Cockrell Butterfly Center with Wing it! Introduce yourself to your favorite winged wonders and watch the release of hundreds of new butterflies into the rainforest.
  • Small Talk | Wednesdays at 11 a.m.
    Join our Cockrell Butterfly Center team as they take their live collection of insects out “for a walk” during Small Talk. Our experts will entertain and educate with all types of insects and arachnids.
  • Friday Feeding Frenzy | Fridays at 9:30 a.m., 10:30 a.m. & 11:30 a.m.
    Join us this morning in the Cockrell Butterfly Center for our Friday Feeding Frenzy! See science in action as snakes, spiders and centipedes enjoy a meal right in front of you!
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Slipper Coffins Arrive in the Hall of Ancient Egypt

In my last blog post, I said that the Hall of Ancient Egypt would be cycling some pieces in and out in the spring. Now that the dust has settled, I should introduce one of our new arrivals.

Slipper Coffin

Face-plate from a slipper coffin. Egypt, about 1300 B.C.

Two shadowed eyes stare out at us from a large, round face surrounded by a thick black wig with a floral headband. Around the neck, yellow and black striped bands indicate a collar. Below this, and between two crossed, clenched hands, hangs a shrine-shaped pectoral ornament with a scarab beetle.

What we have is a mask for a mummified body, designed to protect the dead person and represent him or her as a successfully transformed spirit. Tutankhamun’s gold mask is the best known example, and ours conforms to the basic pattern. And yet it looks… different. Why?

One clue lies in the material. Instead of gold, stone, or wood, our face is made from modeled and fired clay and comes from a rare (and relatively little-studied) group of objects archaeologists call slipper coffins.

These are essentially clay capsules made large enough to contain a wrapped human body. The headpiece is cut out of the capsule while the clay is soft, and the face modeled. The capsule is fired and sometimes painted. The mummified body is slid in — like a foot into a slipper, hence the name — through the hole, the face-plate is replaced, and the filled coffin buried.

slipper coffin plan

Diagram of a slipper coffin.

Pottery slipper coffins are known from the New Kingdom onward in Egypt, and from the late Bronze Age (about 1300 B.C.) in Syria-Palestine. Other examples turn up farther east, in what is now Iraq and Iran, from around 200 B.C. onward. These are especially slipper-like.

Parthian coffin

Glazed pottery slipper coffin from Warka, Iraq. Copyright Trustees of the British Museum.

The occurrence of pottery slipper coffins outside Egypt has led some people to view them as a marker of ethnic identity. They have been associated with non-Egyptians living in Egypt, but the evidence does not fully support this: our face-plate is entirely Egyptian in style, and other coffins are carefully inscribed with hieroglyphs. Whoever was buried in our slipper coffin identified as Egyptian.

Slipper coffins are known from sites all over the Egyptian world, from the Delta to Nubia, but I don’t know of any from Saqqara or from Thebes/Luxor, the most important cities of New Kingdom Egypt. Because of this, and the often rather homely appearance of the face-plates, people often say that slipper coffins are an inferior, cheaper substitute for more usual wooden coffins. I’m not so sure. It’s hard to quantify the cost of making, firing, and painting a slipper coffin as opposed to carpentering and painting a wooden one, but the skill needed to make a life-size clay coffin and successfully fire it is considerable, and that’s before we even try to take into account the amount of fuel needed for the firing, and its cost. Our face-plate was painted both before and after firing: the yellow, brown and black pigments were applied when the clay was still wet, while the white, blue, red and green colors on the headband were applied after firing. All in all, the face-plate is a sophisticated piece of craftsmanship.

I’ve been careful not to assign a gender to the face-plate in this blog post. When I wrote the label for the case, I identified it as representing a woman. The floral band around her head was, I thought, exclusive to women; and there was something about her face that made her look like everyone’s blousy aunt. However, a friend pointed out that men too can have flowers in their hair, like this example in Brussels

Brussels mask

Mask of a man, about 1300 BC. Painted linen cartonnage, glass inlay and gold leaf. Musées Royaux d’art et d’histoire, Brussels.

So the jury’s still out. Man or woman, though, the slipper coffin’s owner made the most of his (or her) opportunities to be buried in style.

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Archie Spends ‘A Day in the Life’ of a Museum Volunteer

By Jennifer Gerbode, HMNS Volunteer Coordinator

Hi everyone, it’s Archie the Wandering T. rex! I recently had some downtime in-between travels, so I decided to go on a small adventure of my own right here at home. The museum is always a busy and popular place! Between all the tours, the cool members events, and special exhibits, we need a lot of hands to make sure everything goes smoothly. Thankfully, we have a great group of people that do just that!

HMNS volunteers give their time to the museum and share their love of science and learning with the public. Anyone can be a volunteer, provided you are at least 18 years old and can commit to 40 volunteer hours per year. The volunteers tell me this is really easy to do; a couple hours every other week will do it.

Vol Office Door

Since it is summer, the Volunteer Office might seem quiet, but that doesn’t mean volunteers aren’t busy! Year-round, volunteers give guided tours to visitors of all ages in the permanent and special exhibit halls—and even take museum-related presentations out into the community via the Docents-to-Go program. During the school year, they also help with the HISD 4th grade program and the Early Investigations program geared for Kindergarten – 3rd grade.

Before Tour of HoA

I got to hear a few quick talking points about Hall of Americas before a tour began.

Once any morning tours and activities are over, it’s time for a quick lunch break! I sat down with some of the volunteers as they poured over exhibit halls notes and shared anecdotes about their time on the floor (Don’t worry! Some of these stories will be shared in a future blog, so stay tuned!)

After lunch, I decided to tag along as one of the volunteers grabbed a special key and went to open up a touch cart. As the name implies, touch carts are filled with touchable items that pertain to the exhibit where the cart is located. Most of the exhibits have at least one touch cart, while a few popular halls have more —The Morian Hall of Paleontology has six! To work a touch cart, volunteers don’t have to be an expert on the entire hall; they only need to know a few key facts about one or two intriguing items in the cart.

We ended up talking about mummification in the Hall of Ancient Egypt at a cart the volunteers lovingly call “Himself.” They call it Himself because, according to Royal Decree, the King was always referred to as ‘Himself.’ Since the cart is in the shape of an anthropoid (or human-shaped) coffin with both hands crossed in front (the sign of a king), the name is most appropriate.

Fun at Himself

Uh… shabtis? A little help?

After we spent some time at the “Himself” touch cart, my volunteer friend suggested I check out one of the demonstration stations scattered through the exhibits. These volunteer-run stations show science in action and allow for a little more hands-on approach. For mad scientists, the Chemistry demo area is the perfect place to talk about reactions (while playing with fire). For those with a passion for sparkly gems and their creation, the Rock Star gem polishing station is situated right inside Fabergé: From a Snowflake to an Iceberg. What better place to demonstrate what a facet or a cabochon is?

Rock Star Station

While it’s not an everyday event, volunteers also help prepare and run the craft tables at the many member events throughout the year. I was able to hang out with Ben, a frequent volunteer at craft events, as we showed off a few crafts being prepared from upcoming and past special events.

Archie and Ben

Before I knew it, I had spent the whole day with the volunteers! Not all volunteers spend a full day at the museum—and no one participates in, or knows, everything. Volunteers get to pick and choose what to do based on their schedule and interests. The one thing that all volunteers share though is a passion for learning, and a desire to share knowledge with others.

Interested in becoming a volunteer at HMNS? Check out the Volunteer page on the HMNS website for more information opportunities at HMNS’ three locations, requirements, and application instructions. Interviews will open for new applicants beginning July 18, with the first school-year orientations scheduled for late August.

Until my next exotic adventure… see you in the halls!

Shadow Archie

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Meet Our Exclusive Event Caterers: French Gourmet Bakery

Interview by Ashley Zalta, HMNS Special Events Manager

Everyone always says the secret ingredients to the best recipes is the love put into them. We dove a little deeper into one of our exclusive caterers French Gourmet Bakery, to see what makes their family run business so delicious. Check out their suggestions for your next visit.

FGBHMNS: Who makes up your family French Gourmet Bakery Team?
Patrice Ramain- Our Pastry Chef
Mary Ramain-Operations Director
Lauren Ramain Montgomery-General Manager

HMNS: When did FGB open?
We opened in 1973 in the West Gray shopping center.

HMNS: How did you get the idea to start FGB?
My father, Patrice Ramain, studied to be a pastry chef in France and obtained his masters in pastries and baking bread from the Grand Moulin de Paris. He was recruited by a bakery owner here in Houston. Shortly after, he met my mother, Mary Ramain, and they decided to open their own bakery, in 1973.

HMNS: What is each of your favorite items?
Patrice-Almond Croissant
Mary- Eclairs
Lauren- Ebony & Ivory mousse cake

HMNS: Do you make your breads and pastries each day?
Yes, we bake all of our products fresh daily

HMNS: How early do you have to arrive to start making them?
Our baker arrives at 3am

What is the hardest item to make?
Mousse cakes

HMNS: What is your most popular breakfast item?
Ham & Swiss Croissants or Cinnamon Pecan Rolls

HMNS: What is your most popular sandwich?
Chicken Salad (house-made) sandwich on Croissant

HMNS: What is your most popular dessert?
Chocolate Thumbprint, our signature cookie

HMNS: What item should people try that they probably haven’t?
Quiche- we make Ham & Swiss, Spinach & Swiss or Bacon & Swiss

HMNS: What makes your bakery unique from others?
I would say our authentic French products and commitment to great customer service. We use only the highest quality ingredients, we make everything from scratch and bake fresh daily.

HMNS: What types of events can you cater?
Corporate Meetings, Service Awards, Launch Parties, Bridal & Baby Showers, Birthday Parties Anniversaries, etc.

HMNS: Anything else you would like people to know about your bakery?
We offer a nice variety of both American and French style baked goods

Let us make your next event truly unforgettable—from sophisticated and dramatic to out-of-this-world, our distinctive venues offer beautiful settings beyond compare. Learn more at rentthemuseum.org

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