My year of Museum Membership with a Young child

I’ve been a Houston Museum of Natural Science Member for a long time, a very long time—in fact, I started as a summer camper and field trip student way back in the 1980’s when the Museum was half its current size and still the most amazing place in the world to me. I’m so privileged to work here and enjoy the treasures we display here on a daily basis. The most amazing thing for me now is to bring my three-year-old son here and experience the Museum through his eyes.

I tallied the pricing for all of our activities and compared it to the public pricing at the end of this blog—you simply won’t believe the value of an HMNS Membership! Even I was surprised at our savings!

So here is a snapshot of our last 14 months at the Museum—and the very best thing is no matter what, we are guaranteed a nap on the way home after we leave!

April 2015 – We visited the Cockrell Butterfly Center and Brown Hall of Entomology. We followed the trip to see the butterflies and insects with a look at the garden outside of the center and the amazing kugel ball that the bigger kids shoved easily but was pretty tough for a little guy. (Member total $8, Public total $17)

image 1 April 2015
May 2015 – We started with a trip to see the dinosaurs in the Morian Hall of Paleontology, followed by animals in the Farish Hall of Texas Wildlife. The picture panels really helped us identify what we were looking at in the wildlife hall! (Member total $0, Public total $65)

image 2 May 2015
June 2015 –We went back to see the dinosaurs in the Morian Hall of Paleontology, and then took a quick trip through the Cullen Hall of Gems and Minerals before lunchtime. I think our favorite item was the large amethyst – it looked like a little house to our boy. (Member total $0, Public total $65)

image 3 June 2015

July 2015Shark! A $5 experience where we got to see a giant shark model and touch a live shark! Our friends who were visiting with us were willing, but my son preferred to watch the shark instead. We took another trip to say a quick hello to the big dinosaurs before stopping to watch the Herzstein Foucault Pendulum, which is a lot more entertaining than you’d think for a young child – easily 30 minutes if I don’t say “let’s go!” (Member total $15, Public total $80)

image 5 July 2015

August 2015Hamman Hall of Coastal Ecology and a trip up the “Spiral Mountain” at the Centennial Gardens across the street. (Member total $0, Public total $65)

image 6 August 2015 centenial
September 2015 – I invited my niece to meet us at the Cockrell Butterfly Center. In the kids’ area of the center, the kids had so much fun playing the pollinator game and “feeding the flowers” blocks of the correct shape. We also had to visit the dinosaurs! (Member total $12, Public total $91)

image 7 September 2015
October 2015 – With Halloween approaching, we wanted to see skeletons and some bugs, so we headed to the Morian Hall of Paleontology to see the trilobites and dinosaurs. We also paid a visit to the live animal room window in the basement of the Museum where the Youth Education programming animals are cared for. The animal room window is available for viewing to all visitors with general Museum admission and features several tanks on display, including some containing the more dangerous animals. For identification, there are cards with information about the different animals, and sometimes you can sneak a peak of the caretakers for a “behind the scenes” feel. (Member total $0, Public total $65)

image 8 October 2015

November 2015 – After weeks of *practicing* building at home with our blocks, we were ready to check out Block Party at the Museum. This was a great activity when school was out for the Thanksgiving holiday. Unlimited building for a $5 add on for builders – yes please! (Member total $15, Public total $80)

image 9 November 2015

December 2015 – Seeing the holiday trees and building in Block Party was a great way to catch up over the holidays with the friends we missed from the school’s playground. We met at 9 a.m. by the holiday trees to check out the decorations before the crowds arrived. I also made a point of stopping to buy two gift Memberships for some folks I knew who would love spending some time at HMNS—plus I got two BONUS months (one for each gift) added to my Membership! (Member total $15, Public total $80)

image 10 December 2015
January 2016 – This visit happened fall on the day of the annual Educator Event at HMNS. The Educator Event is for teachers, but there are always extra activities going on in the Grand Hall. As we walked in, I was even able to grab a few bits of information that I thought my son’s school would be interested in. Afterwards, we visited the “vintage” Texas wildlife dioramas in the lower level and said a quick hello to our live friends in the animal room window. We then headed to the Welch Chemistry Hall to take the slime polymers for a spin. Our trip was capped off with a mini-safari through the Frensley/Graham Hall of African Wildlife. We loved finding the butterflies in the cases with the big African animals! (Member total $0, Public total $65)

image 11 January 2016
February 2016 – We visited twice in February to attend two events that we wanted to check out. Girls Exploring Math and Science is an amazing event for kids and adults (both girls AND boys). The Grand Hall is lined with community partners offering a variety of hands-on activities. Students also presented science and math concepts at their own booths, and it was really fun to see how they were able to engage my three-year-old and explain topics like magnetism, plant growth and circuits. They even demonstrated a working robot! I think the highlight of the day was the live demonstration in the Welch Chemistry Hall—I got such a kick out of watching the reactions on the faces of the audience—kids and adults are always surprised by fire and super cold liquid nitrogen!

image 12a February 2016 On February 26, we returned for World Trekkers: Peru, an early evening family event exclusively for Members. The Peruvian dancers were fun to watch, and we even learned a few words in Spanish! (GEMS is free with admission and World Trekkers is $7 per person, so for two visits, the Member total $14, Public total $401)

March 2016HMNS After Dark (extended hours until 9 p.m.) was the perfect opportunity to invite grandparents for a special grandson-led tour of the Museum. Without the daytime crowds, our guests had a chance to take their time and see the things that their grandson was excited to share with them. My son led us through paleontology and the Texas and African Wildlife halls, and everyone also enjoyed the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibit. It was especially exciting to see that some of those amazing photos were taken by kids age 10 and under – and now their work is displayed in a museum! The highlight of the evening was racing coins in the coin vortex in the Grand Hall—it’s fun AND it’s a donation that supports the Museum’s educational programming. Put that spare change to work! (Member total $0, Public total $65)

image 13 March 2016

April 2016Wildlife Photographer of the Year was an incredible display of award-winning photographs from the 2015 international contest of wildlife photographers, organized by the Natural History Museum in London. We stopped by these photos again because my son was so excited to name all of the animals that we’d seen on our last visit. And of course we made a trip to see our favorite dinosaurs and wildlife in the Morian Hall of Paleontology and the Farish Hall of Texas Wildlife. (Member total $0, Public total $65)

image 14 April 2016

May 2016 – At HMNS After Dark in May, we visited the new exhibition, Cabinet of Curiosities. My son absolutely loves the exhibit because he can open the drawers and even reach out and touch the objects (gently with a Museum “two-finger touch,” of course). The exhibit is a great opportunity to explore with children, and because there are no labels, parents have to get creative and start a dialog with kids about what you *think* something is. Often volunteers are available to answer questions but with THOUSANDS of objects it’s tough to know everything! (Member total $0, Public total $65)

image 15 May 2016
Fourteen months of Museum fun with my son cost me a total of $79 for tickets on top of my $115 Membership for a grand total of $194. The same experiences for visitors at the public rate would total $908! That’s a savings of $714!

Learn more about Membership online, or purchase a Family Membership today in our online store!

1The Public total in February does not include any cost for World Trekkers because this event is a Members’ Only exclusive event.


August Flickr Photo of the Month: Terra Cotta Warriors!

Houston Cougars

There are some amazing photographers that wander the halls of HMNS – as well as the areas surrounding the Museum in Hermann Park. When we’re lucky, they share what they capture in our HMNS Flickr pool. Each month, we highlight one of these photos here on the blog.

This month, we’re featuring a photo from Arie Moghaddam, known as Houston Cougars on Flickr, who is a regular attendee of the Museum’s Flickr meetups. This photo is from the meetup we held in our Summer 2009 exhibition, Terra Cotta Warriors: Guardians of China’s First Emperor.

Why would we feature an image that’s celebrating it’s 2nd birthday? First: we’re thinking a lot about the Terra Cotta Warriors lately – since we’ve just announced a new exhibit featuring these wonders of the world!

Warriors, Tombs and Temples opens April 1, 2012!

The upcoming exhibit  includes 200 incredibly preserved ancient works of art featuring newly-discovered artifacts unearthed from imperial, royal and elite tombs and from beneath Buddhist monasteries in and around the capital cities of three great dynasties – as well as four of the famous life-size Terra Cotta Warriors!

And, second: it’s a great image with a unique perspective on the original exhibit. Arie shared a few words about what inspired it:

As for what inspired me to take the picture (aside from you being nice enough to invite us), of all the pictures I took I think this one best captures the essence of the exhibit since it combines the statue, cross bow, and armor in a logical order which any emperor would be pleased to have in his necropolis.

Inspired? Most of the Museum’s permanent galleries are open for photography, and we’d love for you to share your shots with us on Flickr, Facebook or Twitter. Check out the HMNS photo policy for guidelines.

Terra Cotta Warriors was a temporary exhibit, and photography was restricted outside of special Flickr meetup opportunities. Follow our posts in the HMNS Flickr pool for announcements about upcoming events.

Coincidence or Cooperation? Amazon Feathers & Modern Jewels

Here at HMNS, we frequently offer exhibitions that showcase stunning and diverse artistry from cultures around the globe and throughout time. In working here, I’m privileged to be able to walk through each as much as I can while they are here, and absorb the colors, forms, and inspiration of thousands of years of human culture. I love design – modern, ancient, however humans have creatively assembled things. We’re a science museum – but there is just so much art in science. I’m constantly fascinated by it.

Amethyst Necklace,
designed by Ernesto Moreira;
on display in the Gem Vault.

Which was why I am delighted to share something I noticed recently – a commonality between the very modern design showcased in one of our permanent exhibitions and the design of several of the absolutely stunning works of feather art in our current Spirits & Headhunters exhibition – which, while created in relatively modern times (within the last 100 years or so) reflect a design tradition that goes back centuries – if not thousands of years.

Many of the pieces on display in the Smith Gem Vault were created by a local designer, Ernesto Moreira, specifically to showcase some of the worlds most striking and rare gemstones. Made circa 2005-2006, they were inspired by architectural elements – as Ernesto put it, “the ornamental ironwork on windows, doors, and street lights, so prevalent in European cities,” which he has spent many years observing, sketching and photographing.

In contrast, the unique feather art of the Ka’apor tribe is some of the most beautiful and delicate ornamentation produced in the Amazon. Produced for ceremonial use – and then discarded – these objects are created in two sets: one specifically for men, the other for women. The tukaniwar shown below is a “spectacular neck ornament,” made for women from “mythologically harmless bird feathers…the blue color connects the wearer to the sky where all the culture heroes dwell.”  (Check out the exhibit catalog for more info.)

As you can see from the image, there are blue feathers woven into the ornament that would have hung in the front – as well as the smaller ornament that would have hung in back, once the necklace was tied.

tukaniwar, on display in
Spirits & Headhunters

It would seem that these two objects – created by artists from very different cultural traditions – would have nothing in common. However, the hanging feathered ornament is extremely similar to the small jeweled ornaments that Ernesto designed into the clasp of his pieces in the Gem Vault (if you haven’t been in the Vault yet – trust me, you’re going to want to check it out in person).

I wondered if there could possibly be a connection – and when associate curator for Amazonia Adam Mekler was here to install the Spirits & Headhunters exhibition, I asked him. Sure enough – it turns out that Moreira had worked with Mekler many years ago when parts of this collection were first on display.

Pretty amazing coincidence, to be sure – but I had to find out if there was any merit to the theory that one had influenced the other. (This *is* a science museum, after all.) Here’s what Ernesto had to say:

” I can tell you right away Adam’s pieces did not have an immediate direct impact on my work. That said, I have noticed a pattern in the way my brain works in regards to creativity. When I was a teenager, I looked at Japanese prints and architecture… then in my early twenties I made a collection of one of a kind pieces called little people. One time during a solo Gallery show the entire collection sold out. The gallery owner told me it was sold to mainly Asian customers. Sometime later…I realized how Japanese my pieces actually were… in their geometry and their compositional balance. Most recently during the making of the museum Gem Vault pieces I began to adorn the settings with filigree… but not just the normal filigree… a more architectural version. This time it did not take me long to figure out that, once again, I was translating many of the images in my head into my jewelry designs since I had spent many years sketching and photographing much of the ornamental ironwork on windows, doors, and street lights, so prevalent in European cities (something I still do). So it seems I work best absorbing and letting be, then somehow, sometime the subject matter reappears in my work. I worked with Adam Mekler and his incredible Amazonian collection during many years and for months at a time I would handle these amazing works… absorbing as usual. I doubt that such resemblance between the indigenous works and my own are purely coincidental, yet I cannot claim an intentional link.” [emphasis mine]

So, not an intentional connection – but I was pleased to discover such a link between ornamentation designed by these two very different artists and cultures. It’s fascinating to see how artists are inspired and how very different cultures can influence one another, sometimes in seemingly random – but very delightful – ways. It inspires me to take a closer look at everything around me, in the museum – but also out in the world. Part of the joy in seeing real artifacts, up close, is having the opportunity to examine them for these little details that allow you to really experience the object first-hand.

So, how about you – what little things have you noticed about the world?

The Lester and Sue Smith Gem Vault is a permanent exhibition at HMNS – but you only have a few more weeks to see Spirits & Headhunters before the exhibition moves on. Don’t miss it! Before you come, you can learn more about these fascinating cultures in a preview video interview with curator Adam Mekler below.

Can’t see the video? Watch it here.

HMNS’ 100th year comes to a close…

And what a year it’s been!

All throughout 2009, we’ve celebrated our hundredth year in Houston with a dedicated web site, a series of 100 fun family events; a showcase of our 100 favorite/most amazing/coolest artifacts; a video series with our longest-serving staff (the record is 39 years!), and a contest (which you can still enter for a chance to win a 2010 Museum membership!)

You can also check out 100 years of Museum history here: from our very first Museum bulletin in January 2010 through historic scientific expeditions, ambitious building projects and blockbuster exhibitions, it’s been quite a trip!

But we’re even more excited about what’s coming next – in our second century of science.

In fact, we’ve just broken ground on perhaps our most ambitious project yet: an expansion that will double the amount of public exhibition space that will be available for temporary and permanent exhibitions – including what we intend to be the world’s finest Hall of Paleontology; double the number of classrooms available for educational programs; and triple the amount of available collections storage space, to ensure the conservation and care of our collections for decades to come.

President Joel A. Bartsch talks about what’s next for the Museum in this video – and how you can help.

Help us continue and expand our mission of science education for even greater numbers of children and adults. Donate to the expansion today – and join our Cause on Facebook to help spread the word!

Happy New Year!