I recently had the chance to catch the Matter of Memory exhibit at the George Eastman Museum, and it caused me to pause and reflect on my memories of museums. I’ve become a more frequent museum-goer as I’ve grown older; while I didn’t visit the Eastman Museum much as a kid, I do remember going in elementary school, when my Girl Scout troop made a gingerbread house that was displayed there.
Matter of Memory was extremely unique- it featured numerous artists with different styles and media, all addressing the theme of memory and how we capture it through photography or otherwise. It made me think about how I capture and preserve my memories. While I take many photos, the way I curate them on social media and then write about them in this blog is a big part of how I process my experiences and shape the narrative that then becomes a memory.
My words may never hang in a museum like the gorgeous art that comprised Matter of Memory, but they’re still purposeful and meaningful to me.
After that Girl Scout visit, I didn’t make it back to the Eastman House until my senior year of college, when I went with a friend to check out a Norman Rockwell exhibit. Since then, I’ve been to the Eastman Museum (which settled on its new name, Museum instead of House, in 2015) for several events and exhibits, including a U of R alumni holiday party, a staff retreat, the National Parks exhibit, and most recently, a talk by photographer Richard Renaldi.
It was cool and interesting to hang out at the Eastman Museum with college friends- although Eastman had huge ties to the University, the Museum was never part of our world while studying at U of R. There’s so much history here, and we college students were typically far too busy to go learn about it.
As a U of R employee, I visited the Museum again on a work retreat. It was remarkable how many U of R employees had never been before! Without George Eastman’s philanthropy, the University of Rochester would be a very different place. On this visit, we were were treated to a guided tour with an extremely knowledgeable docent. I learned so much on this tour that I’m now eager to show off all my knowledge whenever I bring someone to the Museum!
When my dad and I visited the National Parks exhibit last fall, I enthusiastically rattled off fun facts to my dad. “Have you seen the view from Mrs. Eastman’s bedroom? Have you seen this letter about why Kodak was such a great name? Did you know this painting is a fake and the real one is in the MAG because the Museum used to be free and someone literally plucked it off the wall and walked out with it?!”
Not only did I have a chance to show off my new plethora of fun facts, but the exhibit was super cool too, especially since our family has so many National Park memories. We visited Yellowstone, Canyonlands, Arches, the Grand Tetons, Mt. Rushmore, Mt. Rainier, Mt. Hood, and Crater Lake over the course of two summers! Logging 300 miles a day in the car wasn’t unusual, and it was worth it for the chance to explore these phenomenal parks. The exhibit brought it all back for us and reminded us of how grateful we are to have the Parks in our country.
The newest exhibit, Manhattan Sunday, by Richard Renaldi, is also fascinating. While on the surface, it’s quite different from Matter of Memory, there are parallels. Renaldi strove to capture individuals between the hours of 12am and 8am. This collection of photos includes scenes inside and outside of clubs, up and down the streets of New York when almost no one is around. Some of the photos date back to the ’90s- so they’re capturing memories through Renaldi’s own lens. Who and what he chose to capture at various stages of the night are an interesting lens of memory to look through.
You might think museums are relatively static. On the surface, there are permanent collections and only a handful of rotating exhibits. However, if you dig a little deeper, it’s clear that museums are constantly evolving. How can they best serve their audience? What do people want from museums and how can they deliver it? The Eastman Museum does a fantastic job educating its followers on Instagram, for one. And there’s a Spotify playlist for the Renaldi exhibit- how cool is that?! Constantly evolving, I tell ya.
Long story short, the Eastman Museum is a gem and we’re lucky to have it. If you’ve lived in Rochester your whole life and have never been, pay them a visit. And if you haven’t been recently, you should probably head back there- it may not be exactly the same as you remember it. ROC owes a lot to George Eastman; you’ll come away with a greater appreciation for our city’s history having learned his story and explored his home!