Saturday, March 14, 2009

From Cossacks to Theater

I've been a bit remiss in writing about some of my museum visits here, so a quick update on some of the interesting places I've been.

A couple weeks ago I went to Zaporizha, an industrial city of about a million people, an overnight train ride away on the Dniper River. My destination was the National Preserve of Khortysa (transliterated variously as Horitza or Khortisa), on a large island in the middle of the river.

Khortysa was the summer home, a fortified military camp, or Sich, of Zaporizhan Cossacks. The site includes a museum, the re-created Sich, and, at the end of the island, an ongoing marine archaelogy project to restore 18th century ships lifted from the river bottom. The preserve attracts 100,000 visitors per year, and although in winter it was hard to fully appreciate the re-created Sich, still in process, it did give a bit of a feel of the Cossack times. The preserve (sort of a national park) has extensive plans for ongoing restoration and development, now put on hold by the financial crisis here.

I was particularly fascinated by the work being done to restore the ships. It's clearly a labor of love for the three men working there, all of whom developed a love for boats as children. One boat has been under restoration for ten years, and the museum just provided their first public tours. The goal is someday to have a museum on the island devoted to marine archaelogy and evidently this section of the Dnieper, with its dangerous rapids, is a rich location for such information.

This past week I visited two more museums here in Kyiv, both housed in Pechersk-Lavra. The National Museum of Theater, Music and Cinema covers the entire range of theatrical and film performance, beginning with puppet shows and village theater up through the movies. It was, not surprisingly, one of the most theatrical museums I'd visited, with each room almost like a stage set from the period. I enjoyed the inventive way the rooms were developed, and was particularly interested in the designs for stage and movie sets and their large collection of folk instruments--many of them new to me.

The National Museum of Books and Printing is housed in the building originally used for printing at the Lavra, a monastery and includes a wide collection of books printed in Ukrainian. I saw beautiful bindings, illuminated manuscripts, books printed in Slavonic, and an engaging temporary exhibit of schoolbooks, including one from the original Kyiv-Mohyla Academy (where I now teach) from the 18th century.

At all three of these museums, as at many others I've visited, the staff has a great passion for their work and a deep knowledge of content--the challenge seems to be in developing innovative ways to share that passion with visitors.

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