Thursday, December 4, 2008

Day 48/365 The Day the Art Museum Met the Tattoo Parlour

Being that the Christmas Rush isn't, I blew off work and took my daughter into town to see the new art museum. Yep, the one that looks like a UFO landed in the middle of Roanoke.

It's been controversial since the plans were first announced and the opinions weighed in on all sides: it's too modern and "big city" for Roanoke; Roanoke is too provincial for an upscale art museum; all that glass and steel and swooping design would be out of place in the circa late 1800's downtown (we still have some streets with bricks); and the final winning argument, that this building would make Roanoke into a modern progressive city that would draw people from all over the county to see our uber-modern art museum (like other cities don't have their own museums). Usually the last argument was presented by upscale rich folks, who do indeed spend their time running to other towns to see their museums and saw a chance to save themselves airfare.

Turns out all those opinions were right. The museum is way more modern than the rest of downtown, Roanoke is provincial, and the swooping building looks sortof like an bizarre bird that landed by accident, and is now trying to figure out how to get out without knocking anything over.

It's also way classier than Roanoke deserves, and may singlehandedly pull our self-image up out of the vastly overrated "we're a small town and we're proud of it" mindset.

This is one of the postcards of the museum at night, with a much better photo than I could ever take, just so you get the full-effect. To the left is the city of Roanoke, and to the right, the Norfolk Southern railyard (yes, easily confused).
All galleries are on the second floor, including the American art that they never had room for in the old museum, plus modern photographic art, as well as my favorite, Florentine art on special loan from Italy, from the Medici era (1500's).

But by and large the most fascinating exhibit was The History of Tattoo Art and Tattoo Parlours. Turns out Virginia has a somewhat tenuous connection with tattooing, thanks to the Newport News-Hampton shipyards and the U.S. Navy. The museum exhibit includes hundreds of examples of tattoo designs, tattoo dolls, and a huge canvas sign that hung inside a famous tattoo parlor in Newport News, covered in enlarged tattoo hearts, flowers, anchors, naked females, snakes, eagles and the occasional puppy.

And the beautiful lady above is Mrs. Wagner, portrait taken in 1907.
Apparently there was a less-than-obvious reason for those high-necked Gibson girl dresses with the long sleeves and zillions of buttons.

I will never look at all those old family photos the same way again.


  1. At first glance at the pictures (before reading your fascinating commentary), I thought the lady had a dress with lace top.

    Interesting museum building.

  2. That lady must have had a high pain tolerance level, or else was a frequent customer of Dr. Snake's magical elixir!

    Guess we will need to make a trip into Roanoke and see the museum. Looks cool!