It was 100 years ago that many New York men went off to war in Europe, while their mothers, sisters and daughters stayed home and fought a completely different battle.
New Yorkers had plenty to celebrate and commemorate in 2017, and even though the calendar year is almost over, the New York State Museum's three big exhibits aren't going anywhere right away.
Kathryn Weller, the Director of Education at the state museum, has enjoyed celebrating major events such as the building of the Erie Canal ("Enterprising Waters") and women earning the right to vote in this state ("Votes for Women"). And while she doesn't enjoy looking back at the death and destruction associated with "The Spirit of Sacrifice," the museum's exhibit on World War I put together by Aaron Noble and on display until June 3, 2018, still moves her. Some stories, like that of Albany's Henry Johnson, a World War I hero who posthumously received The Medal of Honor, are particularly poignant.
"We had a group of teens in from Tech Valley High last week and I watched Aaron Noble talk to them about the experience of Henry Johnson," said Weller. "When you look at the national issues of racism that were going on from that time period in our country's history, that a war hero went through, it's a story that blows you away. I've heard Johnson's story so many times, and it still hits me."
To help students and adults better appreciate the World War I experience for the average GI, Weller and the museum staff have created the 'World War I Exploration Station with Soldier James."
"It's become one of our most popular programs," Weller said of the character played by museum educator James Jenkins. "James is in a World War I uniform very similar to what any New York soldier would have been wearing, and he has reproductions of things that any typical soldier would have had. Having him in the uniform really invites kids and adults to approach him and ask him questions, and it's a great photo op. You can pick up some of James' reproductions, and then go check out the exhibit and see some of the original pieces."
While remembering World War I is important, "Votes for Women," up until May 13, 2018, is a much more enjoyable look back at New York history.
"When women won the right to vote in New York State it really spearheaded a national movement for women's suffrage," said Weller. "It was a major step forward and so many of those personalities that played a huge part in the movement were from New York. New York women were at the forefront of the national suffrage movement."
The museum's third major exhibit this year is "Enterprising Waters," celebrating the 200th anniversary of the Erie Canal. The exhibit will remain up in the museum throughout 2018 and most of 2019.
"We have a couple of special activities for vacation week, and one is called 'The Erie Canal: Then and Now,'" said Nicole LaFountain, Coordinator of Public Programming for the museum. "Our staff will be working with visitors, helping them go back in time, helping them see what it was like to travel along the Erie Canal. We have exploration stations set up and kids can look at a map of the Erie Canal and imagine traveling through all the towns and cities along the canal."
The museum will be closed Christmas, but will be open the rest of the week with a variety of special programs and activities. For more information, visit www.nysm.nysed.gov.
Albany Institute of History and Art
The Albany Institute of History and Art, usually closed on a Tuesday, will be open on Dec. 26 and remain open the rest of the week with its regular admission price.
Among the current exhibitions up and running are "Well-Dressed in Victorian Albany" (through Feb. 19), "The Fashionable Portrait" (through March 31), "Spotlight: Albany and Anti Suffrage" (through March 31), and "The Paintings of Addy" (through June 13).
Visitors also have plenty of time to see "The Hudson River School: Landscape Paintings from the Albany Institute," the museum's large collection of 19th century American landscape paintings. Nearly 90 pieces from the institute's Hudson River School collection will be on display indefinitely in the museum's third floor Hearst Gallery.