Pearl Allen was quite the seamstress. Sure, she could darn the kids' socks with the best of them, but she could also write out their high school essays — by sewing the words onto a piece of cloth. That's just one crazy fold in the fabric of Spokane history on display in the ambitious new show at the MAC, "100 Stories."
The complexity of the Spokane story is plenty big to require 100 items to tell it, and it adds up to an amazing, meandering journey. Along with Pearl Allen's storytelling tapestries, there are melted poker chips from the day Spokane burned to the ground and a tusk from the days when Palouse farmers pulled woolly mammoths out of their fields. I could go on, but you really need to see it for yourself.
It all started in 2010, when the British Museum and the BBC teamed up on "A History of the World in 100 Objects," creating huge buzz about history that has been mimicked all over the world. Even after the MAC started working up its own version, the Smithsonian followed suit, and now there's a book, History of America in 101 Objects; author Richard Kurin will be presenting it at the MAC tonight, March 13, at 6:30.
The timing is perfect for a big dose of excitement, as it's no secret that arts institutions like the MAC have been hit hard during the recession. What's admirable is that rather than wait it out, the MAC has gone big — emptying out the attic and putting it all up on the gallery walls. The result is like an artifact explosion; you'll need a second — and third — visit to take it all in.
I remember going on outings with my grandmother Alice to Browne's Addition. We'd pick up her prescriptions at the Elk back when it was a drugstore (while she waited, I checked out their selection of World War II fighter plane models); we'd hit Coeur d'Alene Park, and I got to see how high I could make that swing go; and of course we'd stop in at the Cheney Cowles Museum. I still remember seeing the stained-glass image of Miss Spokane as I walked in. The stories I found inside those walls fed my imagination.
So when I saw Miss Spokane up again, looming over the MAC lobby, it came back to me. Learning our stories — whether in a super-sized serving of 100 or just one at a time — is crucial to becoming a citizen of Spokane, of America, of the world. With this new show, the MAC is telling our story in big, bold strokes.♦