When I last wrote I signed off to find food and culture. I grabbed a bite and headed off to the National Gallery.  Shortly after, I hopped on a plane to Ireland to take in the culture there. I can’t wait to tell about the writers and children’s activities there, but first I will finish about the Children’s Museum Conference in Slovenia. (Because my camera was broken in Slovenia, I am including photos from the Ireland trip to whet your appetite.)

Details from the Abbey Near my Home

The final day of the Conference took place in the town of Celje, a train trip away.  We were by Herman Fox, the mascot of the Celje Children’s Museum (dubbed Herman’s Den), at the train station and boarded the train to Celje where we arrived 90 minutes later. We were led to the Celjski dom, the town hall, for the presentation of the Conference Conclusions, the announcement of the Conference Venue for 2013, and the General Assembly of the HOI Membership. And all before lunch!

The Conference Conclusions were based on the discussions from the Talking Circles on the previous day. Each Circle presented their conclusions, which included everything from encouraging collaborations between museums to build programs for a changing society, to educating elected officials and politicians on the changes in societies and the positive impact children’s museums have on communities.  The overall conclusion (or my interpretation of it) was that Children’s Museums play an important role in our changing world because they create common experiences for children, families, teachers and carers from all cultures. Children’s Museums create memories and in doing so build a collective memory. We need to communicate this to our political leaders so that new museums, collaborations, and programs can be developed.

After giving warm thanks to the host country of Slovenia for creating such a hospitable environment for exchanging thoughts and ideas, the location for the 2013 conference was announced: Stockholm and the Island of Gotland in Sweden.  The conference was officially closed, and the Membership Meeting began. There was provocative discussion about how the HandsOn International organization can evolve to serve its current members better and reach out to new members.

A Medieval Castle in Ireland (Cliffs of Moher)

We then moved onto lunch and a whirlwind tour of three branches of the Museum of Recent History in Celje. We first visited the beautiful Celje Castle. The largest medieval castle in Slovenia, it is being restored and excavated for further exhibition. We were allowed into the construction zone to see the work in progress. It was impressive, and so was our guide through it. She told us the history of the castle, which she called the Princesses Castle because so many princesses lived there – from the Roman Empire, through the time of the Counts of Celje, and the rule of the Hapsburgs during the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The glass walkways let us see the ancient Roman roadways into the old castle and the recycled statues used for the “newer” foundations in the 1300s. (I wish I had a photo of this. There was a marble torso in between two blocks of granite in the foundation. Wonderful!) The Castle will be an amazing asset to Celje when the renovation is complete.

We were then ushered over to a unique little museum, a virtual residence dedicated to Alma Karlin, an accomplished writer, traveler and artist from the Celje region. Again, our guide was passionate about her subject. A tiny woman born with a bad eye and a distinctive limp, Karlin travelled alone during the 1920s to the Americas, Pacific Islands, Australia and Asia, supporting herself with odd jobs and writing. Her travel and fiction novels (in German) were very popular in the 1930s. She sent home crates of memorabilia from her travels and these make up the exhibits of the museum. During World War II her works were banned and she was imprisoned when the Nazis occupied the area. She was released from prison, thanks to help and connections from school friends in Celje. She returned to Celje never to travel again. We were impressed by both the woman and the museum.

Inspired, we traveled quickly over to the Pelikan Photo Museum. Again, this little museum is based on the life and work of one man, Josip Pelikan. The museum is one of the best preserved luxurious glass photographic ateliers in Europe. It displayed his photographs as well as his cameras, lenses, plates, negatives, equipment, darkroom and studio. The second floor studio is set up as it was in Pelikan’s day, and the light coming through the windows makes it possible for beautiful photographs to this day.

Castle Archway in Ireland

We ended our whirlwind museum tour at the main branch of Celje’s Museum of Recent History. Inside is Herman’s Den, an area dedicated as a Children’s Museum. This Children’s Museum is a bit different than others in that it is more of a history museum for children with collections that cover the lives of young people in Slovenia. We arrived in time for the grand opening of their new exhibit, ‘The Birthday’.  There was a lovely opening ceremony. Again, the ceremony was very formal (and no food), with words from the museum directors, the exhibit designers, and an appearance by their mascot Herman Fox – book-ended by music from a string quartet.  At the end of the ceremony, Herman invited us all into the new exhibit. The entry into the exhibit had little presents on the wall, and when you opened them they told how birthdays were celebrated in different parts of the world. (It did not include how we celebrate in the USA so I couldn’t judge how complete the information was. I could be wrong, but it looked like the celebration of birthdays was a somewhat new concept in Slovenia.) The main part of the exhibit was a beautiful three-tier birthday cake. As soon as I saw it I smelled frosting! I couldn’t figure out where the scent was coming from until I discovered a tunnel under the cake. I crawled through and saw that children (or I) could select an icing odor – chocolate, vanilla or fruit. (Think scratch and sniff – but on a large scale.) The last area in the Children’s Museum was an open room where children could create artworks, birthday cards and such. We were then invited to wander the main galleries and were treated to a buffet dinner in the lobby.

We caught the train back to Ljubjana at 8 PM. I spent the next hour and a half reflecting on the day. I was fascinated by the personal emphasis of the museums. The Children’s Museum exhibit focused on a very personal experience – a birthday. Both the Pelikan Photo and Anna Karlin museums were focused entirely on individuals. Even the story of the centuries old Castle was told through individuals who lived it. I mulled over how people build national identity in post-war conflict areas, and how our global economy and migratory populations affect cultural change.

I was inspired to draw a personal conclusion of the conference…

The Sean O'Casey Bridge in Dublin, Ireland (before the October 2011 floods)

Individuals are the key to change, to building bridges between generations and cultures, to defining new identities, to shaping cultural heritage. Children are the future; and because children’s museums and cultural centers play a key role in developing common experiences and shared memories, they have a great influence not only on children’s development, but on our future societies.

Long live Children’s Museums! They are proof that play works.

A Rainbow Bridge from Sea to Sky (Can you see it?)

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