New York on exhibit
Just as New York offers musuems that are as grand in scale and scope as one could possibly want, the city also offers some that are as cozy and specialized as one, particularly after an overwhelming day at the Met or the Guggenhein, could also want.
During a recent visit to Manhattan, I was delighted to find that in the midst of the city's gleaming vastness are museums, like the 18-century Fraunces Tavern , that pay homage to an earlier, less intimidating New York and others, like the Musuem of American Folk Art, that offer a world contained on a single floor of a vintage brownstone.
It is not even necessary to travel far from the better- known attractions to these lesser-known gems. Within a few blocks of the convenient midtown area are three of the more interesting ways to enjoy a slice of New York.
As one of the first generation to grow up with TV in the home, I felt drawn, first, to be the Museum of Broadcasting, at 1 East 53rd Street. The Museum, newly renovated and expanded, occupies three narrow floors in a modern building at the corner of Fifth Avenue.
But within its small confines it offers researchers, nostalgia buffs, and the just plain interested the chance to see and hear a multitude of radio and TV programs, newscasts, and documentaries that have helped shape the history of broadcasting over the years. A 10-minute orientation film, narrated by Alistair Cooke, makes a fine introduction to the museum.
The next stop is the library, which contains a large cross- referenced card catalog to the museum's broadcasts. After making several choices, the visitor fills out a card and gives it to the librarian. The tapes requested are delivered to an console room, where, at individual screens equipped with headphones, they can be played.
A walk around one of the console rooms shows listeners enjoying such radio highlights as the 1935 broadcast of 12- year-old Judy Garland belting out "Broadway Rhythym" or Orson Welles's memorable "The War of the Worlds," which once convinced a sizable audience that hostile beings from space had invaded Earth. On the more serious side, it is also possible to hear the campaign speeches of presidents since Warren G. Harding or the coverage of Charles Linbergh's 1927 hero's return to the United States.
The television offerings, dating from 1948, include such early broadcasts as President Truman's signing of the Japanese peace treaty and Sen. Joseph R. McCarthy's self-defense in "See It Now." Entertainment offerings run the gamut of classic and not-so-classic sitcoms and drama classics, such as "Playhouse 90 ."
And that inevitable sidelight of television is available for viewing, as well -- three decades of commercials.
On the first floor is the museum's theater room, where a featured telecast from its collection is shown on wide screen several times each day. When I visited the museum a few weeks ago -- features change each month -- the theater presented "The Ed Sullivan Show" of Feb. 9, 1964, which included the Beatles' first American TV appearance.
After tearing myself away from that vivid bit of show business -- and social history -- I proceeded westward a few doors to the American Craft Museum, at 44 West 53rd Street. It is newly relocated to a renovated brownstone. The two- floor exhibit area features a different craft exhibition each season.
During my visit I enjoyed last fall's presentation of musical instruments made by contemporary craftsmen, who used a wide range of materials, including wrenches, bones, gourds, and pipe cleaners, to create some remarkable- sounding wares. The museum's unique "Meet the Maker" series allows visitors to see the instruments demonstrated by the artists who made them.
I entered the white, plant-filled first floor just in time to catch Mary Buchen discussing the primitive-sounding instruments she and her husband, William, have created out of bones and wood. Of particular interest to the schoolchildren in the group was her demonstration of simple-to-make instruments, fashioned primarily out of cans and string.
This exhibition ended Dec. 30 and the museum will be closed until Jan. 18. Then it will present a Young Americans Competition, featuring crafts made from enamel and wood by artists between the ages of 18 and 30.
Across the street and up a few doors is the Museum of American Folk Art, at 49 West 53rd Street. Its exhibits are of art, done without formal training -- the primitive paintings, quilts, hooked rugs, furniture, weather vanes, and other objects produced by humble, often anonymous American hands from the 17th century to the present day.
In a setting that is as unpretentious and charming as the work it presents, the museum's exhibit space occupies the second floor of a brownstone. Like the American Craft Museum, if features one exhibition each season, drawn from its own collection as well as other sources.
The current exhibit, which runs through Feb. 24, is "The Art of the Weathervane"; it includes two especially intresting examples of this early form of metal sculpture -- Shem Drowne's 1716 Indian used atop the Old Province House in Boston and a 1699 wrought-iron banner vane that bears the initials of William Penn.
The next day I devoted to two museums, at opposite ends of town, that evoke the history and heritage of New York from its earliest beginnings. At the historic foot of Manhattan, not far from Wall Street, the Stock Exchange, and the old Custom House, is the Fraunces Tavern Museum, at 54 Pearl Street. Often cited as the borough's oldest building -- parts date back to 1719 -- it is most famous as the spot where George Washington made his famous address to his officers in 1783.
The Long Room is still there on the second floor, carefully restored, its Chippendale chairs and tavern tables arranged as if Washington and his officers might return at any moment. Across the hall, visitors can also look in on the Governor Clinton Room, an elaborately wallpapered Federal-style dining room named after New York's first governor.
On the third floor is a collection of 18th- century memorabilia, including such artifacts as a lock of Washington's hair, a desk chair favored by General Lafayette, and an impressive display of early china and pewter.
Also on the third floor is the newly constructed Adeline Moses Loeb Gallery, now presenting an exhibit (through April 30) entitled "The Jewish Community in New York: 1654-1800." Noteworthy here are the stunning portraits of early Jewish community leaders and a sampling of the exquisite silver objects crafted by Myer Myers in the latee 18th century.
After leaving this historic oasis, I headed for more of the same -- the Museum of the City of New York, at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 103rd Street. Not far from the larger and better-known Metropolitan Museum, it manages to maintain a special identity by concentrating on exhibits celebrating the history and essence of New York.
Above the entrance of the neoclassical- style brick building is a huge red plastic apple heralding a "Big Apple" exhibit, which began last fall and will continue for five more years. Its highlight is a 20-minute show with pictures, dates, maps, and other historical data flashed on multiple screens with appropriate dialogue, and music.In addition, spotlights illuminate pertinent artifacts such as the timbers of explorer Adriaen Block's ship, which sank near the tip of Manhattan in 1613.
Also on the main floor are period rooms depicting life in the homes of 17 th-century New Armsterdam up through the increasingly refined style of 1800 New York. While the basement and the second and third floors contain more historic displays, they also include special exhibits such as, right now, the Philip Reisman paintings of New York street life during the 1960s and '70s.
The Museum's president, Louis Auchincloss, describes it as a place "where one can catch one's breath and see the different New Yorks -- Dutch, English, American, modern -- in proper perspective." As I walked out the door and back into the 20th century, it occurred to me that the five museums I had just visited had served that function well.
Admissions and hours -- Museum of Broadcasting: open Tuesday through Saturday , noon to 5 p.m.; Admission $1.50 for adults, 75 cents for children. American Craft Museum: open Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; admission $1. Museum of American Folk Art: open Tuesday through Sunday, 10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.; admission $1. Fraunces Tavern Museum: open Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; admission free. Museum of the City of New York: open Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; admission free.