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A Child Prodigy At The Peabody Essex Museum

June 4, 2009

I spent last Saturday morning exploring parts of Salem, Massachusetts' wonderful Peabody Essex Museum. The museum stands out in the twee, witch-and-warlock-ified town of Salem for the cool, modern sophistication of its architecture, its gobsmacking collection of artifacts brought back from the Far East during the great age of seafaring by mariners and offbeat special exhibits. It also happens to be America's oldest continuously operating museum and boasts the only complete Qing Dynasty house located outside China.

The museum was full of surprises for me that day. In between mistaking an extremely finely-wrought sample of 19th century Chinese embroidery for a display of ink calligraphy, and thinking I was looking at early 20th century photographs of surfers instead of images captured over the last couple of years by photographer Joni Sternbach utilizing 19th century tintype photographic techniques, I met a toddler with a prodigious fascination for Oriental ceramics.

My friend and I were pottering around one of the Far Eastern galleries when a small boy who was in his father's arms looked at us and asked us for our ages. We told him how old we were. He told us his age. We exchanged names, though I sadly can't remember his. He then went on to talk extremely lucidly about his favorite bits of the Peabody collection and said a few words in Japanese.

His father, a pleasant, middle-manager-looking white guy in regulation kahki pants and polo shirt, told us that his son visits the museum several times a week. He can't get enough of it apparently. When a museum warden showed up, a huge smile spread across the boy's face. "It's Duck Man!" he declared delightedly. The warden grinned at the boy and made loud Daffy Duck quacking noises. The boy laughed and clapped his hands.

Perhaps one day, he'll be running this museum.


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