Mexican tin art, known as hojalata or lata, is one of the lesser known Mexican folk arts. Appearing in the 1500s, brought over from Spain, it has changed little over the centuries. Inexpensive, strong and easily bent, it is an easy element for artisans to work with. While sometimes used to make candlestick holders, bowls, plates and pitchers , objects are most often purely decorative because of tin’s tendency to rust. Tin hearts are especially common around Christmas time as they are often used as ornaments. This particular heart wears the perfume of my mother and evokes memories of her dressing our Christmas tree. Our Christmas tree only wore tin art and it was tradition for us to hang them together. We would celebrate Christmas Mexican style on December 24th to free up December 25th for the sole celebration of my birthday.
I lived in the Lower East Side on Ludlow and Broome for 4 years. It was literally one block away from the Tenement Museum and I always had the intention of going but never did so I thought this first assignment would be the perfect opportunity to go and finally see it.
It was easy enough to find the hours quickly before even getting to the museum page due to Google’s side bar but also on the site it was relatively easy and intuitive – you click visit and then tour times. The website and the main hub/bookstore are both modern. The bookstore is all glass windows and sharp corners. The layout was a little strange with lockers on a lower level and only one bathroom it worked. I went with Daniella and we decided to do the Shop Story tour. It was the only one that mentioned an interactive exhibit of some sort that we were eager to try out.
Once we entered the actual museum the vibe was very different. It’s obviously a historical building so anything modern was gone and we were transported back in time into a saloon from the late 1800s. The recreation was done very well and was very detailed down to the plastic food displays. It was mainly older people on the tour with us and they seemed to enjoy it more overall than is which is something interesting to note. Our guide gave us the history of the neighborhood, the shopkeepers and the community. It was made interactive by each of us being assigned a real life character and we had to introduce ourselves to each other and make assumptions about ourselves. I think this might be something that older and younger people would like but felt a little forced/childish to me. We had no kids on our tour but I do think they would have liked it.
There were no placards anywhere, all the knowledge was spoken by our tour guide and there were some supplementary copies of historical documents that were passed around. We moved from the saloon into the kitchen and the bedroom. All staged very well and accurately but a little cramped for the size of our tour.
The tour was 90 minutes long and dragged on for way to long in my opinion. I wish we would have had more autonomy. The museum offers no option for an unguided tour. I would have liked it much more if there were placards and I could gone through quickly at my own pace. We were all forced to be studiers essentially. Also if you wanted to use the restroom or leave early the guide had to walky talk someone to pick you up and escort you, I understand that’s required for the setting but was still a little uncomfortable.
The second to last room showed us the actual age of the walls, how many layers of paint had been done, how the floor weathered and some objects that were found. This left the time of the late 1880s and started moving closer to now.
The last room was my favorite room and I wish you would be able to access more displays like that than. There was an interactive display where you could place an object onto a screen and then an old phone would light up that you would pick up and listen to. Images would be projected down that you could swipe through to read more stories. It offered a lot of information quickly and was easy to use. It was the first text really that you wanted to read.
If I were the museum I would offer non-guided tour options, put some placards with information and let people go to access the interactive display faster. It was easy to use, beautiful and had a lot of information of things I actually wanted to know. In the 90 minute tour we had to listen to what interested us and what didn’t interest us.