The American Writers Museum celebrated its grand opening on May 16th, and The Merwin Conservancy’s board members, staff, and advisors were involved in supporting it’s launch, which includes Palm: All Awake in the Darkness, an immersive and intimate exhibit inspired by the life and work of our organization’s founder, poet W.S. Merwin, and created by artist duo Sayler/Morris of The Canary Project, with Ian Boyden. For more details on how the exhibit came to be, and how the Conservancy was involved, read the official press release.
The special reception included poetry readings from Rosanna Warren, Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets, and poets Carrie Fountain and Roger Reeves. In addition, Edward Morris spoke on behalf of the exhibit’s designers, Conservancy executive director Jason Denhart spoke on behalf of our organization, and William and Paula’s son John Burnham Schwartz spoke and share a reading of W.S. Merwin’s poem “Place”, which also was the anchor poem of the Palm exhibit.
The events surrounding the debut were well-attended, and as a result, a great deal of buzz appeared in the press, even before the museum was officially open to the public. Coverage of the official opening ceremonies, featuring Pulitzer Prize-winning historian David McCullough, Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel, author and poet Stuart Dybek, and others was streamed on C-SPAN and can be viewed here.
Much of the press gave favorable mentions of the Merwin-inspired exhibit. Most notably, the following comments were shared about Palm:
“Perhaps the most sense-engaging exhibit of all, an immersive installation.” – Literary Hub
“Set in the quietest part of the museum, the experience is startlingly and powerfully intimate.” – BookRiot.com
“The most powerful space for me was the temporary exhibit “Palm: All Awake in the Darkness.” As moving a multi-disciplinary art installation as I’ve ever seen, it uses the life and work of poet W.S. Merwin to create a walk-through environment. // Up until walking through this introspection-inspiring garden, I had only passing experience with Merwin’s work. The exhibit—and the museum—nudged me to seek out more.” – Lou Harry, Indy Business Journal
W.S. Merwin, who could not attend the unveiling of the exhibit he inspired, commented,
“I’m indeed greatly honored that the American Writers Museum chose to have this exhibit, and to have it in the wonderful city of Chicago, a city I love. I’m sorry that I am not able to get there to see it.”
Jason Denhart, The Merwin Conservancy’s executive director who was able to attend the debut of the Palm exhibit shared from his experience with the press:
“We were so lucky to be in Chicago to witness the unveiling of the American Writers Museum and specifically the awe-inspiring immersive exhibit, Palm: All Awake in the Darkness, inspired by our friend and co-founder W.S. Merwin and his astonishing Haiku palm forest. The artists and designers who were commissioned to create this installation did an impeccable job of bringing the energy of Merwin’s great poetic works and his palms to an immersive museum setting – located in a Chicago high-rise. The exhibit is filled with gorgeous, dramatically lit living palms, strewn with items one would find in and around Merwin’s garden shed – many, in fact, borrowed from Mr. Merwin – and a life-sized replica of his hand-built shade house that viewers must walk through as they enter.”
He continued: “Walking into the fully enclosed exhibit space, one is transported by a complete sensory change: the smells of organic matter, the feeling of humid air on your skin, the sounds of the birds and wind in the trees mixed with the sounds of a Hawaiian chant and audio recordings of Merwin’s poetry and the voices of other poets closely connected to him. The exhibit participant is instantly exposed to the organic vitality and mindful contemplation that embodies Mr. Merwin’s works and indeed, his approach to life. Even the sign on the door to the exhibit offers this advice to the museum goer: ‘Exhibit best experienced in a quiet, contemplative state’.”
Palm: All Awake in the Darkness is available for viewing (and immersion!) until October 6th at the American Writers Museum.
A sampling of media coverage has been compiled below: