Museums, Museums Everywhere

History is representational, while time is abstract; both of these artifices may be found in museums, where they span everybody’s own vacancy.

Robert Smithson

I am sure they were always there right under my nose, all those museums – big and small – that dot the regional landscape. I just didn’t notice until I returned to New England from living in an area with fewer museums. Many of us are familiar with the larger, local, nationally-recognized institutions such as Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, Manchester’s Currier Museum of Art, MASS MoCA, Connecticut’s Mystic Seaport, Portsmouth’s Strawbery Banke, Peabody Essex Museum, Old Sturbridge Village, Plimoth Plantation, Portland Museum of Art, Vermont’s Shelburne Museum, and Newport’s The Breakers. These are all great destinations worthy of a lifetime of visits.

John Greenleaf Whittier House, Amesbury, MA
John Greenleaf Whittier House, Amesbury, MA

But what about those smaller places that aren’t quite so famous? I am referring to the many historical societies, college art galleries, thematic places, historic structures, conservation land, and other areas that are easy to miss and often difficult to find unless one stumbles upon them by accident or hears about them through a child’s class trip or from attending a friend’s wedding.

These are usually more intimate places, many of which are free and open to the public, operated by dedicated curators, staff and volunteers, and often constrained by limited funds and smaller scale exhibits. Charged with the monumental task of preserving our rich New England heritage, these innumerable jewels are rich in depth, not breadth, but their numbers compensate for the latter.

Are there really that many? Recently, a friend of ours from Massachusetts told us of a group of ladies from her church who visit a local museum every Wednesday. They’ve been doing this for five years and have never been to the same one twice! Wow. That not only says something about the group’s dedication and research, but about where we live.

John Greenleaf Whittier House Sign
John Greenleaf Whittier House Sign

The next time you’re passing through a city or town, take notice of that building with the “open” sign or the green space with the weathered plaque. Check it out because something interesting awaits you. It doesn’t need to be a long, planned process or a daylong adventure, rather a quick visit on the way to getting a coffee may suffice. Perhaps it’s even a respite from rush hour traffic, a visit with a friend before meeting for lunch, or a welcome lunchtime diversion from work stress. You may find yourself wishing for a longer visit.

So as you drive through New England, take notice of those signs by the road and get off at that next exit to visit these little treasures. You’ll find there’s a good deal more behind the sign. Please let us know what you find next time you pull over and explore a small, New England museum.

-Laura Ciampa, Palaverer Too

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