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Peabody Essex Museum, Salem MA
When I wrote about the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, I lamented that it was a fine museum, but unremarkable. It’s exactly what you’d expect a museum to be.
Salem’s Peabody Essex Museum, in contrast, exceeded my expectations on just about every front, while also being an excellent museum.
Museums should enrich, and in thinking about it, they can do that in one of two ways:
Great works of art or cultural significance
Surprising works of art or cultural significance
I’ll never forget spending 20 minutes sitting, mesmerized, in front of Seurat’s A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte at the Art Institute of Chicago, nor standing in front of chunks of the Berlin Wall at the Newseum in Washington DC. If a museum can acquire that sort of thing, it’s worth the visit.
So what if you can’t get world-famous artifacts? You get surprising, interesting ones. That’s what the Peabody Essex Museum does.
Since it’s situated in a coastal town, the Museum has a fascinating collection of maritime artifacts: paintings of sailing ships, model sailing ships, and the bows of various ships. Since Salem has a sister city in Japan (and the Peabody Essex Museum has a sister museum in Ota’s Folk Art Museum), the Museum has a fascinating collection of Japanese art, from vases to paintings to a Hello Kitty telephone. And because it has a lot of Japanese art, it’s also expanded into a respectable collection of Chinese and Korean artifacts.
It also has a complete, 1950s-era two-story wooden Chinese house. In the center of the museum.
Every single room I entered in the Peabody Essex Museum had something that surprised me. Absolutely worth every dollar of the admission price.
Fees: $20 for adults, $18 for seniors, $12 for students, kids free
Conditions: Rainy, 53° Fahrenheit; perfect for a trip to a museum
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