Back in January, I wrote that my New Year’s Resolution was to visit one museum a month for 2014. We’re now almost halfway through the year, and a regular reader of my blog would think that I had completely failed at my year of museums! In fact, I have visited a number of museums (although not quite one a month) but I haven’t written about any of them here. So I thought I would do a quick round up of my Year of Museums so far, and mention some of my upcoming museum plans.
I really didn’t make it to many museums in the early part of the year, and none at all in Michigan. In January, I visited Mabry Mill along the Blue Ridge Parkway while visiting family in Virginia. Mabry Mill is an outdoor complex that features a number of historic structures, including a sawmill, gristmill and blacksmith’s shop. Unfortunately, the buildings are only open from May-October, so during our January visit we could only walk around the exteriors and read some of the interpretive signs. It was still very interesting, and the scenery along the Blue Ridge Parkway was stunning, even in winter. I’d love to go back in the summer sometime, but it’s a bit far away!
In April, I visited the Arab American National Museum for the first time in a few years. The building itself is an architectural beauty and the exhibits inside are equally impressive. There are three main exhibits on the top floor: Coming to America, Living in America and Making an Impact, as well as a rotating exhibit space on the first floor. When we were there it was an exhibit on art in the Orthodox church, which I thought was fascinating. I don’t want to give too much of a review of the museum here, as it turns out I’m going to be spending a lot more time at the AANM in the future – I was recently offered a position there in the collections department, so I will be starting a new job in a few weeks!
May was a museum bonanza – I visited 3 that month alone! The Detroit Historical Museum was first, and I brought my grandparents as a late Christmas gift (my parents came along as well). I thought it had been a while since I had visited that particular museum, but they said they hadn’t been there since the 1960s or 70s! The newly remodeled exhibits were amazing, and included lots of fun interactive activities. Because I visited with my grandparents and my parents, all of whom have spent most of their lives in Metro Detroit, I especially enjoyed the Allesee Gallery of Culture. The Gallery of Culture isn’t one of the big, maquee exhibits. It is just one circular room, set up as a timeline of Detroit in the 20th century. Each section covers a decade or two and contains stories about living in Detroit in that era and artifacts and images from the era as well. It was so fun to go through this room with my parents and grandparents, because we were all drawn to the different sections that resonated with us. I really enjoyed hearing my family talk about the different items and events they remembered that were represented in the exhibit. I imagine this exhibit isn’t ideal for an out-of-towner, or a group of friends the same age, but if you are bringing family to the museum, it is a wonderful multi-generational conversation starter!
A few weeks after the DHS, I went to the Detroit Institute of Arts with some friends to check out their traveling exhibition “Samurai: Beyond the Sword.” It was an excellent exhibit, but obviously had nothing to do with Michigan history, so I won’t talk to much about it here. You can read more about the history of the DIA here. I do want to note that I love love love that the DIA is open late on Fridays, AND serves drinks and food downstairs in the Kresge Court. I love being able to go to an exhibition at 8pm and then hang out with a glass of wine in the middle of a museum (of course, the wine stays in the court). Maybe that sounds like a lame Friday night, but judging by the number of people that were there at the same time, I’m clearly not the only one who enjoys history and art in the evening! Oh, and of course I spent a few minutes in Rivera Court – I can’t visit the DIA with out spending time with the Diego Rivera murals. Rivera Court is mostly lit through skylights, so it becomes darker in the evening, giving it a more ominous look.
My last museum in May was the Thumb Octagon Barn Agricultural Museum. This was a surprise museum trip while I was visiting my sister in, where else, the thumb of Michigan. She wouldn’t tell me where we were going until we got there! It was a lot bigger than I expected. Besides the barn, which is huge (and of course, 8-sided), there’s also a one-room schoolhouse, a small schoolhouse museum, a carriage house, and the farmhouse itself. We received a tour of most of the buildings from one of the volunteer docents, who drove us all over the complex in a golf cart. While the other buildings are interesting, the barn is clearly the centerpiece of the museum. Built in 1923-1924, the owner modeled it after a similar barn he had seen in Indiana. At the time, round and octagon barns were hailed as the “barn of the future” because you could fit more square footage inside one. That idea definitely rings true with this barn – it’s huge, at 102 feet across and 70 feet high. The architects employed a unique ventilation system to regulate the temperature inside so it does not become stuffy, even on the higher levels. It was a fascinating piece of architecture, both when it was built and today. Currently, the main floor is used for events, and also has a display of buggies. The second floor is filled with a variety of agricultural instruments from the 19th and 20th centuries. There is also a small exhibit sponsored by one of the local electrical companies, which features a number of early electrical appliances. It is certainly a unique museum that is worth a stop if you ever find yourself out that way.
That completes my museum round up! As it stands right now, we’re 6 months into 2014 and I’ve visited 5 museums. 4 in Michigan, 3 about local history. Not bad! I should be adding a bit to that list in a few weeks, as I’m heading up the U.P. on vacation, and I’m looking to hit a few museums up there. I’ll be mostly in the Keweenaw peninsula, so I’m using the list of museums and historic sites on the Keweenaw National Historic Park website for ideas on what to visit. Feel free to leave me some suggestions in the comments, I’d love to hear what places I shouldn’t miss!