Leisurely Learning, by Jill Dobriner – recent columns
Harvard Museum of Natural History
26 Oxford Street, Cambridge, MA
Check www.hmnh.harvard.edu/index.php for hours, fees, and directions
Winter and early spring being seasons when coyotes appear on the pre-dawn streets in outlying areas of
Cambridge and Somerville, when storm forecasts alter human commuting patterns, seemingly old-
fashioned matters of habitats and natural history become critical. So with species survival in mind, I visited
Harvard University’s Museum of Natural History to absorb its exhibits on life forms of the past and present.
The Museum is currently celebrating Darwin Year, and we adapt, after all, to a continually changing
I admit that I initially ignored the famed (and exquisite) glass flowers near the Museum entrance on
Oxford Street and headed directly to the fossils, dodos, vertebrate paleontology, and mammals. In the
bridge hallway between the paleontological and zoological exhibit halls, a glass case on modern animal thextinctions includes the American eastern mountain lion, vanished from the landscape in the early 20
century due to rampant hunting. Placed at this intersection, the extinction case becomes both a guide and
warning regarding the flow of patterns recorded throughout the Museum.
The Romer Hall of Vertebrate Paleontology can awaken your inner paleontologist with its groupings of
flying reptiles and the giant sea-dwelling Kronosaurus whose ancient skeleton stretches across a single wall.
The ungulates, hoof relatives of the modern horse and hippo, appear in many guises in the Fossil Mammals
wing, some of which could not evolve to Version 2.0. The Chalicothere, one of the horse ancestors, has
claws on its front legs in place of hooves and looks ready to grope its way into mythology rather than the
natural world. Drawn from the current Earth, the animal specimens on the opposite wing can unleash
screams of excitement from the youngest museum visitors. You can find a snow leopard, a European wolf,
Madagascar lemurs, bears, bison, and caribou. A whale skeleton is also mounted on the ceiling.
I noticed a few computer kiosks in some parts of the museum, such as the mineral exhibit and the
temporary special exhibit on climate change, but this is a traditional museum experience as a whole and the
visitor is invited to observe the specimens and become involved in their details. I wished for a few diorama
displays and when I couldn’t find any, I started to imagine them: perhaps a snow leopard in mountainous
Tibet, the mastodon striding across ancient New Jersey, and a coyote trotting along a Somerville curb.
*The entrance ticket also includes access to the Peabody Museum’s archaeological exhibits adjacent to the
Museum of Natural History.
When a sunny but vanishing fall day becomes an incentive to explore rather than retreat, try this route: take the commuter rail to Salem, go up the station stairs, and cross over into the town center via
Washington Street and Essex Street. The colliding worlds of Salem await you. Whether cultural or
geographic, a walk through Salem tends to be perpendicular rather than straight-forward.
Essex Street is a cobbled pedestrian road with a menagerie of shops topically oriented to Salem’s
witchy past and present. A Visitor’s Center, with information on all the various tours, is strategically
placed near the Peabody Essex Museum (PEM), which is itself a stunning cultural resource combining
Salem’s maritime trade, Native American collections, the community’s rich local history in decorative arts,
as well as ongoing new exhibits. This year I walked through the pathway bordering PEM, turning left on
Charter Street to Derby Street and visited the Salem Central Wharf. A sandy harbor trail spills out to the
water’s edge and also to the replica of trading ship, The Friendship of Salem. You also can’t miss The
Custom House, seemingly branded with its gold eagle masthead, where American Romantic writer
Nathaniel Hawthorne earned a living as a Custom House official and found the mythic Puritan cloth
denoting the letter A which became the source for The Scarlet Letter. Another fictional work, The House of
the Seven Gables, is not considered to be Hawthorne’s best achievement but the 1668 House itself on the
far end of Derby Street is more than a tourist spot. A $12 adult ticket will purchase a tour of the Thomas-
Ingersoll Mansion (the House’s historical name) and a chance to view its garden gallery. Part of the allure
of historic houses is experiencing the physical dimensions of previous generations. A moment in the House
of the Seven Gables’ kitchen conveys the full-bodied efforts of colonial women pumping iron by lifting
25lb pots throughout the day. As later families added rooms, windows grew larger, ceilings rose, fine china
appears in cabinets, and you have the impression that their social worlds were no longer as insular.
Brought up by a widowed mother, Hawthorne developed narratives that magnified the ordeals of
marginal women and lonely, often troubled children. Strikingly, The House of the Seven Gables as a
landmark was conceived in 1910 by Salem resident Caroline Emmerton to financially support a Progressive
Era Settlement House specializing in family programs and early childhood education. The House of the
Seven Gables Settlement is still active in 2008.
502c Commonwealth Avenue (Kenmore Square)
http://www.panopt.com/home.php Tel: 617-267-8929
If you are looking for a brief respite from the workday, consider exploring the Panopticon Gallery
located inside the nearby Hotel Commonwealth. Tucked in a winding hallway between the lobby and the
Eastern Standard Restaurant, the Gallery displays both archived collections and the work of contemporary
photographers. On my visit I was fascinated by the “Signs of Social Change” exhibit which featured the
Civil Rights images of photographer Ernest C. Withers. Included in the Panopticon’s print archive (the
Gallery is the exclusive agent), the photographs cover 1960s activism and provide startling portraits of
Southern communities as well as the psychological efforts involved in the Civil Rights movement. “We
Have Fought Together, Let Us Break Bread Together” focuses on a young woman in sunglasses and a
decorous dress holding a protest sign on a busy Memphis street, drawing glares from passers-by. Several
images portray the 1968 Sanitation Workers’ Strike, with one photograph capturing a US military vehicle
alongside a protestor wearing a “We Are Together” sign on his back. On the opposite scale, “Young
Woman Receives Her Voter Registration Card” isolates a moment of hard-won joy in the subject’s radiant
and relieved countenance.
For a small, odd space, the Panopticon can quickly link you to other times, places, and people.
The gallery also retains former Museum of Science director Bradford Washburn’s images of his various
expeditions and a long repository of other promising photographers. A lunch break at Eastern Standard can
transform to a swiftly moving portal.
Grand the Store (Gift Shop)
374 Somerville Avenue, Somerville
(617) 623-2429; http://grandthestore.com/
Until a short time ago, Somerville’s Union Square appeared a film noir outpost in the midst of collegiate
Cambridge and Boston. While other metro neighborhoods, including Davis Square just a few miles down
the street, strained to convey the comforts of the urban enclave, Union Square was a true traffic intersection
and carried a vague desperation as generations of anonymous apartment dwellers moved in and out of its
borders. In the past year, several small businesses have attempted to conjoin Somerville’s arts community
with commercial purposes. A new coffee house, a local comic book retailer, and Grand, an upscale gift
shop, have now dotted Union Square’s real estate. Suddenly, the neighborhood has edge, as well as dust.
Situated near the cut-rate Market Basket grocery and a long-term Somerville Avenue construction project,
Grand has wisely retained a utilitarian quality to the store design and layout, keeping the washable cement
floor and emphasizing white and navy blue as its interior colors. An art gallery motif, however, is evident
in the meticulously arranged displays. Grand will be a magnet for gift shoppers looking for items that
don’t bear any link to mass produced mall goods. You will find creative plastic plates, tea towels, wall art,
mirrors, lamps, sculpture, and tote bags. Many of the pieces have a link to nature, running from tree
branches that compose a mirror frame to graphic leaf images sprinkled on kitchenware. Solar jars, glass
containers that remit captured sunlight, seem to be the eco-choice gift of the moment and are displayed
throughout the store. Clothing covers baby wear to casual young adult (t-shirts, hoodies, specialty sneakers).
Prices are predictably high: $20 - $30 dollars for the t-shirts; $100 and upward for the uniquely designed
home furnishings. If you are looking for less expensive gifts, you can also pick up blank page notebooks
with illustrated covers, as well as fine soaps and bodywashes. Mexican chocolate is also an option.
Although touted as a department store, Grand is currently a two-room establishment and its prices are
oriented towards the gifts market, rather than most people’s everyday needs. Still, the shop has managed to
turn Union Square cement and construction into a promising retail display that can mix well with its offbeat
As I write this paragraph, unseasonably warm air has settled on the city, providing a respite from slippery
sidewalks and numb fingers. We all know, however, that arctic blasts are forthcoming, and that winter is
here for at least a few more uncomfortable months. With this reality upon us, here are some suggestions
for coping with cold weather workouts, both outside and indoors. While joining a gym is the most
prevalent advice for staying active in February, membership poses its own unique problems: most gyms
become unbearably crowded in winter, equipment can be inaccessible, and you will need to carefully
schedule your workout times. If you are claustrophobic, take to the roads and think about transforming
your home to accommodate a workout plan.
? In very cold weather (sub 15 degrees), double-team your workout clothes; for example, tights
under pants, a technical shirt under a fleece (both under an outer layer), and two layers (or more)
of gloves. For women, knee-high stockings under socks are effective in keeping feet and lower
legs warm. A fleece hat or band completes the look.
? Find a time of day that is most receptive to working up a sweat. While many runners like a noon
run to take advantage of daylight, the early morning hours provide empty roads and a quiet
atmosphere. Predawn running is not for everyone, but moving through darkness can be a winter
pleasure. Novices ought to bring a headlamp and reflective clothes.
? Participating in a running club, if only temporarily, provides an immediate circle of protection for
the risky outdoor workout in snow/ice. There is safety in numbers and most clubs schedule a fun
run during the evening hours of the work week, an indoor track workout for the competitively
inclined, and a long weekend run. The group can also alert you to the best cleared paths when ice
and slush become obstacles. Google “running club” with your town name for some options.
? For urban apartment inhabitants, buying a treadmill can be a bit impractical. Even the smallest
space, though, can probably fit a yoga mat, free weights, and a stability ball. I squeezed a cheap
stationary bike into a corner. No, the indoor bike is not like running, or a professional spin class,
but can provide a basic cardio workout when freezing winds become overwhelming.
? If you are restless during a spate of bad weather, you might look into some of the specialty yoga or
Pilates studios in your area and take a class. Drop-in rates range between $10 - $15, and you can
learn a few new routines to try out at home. While you are meditating on the mat, you can
envision the ice receding and the first brave crocus shoots breaking ground.
265 Massachusetts Avenue near Central Square and the MIT Campus.
For Hours and Admission, check website: http://web.mit.edu/museum/index.html
Free to all Sundays 10 AM - Noon
I was first introduced to the wondrous spirit of science by the children’s writer, Madeleine L’Engle whose
Wrinkle In Time series conveyed the allure of astronomy, mythic creatures, and scientific discovery, all
pulled together by a young heroine who searches for a lost family in space. The series had a certain wild,
brainy magic that rarely appeared in other 1960s-70s science fiction books or science classes themselves.
Happily, however, the MIT Museum has managed to accomplish a similar creative feat in its exhibits and
collections that create a festival of the far-reaching aspects of technological innovation and scientific
Unabashed in its attraction to the bright colors and shining stars of new age science, the Museum strings
together holograms, robotics, sculpture, and current research. The visitor ticket agent recommends starting
ndwith the older exhibits on the 2 floor, where you can follow the stories of robots Cog (learns through
sense perception) and Kismet (develops social skills). Arthur Ganson’s whimsical machines, operated via
push buttons and pedals, are located in a nearby gallery, and visitors can witness the Museum’s gigantic stmousetrap-style “Day After Thanksgiving Chain Reaction” in a film on the first floor. Other 1 floor
exhibits highlight the MIT Media Laboratory City Car (it’s stackable), which can place a child in the
driver’s seat. Not to be missed is the “Hybrid Illusion” wall panel which merges images of Einstein with pop culture icons.
The Museum creates such a jumble of science and art, that I am irrationally expecting an exhibit on L’Engle’s tesseracts in the future.
206 Clarendon St (Green Line Copley Square T stop)
In an advertising agency’s lexicon, Copley Square could be referenced as the Place for Things that
Matter. Bordered by the Boston Public Library, Trinity Church, the Boston Marathon finish line, and the original location for the Museum of Fine Arts, the Square’s cultural vista looms large. Almost as a necessary counterforce, seasonal outdoor markets resize the Square back to an urban village, with vendors, shoppers, workers, and residents mingling on all the architectural shadows. This sense of imminent transference from the work-a-day to the aspirational (and the reverse) is perhaps the best outcome of the location and design of Trinity Church. Built during the 1870s, the Church’s structure was developed in an
architectural competition by Henry Hobson Richardson, who collaborated closely with his fellow Harvard alumnus and Trinity Church rector, Phillip Brooks, to construct the Romanesque style now termed “Richardsonian Romanesque.” Rather than exclude the emergent Back Bay commercial community
growing on the church’s doorstep, the new Romanesque style sought to convey the embracing outreach of the early Christian Church by applying the structural outline of a Greek cross, and expanding the interior with wide archways, a large central tower, lustrous stained glass windows, and murals depicting Biblical scenes.
These days the church welcomes city visitors with daily tours. The murals have been recently th Century colors. I admit what lured me inside was the rumor of cleaned and now reflect the original 19spectacular stained glass. The aesthetic Arts and Crafts movement is represented by the studio of William Morris & Co and reflects the decorative taste of Pre-Raphaelite painter Edward Burne-Jones. In contrast, John La Farge’s windows stand out with his groundbreaking technique of using layered pieces of glass to suggest a human three dimensional aspect to the portraits and images. Inadvertently, perhaps, the church’s architecture seems to imply that it has room for both.
In a modest spirit of adventure, I will occasionally take out the MBTA commuter rail schedule and select a town to explore. One mild autumn day, I stepped out of the Ipswich train station and followed Market Street up into Meetinghouse Green, ready to observe the mid-day routines of a New England seaside village.
Well-known for sandy Crane Beach during the summer, Ipswich presents a motley set of attractions other than its shoreline. For one, Market Street is an actual, versatile main street, with inexpensive shops, as well as some highly regarded galleries, cafes, and restaurants where townspeople still gather to meet with neighbors as well as shop. Within minutes, a passerby handed me a flyer for an upcoming chowder festival and chatted with other patrons on the sidewalk. Somehow, a small-town friendliness persists even after tourist season.
Ipswich’s colonial and revolutionary roots become evident on Meetinghouse Green where a memorial calls your attention to the 17th century local revolt against excessive taxation and British governor Sir Edmund Andros. Along the Green, the Ipswich Public Library, built in 1869, is a charming, Victorian structure, housing town archives. This is a community, though, where historic houses emerge unobtrusively on neighborhood blocks, and I eventually crossed paths with the Whipple (1677) and Heard Houses (1800) on the South Village Green. Both houses offer low-cost guided tours in the summer season. In any season, Appleton Farm, on route 1A and created in 1636, is considered the oldest working farm in the US and its walking paths are open to visitors year-round.
For further information on Ipswich, see www.ipswichma.co
Dr Taylor’s Gallery
George Taylor, MD, HMS Professor of Radiology and Department Chief of the Children’s Hospital Department of Radiology, has a long and well-regarded history in fine art photography, with interests that
range from travel to abstract photographs (including x-rays!). A new website, www.taylorimaging.net,
provides an excellent viewing opportunity, creating a virtual tour through places, nature, and societies. The
online gallery has portals for each major group of photographs: Cape Cod, Flowers, Portraits, Travel, Street,
X-Ray Art, Abstract, Performers, and Surfaces, with images ranging from the transcendent to the unsettling.
While the scope is truly global, elegant details emerge. Strikingly, a pair of pink and yellow sunglasses
draped over a driftwood fence captures the whimsy of a Cape Cod day.
Boston Public Library
As a library of libraries, awakening passersby to the possibilities of art and science, the Boston Public th Century Bostonian’s attraction to Library at Copley Square has became a fitting expression of the 19
culture and the general wish to re-seed the community with literary works of all kinds, from all ages. Well-
known for its catalogs and archives, the BPL’s interior also contains enough fine art to qualify as its own
museum. Opening in 1895, the McKim Building (Dartmouth Street entrance) reflects the era’s passion for
decorative art, with its growing taste for the symbolic and fanciful Art Nouveau movement.
Throughout the week, free “Art and Architecture Tours” guide visitors through the McKim Building from rdfacing the façade to the famed 3 floor John Singer Sargent allegorical murals on the “Triumph of
Religion.” Equally arresting, however, is the Abbey Room’s “Quest of the Holy Grail” pictorial series on
Sir Galahad’s rescue mission. The two marble lions on the McKim central staircase still inspire affection
from both children and adults.
The Wiggin gallery provides exhibition space for many of the rare items often tucked away in BPL tharchives. The current exhibit displays early 20 century Russian theater and costume designs associated with Alexandre Benois, a co-founder of the Ballets Russes. Dreamer and Showman: The Magical Reality of Alexandre Benois will be open through February 28.
Check the BPL website for information on tours and gallery talks, http://www.bpl.org/. The monthly
calendar, linked on the Events and Exhibits page is also very useful http://www.bpl.org/news/upcomingevents.htm
Buddhist Temple Room
Museum of Fine Arts
For hours, maps, and directions, see http://www.mfa.org Sometimes the discovery of a parallel universe can re-orient your perspective. Located just a few blocks
from the Longwood Medical Area, the Museum of Fine Arts’ Buddhist Temple Room can be both a retreat and a stimulus to all finders.
ndThe 2 floor sanctuary is always slightly darkened and still, with enough room to collect your thoughts and
the contrary sense that you have also stepped outside of your familiar world into a heightened atmosphere thof history and spirituality. Developed by collectors in the late 19 Century, the room is loosely modeled on than 8 Century Japanese Buddhist monastery, with a Buddha figure and accompanying guardians in an
enclosed alter space. Nearby galleries of the MFA’s Asian collection feature Japanese, Chinese, and Indian
images of the Buddha (the deity equated with humility, goodness, and simple living) and bodhisattvas
(humans who devote themselves to compassionate missions, yet situate themselves centrally in society).
When daily routines loom large, the sculptures’ peaceful poses, quiet gestures, and soft expressions can
appear an almost deliberate antidote to urban stress.
If you would like to leave your everyday life behind for a few days and receive a glimpse of an old-
fashioned New England culture, journey up the coast to Rockport. This tiny town was a favorite refuge of th19 century philosopher/sage Ralph Waldo Emerson and its healing powers were quite in evidence on a
late summer day. Unlike most of the other North Shore cities and towns, Rockport is associated with its arts
community and this identity becomes evident in the impromptu exhibitions and arts and crafts wares that
pop up in local shops.
From the train station (Railroad Avenue), walk up Broadway where you will pass Victorian style bed and
breakfasts, through Dock Square, to Bearskin Neck on the town harbor. A suitably rocky shoreline and
viewpoint awaits you, with options for swimming or wading at Front and Back Beach, browsing the many
gift shops and art galleries, or travelling further to Pigeon Cove. If the Bearskin Neck neighborhood does
seem somewhat heavily “boutiqued,” the original architecture is nicely preserved and its small scale
network creates a comforting atmosphere. The local residents are gracious and friendly, providing
directions when the intricate New England streets defy logic. While you can’t converse about nature and
life with Emerson, you can breathe in the same sea air.
For further information on Rockport, see www.rockportusa.com
If the Boston area’s cultural monuments no longer appeal for your day off or your out-of-town
friends would like to see what lies beyond the Avenue of the Arts or Faneul Hall, do not despair. We are
fortunate in having a surplus of underappreciated resources to suit any fancy.
Gibson House: A splendid Victorian mansion that provides visitors access to the inner domestic worlds of th Century upper class Bostonians; 137 Beacon St, Boston, MA 02116; call for information and hours at 19(617) 267-6338; in general, the house is open for tours Wed – Sun, at 1,2,3 pm. Mary Baker Eddy Library: While the library understandably emphasizes the cultural climate and thbeginnings of the 19 century Christian Science movement, with the words and pictures of founder Mary
Baker Eddy, it also demonstrates how ideas generate social change throughout the world with its Hall of
Ideas and multimedia Mapparium; here, visitors can walk through a stained glass globe of music and
images. Exhibits are high tech, interactive, and ideal for families. 200 Massachusetts Avenue, between
Huntington Avenue and Boylston Street; tel: 888-222-3711; open Tuesday-Friday 10:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.
Saturday 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Sunday 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Franklin Park Zoo: Who can resist the chance to privately communicate with a giraffe? 1 Franklin Park
Rd, Dorchester, MA 02121; tel: 617-541-5466; call for fall/winter hours.
Charles River Path, from Longfellow Bridge to Anderson Bridge: From the Cambridge side, watch the
sun rise or set on the Boston skyline. Open to everyone, all the time.
Searching for Color
As the skylights in the Children’s Hospital library provide inspiration to the research-bound scholar, swatches of light and color in the midst of January and February are welcome visitations. If the
trip to Aruba is out of the question this year, try seeking out some of Boston’s splashiest spaces. They are
simultaneously in your ordinary pathway and unexpectedly refreshing. ndFogg Art Museum, Wertheim Collection: Visiting the gallery on the Fogg’s 2 floor will suspend you in
the rich colors of the impressionist and post-impressionist imagination. Startling variations in tone and
subject from Renoir to the early Picasso awaken the senses. 32 Quincy Street, Cambridge, Monday-
Saturday, 10-5pm, Sunday, 1-5 pm, closed most holidays; free with Harvard ID, $6.50 general admission;
for more information, contact 617-495-9400.
Tiffany Windows, Arlington Street Church: Walk through the main doors and you will be struck not by the austerity but by the 16 stained glass windows on both floors of the building; printed informational
handouts on the images will guide you. The building is located on the corner of Boylston and Arlington,
bordering the Public Garden. Call 617-536-7050, for hours.
Frog Pond Skating Rink, Boston Common: Reflecting ice and fast movement are the hallmarks of this space, recommended by skating enthusiasts of all ages. Open through 3/17; Monday, 10-5pm, Tues.-Thurs,
Sunday, 10-9pm, Friday-Saturday, 10-10pm; $3 admission.
Back in the late 19-century, an urban planner posing as a gentleman scholar woke up from a
nightmare. Watching Northeastern cities become segregated units of mansions, roads, factories, storefronts,
and tenements, with social classes rigidified in their respective urban concrete, Frederick Law Olmsted
began to envision greenbelts of parkland. Olmsted, the designer of Boston’s famed Emerald Necklace, perceived city parks as both an oasis for nature and a means to bring city dwellers together in a vibrant st century standpoint, he was a true visionary. We cherish our greenspace. environment. From a 21The current edge in community planning addresses the needs of modern inhabitants, individuals
who require some form of intense physical activity along with a dose of nature. Thus, the bikeway is born.
In our immediate vicinity, the Minuteman Cambridge/Arlington to Lexington (and Beyond) Bikeway
provides a resourceful ramble. The bikeway officially begins at the Alewife T Station in Cambridge, but it
actually meanders through Somerville’s Davis Square. The path is smooth, flat to mildly rolling,
surrounded by natural brush and trees. Its purpose is in multitudes: you may cycle, run, walk, or
accompany your dog through the fresh air of a country back road. Spy Pond offers friendly pond-side
benches. Along the way, historical markers place you in colonial America, with a Brigham’s strategically centered in Arlington. Wide enough to accommodate baby joggers and walking families, the bikeway is
home to both the speedy and the leisurely. If you venture far enough, Lexington’s Great Meadow beckons.
For information on Frederick Law Olmsted, see http://www.fredericklawolmsted.com
And FLO: A Biography of Frederck Law Olmsted, by Laura Wood-Roper, Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1983.
Jamaica Plain, MA 02130-3500
Hours: Grounds, sunrise-sunset, everyday of the year
T accessible via Forest Hills Station (Orange line)
What more can anyone say about the Arnold Arboretum? The Harvard University preserve of
pristine woods, meadows, shrubs, and flowers is well-known for its Frederick Law Olmsted design, its
open-doors policy that invites the public in free of charge, and its blessed quietness in the midst of city
For an autumn walk that takes you out of your routine, however, you might head to the Arboretum
to experience a new state: to become lost amidst the oaks and pines and still emerge fully whole, with no
need of a compass (although water bottles might be handy). You can easily wander into the off-road
forested areas and truly believe that you have found true wilderness; ravines, logs, and pine needles abound
and you don’t have to drive all the way to Vermont.
I went on a hot afternoon and many people had brought blankets to sit and meditate underneath the
large shade trees. Runners and cyclists undergo workouts amidst a crisscrossing set of paths that stretch
from the lily ponds at the Forest Hills Gate to Peter’s Hill. As the roads lead into one another, the state of
being lost is almost a certainty for newcomers, even if you stay on the paths. Enjoy being out of touch with
your usual life and track your direction through following unfolding gardens -- becoming disoriented is
really a chance to re-settle.
Note: If anyone can make sense of the “You Are Here” signs posted throughout the park, please let me
know; the best guide to the park is found on the Arboretum’s website at
Peabody Essex Museum (PEM), East India Square, Salem
Tel: 978-745-9500/ www.pem.org
Open: 10 – 5 pm daily, Thursday until 9 pm
Adults: $12 (seniors- $10, students-$8, children 16 and under free)
The Peabody Essex Museum is a bit of a cultural anomaly. Situated amidst landmarks pertaining
thto the 17 century Salem witch trials, one of the worst episodes of American social paranoia, the PEM
honors the desire for travel, both internal and external, and quests for knowledge. In the aftermath of the thPuritan hysteria, Salem re-emerged in the 18 century as a center for foreign trade. Merchants, sea captains, and sailors ventured to the Far East and returned with more objets d’art than their ancestors ever feared.
The present day PEM serves as a vital reminder of these initial epistemological voyages beyond Puritan
Recently, the museum moved into a new renovated building, and it glistens with high tech sight lines, complete with special visitor gathering places with comfortable chairs. Asian export art, objects created
solely for Western markets, forms the primary collection. You can find a stem for the popular blue willow
pattern amongst the china collections, as well as other motifs. The galleries, however, are eclectic and
represent art of many cultures: Native American, Korean, Japanese, Chinese, Indian, Oceanic, and African.
The American Decorative Art gallery provides glimpses of Salem’s own artistic and maritime past: a
freshfaced Nathaniel Hawthorne surveys the room from one of paintings.
The Yin Yu Tang house is the PEM standout treasure, and it derives completely from Chinese culture. Shipped piece by piece from southeast rural China, the house was the residence of the Huang family for
200 years. A two story dwelling, with an open air inner courtyard, each room is furnished with Chinese
furniture and belongings, and they reveal much timeworn domestic use. A nearby exhibit recreates the
multigenerational story of the Huang family and provides a more personal overview of their history.
Museum of Afro-American History: 46 Joy Street, with the African Meeting House and the Abiel
Smith School at 8 Smith Court. Open in Winter, 10 – 4 PM, Monday-Saturday, free of charge.
Beacon Hill, unlike its younger, more raucous 24-7 cousins throughout the city, still retains the illusion of
an intimate neighborhood. Visitors on Charles Street who tire of the antique shops can easily find a small
bistro or lunch counter to while away the hours and slip into an urban village culture without missing a beat.
With its street level window boxes and narrow cobbled sidewalks, Beacon Hill’s human dimensions bring
surprising comfort, despite its high-end (some would say, out-of-the-stratosphere) reputation.
Another surprise, however, goes deeper than architecture, although it runs parallel to it. Beacon Hill is the main site of the Black Heritage Trail which traces the history of Boston’s black community and th century abolitionist movement. The Museum of Afro-American History at the Abiel Smith the 19School has a small archive of items pertaining both to the Civil War and the Beacon Hill neighborhood of th,th, ththe 18 19and 20 centuries. The Smith School, built in 1834, represents the first public school for
African American children and the museum has recovered rubber balls, writing slates, marbles, and a doll thin its excavation. Key components of the entire collection include an early edition of the works of 18-
century poet Phillis Wheatley and Civil War mementoes. The museum creates compelling special exhibits,
and its new addition, “What’s In Your Attic,” highlights the Sullivan Family Collection, artifacts and letters
delineating the lives of a prominent African American Boston family, and the etching of family trees.
As you drop in at the School, note the gift shop, selling books and decorative arts from America and Africa, and lists of educational events open to Boston area school children. The Museum has distinct
age-specific programs introducing young students to archaeology, the New England abolitionist movement,
and the Underground Railroad.
Note: portions of the archive are on display; for more information on the Museum of Afro-American
History and the Black Heritage Trail, check the Museum’s web site at
Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
Location: 280 The Fenway, Boston, MA 02115; Tel: (617) 566-1401
Hours: Tuesday-Sunday 11 a.m.-5 p.m. (Galleries begin closing at 4:45 p.m.)
Admission: Adults: $10 ($11 on weekends)
Although many longtime Bostonians generally believe that the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is best experienced in winter, so that its crown jewel – the flowering courtyard – can nourish the numbed
senses, the Gardner is probably most accessible to Longwood Medical Area inhabitants in the spring when
the winter winds from Children's to the Fenway have calmed down and the summer tourists have not yet
descended. Viewing in the galleries is more open, the courtyard contains spring blossoms, and the
skylights create a hopeful atmosphere.
The enterprising Mrs. Gardner opened her reconstructed Venetian palace in the Fenway in 1903 for the
enjoyment and education of New Englanders and her success in her mission continues. Besides the
courtyard, the Sargents, the numerous works of European artists, such as Rembrandt, Botticelli, and
Titian, the Museum still has a significant cultural cachet and sees itself as a gathering place for minds
in search of beauty and truth.
As you refresh yourself with flowers and art, also drop into one of the Gardner’s springtime events; you might be visited by the founder’s spirit and come back to work with lasting visions. Offered with Museum Admission: ? Collection Tours: Every Friday at 2:30 PM
? Special Exhibition Gallery Talk: at 12:00 each Saturday during a gallery exhibition.
? Afternoon Lectures Series: “Food for Thought” at 12:00:
? Mornings at the Gardner: call the Education Department at (617) 278-5147
for information on enrollment, times, and fees.