The Peabody/Essex Museum

The Peabody / Essex Museum aka the PEM is located in Salem, Ma. and is the oldest continuously operating museum in the United States.

The origins of the museum date to 1799 when a group of sea captains formed the East India Marine Society. Members of the society were required to collect “natural and artificial curiosities” from beyond the Cape of Good Hope or Cape Horn during their sea voyages.

 Due to the age of the institution many of the collections are truly rare and wonderous with outstanding  provenance for such old pieces.

The museum also collects and maintains a number of historic buildings. Currently the list stands at 24 historic homes and gardens. The museum was truly ahead of its time. One of the earliest examples of preserving a historic building was the John Ward House which was saved from demolition by splitting it in half, relocating it and then reassembling the building at its current location. A pleasant and informative tour of three of the buildings is a worthwhile add on to your visit.

Inside the museum the collections and exhibits range from the Gallery of Figureheads (my personal favorite) to a Chinese house. Some of the permanent collections include extensive maritime art, American Decorative art, Asian and Japanese Art, Native American Art, Hawaiian Art and the list goes on. A perfect example of the diversity of the exhibits is the beaded gown.

When you look closely you realize it is all shell work. Across the room is an artist’s conception of the world as it looks from space.

The atrium of the museum is spacious and airy, the window coverings evoking the sails of the tall ships that were so important to developing the trade that brought the first collections to Salem. You can enjoy a snack in the cafe or sit on a comfortable bench as you wait for the docent to lead a tour.

One particularly beautiful piece is the animated clock. It is amazing just to look at it but next to the clock is a display that shows the clock working. Of course they don’t have the display clock work now, even though it says it can, for they want to preserve it but this little demo isn’t a bad substitute. It made me appreciate the fine workmanship even more.

As we waited for our tour back to the 17th, 18th and 19th century the sun shown through a large window onto a sculpture of a horse. A lovely peice in a lovely setting.

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