Category Archives: Museum Hopping

Museum Hopping: Greenfield Village

Today’s museum field trip takes us to beautiful Dearborn, Michigan. We’re visiting Henry Ford’s Greenfield Village to explore American history, as told through our lifestyles and innovations. There is so much to show you that I think we should start with a map so you can understand the scale of this place:

As you can see, the outdoor museum is spread across many acres, (90 acres, to be exact, with another 150 acres of fields and pastures surrounding the museum.  You can spend all day exploring the exhibits and still have more to see. Before we start wandering around, let me give you a little back history of how this place came to be.

History Collector

In the 1920’s, automobile entrepreneur Henry Ford decided that he wanted to preserve “Americana” for future generations. He toyed with preserving a few dubiously historic buildings in Massachusetts before he really hit his stride. Ford started collecting buildings related to American industry and innovation and moving them, piece by piece to Michigan.

Henry Ford, circa 1919 Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Once each building or house arrived in Michigan, he had it reassembled in an area designed as its own village. (A “village” that sits in the middle of a huge swath of “green” “fields”. See how he did that?) All of these buildings came together to form a large village of structures spanning the 3 centuries of American life.

Greenfield Village was officially founded in 1929 as an educational and historic landmark. When viewed as a whole, it can be quite misleading as a representation of American history. It is too clean, too socially stable, which real American life has never been.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

However, there is little doubt that most of these buildings would have fallen to ruin if left in their original locations. Without the collector’s instinct of a man with Henry Ford’s time and money, modern Americans would have little opportunity to stand in and look at the daily life and work of many great innovators.

What To See

Greenfield Village has over fifty historic buildings to see and tour. All of these buildings are populated by either costumed actors or modern-day artisans creating real products using old techniques. (You can even buy their beautiful wares at the gift shop later.)

The village is further sub-divided into several “neighborhoods”. Some of the buildings focus on industry and some are homes which allow you to step into everyday life of a certain period. Just to add one more layer to your visit, you can also choose to travel in several modes of transportation around the park.

There are so many buildings and homes to see that it is hard for me to make a definitive list of must-sees for you. As usual, it is frowned upon to take interior pictures of houses and museum buildings. Nevertheless, here are few of my favorites that you should see for yourself:

  • The Firestone family farm (yes, the tire brand Firestones)
  • The 18th century farm (lots of live animals to see at work)
  • The General Store
  • The Milliner’s shop (where you can try on hats)
  • Poet Robert Frost’s house
  • The Heinz farmhouse (you can smell all 57 spices about a block away)
  • The Eagle Tavern ( you can eat a meal here, too)

  • Dictionary author Noah Webster’s house
  • Henry Ford’s family farm
  • The Windmill
  • Logan County Courthouse (where Lincoln practiced law)
  • The Boarding House
  • The Glass Shop (with real blown glass craftsmen at work)
  • The Cider Mill
  • The Wright Brothers Cycle Shop (birthplace of the airplane)
  • Thomas Edison’s Menlo Park Laboratory (birthplace of the light bulb)

Great Events

Greenfield also hosts fun events throughout their calendar year that are a fun chance to bask in the community of bygone eras. While I haven’t been to all of these myself, I cannot overlook how fun they sound.

  • Car Shows: It will probably not surprise you to know that Greenfield Village hosts great historic car shows. (It would be odd if they didn’t.) There are several shows on the annual calendar, which allow you to choose between your favorite era of cars.

  • Historic Baseball Games: These are played using the 1867 rules with seating on a grassy hillside overlooking the field. As they advertise it: “No cussing. No spitting. No millionaire players. Just baseball.” You can learn more about the teams right here and about their playing season right here. If you visit in August, you might be lucky enough to catch the World Championship Games. Batter, up!

  • Ragtime Street Fair Weekend: This annual music festival features live music on multiple stages by jazz musicians from all over the country. Fresh summer food is served and dancing is encouraged as the park stays open late to enjoy the syncopated melodies.

That concludes our tour of Greenfield Village for today. Before we leave though, I thought you might like to browse around the extensive museum gift shop, which you can visit right here. Also, consider exploring their lovely historic art shop, which you can link to directly right here. You might find a lovely image to art to the art in your home!

Unless otherwise noted, pictures in this post come from the Greenfield Village Museum. You can learn more details about the museum and plan your own visit by exploring their beautiful website right here.

What would you explore first at Greenfield Village? Have any of you visited Greenfield Village? Do have any tips you would like to add? Leave a comment!

Museum Hopping: The Benaki

It’s time for another museum field trip! Who made the decision that adults no longer need field trips? Weren’t field trips one of the greatest perks of grade school? If you missed our first Museum Hopping trip, you can go on that trip in this post.

Today’s field trip takes us all the way to the heart of sunny Athens, Greece. I had the pleasure of working in Athens several years ago and I used my off time to explore all of the city’s beautiful museums. There are many great museums in Athens, but my favorite, for many reasons that I’ll show you, is The Benaki Museum.

Before we go inside, I have a little confession to own up to about museums. I have been to a lot of museums. I mean A LOT.  Hundreds. I love museums for learning about a country’s culture. However, I have also learned (the hard way) that you can easily over-do your museum experience if you aren’t careful.

I think everyone has a maximum limit of glass cases they can look down into, red velvet ropes they can shuffle past, sculptures they can walk around and paintings that they can gaze upon. It is different for every person. After you hit your limit, your brain goes into what I call “Museum Glaze”. You are walking around, looking at priceless things, but they all start to blend together until youcan’trememberifyou’vebeeninthisroombefore… Museum Glaze can strike anyone, anywhere, even when you’ve finally reached the front of the line to see the diminutive “Mona Lisa” at the Louvre.

Image courtesy of venere.com

So, when I tell you that The Benaki Museum (pronounced: “ben-AH-kee”) is one of the best museums I have ever been to, it is in part due to their lovely collection. It is also due to the fact that they’ve skillfully laid out the museum to fight the dreaded Museum Glaze. It’s fantastic! The Benaki should give master classes to other museums.

The Benaki Museum was founded by Antonis Benakis (1873-1954). Born into a wealthy family with a strong civic devotion to Greek culture and history, Antonis had always been a collector of fine art and folk art. Here is Antonis with one of his sisters, Penelope Delta, who was a celebrated children’s author:

Don't they look like people you would like to know?

Antonis came up with the idea of using his collections to create a museum for all Greek citizens to enjoy fine items from their history. His brothers and sisters liked the idea so much that they offered their collections for the museum, too. They also had a great idea for the museum’s location. Why not use Dad’s old family home (umm…mansion) to house it all?

The Benaki family home in 1930

The family home was inaugurated as a museum in 1931. Established as a public-benefit organization, the museum is run on the monetary donations of benefactors and artistic donations of collectors. Here’s an example of how the earliest galleries of the museum looked:

Can you see how this is a rather small room? It could have been a spare guest bedroom before the house was a museum. My theory is that using these smaller rooms as they were is one of the many ways the museum feels approachable and intimate. (Take that, Museum Glaze!)

Major renovations have occurred to the original mansion over the years, as the collection has expanded. As of 2011, the museum now includes 7 different buildings across the city. Let’s go inside…

This what greeted me in the first gallery.

I’m not gonna lie. My first thought was, “Oh dear. I hope this huge mansion isn’t full of ancient pottery shards.” (I did warn you that I am a very jaded museum visitor.) Happily, my attitude was very, very wrong.

This bowl was in the Neolithic gallery of the museum. It dates from 5,300-4,500, BC. Think of how many everyday dishes you have broken in your own kitchen and then realize that this glazed bowl (I get the “glazed” irony, believe me) is over 7, 000 years old. I was impressed.

A few rooms later I found a few of these:

I love these types of Grecian urns, properly called “hydria”, because they all tell stories. Some tell the stories of great Greek myth heroes and others, like this one, show scenes of daily life. I love to see how other people lived, even if it means staring at their version of Corningware.

A few rooms later brought me to this:

This gold wreath of oak leaves dates from the late 2nd century, BC. It was made by pounding gold into flat leaf, then cutting and decorating the gold to resemble oak leaves, then mounting the leaves on a decorative gold headband.

Can you see the flowers attached along the “stem” of the headband, too?  The leaves are so thin, I found myself holding my breath as I leaned in for a closer look. I can’t imagine securing something so delicate to my hair. How on earth did this survive for 4,000 years?

And there was more:

Can you guess what these are? For all you art history lovers out there, these are masterpieces from Hellenistic and Early Roman gold work. Look directly below the big circles at the top. Can you see the little muses reclining as they play their lyres? Remember that these are hand-made: coiled, carved, pounded and sculpted from gold. Any guesses as to what these are? They’re earrings. (I’ll wait while you ogle them some more. Just don’t get any drool on the glass case. Museum directors don’t care for that…)

Just when you think you can’t look down into one more glass case, we are changing floors and changing exhibit items. It’s now time to see how the Greek people have lived in their homes over the past centuries. I’m only going to show you some of my very favorite items. There are a lot more treasures to discover when you visit someday!

This called a “sperveri”, which translates roughly to “curtains for the bridal bed”. It comes from Rhodes and the 17th-18th centuries. I’m not a skilled seamstress, so I am really impressed by the perfect symmetry of the patterns embroidered in silk on this fabric. So beautiful. This bed is also rather small when you stand next to it, which is another great reminder of how much humans have grown over the past centuries of better nutrition.

Speaking of bridal things:

This is a bridal costume from the 19th century Attica region of Greece. The gold cloth you see is actually entirely embroidered with spun gold thread. (Eat your heart out, Kate Middleton.) Doesn’t this look comfortable?

There are many more costumes to see, but maybe this is enough fabric for you? Time to change it up again. (I’m telling ya, these museum directors are genius!) House tours time:

This is a reconstruction of a 19th century home on the island of Skyros. See the clean, white washed walls? You can also see some beautiful ceramics here, which was common way to decorate a home around the Greek War of Independence. I think this looks very cosy and comfortable. I love the colorful embroidered pillows!

Here’s a few older homes:

These two 18th century reception rooms (above & below) were actually re-located in their entirety from their original homes for preservation in The Benaki Museum. You can stand in these rooms in the museum. These pictures do not do them justice.

I have always been a big fan of a window seat, so a whole room full of them seemed rather modern and chic to me.

Whew! We’ve done a lot of walking, but The Benaki has your back. We are three-fourths of the way through the museum and we need a break. And right here is where find the inviting museum cafe and outside terrace.

Remember: Europeans refer to the American "2nd Floor" as the "1st Floor". We are on the American "3rd Floor" on this map. Let's get a drink and relax for a moment.

I’d love to show you a picture of the beautiful view from the terrace, but I can only offer you three words: camera battery fail. (*sigh*)

While we’re taking a little break, I also want to mention that this museum also features galleries of Islamic art:

modern acquisitions:

Diploma for the 1963 Nobel Prize for Literature (I had never seen one before.)

and several galleries titled: “Greece through the eyes of foreign travelers”. I found this outsider’s perspective of your own country’s history rather original in a national museum. I wish more countries embraced this open-minded idea.

Removal of the pedimental sculptures on the orders of Lord Elgin. Sadly, you have to go to London to see these original statues in the British Museum. Watercolor by Sir William Gell, 1801

The top floor of this museum is four small galleries celebrating The War of Greek Independence. This part of Greek history is riveting and I knew very little about it before I visited Athens. The Greek people struggled to free themselves from Turkish occupation for 11 years (1821-1832) before gaining their independence. The Greek Revolution embodies many of the same ideals and memorable characters of the American Revolution. (You learn more of the basics about it here.)

Wandering through the galleries of Greek revolutionaries was not unlike standing in front of great portraits of Patrick Henry, John Adams and George Washington. Here is an elegant example of a Greek patriot:

He seems heroically fierce to me. What a gorgeous uniform. I would certainly want him on my side in a war. Did you notice the room he is standing in?  It looks just like the reception rooms we visited earlier in this post. Real living, 19th century style.

I hope you’ve enjoyed our field trip to The Benaki Museum today. I’d take you to the gift shop, too, but the dollar-to-euro exchange rate is really working against us right now. Still determined to browse? Here’s their online gift shop.

All of the images you have seen in this post are courtesy of the generous Benaki Museum. I know I have raved about them a lot today, but the museum staff at the Benaki are some of the most welcoming and helpful I have ever run across, especially if you are a guest who doesn’t speak Greek. I think Antonis would be proud of today’s Benaki Museum.

If you ever find yourself in Athens, Greece, be sure to put this museum on your things-to-see list. They also offer fabulous concerts, book signings, lectures and special events. In the meantime, you can also browse the English version of their website here:  http://www.benaki.gr/index.asp?id=40207&lang=en

Now it’s your turn! Did your like our museum visit today?  Have you ever experienced “Museum Glaze”? Do you have a great idea for a future Museum Hopping post? Leave a comment!

Museum Hopping: The Thorne Rooms at the AIC

Today, I’m starting “Museum Hopping”, a new series of posts that will appear from time to time. My goal for this little series is to highlight great places to see beautiful home design and/or home living. You might have never heard of some of these places or exhibits. Then again, you might find yourself closer to one than you realized and can add it to your list of things to see.

Most importantly, “Museum Hopping” guarantees the following:  No waiting in line, no security search, no coat check needed, no impatient yet loud crowds, no overpriced cafe food and no marble-floor-tired feet by the end of this post.

Our visit today takes us to the beautiful Art Institute of Chicago. It is important to mention that all of the images you will see in today’s post are courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago, to whom I am most grateful.

The Art Institute of Chicago was founded in 1879 and today attracts millions of visitors to their world-class collections and exhibits every year. I urge you to visit the museum whenever you are in Chicago. There is nothing quite like standing inches away from famous masterpieces. Speaking of which, let’s go inside!

Mrs. James Ward Thorne, 1915

The Thorne Rooms were created by Mrs. James Ward Thorne (1882-1966). Her husband was an heir to the Montgomery Ward department store fortune, which allowed the couple to travel extensively. At the time of their travels, there was a great popularity of museum “period rooms”. Period rooms were created to show realistic living spaces of a specific place in a past era.

Mrs. Thorne, who had always been interested in furniture and home design, saw a great opportunity to turn her passion into a great American art exhibit. With her connections and her own money, Mrs. Thorne, hired the best artisans available to help her create her vision.  Here is an example of their work:

"South Carolina Ballroom, 1775-1835"

You can see the amount of planning that went into a room like this one. Rugs were generally custom created for this project. A plaster specialist was brought in for the wedding cake detailing around the ceiling cove. Fabrics were ordered for the specially reproduced furniture. There is no way one person could create this entire room alone.

Fortunately, Mrs. Thorne was an excellent project manager and could afford the very best of materials for her craftsman. That’s not to say that she wasn’t working on these rooms. She rolled up her sleeves in the studio and painted, upholstered and cleaned windows along with everyone else. What vision to see this project though, right?

Now, there was one more interesting thing I was going to tell you about these rooms. What was it? Let me think. Hmmmmm. Oh! That’s right!

"South Carolina Ballroom, 1775-1835"

All of The Thorne Rooms are in miniature. And there are 68 of them.

"English Roman Catholic Church in the Gothic Style, Late 13th Century"

The church picture above is one of my favorites. When measured, the room comes in at only 48 x 32.5 x 41.5 inches. Most of the other rooms are just slightly larger. The scale used was 1 inch = 1 foot. We may be revisiting more of these rooms on future posts when we discuss furniture or design vocabulary. Mrs. Thorne was hoping to allow museum goers to have an appreciation of the beauty of past eras, so I think she would approve.

Now I’m going to just sit back and let you enjoy browsing a selection of the rooms. I’ve made the images extra large, so you can see the amazing detail, just like you would at the museum.

"California Living Room, circa 1935-40"

"German Sitting Room of the 'Biedermeier' Period, 1815-1850"

"Tennessee Entrance Hall, 1835"

"Chinese Interior, Traditional"

"French Salon of the Louis XIV Period, 1660-1700"

I hope you’ve enjoyed today’s field trip!  Weren’t those rooms amazing? Do you like the idea of the “Museum Hopping” series? Do you have any suggestions of places we should visit?

Now, what is the very last thing you always do when visiting a museum?  Visit the gift shop!  Right here. Let me know if you find any great deals!

%d bloggers like this: