Historically, Salem, Massachusetts is known for the Salem Witch Trials of 1692 and as a rich maritime port. Today, Salem is a bustling tourist town home to one of the best art museums in the country, the Peabody Essex Museum.
The museum found its early origins in the formation of the East India Marine Society, which was founded in 1799. Essentially, this group was formed by Salem shipping captains and served as a depository for “cultural curiosities” collected during sea voyages. Over time, the organization morphed into what is today’s Peabody Essex Museum (PEM).
The museum’s permanent collection has over a million pieces of African, Asian, maritime, Native American and Oceanic artwork that enables visitors to transcend time and experience many cultures. These treasures are showcased in over 50 galleries that are user friendly and easy to navigate.
The Peabody Essex is also host to some of the best traveling exhibitions in the Northeast. Recently, a collection of Dutch and Flemish masterworks was a large draw to the museum. The current installation featuring Man Ray and Lee Miller has been just as popular.
One of the PEM’s unique features is a 200 year old Chinese house called Yin Yu Tang that was brought over from China and rebuilt on site at the museum using traditional methods. Visitors can tour the house and the accompanying exhibit showing the history of its origins and reconstruction.
Like many museums, the PEM has an interactive section that is enjoyed by children and adults alike. The Eye Spy, Playing with Perception exhibit which ended this past May highlighted optical illusion and was one of the busiest galleries on one of my most recent visits.
Offering a little bit of everything, some things not to be found anywhere else, and situated in a town full of history, the PEM’s reputation as an art destination has been rising in recent years, rivaling its much larger fellow museums, further proof that sometimes good things come in small packages.
Brian Sylvester is a guest blogger on WallSpin, and an artist on Zatista.