Think “World Class Art Museums in the Northeast USA” and big city “majors” come to mind: The Metropolitan Museum of Art in NY, Museum of Fine Arts Boston, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, to start. Of course, all of these institutions are worthy of note, and are covered extensively by the press. But there are other museums that, though they might take up a fraction of the real estate and square footage (read: less overwhelming), are equally worthy of your time - and just might surprise you. The following small city and smaller town Art Museums, Artists home studios, and Art Centers in the Northeast are often overlooked and shouldn’t be. Add these to the “Best College Art and History Museums” for a more comprehensive list. Additional information on these and complete itineraries for hundreds of “Offbeat Northeast” getaways can be found on GetawayMavens.com.
Portland: Portland Museum of Art. Winslow Homer first exhibited here in 1893, and since then this human-scale world-class museum has focused on American/Maine artists, American and French impressionists, contemporary art, and the decorative arts. Not only is the art significant inside the multi-faceted PMA, the architecture is as well. Important work from 19th and 20th Century artists adorn the walls of three linked buildings: an 1801 Federalist mansion, a 1911 Beaux-Arts structure and the newest contemporary addition, built in 1983. But the beauty of this museum is that, unlike the monumental art museums in New York or Paris, Portland’s home to great works can be perused in an hour or so, though of course, you may want to linger over your favorite piece.
Rockland: The Farnsworth Art Museum. The Farnsworth is really an art complex as it’s made up of a central building (on Main St.), the Farnsworth Homestead next door, and the church down the street, now devoted solely to Wyeth family works. (The Farnsworth also owns and manages the Olson House in Cushing). The Center for Maine Contemporary Art recently opened in the midst of Rockland’s downtown; a stunning, glass building designed by Starchitect, Toshiko Mori (who owns a summer house in Maine). Cutting edge, experimental and “out there” works are exhibited in three sunlit galleries with polished concrete floors to ease the movement of exhibitions that will change four times a year.
Cushing: Olson House. The interior of this stabilized ruin of an 1800’s farmhouse is meant to evoke an Andrew Wyeth painting, which is precisely the point, as the well-known artist painted his most famous piece– Christina’s World (original owned by MoMa in NY) right here. In 1938, Andrew Wyeth was 22 when he met 17-year-old Betsy James, who became his wife, while vacationing in Maine. Betsy introduced Andrew to her friends, brother and sister, Christina and Alvero Olson, and they formed an instant rapport. Andrew found the rooms upstairs in the Olson’s rustic home to be the perfect place to paint. In fact Christina’s World was prompted by the view from a second floor window of the crippled Christina pulling herself along the grass outside. Alvaro died in 1968, Christina a month later – both in their 70’s. They are buried in a family cemetery within view of the farmhouse. And, what most people don’t know: Andrew Wyeth, who died in 2009, is buried right next to them.
Ogunquit: Ogunquit Museum of American Art. A 15-minute drive from York Village, this is the coolest art museum between Boston and Portland – a mid-century modern gem overlooking the sea and filled with some of the most important work put to canvas during the genre’s heyday between WWI and WWII. From the late 1800’s into mid-1900’s, city dwellers longed to be close to nature, if only via landscape paintings they’d hang in their parlors. Manhattan socialite, Edith Halpert, with ties to the Ogunquit Art Colony, opened her New York City gallery in 1926 to display the work of these artists, catering to wealthy New Yorkers eager for a taste of the “newly discovered” Maine Coast, inadvertently driving a fledgling tourism industry. The OMAA embodies the best of work from both the Woodbury and Easter Field Schools of Art. Many modernist pieces of that period hang in the bright red Strater Gallery.
Monhegan Island: Monhegan Museum of Art and History and Lighthouse. The climb up to the museum is lung-expanding, but worth it. The lighthouse, built in 1824, is the 2nd highest light on the coast of Maine (highest is in Casco Bay). The Keeper’s House was saved from demolition by Monhegan Associates and turned into a museum featuring the art of the island’s most well known painters, interspersed among historical artifacts and photographs. Divided into two buildings, the bright art gallery launches a yearlong show each season, focusing on one major artist with ties to the island. The early 1900’s was the “heyday” of Maine as an artist colony, and many a famous name came out here to paint, among them, Rockwell Kent, Edward Hopper, Winslow Homer, N.C. and Andrew Wyeth. In later years, Jamie Wyeth and even Andy Warhol, along with other landscape artists, came to Monhegan to capture its beauty on canvas. The tradition continues. You cannot stroll a few yards without seeing an earnest painter at his or her easel.
Manchester: Southern Vermont Arts Center. Outdoor sculpture stands sentry on hills and in fields on your way up the winding drive to the SVAC campus encompassing several buildings, including a Japanese food café, a 400-seat theater, and artist-in-residence studios. Yester House, built in 1917 as the summer home of Gertrude Webster, is now a sunlit series of nine galleries on two floors that showcase the work of SVAC Members, local schoolteachers, and art instructors. While Yester House features the best landscape views, the museum/gallery’s piece de resistance of architecture is the Hugh Newall Jacobson designed Elizabeth Wilson Museum and Galleries (galleries, because each piece on exhibit is also for sale). The white New England churchlike exterior stands in sharp contrast to the floodlit contemporary interior, which features three important exhibits per year.
Brattleboro: Brattleboro Museum and Art Center. You’ll find something new each time you come to this non-collecting contemporary art museum within a repurposed train station. BMAC displays art of all kinds; fine, video, performance – as it pertains to contemporary art – and promotes artists on the fringes as well. Outsider, visionary, and “artists on the autism spectrum” are all featured here. Exhibits change three or four times a year, so there’s always something new to see.
Wilmington: Skip Morrow’s The Art Of Humor Gallery. Though a cartoonist since he was 22 (when he first saw someone laugh at one of his drawings), Skip Morrow’s claim to fame was his very first book published in 1980, I Hate Cats, which became a New York Times Best Seller. You can get a gander at his work (and possibly of him) and his gallery, studio and 2-bedroom B&B, off a dirt road, humorously named “Not-A-Road” just outside of downtown Wilmington. Morrow’s art fills the walls of several rooms on two floors. Though you might have planned to stop in for a few minutes, the cartoons – sort of Mad Magazine meets the New Yorker – drag you in and keep you entertained for much longer. The Art of Humor Gallery is “self-guided,” but outfitted with “Help” buttons to push if you require assistance (or want to meet the artist).
Bennington: The Bennington Museum. Most people come to this art and history museum to see the largest collection of Grandma Moses paintings in the world. But The Bennington Museum is branching out in new directions – adding more mid-century modern art and “filling in the blanks” about “Gilded Age” Vermont (1890’s – 1920’s), when an industrial boom drew an influx of wealthy mill owners. Also in Bennington - Bennington Center for the Arts/Covered Bridge Museum. Known for its offbeat classes – such as The Birds of Prey Carving Class – the Bennington Center for the Arts is also home to a series of galleries where most art is for sale. Don’t miss two galleries upstairs that house a well-rounded Native American Art collection
Manchester: Currier Museum of Art. Built in 1929, this eclectic museum holds a wealth of art and artifacts – with a concentration on New Hampshire furniture makers. The first classical building is flanked by contemporary additions, the latest called the Winter Garden, enclosing the original front entrance and incorporating a lovely café. You’ll find a bevy of New England artists – Gilbert Stuart, John Singleton Copley, Augustus St. Gaudens, Grandma Moses – and modern art’s usual suspects – Rothko, Calder, Hopper, Wyeth, and so much more.
Williamstown: Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute aka “The Clark.” Like any world-class art museum named after a person or family, The Clark’s foundation was based on a private collection. Sterling and Francine Clark; he a wealthy soldier/adventurer, she, a Parisian actress, amassed a trove of French Impressionist art. The “heart of the collection,” first exhibited here in 1955, remains the best of these impressionists, though after a much heralded $145 million expansion in 2014, there are many more treasures to be found here.
North Adams: MassMoCA (Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art). Housed in a restored 19th century mill complex, you’ll find massive sculptural, projection and painted installations from the likes of Sol LeWitt and Anselm Kiefer throughout a labyrinth of rooms. The 26-building compound, which once housed a textile dye factory, Arnold Print Works, known for its cutout Victorian cat and dog pillows, and then Sprague Electric (1930-1985), is now a cutting-edge world-renowned art museum, performance space, the fine Gramercy Bistro restaurant, book publishers, lawyer and accountant offices, and other repurposed spaces.
Salem: Peabody Essex Museum (PEM). Heralded as one of the top 20 museum in the USA, the Peabody Essex is also the oldest continuously operating museum in the country with the nation’s first collection of Asian Export artifacts, one of the best maritime collections and a top-ten children’s interactive museum. Following Independence, American ships were barred from most European ports, necessitating more far-flung expeditions. Our young and intrepid citizenry set course for unexplored lands, leading to trade with China and India, and creating fortunes for many. In 1799 a group of young merchants and explorers met over drinks to discuss the establishment of a museum to showcase collected artifacts from their world travels. The original Greek Revival Mariner’s Hall, built in 1825, still displays these early collections – and thousands more since.
Worcester: Worcester Art Museum (WAM). Walk through the Salisbury entrance of this magnificent, should-be-on-everyone’s bucket-list museum and right into Ancient Rome. The Antioch “Hunt” Mosaic – the largest Roman mosaic in North America, excavated alongside archeologists from Princeton and others – is just one astounding feature here. Perhaps you caught a glimpse of the Hunt Mosaic as Bradley Cooper and Christian Bale climb the Italian-Palazzo like stairs to the Rembrandt where they ponder, “who’s the master; the artist or the forger?” in the movie, American Hustle.
Rockport: Rockport Art Association. Established in 1920, this is one of the country’s oldest art associations, and still important to regional artists. With multiple buildings, the Rockport Art Association is much larger than it first appears. You walk in to a beautiful old home, encompassing a series of galleries, and then out the back door to a large barn-like structure housing much more.
W. Stockbridge: Norman Rockwell Museum. Rockwell was born in 1894 and died in 1978, bearing witness to both the first flight at Kitty Hawk and the Moon Landing – along the way illustrating Tradition and the Past while honoring the American Spirit.
Springfield: D’Amour Museum of Fine Arts. Situated in a 1930’s Art Deco building, this Museum (one of 5 within the Springfield Museums complex) has assembled the usual suspects – Remington, O’Keefe, Winslow Homer, European artists, etc. – and the country’s only permanent gallery dedicated to art created to grace the homes of the middle class, the lithographs of Currier and Ives.
Dennis (on Cape Cod): Cape Cod Museum of Art. With more than its share of famous artists, Cape Cod residents were irritated by the fact that much of what was created here was shipped off Cape into the hands of collectors. This beautiful sunlit soaring space was built to keep at least some key pieces of art “on Cape.” Two main gallery rooms – one featuring a soaring ship-hull ceiling –best reflect the 30 art exhibitions mounted each year.
Falmouth: Highfield Hall and Gardens. This “saved from the wrecking ball” mansion is open to the public as an art museum/gallery/cultural center, where paintings and sculptures mesh harmoniously with graceful architectural elements like floral and geometric stained glass, Majolica tiled fireplaces, crown molding, wainscoting, picture windows, and oriental carpets on hardwood floors.
Fitchburg: Fitchburg Art Museum (FAM). Industrial, depressed, in transition Fitchburg has a museum of art. Yes, you can laugh, but new management has breathed refreshed life into the realized dream of impressionist artist, Eleanor Norcross, who, in 1925, hired one of the first all-female architectural firms, Lois Lilley Howe, Eleanor Manning and Mary Almy to design the Fitchburg Art Center (now Museum).
Hartford: Wadsworth Atheneum. Opened in 1844, the Wadsworth is the country’s first public art museum, and has been on the cutting edge of art acquisition since its inception. It was the first American museum to display works by Salvador Dali, Joan Miro, Piet Mondrian, Max Ernst and others. And with over 50,000 pieces in a variety of galleries, the Wadsworth is a terrific place to wander and discover those that call to you. If Sol LeWitt is your man, you’re in luck, as his murals grace several soaring spaces throughout the museum.
New London: Lyman Allyn Art Museum. The 70-year-old neoclassical Lyman Allyn is set on 32 hilltop acres and showcases mostly Connecticut impressionists, art from the Hudson River School and other American artists. Don’t miss the centerpiece of “American Stories” Hall – a powerful portrait of town heroine Abigail Hinman, draped in velvet finery, holding a musket aimed at Benedict Arnold before he torched New London. With her husband away, she took it upon herself to assassinate the turncoat but at the crucial moment missed her shot, as her rifle was not loaded.
Old Lyme: Florence Griswold Museum. To keep from losing her home after the death of her husband, Florence Griswold began renting rooms to artists drawn to the brilliance and clarity of natural light in Old Lyme, CT – the “Lyme Light” as it was called. In the early 1900’s, Childe Hassam, Henry Ward Ranger, and dozens more moved in, creating America’s first Impressionist Art Colony and delighting Griswold by painting on her home’s paneling, cupboards and doors. Now a multi-acre complex, The Florence Griswold Museum encompasses the Georgian-Style main house, a contemporary metal-sheathed gallery building, a large barnlike studio and acres of gardens and plantings set on the Zen-serene Lieutenant River. Next visit Lyme Art Association. When a growing group of artists required a place to show their work, members of the newly established Lyme Art Association built a gallery in 1921 next door to Florence Griswold’s place. A weathered New England structure on the outside, it is still a marvel of sky lit rooms where art can be shown to greatest effect.
Stamford: Stamford Art Association Townhouse Gallery and Franklin Street Works. Side by side, in renovated row homes across from the Stamford UConn campus, these two art venues are “friendly” but separate neighbors. Stamford Art Association showcases the creations of local artists in two small galleries– changing shows seven or eight times a year – and all art is for sale. Relative newcomer, Franklin Street Works, focuses on contemporary, experimental, highly conceptualized multi-media works, arranged by professional museum curators in several galleries. An on premises café offers free wi-fi, outdoor seating, and potential for animated discussions about the meaning of life and art.
Beacon: Dia: Beacon. Formerly a paper factory on the Hudson River, glossed up and renovated for massive contemporary art installations in May 2003, the 300,000 square foot Dia: Beacon draws art students, historians and the merely curious to its soaring halls. Over two dozen masters of visual art from the 1960’s and 1970’s are featured in a space so vast it will take a relatively athletic person a couple of hours just to sprint through. Warehouse-sized galleries highlight minimalist Donald Judd’s simple wooden boxes, Sol LeWitt’s weblike drawings, Dan Flavin’s fluorescent light works, and the macabre body parts and spiders from Louise Bourgeois tortured imagination.
Buffalo: Albright-Knox Art Gallery. Since 1862, the Albright-Knox has been collecting “paintings while still wet.” Incorporating a 1905 Beaux Arts building (which boasts the second-most number of columns in the country – the first being the U.S. Capitol Building) and a 1962 contemporary addition, The Albright-Knox takes the long view of Modernism with strongest holdings in Post War American Abstraction.
Buffalo: Burchfield/Penney Art Center. Though he was the first artist chosen for a solo exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in NYC in 1930, most people have never heard of Charles Burchfield. But a visit to this 2008 LEDE-Certified museum, moved from Buffalo State College across the street, will change all that. Burchfield began his career designing wallpaper, and among the 30,000 objects of his here, you might just be mesmerized by Burchfield’s bizarre take on nature – a seeming mashup of Munch, Van Gough, and Audubon on hallucinogens.
Southampton/Water Mill: Parrish Art Museum. In 2012, the downtown Parrish Art Museum moved into its new expansive digs on 14 acres of meadowland on the border of Southampton and Water Mill. Architects Herzog & de Meuron designed the building to evoke the potato barns and sheds, subsequently converted into artist studios, so prevalent in this agrarian section of New York. The elongated rectangular structure, a longhouse of glass, poured concrete and wood, is airy and spacious inside, featuring naturally lit well-proportioned galleries, seven of which showcase a rotation of the museum’s 3,000 works, installed annually.
Nyack: Edward Hopper House Art Center. Over fifteen percent of the visitors who make a pilgrimage to artist Edward Hopper’s family home in Nyack NY are from abroad, emphasizing this iconic American artist’s global and enduring appeal. The modest whitewashed house now serves as an art center, exhibit space (for Hopper-influenced artists), jazz and movie venue. A tour will take you through three gallery rooms, where you’ll see some of Hopper’s and Nivison’s work and personal artifacts, displays of Hopperesque artists (e.g. David Lachapelle’s Gas Stations), and upstairs to his Hudson Riverview bedroom. It’s there you’ll discover the light through his windows that so informed his work.
Astoria/Queens: Noguchi Museum. Sculptor/designer Isamu Noguchi moved to Queens in 1961 due to the accessibility of professional stonecutters in the neighborhood, identifying the abandoned photo engraving plant, junkyard and gas station across the street from his studio as a place to showcase his designs to potential patrons. In 1974, Noguchi purchased the buildings, and renovated them into a zen-like series of galleries, which became a museum of his work in 1985. Until his death in 1988, Noguchi was an experimental and prolific artist, working in stone, ceramic, wood, metal and large scale landscapes. The courtyard garden, featuring Japanese flora (Cherry Blossom Trees) mixed with American plantings (Birch and Magnolia trees), is the museum’s most beloved space.
Long Island City/Queens: MoMA PS1. Set inside an 1890’s school building, this contemporary art museum is The Museum of Modern Art Manhattan’s much edgier sister. Three floors of thought-provoking and experimental exhibits, videos and other installations will keep you busy (and sometimes scratching your head) for a couple of hours.
Long Island City/Queens: Sculpture Center. Founded in 1928, Sculpture Center is the only contemporary art museum in New York City dedicated to sculpture, though it embraces other forms of related art as well. Moving over the years from Brooklyn to the Upper East Side and finally to this former 1908 trolley repair shop (still featuring tracks and pulleys in a soaring ceiling) in 2001, Sculpture Center houses dynamic works from emerging and underrepresented artists
Catskill: Thomas Cole National Historic Site. As founder of our nation’s first major art movement, The Hudson River School, Thomas Cole, the Father Of American Art, impelled citizens to visit and preserve our natural wonders (as opposed to fearing and avoiding the wilderness.) And like the region’s writers, Washington Irving (Legend of Sleepy Hollow, Rip Van Winkle) and James Fenimore Cooper (Leatherstocking Tales, Last of the Mohicans), Cole romanticized nature, viewing it as an expression of the divine. His home in Catskill NY encompasses his studio as well.
Hudson: Olana. At 19 years old, landscape artist Frederick Church, who went on to become one of the founders of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NY, was the youngest artist inducted into the National Academy of Design. (That distinction still stands). In the late 1870’s, the prominent artist planned to construct a French Chateau atop this hill overlooking the Hudson River, but a trip to the Middle East changed his mind. As a result, Church commissioned this Persian-style confection as home and studio, living here with his wife Isabel and their children. Church traveled the world and collected artifacts from all over, displaying pre-Columbian art from Mexico in his studio and framing fireplaces with carved teak from India. The dining room is the only place in the home without windows, placing emphasis on the work of Old Masters blanketing the walls. Church wanted guests to travel back in time 400 years and talk about the art over dinner.
New Windsor: Storm King Art Center. Billed as “American’s leading outdoor sculpture museum,” this undulating 500-acre expanse of lawn highlights massive masterworks in every conceivable material known to be impervious to the elements. You must be in decent shape to hike up and down hills dotted with 120 large-scale abstract sculptures, though you can jump on a tram that runs every 20 minutes.
Cooperstown: Fenimore Art Museum. Founded by the “other Clark” brother, Stephen Carlton Clark (whose brother, Sterling, founded The Clark in Williamstown MA) in his stately Georgian-style family home on Lake Otsego, the Fenimore is often overlooked in all the Cooperstown Baseball hoopla. It’s a sophisticated alternative for baseball widows (and widowers) who’d just as soon meander through galleries filled with fine, folk, decorative and Native American Art.
Katonah: Katonah Museum of Art. As a “non-collecting” museum, The Katonah curates ten exhibits each year, building programming and family events around works of contemporary art, furniture, found objects, collage and at times strange juxtapositions.
Hamilton Township: Grounds For Sculpture. The supreme vision of one prolific, extraordinary and eccentric contemporary artist, Seward Johnson, Grounds for Sculpture (GFS) can command the better part of your day (or days, really) as you stumble upon 270 outdoor works, some hidden “like Easter Eggs” in little secret gardens on 42 acres. Founded in 1992 as a non-profit outdoor museum, GFS is now populated by peacocks, statues, and ornaments of all kinds. From a provocative Kiki Smith bronze of a girl squatting and peeing (untitled), to Johnson’s favorite installation – a life-size “self-portrait” of himself as Monet painting a Victorian-era lakeside gathering – to wisteria and birch tree lined “allees,” on which to meander, all art is framed by nature.
Jersey City: Mana Contemporary. This is the most pristine, museum-like, collaborative, mixed use storage facility of its kind. Anywhere in the world. A brand new concept, championed by Moishe Mana and Eugene Lamey, who brought Moishe’s Moving to New York, Mana Contemporary has coalesced into a self-contained networking community for the performing and fine arts: Basically, a terrarium for artists and those who work with them. What began as a storage and shipping center has fast become a magnet for artists and art collectors – and now the public as well. Mana and Lamey asked high profile collectors, “why keep your artwork packed in crates when you can exhibit your collections for all to see?” So the partners built big, bright, gleaming galleries to showcase contemporary art welcoming the public to view it for free.
Chads Ford: Brandywine River Art Museum and Wyeth Artist Studios. The Brandywine River Valley is ground-zero for the prolific Wyeth family. Compare the work of all three generations of Wyeths in one place – NC’s cruder, prop-driven oils (he did not consider himself a “fine painter”), Andy’s photo-like detail with an almost tactile aspect, and Jamie’s stunning and whimsical work. Don’t miss independent tours of NC’s Home and Studio (built with commissions earned from illustrating Treasure Island, Last of the Mohicans and other books for Scribner Publishing), Andrew’s home studio, and the Kuerner Farm – the subject of many an Andrew Wyeth painting. Andy’s hideaway home/studio, a repurposed schoolhouse – was his “inner sanctum,” opened to the public after he died in 2009.
Reading: Reading Public Museum. Like all grand “park” museums – this one within a spectacular 25 acre Arboretum – Reading Public has a smattering of everything from ancient artifacts to modern art.
Reading: Goggle Works Center for the Arts. Not to be confused with “Google Works” (it happens all the time) this arts facility inside the guts of what was once Willson’s Goggle Factory houses dance companies, an indie movie theater, jewelry making, glassblowing and ceramic classrooms and a bevy of artist’s studios where you can meet those who paint, sculpt, photograph, and work in textiles, and then purchase directly from the artist his/herself.
Scranton: Everhart Museum. Built in 1908 in Nay Aug Park, this approachable “General Museum” runs the gamut of rocks and minerals, American Folk and African Art, and one of the largest collections of Dorflinger Glass in the country.
Butler: The Maridon Museum. A substantial collection of 20th Century Asian art is hidden, improbably, in a tiny western PA town on a very inconspicuous residential street. Mary Phillips (who married Big Oil heir, Don Phillips) lived in an unpretentious Butler home and never traveled farther than Atlantic City, NJ. But Phillips had a pert, intellectual mind and a penchant for collecting Asian art. The Phillips had no children, and knowing that, after her death, her survivors wouldn’t care about the jade, porcelain, and woodcarvings that she had amassed over the years, Mary built a museum (naming it after Mary and Don) in 2004 to house it all. She hired New York City based Asian art expert, Edith Frankel, to design and curate her collection, and was happy to visit her meaningful art in its new home until her death at age 88 in 2009. The Asian art collection at the Maridon is fascinating on many levels – the most elemental being its stunning beauty and fine craftsmanship. But you’ll learn a lot about Asian history and the importance of these figures as well, in the most unlikely of places. It’s a knockout museum worth a drive from anywhere.
Doylestown: James Michener Art Museum. An art museum named after the King of the Generational Saga? Yes, the man who wrote Hawaii and The Source had roots in Bucks County, though dirt poor ones, and apparently was an art collector since birth. When the Bucks County Prison closed in 1984, and a movement was afoot to repurpose it as a world-class art museum, Michener was pressed to lend his name as fundraising draw. Now considered “The Art & Soul of Bucks County,” the Michener Museum features the largest collection of Pennsylvania impressionists, thanks to a donation of 68 paintings from Gerry and Margaurite Lenfest in 1999.
Hagerstown: Washington County Museum of Fine Arts. This premier free-to-enter institution, one of only four accredited art museums in Maryland, is a gift to the community and to the world. Right off of I-81 and I-70 and just an hour from Washington DC and Baltimore, the WCMFA, first opened in 1931 (with several serious expansions since), has been drawing big city patrons for decades. In other words – there’s nothing “small town quaint” about it. Peruse its marble halls and gaze upon prestigious works of art, from Old World Masters to 18th and 19th Century American, original WPA Murals, Hudson River School paintings, a Guzman Borglum bust of Abraham Lincoln, and several Rodin sculptures, among a host of others.
Baltimore: American Visionary Art Museum. Students, laborers, dyslexics, misfits, recluses, mental health patients – and the rest of the unwashed, self-taught intuitive artists ignored by mainstream art world have finally found recognition at this unbelievably eccentric museum. My absolute favorite institution in Baltimore, The American Visionary Art Museum is filled with works produced from found objects, matchsticks, bottle caps, yarn, and lots of what other people would call “junk.”
Glen Echo: Glen Echo Park. Unleash your creativity (or put on your dancing shoes) at this former amusement park turned Performing and Fine Arts Center, where budding photographers, painters, silversmiths, jewelry-makers, sculptors, writers, musicians, actors, glass and clay artists, and ballroom dancers can learn from the best. There are over 1,000 classes to choose from – from short drop-ins to multi-month long series – for adults, kids, and teens, though just walking around the leafy acreage on a fine fall or spring day sparks joy. Glen Echo is now part of the George Washington National Memorial Parkway, one of the few National Parks that is arts-oriented, and managed by Montgomery County’s Glen Echo Park Partnership for Arts and Culture. In 2009, a $23 million renovation brought facades and interiors of buildings back to their original boldly colorful, geometric Art Deco grandeur. You can learn the art of wheel throwing and hand clay building in yurts run by Glen Echo Pottery. The former Crystal Pool- is now a glassworks studio. The entry towers, Candy Corner Concession, and other former ride offices have been turned into art galleries, studios, and drop-in-arts for kids.
Easton: Academy Art Museum. Though small, this museum is a vital community institution, with exhibits ranging from Art Academy member’s work to world-renowned artists’ shows. Considered a Regional Art Museum, the Academy is “dedicated to bringing great art to the Eastern Shore.” It also brings a lecture series, dance classes, concerts, workshops demonstrations and special events to its sunlit galleries and grounds
Wilmington: Delaware Museum of Art. Several structures make up this sunlit museum, with a concentration on “Art of Illustration.” Naturally, there are a number of Wyeth pieces, as well as those of N.C. Wyeth’s mentor and Wilmington native, Howard Pyle. The “Chihuly Bridge” – a windowed skywalk featuring a cluster of colorful glass art – is particularly striking.
Lynchburg: Maier Museum of Art, on campus of Randolph College. The building that now houses major works of art collected piece by piece over the last 106 years was actually built, in 1951, for a completely different reason. Three and a half hours from the nation’s capitol, Lynchburg was considered “outside the blast zone” in the event of an atomic bomb attack - and so what is now the Maier Museum was constructed as safe house storage for DC’s National Gallery. In 1983, the National Gallery finally released the museum to Randolph College for its own art collection (which had been scattered around campus). Established in 1891, the Randolph-Macon Women’s College (which went co-ed in 2007) began mounting yearly art exhibits, thanks to Art Professor and early champion of American Art, Louise Jordan Smith, who realized that though she couldn’t take students to New York, she could bring collections of modern art to this small Virginia town. Since 1911, the college has purchased one piece each year for its permanent collection, including Winslow Homer, Gilbert Stewart, Mary Cassatt, Milton Avery, Georgia O’Keefe, Edward Hopper, and plenty of others acquired “when the paint was still wet,” displayed in four beautifully lit galleries.
Alexandria: Torpedo Factory Art Center. Built in 1919 to manufacture torpedoes, this repurposed three-story building now houses 160 artists in 82 studios and galleries. It’s well worth an hour or two to engage with and purchase directly from glass, textile, paper-mache, yarn, metal and ceramic artists as well as painters and photographers in the very place they create.
Roanoke: Taubman Museum of Art. Designed by Randall Stout – an associate of Frank Gehry – and much in the organic Gehry style, the contemporary Taubman Museum of Art is as much an architectural statement as an art museum. Chief among the collection is John Singer Sergeant’s Norah, who, clad in a bustled black dress, stares alluringly from the canvas.
Lorton: Workhouse Arts Center. Prisoners made the bricks that built this reformatory in 1910, a place that “lower level offenders” would be assigned outside of the “terrible prison conditions in DC.” In 1917, suffragists, arrested for picketing in front of the White House, went on a hunger strike and endured a “Night of Terror” being violently force-fed: a episode that became one of the final straws in getting the 19th Amendment passed. By 2001, conditions here had deteriorated, prisoners were shipped off to Federal facilities, and the blighted property was sold to the county. Used by the Fire and Police departments as a training site, it was flooded, set on fire, and crashed into by buses and helicopters. In 2008, however, the facility found new life as an Arts Center, with gallery spaces, 65 artist studios, and art instruction. Now, over 800 classes in fine, performing, and culinary arts are taught here every year, along with concerts, brew-fests, July 4th fireworks, and a really, really scary haunted house in October. Each of the dozen or so low-slung buildings ringing a central courtyard houses artists in different mediums: Glass, Ceramics, Blackbox Theater, Art Gallery exhibiting juried art, etc. It would take you days to peruse everything, and meet each artist, so plan accordingly and give yourself lots of time.