With the exception of one major art institution, I have only worked at historic house museums. In my honest opinion, they’re the underdog of the museum world; a bit ignored, sometimes seen as boring, usually underfunded, and just overall unappreciated by the public at large. I bet most people don’t even consider them to be “real” museums. Geez…talk about marginalized. Poor old houses.
There is a proliferation of house museums, and if these places are not associated with a famous person or important event or a wealthy endowment, then they just fall by the wayside. Historic preservation is important. I strongly believe the built environment tells as much of a story as any other piece of history. I am lucky to have worked at two house museums that were saved specifically for their architectural merit. This is an area that became the main subject of my master’s dissertation, how can one study and value architecture in a museological context when it is supposed to be seen as a whole? You can’t just have bits and pieces. You need to experience a building as it was meant to be…with the ceiling above you, walls around you, the spatial feeling as you walk from room to room. Some of the first museums, like Skansen, were open-air or living history villages that recreated a way of life for modern audiences. I am sure some of you have heard of Greenfield Village or Colonial Williamsburg. And of course some of the earliest art museums displayed reconstructed period rooms, saving many interiors from demolished houses. But it’s just not the same.
It’s an interesting topic (well, at least to me, anyway) so starting this week I will be focusing on historic house museums, including a few I have personally visited. Don’t worry! This isn’t a permanent thing. My blog has existed for two and a half years now, and with the exception of a few that have been turned into folk art projects or are just plain weird, I realize I have never written about any real house museums so it’s about time I highlight some traditional ones. I hope you enjoy them!