Museums

Museums & exhibits not to miss

[This is a slightly different version of a story we prepared for USA TODAY ]

As communities begin lifting COVID-19 restrictions, many museums around the country are finally able to reopen their doors.

Reserve a ticket, venture in, and you will find that your favorite artifacts have been waiting patiently for your return. And that museum staff have used their ‘time off’ to mount new exhibitions and create new experiences.

Many free museum admission programs are back too.

“While the museum visit may look a little different, whether that be enhanced cleaning procedures or wearing masks,” says Laura Lott, President and CEO of the American Alliance of Museums (AAM). “Visitors can expect a safe experience in which their curiosity is sparked, and they feel reconnected to their communities.”

Here are some museums where you can start getting reconnected.

Pawns and Passports at the World Chess Hall of Fame in St. Louis, MO

Courtesy World Chess Hall of Fame

To inspire travel planning, the World Chess Hall of Fame in St. Louis, MO makes a move with “Pawns and Passports.” The exhibition features more than 50 chess sets celebrating the popular culture of different regions. Included is a Russian chess set made from ancient mammoth ivory and an elegant Chinese puzzle ball set, with carved concentric spheres. Exhibition dates: June 3, 2021 – January 30, 2022. Bonus: A virtual tour of the exhibit will be available.

Driven to Win: Racing in America at the Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation. Dearborn, MI


Courtesy Wes Duenkel Motorsports Photography

The sprawling Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation in Dearborn, MI is now open daily and revved up with a new permanent exhibit about American auto racing.

Driven to Win: Racing in America celebrates stock cars, sports cars, drag racing, land-speed racing, and more, with plenty of interactive displays, historic race cars, and racing simulators.

The 80-acre outdoor Greenfield Village reopened April 17, but only Thursday-Sunday for now, due to the pandemic.

Bonus: The longing running Motor Muster in Greenfield Village returns on Father’s Day Weekend (June 19-20) in Greenfield Village.

Kusama: Cosmic Nature at the New York Botanical Garden. Bronx, NY

Dancing Pumpkin, by Yayoi Kusama © YAYOI Courtesy of Ota Fine Arts and David Zwirner

A celebration of the wonderfully imaginative artwork of Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama, who has a lifelong fascination with, and whimsical view of nature, runs through October 31, 2021, across the 250-acres of the New York Botanical Garden. The Kusama takeover includes new, monumental sculptures, expansive floral installations, and soon, a new Infinity Mirrored Room experience.

Bonus: A variety of special programs accompany this exhibit, including weekend pop-up performances and activities for kids.

SOLDIER/ARTIST: Trench Art in World War II at the National WWII Museum, New Orleans

Courtesy National WWII Museum

In New Orleans, the National WWII Museum‘s exhibit “SOLDIER |ARTIST: Trench Art in World War II” presents more than 150 artifacts exploring the unique military pastime of creating art, souvenirs, and tools out of the discarded materials and waste of war.

The collection ranges from ashtrays and jewelry to radios and musical instruments made by prisoners of war. Through January 2, 2022.

Bonus: The art deco Higgins Hotel, on the museum campus, helps tell the WWII story with artifacts, artwork, photography, and personal story plaques.

The American Struggle, by Jacob Lawrence, at the Seattle Art Museum

Panel16, 1956, Jacob Lawrence, from “Struggle: From the History of the American People.” Private collection, ©2021The Jacob and Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence Foundation, Seattle / ArtistsRights Society (ARS), New York.

Jacob Lawrence’s revolutionary, 30-panel series, “Struggle: From the History of the American People,” painted between 1954-1956, is reunited for the first time since 1958 in a touring exhibition at the Seattle Art Museum (SAM) through May 23, 2021.

The modernist paintings depict pivotal moments from the American Revolution to westward expansion, with Black, female, and Native Americans in central roles. This is the only West Coast venue for the show. It moves on to the Phillips Collection, in Washington, D.C. from June 26 to September 19, 2021.   

Bonus: SAM has paired this exhibition with artwork by contemporary young artists that responds to Lawrence’s work and addresses the ongoing American struggle.

#HastagTheCowboy at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum, Oklahoma City

Courtesy National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum

During the shutdown, the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City handed over the reins of its social media account to the facility’s head of security, Tim Tiller.

The internet went wild.

“People from all around the world were drawn to Tim’s positive messages and a chance to learn something about the history and art of the American West,” says museum president and CEO Natalie Shirley.

Now that the museum has reopened, there’s a #HashtagTheCowboy exhibit that includes Tiller’s selfie-famous coffee mug and some of the gifts and art sent in by fans.

Bonus: The museum will be holding its annual Chuck Wagon Festival May 29-30, 2021, with chuck wagon and Native food samples, artist demonstrations, Western reenactors, and more.

Virtual museum experiences not going away

During the pandemic, virtual exhibitions and experiences were the only way many museums could connect with their audiences. There were challenges and some upsides.

“Responding to the challenge of the pandemic, we reached 7 million virtual visitors through live, guided programs and on-demand content in 2020,” said Kyle Young, CEO of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville. “This is something we will continue to do.”

Photo by Bob Delevante.   Courtesy Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum).

In fact, the museum just unveiled two new free-to-access online exhibitions.

Suiting the Sound: The Rodeo Tailors Who Made Country Stars Shine Brighter, explores the artistry of Western-wear designers whose couture designs helped create country’s music’s “rhinestone cowboy” image.

Dylan, Cash and the Nashville Cats: A New Music City  explores Bob Dylan’s 1960s Nashville recordings, the role Johnny Cash’s groundbreaking television show had in expanding the perception of Nashville, and the ace session musicians, known as the “Nashville Cats.”

Bonus: The museum is offering a variety of educational programming, including a collaboration with Nashville Fashion Week. Check the website for details.

Free Museum admission

Although the pandemic made deep dents in non-profit budgets, many museums reopen with their free admission and discount programs intact.

Others continue to participate in programs offering free museum passes.

Blue Star Museums offers free admission for active-duty military personnel, including the National Guard and Reserves and their families.

Other programs offering free admission include Museums for All (for SNAP program participants), Bank of America’s Museums on Us program (for those with Bank of America or Merrill credit or debit cards), and the North American Reciprocal Museum (NARM) Association, with more than 1000 art and cultural institutions that honor membership cards from other institutions in the network.

Bonus: Smithsonian Magazine Day, which was canceled in 2020, returns on September 18, 2021, with free admission passes to more than 600 participating museums, gardens, zoos, and attractions.

What we’re watching: Museum Masterpiece Moments

Yayoi Kusama’s “Pumpkin” at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden

We are getting ready to get on the road. And we are making a list of museums we want to visit and art we want to see.

So we were pleased to find the “Masterpiece Moments” series of short, 5-7 minute videos that Bank of America started putting out in January.

The features showcase works of art in the collections of 25 museums across the country. And there’s a new video rolling out every two weeks.

Here are just a few of our favorites. You can sign up to get alerts when a new video is released and see the full list of participating museums here.

Travel Tidbits from airports & museums

Happy Friday! Here are some travel tidbits we’ve been keeping in the inbox all week

Fresh murals at Charlotte Douglas Int’l Airport

CLT Airport is greeting passengers on Concourse C with four new murals by two local artists

Amy Bagwell’s two murals “Our Days” at gates C4 and C7 were inspired by her travels through the airport.

And Ruth Ava Lyons’ “Interplay I” and “Interplay II” at gates C10 and C15 focus on the wonder of the natural world and issues surrounding the delicately balanced constellation of ecosystems worldwide.


The Places We’ll Go: World Chess Hall of Fame

We’re making lists of places we’ll go once we can go places.

On the list: The World Chess Hall of Fame, in St. Louis, MO.

Not only is the World Chess Hall of Fame home to the World’s Largest Chess Piece (20 feet tall), but through May 16, 2021, the museum is hosting an exhibit of work by Keith Haring. In addition to Haring’s works and photographs of the artist, the exhibit includes bespoke street art chess sets from Purling London and newly-commissioned pieces by Saint Louis artists, all paying homage to the late pop culture icon.

Museums are opening across the country

Are you ready to visit a museum? If so, it’s a good bet you’ll find a museum near you that’s open, or getting to ready to open its doors to the (masked ) public again soon.

Here are some of the museums we’ve got on our list.

Seattle’s Museum of Flight

It was cute when animals from Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo got to visit the Museum of Flight. But we were still jealous. Now we’re happy people can visit the museum too.

Can’t make it? Don’t worry. The museum’s collection can be viewed online. In the artifact section, we found this talking GI Joe Astronaut from 1970.
“When his dog tag is pulled, GI Joe narrates his way through a lunar mission, from liftoff to Moon landing to splashdown.”

Philadelphia’s Mütter Museum 

The Mütter Museum is a medical museum with far-ranging collections of anatomical specimens, models, and medical instruments. Einstein’s brain is here. And so is a specimen from John Wilkes Booth’s vertebra.

We’ve spent a lot of time with Memento Mütter, the museum’s online exhibit of more than 60 items from the Museum’s collection, about half of which are not on public display.  If you check it out, be warned that the paper mache eyeball is one of the least alarming objects you’ll see.

Now that the museum has reopened, there’s a new exhibit of photographs by Nikki Johnson, who got to go behind-the-scenes at the museum and create still-life photos of items that intrigued her.

Fashioning Art from Paper at Louisville’s Speed Art Museum

A new exhibit at the Speed Art Museum in Louisville, KY features life-size costumes that look like fabric but are actually made from paper. Beginning in 1994, Belgian artist Isabelle de Borchgrave started creating these incredible paper works. She ended up with four collections ranging from the fashion of Elizabeth I to 20th century Venice and tributes to famous artists like Picasso and Matisse. All four collections are part of this exhibit.

The museum made a video of the ‘unboxing’ of some of the dresses in the exhibit.

SFO Museum presents Early American Motorcycles

Flying Merkel twin-cylinder racer 1912- courtesy SFO Museum

If we can’t fly anywhere right now, how about a ride on a motorcycle?

A new exhibition by the SFO Museum at San Francisco International Airport (SFO) explores the history of motorcycling from the 1890s to 1915. On display are fourteen motorcycles that were made prior to 1916, rare engines, and photographs from the pioneering era of motorcycling.

Harley-Davidson Model 6  1910 – Courtesy SFO Museum

From the exhibition notes:

Along with the automobile, the motorcycle was one of the earliest and most exciting applications of another new invention, the gasoline-powered internal combustion engine. Motorcycle technology progressed rapidly during the early 1900s, and as motorcycling gained traction, riding evolved from a novelty to a hobby, sport, and reliable source of transportation. By the 1910s, there were approximately 100 motorcycle manufacturers in the United States, all vying for consumer attention with distinctive attributes and designs.

Today, early American motorcycles are prized by collectors around the world who showcase their bikes on vintage rides, endurance runs, and at special events.

Here are some photos of the motorcycles on display in the Early American Motorcycles exhibition in the International Terminal of San Francisco International Airport. The exhibition will be on view through September 19, 2021.

Jefferson twin-cylinder racer  1914 – Courtesy SFO Museum
Pierce Four Cylinder 1911- Courtesy SFO Museum
Two women on a Pierce Four and sidecar  c. 1910
Courtesy of Pierce-Arrow Museum