Inside the Peabody Essex Museum

Roy Mackenzie | August 4, 2016

In the heart of old historic Salem lies the Peabody Essex Museum (PEM), home to a world of art, culture, and creativity.  Full of unique and thought-provoking exhibits that will transport you through time and hemispheres, the PEM is the perfect blend of education and fun.  While you get to examine different cultures closely, you get to experience them with hands on exhibits that elevates the PEM above and beyond the traditional, stereotypical museum.

I walked into the expansive PEM, eyes wide with potential paths to be explored.  I wandered into the Sizing It Up exhibit (running through September 18, 2016), an installation examining the scale and size of objects in nature and art.  One piece featured that grabbed my attention was done by photographer Bryant Austin.  The picture was a gorgeous shot of a whale swimming in the ocean, captivating the real beauty of the ocean.  At the surface, you’d think he simply just took the picture as one would do with a phone.  There was a video where Austin explained he had to take a series of different shots of the whale and digital superimpose them, reinforcing the idea that our perception of something is a lot different than the scale of it.  After walking through some stimulating pieces, there were hands-on stations for kids (and adults) to put there theoretical applications into practice.  For instance, there was a chamber that housed a little garden, but you were allowed to creep underneath said garden and poke your head through.  By sticking your head through, you would get a different perspective and scale of the items -they would appear much larger than they actually were.

While Sizing It Up is an exhibit that is running temporarily, it’s certainly exemplifies the spirit of the PEM: you not only learn, but you experience the culture and art.  This is seen in their Yin Yu Tang Chinese House.  This part of the museum does cost an extra $5, but it certainly is worth it.  Walking through the threshold you feel as though you’ve been transported around the globe into China; you get to walk through and experience how the Huang family lived (Yin Yu Tang originally belonged to the Huang family).  The house was built in around 1800 and they’ve managed to keep around sixty to seventy percent of the original items.  The PEM actually received the house through a deal made with local Chinese authorities in an effort to help promote the culture and architecture of the Huizhou region to international audiences.  This is just another thrilling example of how at the PEM you’re not just seeing culture, you’re experiencing it.

Currently, the PEM is featuring the works of Rodin, the artist who created the famed sculpture The Thinker.  It was interesting to walk through the exhibit learning these rather whimsical facts.  For instance, his first public commission was in 1880 to design the front gates for the Museum of Decorative Arts in Paris, but the project was later cancelled perhaps because he entitled the project “Gates of Hell” (he was inspired by Dante’s Inferno).  Another rather intriguing fact I learned was that his work were based off real people.  So, he had models posed in the nude while he sculpted them…which seems rather alarming when you look at poses he made them do.

There is certainly a lot to see and experience at the PEM, and our pass admits two adults for $6 each Tuesday-Friday ($12 per person on the weekends), but keep in mind that children under sixteen are admitted for FREE.  Also, keep in mind there is a parking garage right next door that charges only $0.75 an hour – my GPS told me I was going to have to find street parking, but the garage is pretty big and easily accessible.