11 Under-the-Radar New England Museums to Visit This Summer
Explore impressive museums along scenic drives across Maine, Massachusetts and Vermont.
Discover lesser-known and iconic collections, from French Impressionist pieces to innovative video art.(Getty Images)
New England is one of America's favorite vacation destinations for many reasons. One of them is that the region is filled with little-known and worthwhile museums. Eight of them have formed the "Maine Art Museum Trail" along 200 scenic miles. On the trail, you'll discover a museum within a lighthouse, plus artist Rockwell Kent's house and studio on Monhegan Island. And in Massachusetts and Vermont, four venues – the Clark Art Institute, Williams College Museum of Art, Bennington Museum and Williamstown Theatre Festival – have banded together and branded themselves as "Art Country." So if you're interested in exploring the robust and impressive collections across New England, check out these 11 under-the-radar New England museums this summer.
Monhegan Museum of Art & History
Monhegan Island, Maine
The Monhegan Museum of Art & History is within the historic Monhegan Light Station and includes artist Rockwell Kent's house and studio, occupied later by artist James Fitzgerald. This museum focuses on art works of the island painted by artists who have been visiting the isle for more than 150 years. They include three generations of the famed Wyeth family, Edward Hopper and Louise Nevelson.
Farnsworth Art Museum
This museum is celebrating the centennial of Andrew Wyeth's birth, one of the most famous 20th-century American artists, with five separate exhibits of his work. He summered in Maine with his father, renowned illustrator N.C. Wyeth, as well as his own son, artist Jamie Wyeth. The Farnsworth has works by them as well, as does the nearby Wyeth Center.
Center for Maine Contemporary Art
In a unique exhibition, "Linden Frederick: Night Stories," 15 celebrated writers created short fiction inspired by Frederick's nighttime paintings. These writers include three Pulitzer Prize winners and one Oscar winner. Another of its exhibits, "William Wegman: Reel to Real," features his pioneering 1970s video art, rather than his beloved Weimaraner dogs. The Center for Maine Contemporary Art, in the heart of Rockland's downtown arts district, is conveniently within walking distance of both the Farnsworth Art Museum and the Wyeth Center.
Ogunquit Museum of American Art
The museum and its 3-acre sculpture gardens overlook the Atlantic Ocean. This summer, the Ogunquit highlights one of Maine's most revered landscape artists, "John Marin: On the Verge of Wilderness." During four decades in the early 1900s, Marin painted Maine, which he described as "on the verge of wilderness." His show features 25 rarely seen works of the state's coastline. What's more, the Ogunquit's permanent collection has significant American paintings by Rockwell Kent, Marsden Hartley, among others, and also drawings, prints and photographs from the late 1800s to the present.
Peabody Essex Museum
The country's oldest continuously operating museum, founded in 1799, the Peabody Essex Museum has a wide-ranging collection, ranging from American and Native American art to Oceanic and African works. Its 24 historic buildings include a 200-year-old Chinese house, the only one displayed in the U.S. A major draw this summer is the "Ocean Liners: Glamour, Speed, and Style" exhibit. Its 200 works, ranging from decorative wall panels – including one that washed ashore on Nantucket from the sunken "Andrea Doria," paintings, photographs by Alfred Stieglitz and Edward Steichen, to vintage fashions and posters that recreate these 19th- and 20th-century "floating palaces." The exhibit is co-organized with London's Victoria and Albert Museum.
Clark Art Institute
The Clark has an outstanding collection of works by American masters Winslow Homer, John Singer Sargent and George Inness, plus a top-notch collection of French Impressionist artworks. The summer exhibit "Picasso: Encounters" showcases 35 of his large-scale prints, several on loan from Musée Picasso Paris. The Clark has two exhibits featuring Helen Frankenthaler's works. "As In Nature" focuses on her large-scale abstract paintings, while "No Rules" features her groundbreaking approach to woodblock prints.
Williams College Museum of Art
The "Robert Rauschenberg: Autobiography" summer exhibit stars Rauschenberg's monumental 1968 print "Autobiography." The composition includes an X-ray of his body, his astrological chart and a boyhood photograph. In another summer exhibition, "Lex and Love," Meleko Mokgosi "investigates the irresolvable contradiction that is democracy" in South Africa, with the country's diverse and distinct populations.
Smith College Museum of Art
You don't need to go to Italy to see ancient works displayed for the first time outside of Italy. "Leisure and Luxury in the Age of Nero: The Villas of Oplontis near Pompeii" focuses on lesser-known sites that were buried and preserved when Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 A.D. This museum's permanent collection of more than 25,000 international artworks, dating from antiquity to today, plus videos and new media, is open year-round.
Highfield Hall & Gardens
This Victorian mansion on more than five acres serves as a cultural center, offering international art exhibitions, concerts, festivals, cooking classes and family programs. Two shows feature fiber arts. "Once Upon a Quilt: 3-D Quilts by Dominique Ehrmann" is inspired by children's pop-up books and "Interwoven: Art Meets Nature" uses items from nature, and includes almost every form of fiber art, from weaving to basketry to silk painting to handmade paper.
This museum, which houses the world's largest collection of Grandma Moses paintings, has mounted a special exhibit of 60 of her works. Anna Mary Robertson "Grandma" Moses, who began painting only in her 70s, became one of America's most famous folk artists. Her 1953 painting of Bennington showcases the museum building. The museum now features the schoolhouse where she studied and a collection of her objects, including her paint-stained apron and painting table.
Sugar heiress and pioneering folk art collector Electra Havemeyer Webb founded the Shelburne Museum 70 years ago. Today, it has important paintings by American artists including Grandma Moses, Andrew Wyeth, Winslow Homer and John Singleton Copley. "Wild Spaces, Open Seasons: Hunting and Fishing in American Art," reflects these topics in both painting and sculpture, from the Colonial era to World War II. Plus, the exhibit displays major works by Winslow Homer, Thomas Cole, Thomas Eakins and other American masters.
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Edited by Liz Weiss.