If you are a regular reader, you know that most pathways along our travels lead to some museum… thus my mother-in-law joining cyber space lead to none other than a museum: The Rhode Island School of Designs’ Museum of Art.
Let’s back up a couple of weeks. Being elected Senior Warden of Vestry at her church, she was supposed to be in charge of meetings. Of course, the ministers and other vestry members all communicate via e-mail, as phones and letters do not seem to be sufficient, let alone waiting for a copy of the minutes. While visiting another third of her children, she purchased an Apple computer, which two thirds of her children are fond of. Rhode Island, being a compact state, has but one Apple store, in the Providence Mall. As one third of her children is a fan of the lessons and tutorial help at the Apple store, this required a trip to Providence to the Mall to locate the store.
Recently, Wickford Junction Station was built, allowing train travel from the bedroom communities of the state to the big city. We cannot resist a train ride, so as long as we had to go all the way to Providence (30 minutes away), we might as well learn how the train works. The station in Providence is just across the street from the Mall. How convenient. And, as you guessed, just a few blocks away is RISD. Given that Malls are the least of our interest in travel, once we mapped out the Apple store, at all of 10:15 a.m., we had some time to fill before the train home at 3 p.m. museum’s calling.
We walked down the hill, across the river, and up another hill to the 4th floor entrance from Benefit Street, which of course is two levels below the upper galleries, and four levels above the gift shop. The museum is best taken at a leisurely rate, which is also good for enjoying the wide range of paintings and sculptures, which span the past 4,000 years of history.
The concept for RISD began in the 1850’s, by the Rhode Island Art Association. The Civil War would provide the background for wealth in the state, which had the most industrialized economy, thus factories to make any number of Union Army supplies. During reconstruction, these factories were retrofitted to make the stuff a nation needs to expand west and rebuild the southern regions. That lead to a concentration in wealth in the region, which was ready to collect art from eons of history, especially after WWI when European countries sold collections for ready cash.
A series of donors accumulated then passed on personal museums of Egyptian, Greek, and Roman antiquities. Others, added Asian art, and European pieces from the medieval churches through the Renaissance, Impressionists, to Abstract Expressionists and Op Art styles. Given that the mission of the school has always been to provide students with experiences that they can take to the workplace to add design to function, many of the pieces go beyond grand artistic expressions.
Someone studying clothing fashion can view Greek vases, Dutch crucifixes, colonial American portraits, or 1960’s dresses in various galleries to develop ideas for how gentry and commoners adorned themselves. Or, someone studying facial expressions could sit in the Grand Gallery for days, examining the hundreds of faces in portraits and mythological scenes hanging on the walls. If you are lucky, someone with musical talent might sit at the grand piano to provide a private recital. Someone studying living space designs could deconstruct each of the rooms, displaying a different era of American home design, in the Pendleton House, which was the original turn-of-the-20th-century home for the museum.
Unfortunately, you cannot view all 84,000 pieces in the museum’s collection. But, the few hundred pieces on displayed over several floors in the conglomeration of buildings and galleries are worth a few hours. We hit saturation point just before the large, modern images that we all interpreted as the caulk board scrawled on by the after-school-detention students in defiance of being held over for unruly classroom behavior.
Instead, we adjusted our attitude with a filling lunch at the Fat Belly Irish Pub a couple of blocks away. With a Boston Bruins hockey game being replayed and snow billowing outside, we were warmed with stew and image of art in our heads. The walk back to the station was a bit blustery, but a cup of hot mocha awaited us while we waited for the train back to Wickford. Next time you hear “All-A-Board” for the train, know that a museum awaits you somewhere down the line.