Confession time: Don’t let this blonde hair fool you, I am a geek at heart. I love to learn, am fascinated by history and can usually be found with my nose in a book. All of this may contribute to my thorough captivation with museums. When I was younger and travelling with my family, my dad and I would always prefer visiting museums over my sisters’ choice of the closest shopping malls. And if we got our way, we would then have to be dragged out of said museums after hours of poring over each exhibit and their placards. I have visited museums all over the States and Europe, from the big and famous like the Getty, Smithsonian, Uffizi and Rijksmuseum, to the lesser known and smaller ones like The Titanic museum in Branson (a personal favorite by the way).
Although, I appreciate the plethora and diversity available at the larger museums, I have found I almost prefer the smaller, more focused ones because often times the experience feels more personal than viewing art and artifacts in the more massive spaces of the larger collections.
It’s been over a year since I visited the Morgan Library & Museum with my sister and yet the memory has stayed with me. It is housed in what was once J.P. Morgan’s private library and study, which was separate from his home.
Obviously, any museum which centers around books is going to attract me and as I perused original manuscripts and leather-bound first edition books by every famous author you can imagine in Morgan’s personal study I was in awe. Oh, and completely envious of such an irreplaceable collection. But, as we moved from the study to the library my delight grew.
This collection is not just relegated to books, but extends to art, prints, original drawings, music scores as well as artifacts, like jewels, pottery and more from as early as the B.C years. We saw a Gutenberg Bible, some rare illuminated manuscripts, artwork by Michelangelo, Rembrandt, Durer (whose home in Germany I was once privileged to visit), Rubens, Picasso and others. Original scores, some unfinished by Beethoven, Brahms, Mozart and more. Robert Burns original poems were there as well as Percy Bysshe Shelly’s notebook. I couldn’t help but view these items in reverence realizing that I was looking at pieces which these famous figures had handled, created and agonized over. This type of personal experience is one that makes history come alive.
One particularly moving moment was when I stumbled across an original letter from John Adams to George Washington written during an important battle of the Revolution. I will admit I got teary standing there realizing the significance of these two men and their contribution and that this original letter could have played a part in securing the freedom of the country I love so well. Does that make me a dork or patriot? I’ll let you decide.
Beyond the collections assembled, the interior space itself is a work of art and feels rich and alive, enhancing and adding gravitas to the items displayed.
The museum also offers temporary exhibits which change occasionally. We were privileged to see well curated showcases on both Ernest Hemingway and the book Alice in Wonderland. We both enjoyed getting a deeper and detailed look behind the well-known author as well as the well-loved story. Each display included personal letters, pictures and drawings which added depth to the knowledge and familiarity of both.
I would be remiss not to mention, that this one of a kind experience began before we even entered the museum. We visited on a Friday night and were delighted to find a very contemporary well lit space with a small cafe which offers delicious and well-prepared light meals. The ambiance was enhanced by a small string quartet which played as we ate.
All in all, the Morgan Library and Museum is a rare little gem and one of my favorite recent experiences. If you happen to find yourself in Manhattan and want to avoid the crowds while exposing yourself to some culture found off the beaten path, then I highly recommend the Morgan.
(Please excuse my lack of photography skills.)