If you haven’t visited Salem in awhile, clear your schedule for this worthy weekend distraction. Aside from the witches, ghosts and goblins that are brewing in town this month, something else big is up.
On Saturday, September 28, Salem’s Peabody Essex Museum pulled the velvet curtain back to reveal its highly anticipated, sparkling addition. And now, it’s open to the public.
The new wing seamlessly connects to the museum’s founding structure, the East India Marine Hall, and adds 140,000 square feet of gallery space. It’s the result of $125 million dollars and three years of hard work.
“PEM is undoubtedly unique by any definition, by any description,” says Brian Kennedy, newly minted PEM Director and CEO. “What you experience … in the three floors of the new wing is a window to the world.”
A Window to the World
Truly, that is what the museum has always served as. In a bustling port city like Salem, the Peabody Essex historically shared perspectives from seafaring travels, allowing locals to learn, however crookedly, about countries across the globe that they otherwise had no real access to.
In its new installations, the museum pays particular attention to how those perspectives may have been warped through privilege and colonialism.
For example, in the Asian Exports gallery, the installations and curatorial text explore the inequities of global trade during a heavily colonial era.
The museum also goes an impressive step further, examining its own culture and how some of its own pieces may not have been acquired and displayed historically with the right sensitivity.
Putting on the Glitz
A floor above Asian Exports, the Fashion and Design gallery is sure to draw crowds. Initial displays illustrate how style and design touch every aspect of our lives.
For example, a transportation display showcases shoes, bikes, horse saddles, snowboards and other objects that take us from one place to another. All of them require aesthetic and utilitarian engineering.
But, the most fabulous display in the gallery is that of the iconic wardrobe of New York businesswoman and fashion icon Iris Apfel. She has donated around 900 pieces to the museum over the last decade, and now, these glamorous outfits have a permanent display spot. Pieces will rotate on a yearly basis.
A Literary Spin
Hidden on the third floor is the Peabody Essex’s first-ever gallery devoted to the Phillips Library Collection. An inaugural exhibition, “The Creative Legacy of Nathaniel Hawthorne: Selections from the Phillips Library Collection,” features editorial and design works inspired by “The Scarlet Letter” author.
In one glass display case, cover art designs show how the outlook on Hawthorne’s work has changed with time. They’ve been taken from a selection of over 3,000 individual volumes in the collection. The exhibit also includes local Sarah W. Whitman, a famous female bookbinder in the 19th century.
The building project also includes a 5,000-square-foot garden designed by Nelson Byrd Woltz and a Maritime Art gallery. There are also upgrades to the adjoining galleries in the East India Marine Hall.
“We mean to go forward,” says Kennedy. “It’s a new chapter at PEM.”
Experience this new chapter for yourself — it’s a worthy weekend distraction. Bonus points if you take the commuter rail to utilize the $10 weekend pass.