An Afternoon at Isabella’s House…
The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
For me, the joy of the Gardner Museum is the immediate intimacy you feel as you walk through the front door — this is a home designed to be a museum, literally built with collected treasures. I like to think of it as an artist’s studio on a grand scale. In the Fall I heard that a new Wing for the museum would open this Winter. The thought of any changes to this gem of a museum caused me to question how this new space would visually and physically link to the existing spaces. Even more important, will I still feel that personal connection to the collection? A weekend trip to see my daughter in Boston was the perfect opportunity for a visit. So on a blustery Saturday afternoon Betsy and I set out to explore.
The exterior view of the new Wing, with its’ expanse of glass and muted green metal planes, stands in direct contrast to the early 20th century gray-brick house. The expansion houses the every-day functions for visitors and staff — a new entrance, a shop, a cafe, offices, and additional public spaces. As Betsy and I went about exploring, we realized how nice it was to have the new functional spaces separate from the existing home and collection. We specifically enjoyed the ‘living room’ with shelves full of books to read, colorful kilim carpets on the floor, and comfy places to sit — a space designed to rest and reflect (while we were there reading, two young girls had a delightful conversation about the museum with one of the staff members… great to see them comfortable and happy in a museum space!).
Betsy and I had a wonderful afternoon meandering through three floors of rooms and corridors … and are still in awe at the diversity of Isabella’s collections. We have mixed feelings about the new Wing,…we both agree that the overall experience felt a bit more like ‘going to a museum’ rather than being invited to someone’s home to view their treasures…as it had in the past. But we enjoyed, and happily used, the new public spaces. The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is definitely still on our list of favorite museums…if you get the chance for a visit you won’t be disappointed!
Thank you Isabella!
Tips for your visit to the Museum:
1. Don’t be afraid to bring along the kiddos…it looked like they had a fantastic hands-on program for children that included sketching, etc.
2. They had various tours and talks about the house and specific pieces in the collection.
3. Three floors to explore and each room is floor to ceiling full of art, furniture, and architectural pieces…be sure to take advantage of the laminated cards in each room that explain all the items you are looking at.
4. Military gets in free with a current ID. College students receive a nice discount with a current ID.
5. Best to arrive earlier in the day as it has become a popular destination…we saw a line out the door later in the afternoon.
6. Cafe G has a very tasty lunch (http://www.gardnermuseum.org/visit/cafe ) and although we didn’t have reservations we did get immediate seating at the ‘communal table’…which is a large table that seats 8-10. Lovely plants/flowers divide the spaces along the table so you do have a bit of privacy. The warm cinnamon donuts with champagne glaze were heavenly!
7. No photography is allowed in the actual museum, but you can take a notebook + pencil (not pen!) to document your visit by sketching or writing.
8. The website for the museum: http://www.gardnermuseum.org/
9. Last but not least…if your name is Isabella you always get in free!