History is front and center in Massachusetts. I learned more of this when I visited a beautiful museum, the Addison Gallery of American Art in Andover, MA. It is a hidden spot that many people may not know about but is very worth seeking out. This year, they are celebrating their 90th anniversary and the staff, as well as the community, have expressed significant pride for this triumphant milestone. I was very happy that I could witness the art and history that lives within the building. Staff members Robin Matses and Joseph Antanavich made the historic stories come to life and piqued my interest.
The museum was founded by Thomas Cochran, an alumni of the Phillips Academy, which is a prestigious private school in Andover for grades K-12. The museum opened in May 1931 with approximately 400 works and has been introducing students or visitors to rare art ever since. With the support of many generous donors, the museum stays open to the public and has now acquired more than 23,000 works of art in the collection.
I saw contemporary art, historic sculptures, unique cultural creations, and even curated artifacts that had been resurfaced for the anniversary only. I came on a perfect day to visit the Addison. My guide Joseph emphasized the importance of many rare pieces that were being displayed simply because of the anniversary. I felt very lucky to explore the museum on the day that I did.
The Museum Learning Center contained new materials such as correspondence letters from artists, their sketches, and even architectural plans. There was so much to see, and too much to absorb in just one visit. I could not stop taking photos of each preserved and curated artifact, documents, and manuscript because I was in awe of their age and antiquity. The library archival exhibit was beautiful and had its own ladder to climb on to reach the top shelves. There were even crafted boats from the 1800s.
The downstairs section presents many more of these handcrafted vessels; they are very realistic and a good example of the transportation used at that time. It was difficult to imagine an artist who had the patience to create such small wooden replicas for ships like the New Bedford Whaler, which I read was the only surviving fleet of the whaling vessels in 1841. This example told the story of the ship itself and how the town of New Bedford was recognized. This explains the power of that art, why it is important that we preserve it, and continue to share their stories.
What really impressed me was the pieces of the large-scale sculpture that artist Mel Kendrick created. He was intrigued by objects that presented an intensity captured by minimalism. I read that he did not believe in narrative and illusion in favor of work that was self-contained, and this led to the development of his unique and endlessly creative sculptures. I found some very interesting pieces that appeared to merely be wood, and paint. On closer inspection, the construction of each of these elements transformed into a representation of the body. Each museum caption brought new meaning to the works of art.
Kendrick had a fascination with bringing “drawing into sculpture.” He used printmaking to construct his sculptures. For his woodblock drawings, he cut through stacks of plywood sheets, to make shapes, patterns, and lines. Each intricate wooden sculpture held deep emotion. The sculpture on the wall was huge and contained obviously distinct patterns. I could picture the wood that he chose and the workshop he toiled in to make the artwork. One massive piece had its own designated room. Kendrick claimed, “what you see is what you see,” and he explored a lifelong interest in sculptures, emphasizing physicality and materiality.
As you can see, I learned numerous stories, history, facts, and more by visiting the Addison Gallery of American Art. I also got some amazing photos! It is a museum worth visiting because of all you can learn and the world-class art that you get to appreciate. I cannot wait to visit again.