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Trains, dolls, and toys – Oh my!

August 8, 2014

Every year, thousands of elementary school students flock to Wenham for an exciting field trip.  Unlike other field trips full of “No touching” rules, buddy systems, soggy boxed lunches, and the dreaded trip-related homework assignment, this trip is one to look forward to.  It’s to the Wenham Museum, a North Shore gem whose amazing collection features an array of toys, dolls, games, and so much more.

DSC_0357This week, we made our own field trip to the Wenham Museum.  The museum strives to “protect, preserve and interpret the artifacts of childhood, domestic life, and the history and culture of Boston’s North Shore” and does so in a way that’s interactive and fun for kids of all ages.  The museum fosters and encourages every child’s desire to touch and play with their surroundings while managing to protect their priceless collection.  The museum’s current exhibit, The Art of the Artifact: Art Inspired by the Wenham Museum Collection (on view through August 24th), which features art by local artists inspired by the museum’s collections, features fun games for kids to play.  Families are also encouraged to make their own art inspired by the exhibit right in the gallery! 

Another exhibit, Those Lazy, Hazy, Crazy Days: Summer Fashions (on view through September 14th), features a costume trunk full of dress-up clothes for children to make their own crazy summer fashions.

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DSC_0368The Museum’s gallery space also features a world-renown doll collection featuring fashion, baby, and mechanical dolls from around the world.  At the center of the doll displays is the International Doll Collection, home to a collection donated by Elizabeth Richards Horton in 1922.  A former resident of the Museum’s Claflin-Richards House, Mrs. Horton would write to various celebrities, heads of state, and officials for donations to her growing doll collection.  Mrs. Horton’s dolls traveled around the world as a traveling exhibition (proceeds from which were donated to charity).  The collection, on permanent view in the Museum’s Osgood Gallery, features dolls from Queen Victoria, Czar Nicholas and Czarina Alexandra, and many more notables from the 19th/20th centuries.  

DSC_0384The biggest piece in the Museum’s historical collection is the Claflin-Gerrish-Richards House, one of the earliest-built homes on the North Shore and the former home of Mrs. Horton.  The house features 4 rooms decorated to showcase how families lived from the First Period (1625-1725) to the Victorian Era.  We took a tour of the house and it was fascinating to see how family life changed throughout America’s early history as well as see the centuries-old architectural details.  Guided  tours of the Claflin-Gerrish-Richards House are available weekdays at 11am and 2pm and weekends at 11:30am, 1:30pm, and 2:30pm.  The House is also open for 17th Century Saturdays (the first Saturday of the month, June through October).

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wefrgPerhaps most exciting at the Museum is the train room.  Located downstairs, the Bennett E. Merry Train Gallery features numerous miniature towns – all with trains that run through the towns at the push of a button.  The detail put into these model towns is astounding.  Every time we visit the Wenham Museum, we find a new little scene that we had never seen before: house fires, weddings, a little movie theater showing the Bogart/Hepburn classic “The African Queen.”  What scenes will you find when you visit?

Also located downstairs at the Museum is the Family Discovery Gallery, another interactive space for families.  Currently, the gallery features the exhibit Our Amazing Brains: How We Learn Our Whole Lives Through (on view through September 28th) which explores the different parts of the brain and how our brains develop through various games, puzzles, and activities.

A day at the Wenham Museum is not a day of looking at untouchables behind glass – it’s a day of adventure and play.  This play teaches children in a fun and interactive way while fostering a future interest in museums and history.  So what are you waiting for?  The museum is open Tuesday through Saturday, 10am to 4pm* (6pm on Thursdays) through September 16th.  Be sure to check out their event calendar to learn more about the Museum’s fantastic events and programs.

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