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Museums: Fun, Fabulous and Sometimes FREE!

Posted by Deborah Nelson on Mon, Feb 23, 2009 @ 14:02 PM

© Deborah J. Nelson/Satin Stitches Ltd.

When I was a child, I was not a big fan of museums. I thought that museums were generally boring. They were endless collections of stodgy paintings or artifacts that I did not relate to. Or displays of fake animals in their so-called, natural habitats. Boring. I would not be surprised if this was the common perception of most teenagers. Large dinosaur bones and such, were just not my thing! I always enjoyed a limited variety of artwork, but the rest seemed to do nothing for me.

Thankfully-I finally grew up and realized that museums could be very exciting, along with being very informative.

Being a very visual person, I finally realized that museums provided lots of visual stimulation and inspiration, even if they were not specifically what I was interested in. I have found that there are so many interesting museums out there. The key is to find something to relate to what you are truly interested in. I enjoy historic fashion and costuming. I can find something fashionable in almost every museum. If there are no clothing pieces, there might be textures, shapes, or colors that are interesting.

One of the first museum exhibits that was not specifically fashion, that I found incredibly intriguing was an exhibit that showcased medieval crowns, jewelry and artifacts. It was fascinating to see the primitive workmanship compared to modern day jewelry making. The exhibit was about Pompeii, which was an interesting part of history.

The first exhibition that I viewed at the Costume Institute Gallery at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, was a magnificent exhibit of Diagliev, Erte, and the Russian ballet. I had never heard of either man. But after viewing this incredible display of stage costumes, I was hooked! I purchased the catalog from the show, and researched these two men further. I found that I enjoyed the lifework of Erte. Erte was an incredibly talented artist and designer. Erte is most famous for his elegant fashion designs in the art deco mode. His costumes and sets were featured in the Zigfield Follies of 1923 and many productions of the Follies Bergere. His sketches were fantastical, but the costumes featured in the exhibit really come to life, and were just as fantastical! Today, I have many books featuring the designs of Erte.

Besides the usual museums for fashion-The Costume Gallery at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the exhibits at the Fashion Institute of Technology and other various fashion and costume museums, I have enjoyed viewing costumes and fashions at many other locations. The Ringling Circus Museum in Sarasota, Florida, Olympic skating costumes at the World Figure Skating Museum in Colorado Springs, Colorado, Star Wars movie costumes at the Science Museum in St. Paul, Minnesota are just a few of the museums I have had the pleasure of investigating.

The Victoria and Albert Museum in London houses costume installations as with FIT, the admission is FREE! Other free options that I have enjoyed – countless little and not-so-little antique shops. I am not an antique lover, but I am fascinated with the interesting detail work on furniture, glassware, and especially on historic clothing. There are many hidden gems of historic clothing and accessory items that are fun to unearth. And you do not need to buy them- looking is sometimes all you need! I call these special finds- visual treats. I am a fan of Art Deco and Mid-Century Modern styling, but I can appreciate Art Nouveau, Surrealism, Op Art and many other historic art periods.

You never know where you might find little out-of-the-way or out-of-the-norm museums. Examples of these- I found a showgirl costume exhibit outside an exotic Vegas show. I happened upon fabulously ornate Fiesta gowns in a San Antonio mall store location while on a business trip. I read about, and then stopped by, the museum in Austin, Minnesota that tells everything you did not need to know about the meat product SPAM, including films of the famous Hormel Girls, who traveled the country with their song and dance show, promoting SPAM- yes they wore costumes! And of course all these historic stage costumes among the music paraphernalia at Hard Rock Cafes all over the world.

So, when you are traveling, or even just hanging out in your neighborhood, investigate the museums and special little shops. Some will charge moderate admission fees and some will be free. It is up to you to do some investigating to find visual treats for yourself to look at. You just might learn something too!

Where do you find these places? Look into the old fashioned Yellow Pages, local magazines, read your newspaper and walk down the streets of the old fashioned main street shopping areas, as well as searching on the Internet. Have fun investigating!

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