Connected \\ July 21, 2020
Embracing PEM once again
Emily and Bob Wolfe wander through the PEM Main Atrium on their way to the Museum Shop, Emily in her fashionable mask. They are the first visitors to walk in the front door after the museum's closure on March 12 due to COVID-19. “I am sensitive to the coronavirus, so I said I want to be the first germ in there,” says Emily.
Emily and Bob Wolfe of Gloucester were the first to arrive when PEM reopened Thursday, July 16.
Museum members, generous patrons and contributors to the #WeArePEM campaign — which provided memberships to over 300 caregivers at North Shore Medical Center — enjoyed preview days Thursday and Friday, with a public reopening on Saturday, July 18. More than 150 people purchased timed tickets for Thursday. PEM staff members — in red “I Love PEM” T-shirts and PEM masks — helped visitors navigate the one-way direction into the front doors. “Welcome, come on in! We’re happy to see you,” says staffer Blair Evans Steck as a couple arrives.
Signage throughout the museum makes directions clear for visitors.
The Wolfes were most interested in seeing the critically-acclaimed exhibition Jacob Lawrence: The American Struggle, which has been extended through August 9 at PEM before it heads on a national tour. Bob explained that their family had many connections to the American Revolution. They have lived in the battle area of Yorktown, Virginia, and own a house in Gloucester Harbor where an ammunition ship bound for the British in Boston was captured by a Marblehead ship captain and the cargo was diverted to George Washington.
“That was moving and powerful and everyone needs to run and see that before it leaves,” says Emily of the exhibition. “You just can’t go in there and not realize the progress that has not been made in 200 years. Enough, enough, enough. I just feel the pain of the Black movement in that exhibit … it just floored me.”
Socially distanced visitors feast their eyes on the paintings of Jacob Lawrence’s Struggle series, which is on view at PEM until August 9.
Fixated on a panel inside the Lawrence exhibition, Maureen Rynn and her friend June Baer say they feel a special connection to the exhibition since they’re both from Lexington: the town that ignited the first battle of the American Revolution. The two were happy they made it in time to see the groundbreaking show before it departs for the Metropolitan Museum of Art. “It’s even more timely in our national turmoil to have this work so bold,” adds Rynn.
Occupancy numbers are monitored in the galleries, like here in Jacob Lawrence: The American Struggle.
Climbing up the staircase with two young children, Jill Nannicelli says the museum is one of their favorite places by far. The kids, she says, have especially enjoyed exploring Charles Sandison: Figurehead 2.0 with its sea of changing lights. “This is the first building we’ve been in so far, and we knew the Peabody Essex Museum would have every corner covered,” she says. The tissues to press the buttons in the elevator are helpful, and the kids had fun waving their hands to unlock the no-touch doors. “So far, it seems well-orchestrated,” she says, while looking out over the Main Atrium as visitors slowly trickle inside.
North Shore resident Jill Nannicelli and her two children meet PEM Director Brian Kennedy on the first day of PEM’s reopening.
Several visitors were grateful for an outing after months of quarantine. “This is the first thing I’ve done in a while other than grocery shopping,” says Macy Radloff of Boston, who met her parents for the day when they drove down from Maine to see the Lawrence exhibition.
Macy Radloff and her parents, Ann and Rob Radloff, inside a quiet Atrium.
Beverly Pajer says she was waiting for this day to be able to step back into PEM. She’s been staying connected to the museum through social media as a way to satisfy her art craving over the last four months. “There’s a connection with art and coming in person, reliving the history and story. It just hits you,” she says. She stands in front of a detailed portrait of Nancy Blood Story, an oil painting by an artist in New England that she says she wouldn’t normally stop by. “I’ve found a different kind of appreciation for the pieces, some that have been here for years,” she adds.
Visitors climb the one-way staircase from the Main Atrium.
After also taking advantage of PEM’s online experiences, such as a virtual tour of Jacob Lawrence, Jennifer Buchwald and her wife, Jennifer Bottomley, came to Salem from West Roxbury to see the exhibition in person. “It was great walking in the door thinking, we’re home,” says Bottomley.
Later, the two of them sat in front of the newly opened installation Peter Hutton: At Sea, excitedly taking in the film of a trans-Atlantic journey. “We wanted to be the first in the door,” says Bottemley. They were glad to learn about the members-only opening, adds Buchwald. “This is our first time out,” she says. “We don’t have to worry that there are going to be a lot of people out and we can just enjoy it at our pace.” The two had made lunch reservations nearby on a beautiful day.
Jennifer Bottomley and Jennifer Buchwald take a close look at pieces inside the new Asian Export art gallery. Photo by Alyse Diamantides/PEM.
Wearing matching masks, the pair made their way to the Asian Export art gallery on the second floor, taking in the extensive wall of delicate porcelain. Buchwald, a photographer, finds much inspiration for her work at the museum. “It blows me away,” she says of the intricate pieces of ivory in the gallery, before getting close to read one of the labels.
Colette Green and her husband, John, were also eager to get back inside the Asian Export art gallery. They’ve traveled to Japan and have spent several winters in China, but Colette says they’re always learning about the two countries. “This is the first day, and we wanted to get back right away,” she says, standing in front of the upper level of N.C. Wyeth’s Peace, Commerce, Prosperity. “It’s lovely to be back.”
Ann Nichols admires a painting in the Putnam Gallery of American art.
Nancy and Chris Wile took time exploring the new wing, which opened in September. “The last time we were here, it was mobbed. It was great to see it without crowds around,” says Nancy, adding that it was their first time out of their house in West Newbury. “We take in a little more each time,” says Chris as the two passed through the sunny garden as bees buzzed through the flowers and the waterfalls provided a soothing background.
Visitors enjoy the warm weather in the new garden — the first time the space has seen a summer in New England since its opening.
Staff members were also excited to be back. Volunteer PEM Guide David D’Entremont says he was looking forward to spending time in the new garden because it was the first time anyone had seen it in full bloom. “I haven’t seen it at this time of year,” he says. “A thing of beauty, of serenity, of loveliness. I want to take in the beauty of our garden.”
Piotr Gibas was visiting Salem out of a desire to learn more about Native literary son Nathaniel Hawthorne but then was pleasantly surprised to discover PEM and find the Asian Export art gallery and the Yin Yu Tang Chinese house. He teaches Chinese language and culture in Charleston, South Carolina, and has visited historic houses like Yin Yu Tang in China. Since he can’t travel to China this summer, he was pleased to spend time in the Asian Export art gallery, taking in the first European traders with China and the wallpaper owned by Scotsman James Drummond. “That was very, very interesting to me,” he says. “I think it’s odd that this is in Salem. At the same time, it is great.”
Visitors on the Michael Lin designed stairwell.
Longtime members Brian Player and his wife, Judy, made a trip up from Arlington to be able to visit PEM for the first time in months. “I love it, it’s timeless,” Brian says of the museum. “It’s great to be back in such a calm environment.” Standing inside Anila Quayyum Agha: All the Flowers Are for Me for the very first time, the couple gaze up intently at the floral sculptural chamber of light and shadow. The space, says Brian, reminds him of Islam's Hajj, an annual pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia. “As I stand here, I’ve walked around it three times,” he says. “But it makes me think of the courtyard, with the pilgrims all dressed in white.”
Brian Player and his wife, Judy, soak in the light and shadow of All the Flowers Are for Me.
Paula Marrero and her 14-year-old son Julien of Danvers came to see the new wing, as well as the Yin Yu Tang Chinese house. While his mother, a wedding planner, often organizes nuptials at the museum, Julien takes advantage of the time and has been exploring the museum on his own for years. “We’re glad to get out of the house and see anything as long as it’s safe and socially distanced, but definitely that the museum is alive again and the employees are here,” says Paula. “We’re glad to have some culture back.”
Julien Marrero, 14, enjoys wandering the museum by himself.
Additional reporting for this post by PEM Editorial Associate Alyse Diamantides. All photos by Kathy Tarantola/PEM.
In addition to the museum’s main campus, PEM’s Phillips Library Reading Room, located at 306 Newburyport Turnpike in Rowley, MA, reopened to the public on Thursday, July 16. To learn more details about opening hours and plan your visit, please see: pem.org/visit/library
PEM is open Thursdays through Sundays from 10 am to 5 pm. Purchase tickets at pem.org/tickets or by calling 978-542-1511. The health and safety of PEM’s staff and visitors is our highest priority. Timed tickets will ensure that occupancy levels remain low — a perk for museum-goers who enjoy quiet galleries — while enhanced sanitation measures and environmental health protocols will make you feel confident and safe during your visit. Complete details may be found at: pem.org/safety.