Connected \\ July 21, 2020
Embracing PEM once again
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.
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.”