June 24, 2015 - Marc Allum
BBC Antiques Roadshow specialist Marc Allum visits the American Museum in Britain and dresses up for the occasion!
I love a museum that really involves and interacts with its visitors. The American Museum does just that. Before you even arrive, the leafy winding approach makes its glorious home of Claverton Manor feel like a personal voyage of discovery, a jewel at the end of a slightly determined personal desire to experience something that is both unexpected and well worth the effort of its splendidly isolated and beautiful rural setting. With two of my American friends in tow, they were quite plainly a little bemused by the existence of such a dedicated museum in the rolling countryside of East Somerset!
I’m a collector and within minutes of arriving my interest was piqued by a wonderful Haida argillite pipe, similar to one that I have at home.
Admittedly, I’m not one for reading the introductory boards, probably because I often tend to have a bit of a head start, but I do love a dressing-up box and it wasn’t long before I had adopted the garb of a rather demonic looking Pilgrim Father.
So, you can plainly see that within minutes of arriving I was already hooked, immersed in the museum and ready to spend the next few hours sampling the eclectic nature of the wide-ranging collection.
Room settings work well. One of my favourite museums is the Geffrye in East London, a highly tangible collection of English domestic interiors. This, for me, was one of the similar highlights of the American Museum. The experience of objects and furniture from different epochs, displayed in room settings in close proximity to the viewer together with helpful staff, is a wonderfully insightful way of enhancing the understanding of both American history and its close connection with British history too.
From the fine collection of quilts and textiles, to pressed glass, folk art and the culturally diverse representations of other early immigrants such as the Pennsylvanian Dutch, the museum covers a myriad of topics, ethnicity and Native American issues that emphasises the rich historical and racial diversity of the USA. The museum is a bucolic gem, the grounds are stunning and it has a rather lovely restaurant too!
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