Springfield Museums Offer a Summer Finale of Educational Fun

Last Days of Summer at the Springfield Museums

We’re down to those last, bittersweet weeks of summer before fall routines gets re-established and school begins, and most of us have had that week’s vacation away elsewhere. So it may be a good time to plan a family day trip. Here’s my thoughts about what’s fun and educational at the Springfield Museums during these last few weeks of summer. For adults there’s the Tiffany Trail and for kids, a toys and games and Seuss trail.

The Tiffany Trail, which coordinates exhibits at 3 of our 4 museums, has been our main summer show. It’s a great opportunity to view the variety of work produced by Louis Comfort Tiffany and his New York Studio. At the D’Amour Museum of Fine Arts you can see “Tiffany Lamps: Articles of Utility, Objects of Art.” Enter a cool, low-lit gallery full of his lamps in botanical shapes, unexpected textures and glorious colors – all made from glass. One thing I like is that right away you’re oriented to the craft involved; two cases at the beginning of the show feature samples of the glass used in the pieces and the process of joining those pieces together to make beautiful and useful objects –not unlike a jigsaw puzzle. Large format photos show the Tiffany Company workshops and sales rooms in New York, period newspaper advertisements show how much the lamps cost in their heyday, and there are pictures of some of the botanical inspirations used in the work. This show closes on Sept. 9th.

As you cross the Quadrangle on the way to the George Walter Vincent Smith Museum, you can visit the Dr. Seuss Sculpture Garden and sit in the Story Teller’s chair. Kids can check out some of their favorite Seuss characters, including a life-sized Horton. It’s a great spot for taking family pictures, so bring your camera.

Why Seuss in Springfield? Theodor S. Geisel – and yes, the S is for Seuss, his mother’s maiden name – was born in Springfield in 1904 and he grew up here. His dad ran the zoo in Forest Park and the family lived in that neighborhood. Dr. Seuss went to high school right across the street from the Museums, on State Street. The big building called Classical Condominiums used to be Classical High School, where he graduated in 1920 and a half! He starting his drawing career in high school and you can see his cartoons in his high school newspaper if you go to the Wood Museum of Springfield History and look at the Seuss exhibit there in the Great Hall.

In the George Walter Vincent Smith Museum you can check out the newly restored Tiffany windows commissioned by the Smiths themselves. They toured Europe and brought back many beautiful things, including a world-class collection of Asian art. Then they built their own museum in 1895 to share with the citizens of Springfield. They used to live in a house across the Quadrangle, where the D’Amour Museum is now, so they could walk over every day to be with their collections. Up the stairs on the second floor is another Tiffany treasure, a stained glass window called “The Light Bearer,” taken from the Church of the Unity across the street. It was given by the Bowles family, who started the Springfield Republican newspaper that many of us read today. On the second floor there’s also a Hasbro Discovery Center which is wondrously painted, and where kids can try on Asian inspired clothing and do activities and crafts.

Back outside, head toward the Science Museum and if you haven’t already, check out the big, big stick-work sculpture by artist Patrick Dougherty calledRoom by Room.” It’s made of nearly 8 tons of saplings, all woven together, and you can walk through the different “rooms.” It reminds me of some of the domed buildings that Dr. Seuss drew in his books, so it’s a perfect partner for his characters in the Seuss Sculpture Garden!

This summer, the Science Museum has a LEGO Castle Adventure interactive exhibit for kids, which is open until Sept. 9th. It’s on loan from the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis in partnership with LEGO. There are opportunities to build castles with LEGOs in age-appropriate settings, astonishing castles created by master-builders to view, and interactive exhibits which provide a chance to learn about medieval life. No reason not to check out the life sized dinosaur or the planetarium or the animal exhibits while you’re there. Just saying…..

Finally, you should go over to the new Wood Museum of Springfield History to see the silver Tiffany engraved firearms on the second floor. There are lots of great wall-sized photos of Springfield in the early 20th century to take you back to the heyday of Tiffany himself, and you can see the kinds of industrial innovations, and neat luxury cars, that were the capstone of his era. For children, it’s a great chance to see how innovations co-exist with what came before, especially in the realm of transportation. Photos show street life with horses, wagons, bicycles and electric streetcars all moving along at the same time.

In the Great Hall you can see Gee Bee racing planes suspended from the high, domed ceiling and learn about their 1930s history. Did you know that Springfield female flyer Maude Tait Moriarty bested Amelia Earhart’s speed record by 10 mph in 1931? That Indian Motorcycle, which begin in 1901, and was as popular as Harley Davidson in its heyday, marketed motorcycles to women in the nineteen teens and twenties, which you can see in their advertizing art in the Indian Motorcycle exhibit? That Milton Bradley began making games for soldiers to ease the boredom of camp life during the Civil War? You can see those early games and read about the Civil War from an original Springfield Republican newspaper from 1862. Then you can see later games made by Milton Bradley Co. in the Made in the Valley exhibit, and then follow up with a history of games on the wall which leads into the state-of-the-art Hasbro GameLand where kids and adults can play their own contemporary games of chance and skill and memory. Oh, and don’t forget to look at the Friendly Ice Cream exhibit on the second floor – you can see the original sign and counter from the first shop, started in July 1935 by the Blake brothers. We even have their first ledger where they kept their fledgling accounts – cool!

And don’t leave without looking at the Dr. Seuss exhibit I mentioned earlier – it’s in the Great Hall. You can see what inspired his art from photos of his surroundings in Springfield as he grew up.

But don’t just take my word for it – go and get the scoop at www.springfieldmuseums.org.

– Maggie Humberston


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Maggie Humberston is the Head of the Library and Archives at the Wood Museum of Springfield History. She is on the board of the Pioneer Valley History Network, which works with its members to make everyone in western Massachusetts aware of our wonderful local history. She lives in the Springfield area with her family, including her Golden Retriever, Emma.

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