Avast Friday: The Peabody Essex Museum


If you love curiosities, early modern collections, the sea, and maritime art, the Peabody Essex Museum–in Salem, Massachusetts, just outside of Boston–is the place for you.

That sounds fairly generic and tour-brochure-ready, so let me clarify: love all of the aspects of art and history mentioned above, and the PEM is probably among my top five museum favorites. I first visited in 2012, and have enjoyed returning as frequently as I could ever since.

This post is the first in a two-part series exploring my time at the PEM–I’ll start out by focusing on the permanent collections, and then move into the special exhibitions (okay, one very special exhibition!) sometime soon!


Among the items in the museum’s “East India Marine Hall” exhibit–displayed in its very own cabinet of curiosities–was a colonial-era Spanish helmet supposedly found in Mexico during the Conquest. The 18th-century label is almost more exciting than the object itself!


I used to work at a museum that briefly displayed a beautiful Maya Lin sculpture of a wave–but man, was it hard to resist touching it!

Part of the PEM’s exhibition Sizing it Up: Scale in Nature and Art, this gorgeous work satisfies all of your tactile needs. A label nearby encourages people to close their eyes and feel the sculpted sides of this wave, thinking about how this changes their perception of its size.


Brian White’s Island Bride is a beautiful recreation of a wedding dress–made from lots of cowries and cone shells!


Of course, my absolute favorite type of maritime art is modelwork–look at this amazingly detailed ship! Imagine how much patience and dexterity it takes to create each miniature part of the rigging.

Though these model ships are a permanent and beloved part of the Peabody Essex Museum’s collections, the artworks featured in my next PEM post are only in Salem for a short time: but are even more detailed and complex than even the most delicate ship in a bottle. Here’s a little preview to get you excited–all will be revealed next time!

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