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Warning: Museum content ahead.

I found this link in the AASLH.org twitter feed yesterday: a post at The Uncataloged Museum about the Museum of Hunting and Nature in Paris.

CW Peale: The Artist in His Museum

What a great find, a wunderkammer in the 21st century. After this weekend, I was thinking even more about the ways in which museums engage (or fail to engage) their viewers. Working where I do, I can’t light a fire in a fireplace and hearth cook: for one thing, it wasn’t done in that house (and chimneys are all capped now, anyway).

But wait: isn’t there some place other than a living history museum where people have immersive and transformative experiences? Perhaps art museums? The last time I went to the MFA I did have to keep convincing my companion to stay a little longer–but even the 13-year-old was convinced when each gallery led us to a new surprise.

MFA: American Wing, with replicas

Take away lesson: surprise. wonderment. unusual presentations.

My colleague at work said one of the best things we ever did was to install a post-party room with a broken plate on the floor. You don’t see broken things in a museum! You don’t see messes. But that’s normal for a house, so why not for a house museum?

In preparing a room for a display change, we removed the manservant mannequin, and stashed him temporarily outside a storeroom (former bedroom) door. There’s a niche, and he was partially hidden, and looked guilty, as he reached for the door knob. That’s another kind of surprise, the hidden history of of a house–not just the servants, but also the gossip– that could be brought to life.