5 Fun Book Museums to Visit This Summer (or Anytime)
Check out museums that showcase books and authors to add to your must-read list.
Museums are a mainstay of vacation plans for many Americans this summer. The combination of fun and education proves irresistible to many hoping to use their leisure time as an opportunity to learn and grow. Yet, this institution, like many others, is undergoing a reckoning, with many reviewing how they acquired the pieces they display to the visitors. Fortunately, a few great book-related museums are working hard to showcase all aspects of and contributors to this art form. Here are a few you might want to take your family to this summer.
For the Generalist
The American Writers Museum: Chicago, IL, opened in 2017
If you’re heading to the windy city this summer, make sure to stop by this museum focused on American authors over five centuries, including all types of writing—fiction and nonfiction, speeches and journalism, and drama and poetry. The goal of this institution is not to create some sort of canon or definitive list of the great American authors but to honor the unique voice of writers from the US across lines of gender, race, religion, and sexual orientation. The goals are:
- Educate the public about American writers — past and present
- Engage visitors to the museum in exploring the many exciting worlds created by the spoken and written word
- Enrich and deepen appreciation for good writing in all its forms
- Motivate visitors to discover or rediscover a love of reading and writing
- Inspire the young writers of tomorrow
In addition to the exhibits offered at the physical location, the museum has virtual exhibits, a blog, a podcast, and a yearly festival to talk about all things books.
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For the Family
The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art: Amherst, MA, opened in 2002
A wonderful stop for a family that loves reading, the Carle Museum was founded by the famous picture book illustrator and author Eric Carle. The initial idea came in the 1980s–90s when Japan chose Carle, along with two other authors, for a retrospective of their careers. Inspired, they got to work founding a permanent center to celebrate not just Carle’s work but that of other illustrators from around the world. Their mission is to serve as:
“. . . the international champion for picture books.” We “collect, preserve, and present picture books and picture-book illustrations for audiences passionate about children’s literature.”
The collection has grown to include 8,500 illustrations from over two hundred artists and includes an art studio with new crafts for families to do every few weeks and an onsite library to discover or rediscover old picture book favorites, all housed in their lovely building on the campus of Hampshire College.
For the Crafter
Minnesota Center for Book Arts: Minneapolis, MN, opened in 1985, reopened in a new center in 2000
This museum celebrates not the content of books but books themselves and the many ways paper and bindings can come together to create this artistic form. Their stated mission is:
“. . . to ignite artistic practice, inspire learning, and foster diverse creative communities through the book arts.
We do this by creating access to specialized book arts tools, equipment, and knowledge; supporting interdisciplinary artistic development; expanding opportunities for people who have been historically underrepresented in the field; and presenting exhibitions and educational programs that create connections around the art of the book, promote innovation, and advance the future of the field.”
In addition to the shows exhibited in its two main galleries, the center includes virtual programs, educational workshops, a studio with various bookbinding equipment, and a membership program for artists that, for a moderate monthly fee, they can join the artist’s collective and use the studio 24/7.
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For the Favorite Son (International Edition)
The Kafka Museum: Prague, CZ, opened in 2005
This center, focusing on the works of a single and singular author, Franz Kafka, grew out of an exhibit in 1999 in Barcelona showcasing authors and their relationships with the cities they came from. After a stay at the Jewish Museum, it moved in 2005 to its permanent location. The collection includes first editions, photographs, letters, manuscripts, diaries, and drawings, all having to do with the man, his legacy, and his connection to his home city.
For the Favorite Son (US Edition)
National Steinbeck Center: Salinas, CA, opened in 1998
Located in Steinbeck’s hometown, this is one of the largest, single-focused museums in the United States. Begun as a collection of first editions in the 1960s, it has grown to include over forty thousand items, including artworks, manuscripts, films, and newspapers. The center was established in 1998 and was:
“. . . dedicated to Steinbeck’s creative legacy: to participate, to inspire, to educate and to understand one another.”
The building itself is located down the street from the author’s childhood home and was part of an economic revitalization of the downtown area.
All of these museums want to showcase their collections and highlight the artistic contributions of writers across time, and all are working hard to make sure that the underrepresented voices of the past have the space and attention they deserve. Museums act as repositories of culture. So do books. Having places where both come together gives us a chance to see how ideas spread and change, how art is a constant process of reinvention, and that preserving our books IS preserving our past.
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