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How Visiting Famous Artists’ Homes Unleashes Wild Magic For Creatives and 13 Places To Start
By Thea Fiore-Bloom, PhD
Some people like to go on cruises.
I’d rather put a sharp stick in my eye.
Being an introverted geek – I ask myself, why gaze at a Caribbean sunset from the pool deck with throngs of thousands?
When instead I could be tiptoeing solo through a darkened home museum of a great artist or writer from history?
What Is an Artists’ Home Museum Exactly?
An artists’ home museum (aka a memory museum) is a private home of a famous person that’s now open to the public.
Good home museums display lots of the famous fellow’s furniture, books, clothes, art, and personal objects.
But great home museums make heart-centered artists like us feel as if we’ve just unwrapped the chocolate bar of life and found Willy Wonka’s golden ticket snuggled inside the foil paper.
Because great home museums (like the minimalist George O’Keeffe’s home at Abiquiu or the “maximalist” Gabriele D’Annunzio’s home outside Milan) inspire artists like us to keep making art.
Or to keep writing, or to keep getting up in the morning.
Great home museums encourage us to re-embrace the wild notion that showing our vulnerable heart to a planet full of strangers via our creativity (often for not a whole lot of money) is vital to our well-being.
So why do historic home museums bless us so? (And for less than the price of a pizza.)
Let’s find out.
Five Ways Visiting Artists’ Homes Benefit Creatives
1. Artists’ Homes Are Coccoons For Creative Transformation
For the first few minutes of entering a great home museum, we are still ourselves, an outsider looking in.
But if we pay attention soon we’ll sense the rumblings of a magical, internal transformation.
We start to feel we are seeing this famous artist or writer, not through our eyes, but theirs.
If enough of this great artist or writer’s spirit or energy is still floating about the place we fleetingly become the artist.
So for the measly twelve-buck entrance fee, we get to be Louis Armstrong. To see the world through his brilliant eyes on 107th Street in Queens.
Spend two hundred and thirty pesos (only about 8 dollars) and you get to be Frida Kahlo gazing at her Mayan-inspired succulent garden in Coyocan.
2. Artists’ Homes Let Us “Touch” Greatness Without and Within
Well, I think a lot of it has to do with objects.
Do we feel flooded with wonder in home museums because the stuff lying about there is imbued with a famous artist’s very essence?
Scientist Lyall Watson would answer – absolutely.
In his book The Nature of Things: The Secret Life of Inanimate Objects “Watson explores the subtle forces of memory fields and suggests that matter has the capacity to absorb emotional “fingerprints,” the mental fossils that channel echoes from the past.” *1
Perhaps that’s why so many people cry when they visit the seemingly enchanted garden of Beatrix Potter at Hilltop.
I’ve personally witnessed many visitors either blissed out or crying at Kahlo’s Casa Azul.
Do people cry at Casa Azul because Kahlo’s wheelchair and paintbrushes have somehow absorbed both her life’s tragedies and victories?
I know I’ve felt a form of body lightning race around my body when a curator permitted me to open the sliding box drawers containing Georgia’s collections of her favorite bones and stones at O’Keeffe’s archive in Santa Fe.
But then, on the other hand, I wonder, what if the magic of a great home museum does not reside inside all those beloved artist’s objects it houses?
What if the magic instead resides in the mind of we, the visitor?
3. Artists’ Homes Let You See Ghosts
Do these floods of emotions happen in great home museums because (as author Orhan Pamuk theorizes in his book The Innocence of Objects) the place conveys the illusion of the presence of the artist and writer beyond death?
In other words, the artists’ homes can engender the sense that the artist is still there in some back hallway, padding about there in their pajamas with a mug of tea.
When I was in Gustave Moreau’s under-visited artists’ home in Paris it was as if he never died. It seemed like he’d be right back.
It’s like you’ve been invited to your pal Moreau’s home and he’s taped a note to his spiral staircase telling you:
“I had to pop out to the shops for a baguette and a copy of Le Figaro. Please look around. -Gustave, xo”.
4. Artists’ Homes Can Help Creatives Drop the Excuses
Some home museums like Moreau’s are opulent and breathtaking but I’ve learned just as much from the ones that are sparse.
Places like the legendary singer, Nina Simone‘s childhood home in North Carolina or Renee Magritte’s stark working-class Parisian apartment command artists like us to toss our creative excuses off a parapet.
Humble artists’ homes like hers remind us we really only need a desk, wall, or piece of floor and our body, mind, and spirit.
The rest is about why we show up and how often.
Many home museums help you see these heroes of yours were vulnerable, normal folks like you with challenges as big or bigger than yours. And that’s an empowering message, right?
5. And The “Ghosts” of Artists’ Homes Convey Messages To Us
Finally, I believe The “ghosts’ of our departed artist heroes don’t let us leave their homes without a message.
And that message is this; don’t give up.
If they could risk it all on their beautiful, weird dream, so can we.
Home museums give open-hearted creatives like us a transfusion of genius and courage by osmosis.
Because when we enter their sacred confines, we exit with renewed confidence, optimism, and at least one new, wild idea for our own work.
So make time for a pilgrimage to the home of a hero when you next travel. Or visit it virtually online.
Finally, A Few Favorites
I want to end with a tiny list of the multitude of great home museums of artists and writers in the world.
I have placed an asterisk near the ones I’ve visited and can vouch for. For more jaw-dropping writers’ houses go here.
Which one do you want to see? Do you have one to add? Please share in the comments.
Thirteen Thrilling Artists’ Homes to Be Inspired By
‘The connection people feel with this place is very strong,’ says House Steward Catherine Pritchard, who has been known to hand out restorative cups of tea to overwhelmed visitors moved to tears by their experience.
2. *Claude Monet’s Home Museum and Garden, Giverny, France. The dining room is a yellow heaven.
3. The Eames House was designed and constructed in 1949 outside Los Angeles by husband-and-wife artists, Charles and Ray Eames to serve as their home and studio.
Entering into Sigmund Freud’s London study packed with over 3000 ancient statues and artifacts is like stepping through the wardrobe into Narnia. (Leaf through my art sketchbook “Freud’s Imaginarium” here. If you want your sketchbook to be part of history, go here.)
5. * Gabrielle D’Annunzio’s Home Museum and Gardens: Il Vittoriale, Italy. The estate of Italy’s most famous writer.
6. Louis Armstrong Historic Home, Corona NY.
7. Pablo Neruda: Isla Negra Museum House, Chile. A wonder box of a home in a small fishing cove between Valparaiso and Vifia del Mar.
8. *Museo Frida Kahlo, Coyoacán Mexico.
Casa Azul, the intimate universe of artist Frida Kahlo.
9. *Georgia O’Keeffe: Abiquiu Home and Studio Tour, New Mexico. A must-see.
10.*Painter, Gustave Moreau’s Home Museum, Paris. An under-visited treasure tucked in the 9th arrondissement.
12. Vita Sackville West: Sissinghurst Castle & Garden, England. Home of The White Garden and the fabled tower where Vita wrote her amorous letters to Virginia Woolf.
13. Mark Twain’s House in Hartford CT has a heart, a soul, and a killer gift shop.
P.S. Consider Selling Your Work in the Museum Stores of These Places
Protip: Museum stores located within home museums you long to visit may be the perfect place to sell a line of your art!
Get the skinny on Making a Living Selling Your Art in Museum Stores, and How to Approach a Museum Store: 5 Surprising Dos and Don’ts for Artists from the Charmed Studio here.