Why Artists Need To Visit Home Museums: Bonus List of Twelve Tantalizing Ones To Start With
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 a Home Museum Exactly?
A 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 Historic Home Museums Benefits Creatives
1. Home Museums 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.
Why do places like Monet’s azure kitchen or Frederick Douglas’s desk feel so electric and uplifting to heart-centered artists like us?
2. Artists’ Home Museums 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 is in the mind of we, the visitor?
3. Artists’ Home Museums 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 home museum 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 house 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’ Home Museums 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 home museums like hers remind us we really only need a desk, or 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 These Ghosts Convey a Message To You
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 their 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.
Twelve Tantalizing Home Museums of Great Artists & Writers 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.
11. The Anne Spencer House & Garden Museum, Lynchburg, VA. The magical home of the wonderful poet and civil rights crusader who was known to write on the walls when inspiration struck.
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 little 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.
Other Charmed Studio Posts You’ll Love:
How Tea Helps Artists Make Magic in Studio
Black Artists Matter: 5 Easy Ways To Support Artists of Color
Frida Kahlo: What No One Ever Tells You About Her and How She Can Make Your Art Life Bloom
Did Van Gogh Really Kill Himself?
Beatrix Potter: What She Did With Mushrooms, Her Relationship With Her Postman and 5 Other Things You Don’t Know About Her That Can Make Your Art Life Bloom
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I’ll never forget my grandmother taking me to Gene Stratton-Porter’s house near the Limberlost swamp in Indiana when I was a kid. I was a big fan of her novel “A Girl of the Limberlost,” and seeing the author’s environment made an impression on me. As an adult, I have Ettore “Ted” DeGrazia’s Mission in the Sun on my list to visit.
This is amazing, thanks, Nicole. Just last week I was looking at a wonderful little video (https://youtu.be/IjQvW1EqCeE) a subscriber had sent me of Gene Stratton Porter’s home museum! I never had heard of her and idly thought someday I would like to read her work. I just checked it is on audio on Libby, I downloaded it! Have never ever heard of the second guy you mention. Will look him up. Thanks so much for taking the time to comment, I appreciatee you sharing your knowledge with me.
Fabulous post! Love love love it! Frank Lloyd Wright’s home in Wisconsin is also inspiring. https://www.taliesinpreservation.org/
Oh Trish that is a great addition to the list. I lived in the midwest for a decade and always kept meaning to go to Taliesin but never did. Ugh, i could kick myself for that. 🙂 Funny what we don’t go to see when it is nearby. Anyway someday I will see it. What inspired you about it most? What was one memory you have of there?
Denise McCanles says
This is really interesting because I never thought of this before. I mean I never knew visiting artist homes was a thing. It would be fascinating and I totally agree that you would understand them as a person so much more. I do remember going to Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor‘s home in Puerto Vallarta and it was really interesting. Of course I expected it to have an enormous wet bar. Thank you again for expanding my universe.
lol! That is so funny, your joke about the wet bar! Yes, of course. I would think Hemingway’s house might have that too. The wet bar….what a concept. I never thought of going to famous actor’s houses, should have included one, so thanks for mentioning it. I wonder if there is a coffee table book on Actor’s Houses? I know there is an amazing one on the preserved home museums of dictators though! It is called Dictator Style: Lifestyles of the World’s Most Colorful Despots, and it is thought-provoking how similar in tone many of the houses are. Big emphasis on taxidermied lions and eagles for instance…
Denise McCanles says
Taxidermied wildlife how perfect. Why do I have the feeling that if you visited any conservative politician they would have the same thing on their walls. I’m sure Dick Cheney has a few don’t you?
Jane E Ward says
I love visiting artists homes, too. If you’re ever in England it’s worth a trip out from London to Compton village to see the George Frederic Watts, fully restored, gallery and artist village. His studio in his Arts and Crafts home called Limnersease is across the way and I t’s as if he just stepped out. His wife Mary was an artist and potter too and you can see the Arts and Crafts chapel that she designed and created for the people of the village. Gorgeous place! https://www.wattsgallery.org.uk/
Looks amazing Jane, thanks so much. I signed up to drool more via their mailing list. I also want to see William Morris’ home museum and Virginia Wolf’s arts and crafts house….wheeeee…. I also would love to see a Mcintosh Tea House in Scottland. But doesn’t look like the one they re-did there a few years back is very cozy feeling or very close to the original. Sending a hug to you.
Sylvia Larkin says
Thank you, Thea, for this mind opening journey through the lives of others. After reading your blog I did remember visiting Edgar A. Poe’s house in the Bronx. It is very small but worthwhile seeing. So glad you included books. The secret life of inanimate objects sounds fascinating.
Thank you Sylvia for reading the blog and letting me know. I checked it out. You know I never realized Poe lived in America, in my mind he was British. I just read that Poe also has a home museum of some kind in Baltimore, too. I had no idea the NFL Baltimore Ravens were named after Poe! Who knew? The rare intersection of literature and pro sports. 🙂
Kathy Tuchalski says
Thank you, Thea, for all your wonderful posts. I especially love this one. The information you provide is so interesting that I will have to come back several times just to check out every link! I’m sharing with friends as I know they will enjoy this as well. Keep sending it out–makes my day!
Thanks Kathy, what a kind comment. You made my day.
Breanna Chanson says
Mark Twain’s house in Connecticut is one I loved.
So cool that you have been there Breanna. It is on my bucket list. What was inspiring about it to you?
Breanna Chanson says
A lot of what I loved about it were the stories told on the tour. They made this person who has meant a great deal to me feel like he was real, not just some myth. It showed that his life wasn’t perfect… even after he’d achieved so many of his goals. He had many financial struggles, and this opulent house only told half of his real life story. It was the modern day equivalent of a profile pic that only shows the put together versions of ourselves that we want the world to see. He wasn’t any less human than the rest of us. He was a real person who had the potential for greatness despite his flaws, and so do we.
Thanks, Breanna. So true. Celebrities of all stripes are as vulnerable (or perhaps more so) than all of us normal mortals. I’m not up on his life path, will have to find a good bio on Libby or audible of him. I will email you for a recommendation.
But if any of you smartina readers of the blog know a great Mark Twain bio, lemme know?
Oh I loved this episode Thea, thank you so much for focusing on these homes of inspiration. If I were to add a couple to the list, Barbara Hepworth’s home and garden in St Ives, Cornwall, UK and Victor Horta’s home museum in Brussels, Belgium – their spirit resonates with me after years of visiting x
Thanks Lynne, I had no idea Babara Hepworth’s home was preserved! Wonderful to hear. I love her work. Can you tell us what the experience there was like for you? What did you feel or see there?
And I am off to google Victor Horta, whom I have never heard-so thanks so much for that as well. 🙂
So glad the episode resonated with you, that makes me delighted.
Lynne Forrester says
It was the small details, as you said in your podcast. The letters, seemingly random art supplies strewn about, her hairbrush – and the feel of a stone sculpture in the garden. There’s one called Spring (https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/hepworth-spring-t12278) where there’s a bench you can sit behind it and I could feel the energy waves emanating, as well as marvelling that I was in the place she lived worked and worked in. You can hear the sea from the garden on a particularly brisk day, but the property is in a quieter nook of St Ives. Really special.
Wow, wanted to leave a link for Lynne’s mention of the Victor Horta home, which is a Unesco world heritage site.A must-see for architecture fans and lovers of art nouveau.
And take a peek at Babara Hepworth’s home and sculpture garden.https://www.tate.org.uk/visit/tate-st-ives/barbara-hepworth-museum-and-sculpture-garden
I didn’t have room but you also if you are near any of these you might like to check out Eudora Welty’s home or Faulkner’s home in Mississippi, Hemingway’s house in Key West, Nabokov’s estate in Russia looks way cool, Edna St Vincent Millay’s home in NY state…oh and I want to see Agatha Christy’s house in Devon….Let me know what you think!