Museums in Manhattan to Ignite Your Imagination

All museums document history – no matter how insignificant it is. Going beyond the regular cathedrals that lay claim to the past, we mention some lesser known, but equally intriguing museums, that will instill that sense of wonder and awe yet again

By: Isabelle Kellogg

Posted on: July 12, 2022

Every city has a museum – pillared, high ceilinged, domed, and full of massive exhibitions that you cannot explore in one day. But dig deeper than the blockbuster museums and you’ll find quirky museums that appeal to specific audiences or subjects and often are the ones we remember fondly and tell others about. Although we hardly scratch the surface when it comes to museums in New York City’s five boroughs, here are a few “off the radar” museums we visited recently whose exhibitions and programs inspired our imagination.

Christian Dior Ottoman silk dress

Christian Dior's Ottoman Silk Dress from 1952, on view at FIT

New York’s FIT (Fashion Institute of Technology) Museum maintains a robust calendar of exhibitions and online programming at its museum focused on fashion, pulling from its enormous archives. One of the original fashion capitals of the world with Paris, Rome and London, FIT’s current exhibition entitled Dior + Balenciaga: The Kings of Couture and Their Legacies features fashions by the two most important couturiers of the mid-20th century, Christian Dior (1905–1957) and Cristóbal Balenciaga (1895–1972). 

Balenciaga cocktail dress

Cristobal Balenciaga's Cocktail Dress from 1957, on view at FIT

Get up close to approximately 65 garments and ensembles from The Museum at FIT’s permanent collection. Why Dior and Balenciaga? After the devastation of two world wars and a crippling economic depression, they contributed to France’s economic and cultural recovery, both launching their eponymous collections at the age of 42. Dior’s work was noted for its focus on the sensuous female form and modernized the corseted shape of the Belle Epoque and his company accounted for more than half of France's couture exports during the 1950s. Balenciaga was hailed by the fashion industry as the greatest dressmaker in the world for his brilliantly constructed voluminous coats and dresses. Balenciaga’s latest 2022 couture collection, in fact, was inspired by those unbelievable silhouettes, For those unable to visit the museum in person, do check out the website for videos on the exhibition.  

Childe Hassam painting

Childe Hassam's 'Outer Gate Puerto del Sol Toledo', circa 1910, on view at The Hispanic Society of America

Uptown at West 155th Street and Broadway in Manhattan is an elegant, aristocratic building which houses The Hispanic Society of America, founded by philanthropist and scholar Archer Milton Huntington. Its current exhibition explores the “allure” of watercolor painting and how watercolor techniques enable the artist to portray something in a medium that comes across as both a painting and a sketch. For watercolor enthusiasts, this is a show to see.

Timothy Clark watercolor painting

Timothy Clark's 'Stepping Light' (Alahambra), circa 2017, on view at The Hispanic Society of America

Developed in the 17th century among British and American painters, Winslow Homer is one of America’s most notable watercolor artists (1836-1910). American Travelers: A Watercolor Journey Through Spain, Portugal, and Mexico focuses on the vast resource of the museum's collections plus a large cache of watercolors by American artists who painted them in Spain, Portugal, and Latin America. Besides the stunning Childe Hassam (1859-1935) works on view, there are contemporary watercolor paintings by California-based artist Timothy J. Clark who was available at the museum to speak with me about his works. Through the eyes of the delightful and chatty Mr. Clark, I traveled to many places and locations shown through his watercolors. His works are large, which is unusual for this medium, and his use of perspective and color are key to the effect his watercolors have on the viewer. 

Staten Island ferry

National Lighthouse Museum on Staten Island is so easy to get to from Manhattan and the journey there is worth it. Sail out of Lower Manhattan on either the Staten Island Ferry (free) or the NYWaterway Ferry (the cost of a mass transit ticket), past Governor’s Island and the Statue of Liberty before docking on Staten Island which has its own rail and bus system. The museum is a five-minute walk from the ferry terminal. Recognized as a historic site since 1799 when it was the NY Marine Hospital, the national lighthouse depot was formerly the site for the manufacturing, storage, supply and maintenance center for all US East Coast lighthouses. Explore its rich archives of movies, interactive maps and displays of lighthouse history, including miniature lighthouses from around the country, that highlight their importance in the safety of the coastlines. 

National Lighthouse Museum

The National Lighthouse Museum on Staten Island, NYC

Again, these museums are only a sampling from among the huge variety and scope of what’s available, depending on one’s interests. Now that I think of it, I could keep on going with more suggestions!  

Isabelle Kellogg luxury writerIn addition to a career in communications and marketing focused on the luxury lifestyle sector, including co-authoring and lecturing a case study on French heritage jeweler Mauboussin with Harvard Business School, Isabelle continues to share her experiences about fine art, wine, travel, jewelry and culture as a freelance writer for internationally based digital publications.

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