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Thursday, February 4, 2016


 Author Susan C Shea stops by today to take us on a tour of one of her favorite museums and mine. Susan spent more than two decades accumulating story material before creating her bestselling mystery series featuring a professional fundraiser for a fictional museum in San Francisco. Learn more about Susan and her books at her website and blog.   

I (Heart) an Art Museum
I love art the way some people love Star Wars or professional football or designer clothes…well, I love designer clothes, too, even if my budget doesn’t. I also enjoyed fundraising (really) as part of my career. So it made sense for me to write a mystery series in which the protagonist earns her living raising money for a fictional art museum.

The Devor Museum in San Francisco is a construction that exists only in my head, although there are aspects of it that might remind readers of SF’s Museum of Modern Art, before the massive and exciting expansion it’s currently undergoing.

But my heart lies with the art museum of my childhood, the great and wondrous Metropolitan Museum on upper Fifth Avenue in New York. I was born nearby, before living there cost the earth. As World War II ebbed, my father was a war correspondent in Europe and the Pacific, and my mother was a CBS radio producer, and so it was nannies who had to figure out what to do with a curious child on rainy, cold days. The Met became my playground, an endless, mysterious source of play, of surprises, of quiet moments to imprint images and ideas on my small, fertile brain. Believe it or not, in that era, the Met was chilly, dark, and empty. I still remember climbing the sides of a stone sarcophagus to see who might be interred, and wandering among the hieroglyph-covered walls in the Egyptian area.

Today, the Museum is packed, noisy, brightly lit, re-imagined to engage in new ways with literally millions of visitors from around the world. There are new galleries, new wings, periodic re-arranging of the fine and decorative arts, and a more comprehensive global perspective than in my youth. The Temple of Dendur, reassembled from the flooded Nile, has its own wing, surrounded by light. The American Wing includes the entire façade of an elegant building. The huge gift shop could consume my annual discretionary funds if I let it.

I’ve probably been to the Met a couple hundred times and I discover something new every time. A relatively new favorite is a small gallery in which Buddha statues, many of them life size or larger, from a handful of countries surround me and remind me to slow down and stay in the moment even as I admire the artistry in the sculptures.

I have a couple of touchstones, works I have been looking at for many decades, works so iconic they don’t get moved. My absolute favorite is a self-portrait of Rembrandt in middle age, the rough red skin, the wrinkles around his eyes, the slightly worn clothing, the posture of fatigue, and those eyes – when I was five, I realized they follow you around the room. Wherever you are, the painter is looking right at you, communicating his feelings about his life at that moment, asking you to remember him and to come back again to visit. I promised then, and I continue to promise every time, that I will return.

Do you have a museum you love? I’d love to hear your stories.

Mixed Up With Murder
In the third in the Dani O’Rourke Mysteries series, Dani visits a small New England college to help them as they accept a stunning art collection and a cash gift to support a new gallery for it. The financial vice president has some concerns about the gift and when he drowns on a golf course before he can share them with her, Dani has a terrible feeling she may have gotten herself mixed up in murder once again.


Angela Adams said...

Our Art Museum here in Philadelphia is an awesome place, along with the Franklin Institute and the National Constitution Center. Thanks for the post!

Camille Minichino said...

Susan, you've done a great job describing a museum I think of as mine! That's the wonderful thing about the Met, isn't it -- as enormous as it is, there's always a corner you can call your own. Like the Temple of Dendur (granted, a large corner!) or the Frank Lloyd Wright "living room". It's my go-to place on every trip to New York and it never disappoints.

Vinnie/www.vinniehansen.com said...

Hey, Susan--the teaser I followed to your post said something about guessing your three favorite museums. What are the other two????????

Ellen Byron said...

I love this! I'm a native New Yorker, too, and have memories dating back to my earliest years of trips to the Met. Thank you.

Susan C Shea said...

Angela, my comment to you may not have posted: Philadelphia's museum is excellent - spent many a heavily pregnant day there when I lived in Narberth!

Camille, I know you're a Met junkie too and it's nice to learn Ellen is a "Met baby" like I am!

Vinnie, I'm not sure if you'll see this post, so I'll add it to FB, but L'Orangerie in Paris for the downstairs galleries with their depth of Impressionist and post-Impressionist work. The museum's so much easier to approach than the Louvre. The third...? Well, I hesitate - there are a couple I waver between. You?

Sally Carpenter said...

I'm late on this, but my current fav is the Getty Museum in L.A. Too much to see in one time! I've been twice and ended up dashing around, trying to see as much as possible. A wide variety of art from olden times through modern. The Getty Villa is nice too. It specializes in Greek/Roman antiquities. The site itself is lovely.