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Yvonne Abraham

Hidden gems

By Yvonne Abraham
Globe Staff / February 15, 2009
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GLOUCESTER - Since news broke that Brandeis University wanted to close the Rose Art Museum and sell off its breathtaking collection, the place has been mobbed.

About 900 people stream through its doors on weekends to see the museum's great collection of work from the 1960s and 1970s. Many of them did not know the Rose existed until recently, director Michael Rush says. Before, a typical weekend would bring at most 75 visitors.

A lot of us never would have heard of the Rose if not for the firestorm over its closing.

Which makes you wonder: How many other gems are out there that most people don't know about?

Dozens, it turns out. The state is crammed with the unsung and spectacular. A lot of them are free or cheap. They're down the street from our homes, or day trips away - in Framingham and Andover and Brockton and South Hadley.

Take the Cape Ann Museum in Gloucester, for example.

The huge, rambling complex on Pleasant Street is home to the largest collection of Fitz Henry Lane paintings in the world. Its biggest gallery is given over to the 19th century Gloucester artist's luminous maritime works - 40 of them in all.

But if ocean scenes don't float your boat, the museum also includes a perfectly intact captain's house from 1804. Several galleries are jammed with extremely cool pieces from the city's glory days, including a boat one crazed soul used to make the first solo trans-Atlantic crossing in 1876, brightly painted oars from decades of Italian festivals, and a hulking, rusting Madonna that once sat atop of Our Lady of Good Voyage Portuguese church. There is contemporary art as well, and a truly fab collection of gorgeous printed textiles from the middle of the last century.

While the 136-year old museum (closed until March 1) is popular with some Gloucester residents and summer visitors, it doesn't draw nearly as many people as it should.

Ditto the Fuller Craft Museum, which sits on 22 acres of woodland beside lovely Upper Porter's Pond, about a mile off Route 24 in Brockton.

This place is not just about tea cozies and wind chimes. The collection is edgier than that, and even a little bit weird. Last week, there was a show of witty works by Micah Sherrill that mix everyday objects like sawn-off coloring pencils with paintings of celebrities. And some seriously cool Korean jewelry. Starting Feb. 26, the Fuller hosts a national show of craft works dating from before the Civil War to 2007.

But many of the best art collections are tucked away in universities - at Williams College, for example, where you can find work by Winslow Homer and Edward Hopper; and Tufts University, which has pieces by Henry Moore and John Singer Sargent; and Smith College, where you can see paintings by Pablo Picasso and Georges Seurat.

The Davis Museum, at Wellesley College, is a beauty. In its immense, serene galleries you can get close to an urn from ancient Greece, and a Brillo box from Andy Warhol - and all for free. The Davis, like many university museums, has been brave in its acquisitions: Alongside the medieval crucifixion scenes and paintings by Claude Monet and John Singleton Copley, there are works by Donald Judd, Rachel Whiteread, and Bill Viola.

There are plenty of other gems: the Danforth Museum in Framingham, the Addison Gallery at Phillips Academy, Andover, the Griffin Museum of Photography, in Winchester, to name a few. They do fine, but they should all be mobbed, the way the Rose has been lately.

On Wednesday morning, save for a small class and a few security guards, I was the only one in the Davis Museum.

It's a shame that so much amazing work is seen by so few.

Maybe somebody should threaten to sell it all off.

Yvonne Abraham is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at abraham@globe.com.

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