"My Avian Jewels are my attempt to preserve nature's artistry and call attention to the inscrutable beauty and value of all bird eggs and their environment. The beautiful and ephemeral nature of a bird's reproductive process has inspired me to devote my energy to making these 'jewels' for the purpose of a more permanent collection, thereby supporting conservation and hopefully the preservation of the bird species." – C.E. Blevins
These words illustrate C.E. Blevins's passion for birds and nature itself, which led to the founding of the C.E. Blevins Avian Learning Center. The center is home to his collection of handmade bird-egg replicas and real migratory bird nests, and it helps educate the public on the importance of migratory birds to a healthy ecosystem. Trained nature interpreters lead tours that teach students and other guests about bird migration, the study of nests, and the relationship of birds and their habitats through hands-on activities. The center also includes a 4-acre nature trail with grassland, woodland, and wetland habitats.
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The exhibits within Museum Center at 5ive Points tell the rich story of the Ocoee Region of Tennessee. The main focal point is The River of Time: a permanent installation that traces the history of Bradley County, incorporating everything from military photographs to Native American artifacts. Five to six other exhibits rotate in and out regularly, while the museum store stands as an attraction in its own right. The shelves brim with various Appalachian arts and crafts, all made within a 150-mile radius of the museum. Self-guided school tours are available daily, making it easy for students to learn about their region's past without having to build a time machine in shop class.
Founded in 1973 as a Girl Scout project, the Children's Museum of Oak Ridge first opened inside Jefferson Junior High School with little more than 2,000 square feet of rented space to its name. After a meteoric rise in popularity, the museum moved to its current 54,000-square-foot facility, which brims with more than 20 educational and interactive exhibits designed to help children learn and grow.
Kids and parents can explore a simulated Amazonian rainforest, which reverberates with jungle sounds in air thick and heavy with moisture from the running waterfall. Little tykes become little tycoons in the World of Trains, which features a full-size Norfolk Southern caboose and a hands-on playroom where kids adopt the role of conductor, steering tiny locomotives and apologizing to their peers when their toy train doesn’t arrive on schedule. Otherwise, they can educate themselves on the history of playthings with some of the most impressive and entertaining gizmos from the museum's collection in the Century of Toys exhibit. Static exhibits aren't all the venue has to offer; the staff often organizes events such as performances by storytellers and controlled playtime with live monkeys.
At Wheat Union Station, volunteers restore and maintain the Southern Appalachia Railway Museum's four diesel engines. Authentically outfitted conductors and staff keep one shiny shoe firmly in the past as air-conditioned coach cars and an open-air baggage car rumble past Poplar Creek, Watts Bar Lake, and Highway 327. The museum conducts seasonal rides and theme rides, including dinner trains and murder mysteries. Secret City Scenic Excursion train rides chug along rail lines that stretch out from K-25, a site of World War II's Manhattan Project.
Scouring the back roads of Southern Appalachia, John Rice Irwin amassed thousands of historic artifacts before opening the Museum of Appalachia in 1969. A Smithsonian Institute affiliate since 2007, the 501-(c)3 museum now consists of more than 30 historic structures that recreate an Appalachian village, complete with farm animals and gardens flanked by split-rail fences. Along with two large exhibition halls, the museum's pioneer buildings house an extensive collection, which ranges from Appalachian baskets and quilts to folk art and toys.
Elsewhere, rustic paths wind through pastoral sites, a Hall of Fame honors Appalachian notables, and live musicians play old-time Appalachian tunes. In addition to weddings, the museum's grounds host several events throughout the year, including Tennessee Fall Homecoming, Sheep-Shearing Day, Days of the Pioneer Anitque Show, and an anvil shoot every Fourth of July.
Perched atop an 80-foot bluff overlooking the Tennessee River, Hunter Museum of American Art hosts collections ranging from colonial times to contemporary America. The permanent collection includes historical works by renowned painters such as Thomas Cole, Mary Cassatt, and Winslow Homer as well as contemporary pieces in less traditional mediums such as filmmaking, which artists turned to after paintbrushes went extinct. Educational programs guide visitors through these core works as well as temporary exhibits, which have included Depression-era photographs by Dorothea Lange and the sculptural installation art of Beverly Semmes.
Hunter Museum's buildings are as much a work of art as the paintings they house. An outdoor sculpture plaza and a sleek structure of steel and glass built in 2005 give the compound a contemporary edge. In contrast, the massive fireplaces and hand-carved woodwork inside the original edifice—a classical revival-style mansion built in 1904—recall the days when horses still chauffeured their owners around in Ford Model Ts.