Howard Pyle's unexpected death in 1912 brought a group of artists, entrepreneurs, and businessmen together to grieve their friend. They couldn't let the artist's passion for teaching and illustration disappear as quickly as he had; so, they decided to form the Wilmington Society of Fine Arts with the sole purpose of preserving his legacy. They gathered funds from locals who felt just as strongly as they did—family members, friends, students, fans—and purchased approximately 100 pieces of his artwork.
Little did they know that, with these 100 pieces, they were starting something greater than a memorial for a good friend. The Wilmington Society of Fine Arts would, over time, add more and more artwork to its collection, growing into an 80,000-square-foot space and out of its original name. The Delaware Art Museum, as its called today, now counts more than 12,000 works of art as part of its collection. Permanent features showcase British pre-Raphaelites, the urban landscapes of John Sloan, modern American art, and, of course, Howard Pyle. The masterpieces don't stop when visitors venture outside—the Copeland Sculpture Garden adorns its lush natural scenery with nine works from the museum's permanent collection, along with a massive outdoor labyrinth.
The area’s only living history museum with a focus on the New Republic Era from 1790 to 1830, Greenbank Mills and Philips Farm pulls the wool away from visitors’ eyes to reveal the development of grain and textile milling in America. Two breeds of sheep, leicester longwools and delane merinos, call Greenbank home, and visitors can follow sheepish locks from shearing through dyeing, as textile transmogrifiers spin them into gossamer strands destined for warm winter shawls and giant webs designed to ensnare skateboarders. Or guests can delve into Greenbank's 300-year history as a working mill by grinding grain by hand into floury heaps of summer snow.
Nestled inside a former railroad-car factory, the Delaware Center for the Contemporary Arts took shape in 1979, led by a small group of artists and art patrons. The DCCA moved to a permanent location in 2000—one with 35,000 square feet of space, seven galleries, and individual studios for 26 artists—but still clings to its original mission of building public appreciation for contemporary art through exhibitions and educational programs.
Although the center is a noncollecting museum, it does feature roughly 30 exhibits each year from regional, national, and international artists. These shifting collections explore relevant societal themes such as the public obsession with celebrity, the flippant nature of consumerism, and the effects urban metropolises have on how humans relate to nature and each other. The exhibits can use any variety of media, and the studio artists embrace this same freedom by using everything from paints to video in their works.
To engage visitors outside the gallery spaces, the DCCA hosts educational programs for adults as well as exploratory classes for children, which help wee ones create their own relevant, meaningful pieces. Tours allow groups to learn more about the exhibits while an informed guide tries to recite every single anagram of Delaware.
The Franklin Institute brings hands-on science fun at Pennsylvania's most visited museum. Spanning three floors, the Institute gives a voice to human ingenuity—past and future—with hundreds of interactive exhibits such as The Giant Heart, Changing Earth, and Sports Challenge, as well as explosive live science shows, an indoor SkyBike ride, and the city's tallest IMAX theater,which is 5 stories high. Though now filled with a range of space-age attractions, the Institute began with single purpose.
Samuel Vaughan Merrick and William H. Keating established The Franklin Institute in 1824, to honor the life and achievements of Benjamin Franklin. In the following decades, the Institute hosted forward thinkers such as Nikola Tesla, who gave a demonstration on wireless telegraphy in 1893. In 1930, the board decided to expand the space into a new science museum—and raised the funds in 12 days. The museum opened to the public in 1934—and in the same year hosted the first public demonstration of an all-electronic TV system.
A visit to The Franklin Institute’s includes access to three floors of permanent interactive exhibits including the iconic, two story tall Giant Heart. Other exhibits include Space Command, which invites visitors to recover an unmanned space probe and examine real astronaut equipment. At Changing Earth, visitors create their own weather patterns, play with steams of water, and build structures that can stand up to earthquakes or all-elephant 5Ks.
At various daily showtimes, the Franklin Theater’s high-contrast screen displays 3D films on animals, earth ecosystems, and human history. In the recently renovated Fels Planetarium, the second oldest in the nation complete with a rooftop observatory, audiences witness projections of weather and space spread across a 60-foot seamless aluminum dome. Daily live science shows draw an enthusiastic crowd, and interactive science carts invite visitors to observe a live heart dissection or try their hand at paper-making.
The National Museum of American Jewish History's core exhibition traces more than 350 years of American Jewish history, documenting their triumphs and struggles since first settling in 1654. Spread across 25,000 square feet on five floors, the exhibition's historical objects and lifelike environments cover subjects such as the late 19th-century Jewish immigration and the involvement of American Jews in the Civil Rights Movement. As the exhibition moves into the present day, visitors can share their own stories and opinions in two of the museum's interactive stations: It's Your Story and the Contemporary Issues Forum. After sharing their own journeys, guests can explore the Only in America Gallery/Hall of Fame, where multimedia displays and original artifacts highlight the lives of prominent Jewish Americans, including Irving Berlin and Estée Lauder.
Cups of Old City Coffee, baked goods from LeBus, and vegetarian and dairy cuisine from Di Bruno Bros. reenergize museum-goers at the Pomegranates Café; kosher fare is also available. Additional museum programming includes educational opportunities for adults and kids, as well as live events such as lectures, discussions, and concerts.
It's more than a collection of exhibits, galleries, and glass works—though it's all of those things, too. Above and beyond housing art, the National Liberty Museum aims to serve as a mirror to the unique kaleidoscope that is the United States. Visitors to the museum explore eight galleries, each organized to highlight a particular aspect of what it means to be American. Liberty Hall, for instance, houses a selection of White House fine china alongside medals awarded to members of the armed services, while Heroes Hall showcases glass sculptor Dale Chihuly's massive Flame of Liberty installation in celebration of brave individuals.
Regardless of how visitors tackle the museum—although they should never tackle it literally, due to the high volume of glass—they'll likely find themselves intrigued by the thought-provoking collection. When Irvin J. Borowsky founded the museum in 1995, he did so with just this intent, seeking to inspire others to pursue more peaceful lives. But Borowsky may never have envisioned the scale it would one day reach: 78 exhibits, 179 works of contemporary art, and thousands of stories vividly told.