The interactive exhibits and programs compiled by the Pink Palace Family of Museums reinforce a mission that has stayed constant for 80 years: to "inspire people to learn how history, science, technology, and nature shape the Mid-South." Attached to Clarence Saunders' mansion built in the 1920s, the museum's permanent exhibits take an eclectic approach to chronicling the past, revealing everything from ancient fossils to contemporary southern history. Inside, visitors can chart the history of Memphis from the early Spanish explorers through the Civil War or walk through a replica of Saunders' original Piggly Wiggly—the country’s first self-service grocery store, and even see a shrunken head. Global adventures are chronicled on a four-story screen at the CTI-IMAX theater, and the Sharpe Planetarium explores the cosmos from the comfort of a 130-seat theater.
Traveling to east Memphis, one can discern the natural side of the Pink Palace Family of Museums. Lichterman Nature Center encompasses 65 acres of lush gardens filled with native wildflowers, trees, and wildlife. The center combines self-guided nature walks with plant sales and educational activities to expose visitors to the natural world.
The perfect frame can make a work of art leap off of a wall. For the Dixon Gallery and Gardens, the overall layout frames a 2,000-piece museum with 17 acres of lush English gardens. Tulip-lined walkways, scenic vistas, and the occasional sculpture surround visitors on tours of the Tennessee woodlands, where oaks and hickories climb towards the sky where all the good sunlight is. In total, more than 120 identified species of trees live and breathe within the gardens' level IV arboretum.
Even more sights await visitors behind the museum?s corinthian columns and brick fa?ade. Eight to ten rotating exhibitions a year hang alongside a permanent collection that touches on paper works, sculptures, and paintings by French and American impressionists?from Claude Monet to Mary Cassatt. Beyond these ever-present attractions, the museum also hosts live performances, educational programs, and other special events.
Included as one of Time's 50 Authentic American Experiences in 2008, the Stax Museum of American Soul Music assembles more than 2,500 artifacts chronicling the history of the genre. Using video footage of sermons and early 20th-century gospel performances, the Roots of Soul exhibit investigates soul and gospel's close-knit relationship forged out of a mutual distaste for sea shanties, and a chronologically ordered stretch of 912 singles and 292 full-length albums adorns the winding Hall of Records. Elsewhere, the "Express Yourself" dance floor coaxes tapping toes and curmudgeonly steam engines to boogie along to continuous Soul Train footage, and inside the reconstructed Studio A, patrons glimpse the room where numerous Stax hits were recorded, accompanied by original instruments and samples of recording-session outtakes. Additional unearthed remnants include Albert King's Flying V purple guitar, a Mavis Staples stage dress, and Isaac Hayes's completely restored, gold-trimmed and fur-lined 1972 Cadillac El Dorado.
Metal Museum celebrates the centuries-long tradition of metalwork with exhibits, restoration, and classes. Its exhibitions include in-depth looks at contemporary knife making, kinetic sculpture that imitates the mechanics of the solar system, and solo collections by prominent artists. The museum even gives folks a glimpse into the process by showcasing professional blacksmiths at work. Visitors who are inspired by the fine and intricate lines in a metal sculpture can take a class on metalworking and hone their skills in the on-site foundry. The museum also regularly honors working artists and trains young people to work with diverse materials including hollowware, jewelry, and enameling. Every year, a three-day fundraiser gives folks the chance to have professional artists repair their metal items and see demonstrations by artists from around the country.
Successful carriage maker Amos Woodruff began construction on his Memphis home in 1870, designing the property in French Victorian style with a mansard roof and cypress woodwork and flooring. A year later, the mansion hosted the wedding of Amos's daughter, Mollie, marking the first public event and first of countless weddings to be held on the property. Cotton factor Noland Fontaine owned the dwelling after Amos; following the death of Noland and his wife, the home became an art school and then a vacant building until the Association for the Preservation of Tennessee Antiquities acquired the space in 1961.
Nestled among magnolia trees, the restored mansion still shelters handwritten autographs and memories of the craftsmen who helped erect the building. Just as it did for Mollie Woodruff, the property also continues to host weddings and special events with a front lawn that accommodates up to 250 visitors. A collection of more than 1,000 pieces of Victorian-era fashion, such as wedding gowns, undergarments, overgarments, and stiletto horseshoes, can be found in the home. The clothing display changes several times throughout the year along with the museum's rotating exhibitions.
In the pre-computer age, wagons and trucks loaded with cotton samples once flooded Front Street, where cotton traders graded, bought, sold, and shipped their wares on the floor of the private Memphis Cotton Exchange. Formerly off-limits to everyone but members and their guests, the restored 3,000-square-foot room—adorned with ornate architectural flourishes from 1924 and a 30-foot ceiling—opened to the public as The Cotton Museum in 2006. Through documentary films and exhibits, the institution traces the history of the exchange and the impact of cotton on culture and society. The museum's oral-history project collects testimonials from merchants, mill workers, and sharecroppers, and its hall of fame honors innovative industry leaders who turned to cotton after unsuccessful attempts at lassoing clouds. Outside, a 30-minute self-guided walking tour highlights nine historical stops around Front Street, whereas the Exploration Hall's interactive indoor exhibit, The Changing World of Cotton, describes industry advances in mechanization and environmental sustainability.