It all started with a fond remembrance. The Memphis Brooks Museum of Art first opened in 1916, funded by Bessie Vance Brooks in honor of her late husband. The original collection was small; just a few lovely paintings in an equally lovely building. Nearly a century later, however, the museum is one of the largest in the south, and houses thousands of pieces from antiquity to modernity.
Size: the Museum began as an 8,200 square-foot building housing 19 paintings. Now, it encompasses more than 9,000 works of art and has grown to 86,000 square feet, thanks to the generosity of donors and a healthy diet of vegetables.
The Building: inspired by the Morgan Library in New York City, the Beaux Arts-style edifice was built from Georgian marble
Eye Catcher: Nam June Paik's "VIDE-O-BELISK", a towering structure made from vintage television cabinets and neon, which plays video and original music created for the piece by a number of artists
Permanent Mainstay: the Samuel H. Kress Collection, which includes Italian Renaissance, Baroque, and Impressionist works by Pierre-August Renoir, Girolamo Romanino, and Sir Anthony van Dyck, among others
Don't Miss: a Frank Lloyd Wright-designed tall back chair from 1904
Special Programs: Brooks Films screens award-winning films of many genres and styles in the Dorothy K. Hohenberg Auditorium; the Art Open Late series features musical performances and artist talks on Thursday nights
When Jack and Marilyn Belz first stepped into a Los Angeles art gallery in 1968, it was their first step into a lifelong passion for Chinese art. Over the years, their collection grew so much that in 1998, they opened a museum that featured their expansive collection. According to the couple, "the intricate creations of Chinese artists rank among the most inspiring" to them. Visitors to the museum today find not only Chinese artwork from eras past, but also modern Judaica art.
Size: The Chinese collection ranges from 202 B.C. to early 2008 and encompasses more than 1,400 individual objects such as paintings, carved jades, textiles, and sculptures.
Eye Catcher: An ornate and intricate wedding carriage carved completely from jade, including the horse.
Permanent Mainstay: According to staff, the museum holds the largest displayed collection by renowned Judaica artist Daniel Kafri, including 32 bronze relief sculptures illustrating biblical scenes.
Don't Miss: a rare carved mammoth tusk from the late 18th century
Newest Exhibit: The Holocaust Memorial Gallery honors survivors, refugees, and liberators who live in Tennessee with displays of their personal stories and artifacts from that time.
Special Programs: The Emperor's Lunch program includes a guided tour of the museum followed by a Chinese box lunch.
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.
Named by Time Magazine as the most Authentic American Experience in Tennessee, the Stax Museum of American Soul Music is a state-of-the-art facility with films, videos, interactive exhibits, 2,500+ artifacts, and more to showcase the unique history of American soul music, and specifically that of Stax Records. 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.
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 façade. 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.
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.