We lived in Boston for more than twenty years before moving to San Francisco a decade ago. We thought we had at least seen pretty much everything Boston had to offer. So imagine our surprise when a San Francisco friend told us of a 125 -year old museum that we didn’t know about. And then imagine our Boston friends’ surprise that we had never heard of this gem.
Harvard has a number of art museums that they use to teach. The museums are also open to the public.
The Harvard Museum of Natural History was created in 1886 when the university contracted with a Dresden Germany father-son team of glass artists to create a series of precise, full, longitudinal, and transverse models of plants to display at the museum. The museum now owns models of about 1,000 distinct species, about 75% of which are displayed. The details and realism of these glass flowers are amazing.
The other galleries within the natural history museum included almost equally fascinating displays of hundreds (out of a total collection of 100,000) of minerals as well as those on climate change, archaeology and ethnology, and early Native American, Latin American, and Pacific Island civilizations.
Arthur M. Sackler Museum
We also visited the University’s Sackler Museum, with its Modern and Contemporary, Asian, Islamic, and Indian galleries. Its permanent collection includes nice small representations of Impressionist and 19th-century American art. The museum also had a small, but interesting special exhibit of Jasper Johns’ use of cross-hatch motives in print media.
And since we were in Harvard Square, we had to make a not-so-brief stop at one of our all-time favorite bookstores–that at the Harvard Coop.
Trinity Church: The Copley Square Masterpiece
Copley Square is one of the most picturesque and inviting public spaces in the country. We were lucky enough to live within a few blocks of the square and to have offices (with a partial view of the square) one block away. We have walked through it many times, taken historical and architectural tours of it, and have been inside all of the surrounding buildings except, inexcusably, the most important of them all–Trinity Church. We decided to rectify that omission on this trip.
But first, a brief tour of this lovely square, named after the revolutionary era portrait painter, John Singleton Copley. The square, which was designed for people, not to speak of regular (in season) concerts, farmers markets, art markets, street entertainers, and much more.
The square is surrounded by some of Boston’s most notable historical and architectural sites, including:
- The Old South Church (not to be confused with the Old North Church of Paul Revere ride fame), which was completed in 1875;
- The Boston Public Library, designed by Charles McKim, was the first public library in the country;
- The grand Copley Plaza Hotel was built in 1891;
- The graceful, 60-story tall, reflective glass John Hancock Tower enhances, rather than competes with the historic square by reflecting the surrounding buildings.
The there’s Trinity Church. Completed in 1877, this H.H. Richardson Romanesque style building was the first American architectural style ever to be widely imitated in Europe (for all types of buildings, from railroad stations to libraries). Architects voted it the single most important building in America in 1885. It is still considered to be one of the ten most architecturally significant buildings in the country and the only building that remains from the original list. It was designated a National Historical Landmark in 1971.
The Richardson Romanesque style is somewhat dark and foreboding, and the religious-themed stained glass windows, wood carvings, and painted murals are solemn. The building, however, serves as a dramatic anchor to the square and this cradle of the American Episcopalian religion. The church and the religion maintain their sense of humor. After all, how many other religions promote a “Ten Best Reasons to Join” list created by Robin Williams?