An Active Museum

July 7, 2016

In from Emma McGuire

Today we visited another treasure in the heart of Andover, Connecticut. As we approached our destination, we got a text from the woman who would be our guide saying to, “park along the museum on Phillips Street. There are signs for two-hour parking, but you can ignore them.” We did as she said and were steps away from a sturdy red-brick, two-story building with gorgeous arched, white windows. We were about to tour the Robert S. Peabody Museum of Archaeology at Philips Academy, Andover and were we in for a surprise.

As we entered, we were warmly welcomed by Lindsay Randall, the museum curator of education and outreach, the same person who texted us instructing us to break the posted parking rules. Little did I know that ‘breaking rules’ would be a theme of the day. Well, rules weren't broken per se, but everything I thought museums were supposed to be like got thrown out of the window; this museum was the exception to the ‘rule.’ In the past, my experience with museums has been to look and not touch, speak quietly and read a lot of little signs posted next to exhibits housed behind sterile glass. This was absolutely not the case at the Peabody Museum.

This museum is part of Philips Academy, a private secondary school established in 1778. It houses thousands of Native American artifacts. Although much of their collection has been repatriated over the years, their collection is still massive and impressive. The natives shared that these artifacts are like living members of their community. I got that sense as Lindsay would pick up pieces and talk passionately about them, always with deep respect and admiration. Seeing the pieces up close captured my attention and made me want to learn and see more. We even got to see a spoon that was engraved by Sitting Bull. So cool!

What makes this museum so unique and out-of-the-box is that it truly is living! These artifacts don't sit in drawers and behind glass. Collections at this museum are seen, touched and cared for by the students at the academy on a weekly basis. It is an extension of the school and an integral part of their everyday curriculum. Each discipline in the school has woven the collections and artifacts into their lessons in interesting and meaningful ways. Lindsay showed us a brochure that highlighted how subjects such as math, science and language arts come to the museum and utilize their collection.

It was so much fun to be in her presence and in the presence of history as it came alive right before our eyes. We were able to experience a day in the life of a Philips Academy student. It was fun, engaging and very memorable!