The Best Place no one Seems To Go

That, at least, was how I described the Walters Art Museum to my boyfriend as I introduced it to him for the first time; “It is the best place in the world that no one seems to know of or visit.”  With such a plethora of museums in DC that anyone living in Maryland or the surrounding areas has been dragged to on fifteen occasions–at least!–before the age of nine, the Walters in Baltimore is often overlooked.  It’s a very great pity for, if you haven’t been, you have missed out on one of the most enjoyable places to spend an afternoon.  Not only does it possess among the most stunning collections of art in the area–and among the most varied–but the Walters’ work with the preservation and study of manuscripts is astounding.  I apologize in advance for the lack of pictures; I wasn’t entirely convinced that pictures was permitted so, while I snuck in a few here and there with my phone (flash off, of course), I don’t have many to show for my Sunday afternoon.

Of particular interest to this class would, of course, be their manuscript room.  The room itself isn’t terribly impressive on first site.  So many of the books the Walters owns are displayed in the rooms with other artifacts of a similar period or theme and so the manuscript room is rather small.

Part of the history of the book on the wall of the manuscript room.

Part of the history of the book on the wall of the manuscript room.

(There is an interesting book in the corner which asks visitors to describe a treasured item and how its meaning, appearance, or function has changed for one over time.  The majority of people–standing in the prominently labeled “Manuscript Room” describe books and how they have received wear and tear over the years.  Interestingly, though, no one seems to approach the question of a change in function or even consider it in the context of books.  It’s meaning is the same as the day they first read it.  The only person who seemed to approach the idea of changing meaning or function was a gentleman who described his childhood purchase of a Green Lantern ring–something that represented power, responsibility, and adventure to him as a child when he wore it everywhere, but which now hangs on his keyring as a sort of totem (long ago becoming too small for his fingers) to remind him of youth and imagination.)


However, the main attraction of the room is an area devoted to the crafting of manuscripts–the materials, tools, and labour–with a touch screen monitor in the center of it.  The monitor offers one several choices of which I found the curator and the “library” to be of the most interest.  I’m very envious of the curator of the Walters manuscript’s job.  He gets to examine the 1200 beautiful books of the collection by hand–including a first edition of Homer!  However, their digital library visitors can interact with somewhat soothes my jealousy.  The team at

Some of one's options for a bit of light reading at the Walters.

Some of one’s options for a bit of light reading at the Walters.

the Walters has painstakingly scanned many of the more beautiful texts into the computer to allow the casual visitor to take them “off the shelf” as it were and flip through the pages.  This isn’t simply some in house version of Google books, however, for each page offers one the ability to examine minute aspects of the decoration and calligraphy, in addition to providing a detailed account of what is on the page, the meanings guests might otherwise be unaware of, and some historical context for understanding the text.  I think what makes their own DH project, as it were, so valuable is that these manuscripts–one of a kind, decorated in fine gold, handcrafted and hand-painted–are works of art that one would not normally get to flip through so casually as one does on the computer system.  Even digitized, these tomes take one’s breath away and the level of detail the system provide makes them that much more valuable.  It is clear from the curator’s remarks that this is, for him, a labour of love and I can see why; I were so lucky to be able to see these every day, I’d want to share them too.

While that particular gallery was the primary reason which brought me the museum, it was hardly the only reason for going.  The Walters has a great deal more to offer–in fact, the room devoted to their manuscript collection is quite small.  However, the Walters does not fail to delight the bibliophile; around each corner one can usually count on discovering an illuminated manuscript or beautifully bejeweled tome hiding among the other priceless artifacts of the era.  My favorite is a small book of hours in the Romanticism gallery on the top floor, the cover of which is ornately carved with plants and animals which apear very much alive.

The placement of the artwork in the Walters is as much an artform as the art itself.  Each room frames the pieces inside it.

The placement of the artwork in the Walters is as much an artform as the art itself. Each room frames the pieces inside it.

Also not to miss is the Hackerman House (connected by bridge to the Walters) that houses the Asian art exhibits.  There are a few pieces there, such as a huge basion with a magnificent dragon towering over it, which never fail to take my breath away.  Not only due to the setting–at the base of a spiral staircase which serves as almost an answer to the curls of the dragon’s tail–but the power of the piece.  Similarly there are som rather delightful works by Barye sprinkled about the many galleries–Mr. Walters must have been as great a fan of his works as I myself am.IMG_0438


Max and I are long-time friends.

Max and I are long-time friends.  He’s kept an eye on my things while I’ve been lost in a book or a sketch I’m working on, on numerous occasions.  He’s always of great assistance.







And while you are there, please say hullo to my friend, Max (named for the Maximillion style of armor).  He guards a little mediaeval feast hall with inviting chess and checkers sets to pass a few minutes or hours.  My boyfriend and I always ended up in a rather heated chess battle–one which he usually wins with a mere pawn and queen remaining to defend his lonely king–to the amusement of the docents.

Suffice it to say, as ways to spend an afternoon go, I highly recommend the Walters as one of the most enjoyable.

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