Wednesday, December 7, 2011
One of the first surviving cultural institutions formed in Massachusetts after the Revolution was the East India Marine Society of Salem, which has today morphed into the Peabody-Essex Museum. Yes, you want to click on that link.
The East India Maritime Society was formed in 1799 - 49 years before the founding of the Boston Public Library and 77 years before the Museum of Fine Arts - as a repository for many of the items being brought back from India, China, Southeast Asia, Australia, New Zealand and the South Pacific. Melville's friend, Hawthorne, lived a very short walk away.
What's interesting about this for us Melvillians? Hawthorne would have been hard-pressed to lay his eyes on a significant work of European Art in Salem. But one of the finest collections of Asian and Oceanic art and artifacts anywhere in the world was established before he was born just around the corner. And we can still drop by and see some of the objects he might have gaped at as a curious young boy.