The Brooklyn Museum in its current location opened

The Brooklyn Museum in its current location opened to the public in 1897. (Credit: Courtesy of the Brooklyn Museum )

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Secrets of the Brooklyn Museum

200 Eastern Pkwy, Brooklyn, NY 11238

Editor's note: This feature is part of our "Secrets of NYC" series. For other installments see amny.com/secrets.

The Brooklyn Museum is a cultural gem in the heart of the coolest place on the planet. Its history is worth getting to know a little bit better.

The Brooklyn Museum's original design, by legendary architects

Credit: GEORGIA KRAL

Only 1/5 of the original design was built

The Brooklyn Museum's original design, by legendary architects McKim, Mead & White, was actually about five times the size of what was eventually built. Walk behind the building today towards the parking lot, and it is clearly visible where the building stopped.

The mayor of Brooklyn Charles A. Schieren laid the first cornerstone for the museum in 1895 and the west wing was completed in 1897. The museum opened that year and in 1907 the central pavilion was completed, followed by the east wing. In 1927, construction of the Beaux-Arts Court and the east wing wrapped up and the Museum was deemed finished, with only about one-fifth of the original design completed. The Depression was just around the corner, and the Museum didn't have the money to finish all the wings.

French, a founding member of the National Sculpture

Credit: GEORGIA KRAL

Daniel Chester French also sculpted the Lincoln Memorial

French, a founding member of the National Sculpture Society and the designer the Pulitzer Prize medal also designed the 30 allegorical statues that line the facade of the Museum.

On April 28, 1968, an assistant curator introduced

Credit: Courtesy of the Brooklyn Museum

The museum was at the cutting edge of technology

On April 28, 1968, an assistant curator introduced a new feature to the Brooklyn Museum: Audio interviews with artists located in the galleries to guide visitors experiences interacting with the art. The Museum was one of the first American art museums to introduce this concept, which today is found in almost every museum. "Listening to Pictures" featured interviews with more than 70 artists.

In 1823, a group of dedicated Brooklyn citizens

Credit: Courtesy of the Brooklyn Museum

The Museum didn't start out as a museum

In 1823, a group of dedicated Brooklyn citizens founded the Apprentices' Library Association, the first free, circulating library in the borough (which was an independent city until 1898). Its first location, shown here, was on Cranberry Street in Brooklyn Heights. In 1831, the library began collecting art with the purchase of its first painting: A portrait by William Dunlap of Robert Snow, a founder and the first president of the Apprentices' Library.

After Cranberry Street, the Apprentices' Library moved to

Credit: Courtesy of the Brooklyn Museum

The Brooklyn Museum moved, and moved again

After Cranberry Street, the Apprentices' Library moved to Washington Street in Downtown Brooklyn in 1841. That's when it first started to display paintings, sculptures and other elements of the arts and sciences. In 1843, the Library and the Brooklyn Lyceum consolidated and became The Brooklyn Institute, thus shifting from books to art. Not until 1888 was a committee formed to devise a plan for a new museum building.

In 1890, the Brooklyn Institute was reorganized into the Brooklyn Institute or Arts and Sciences, which eventually became the parent organization of the Brooklyn Museum, the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and the Brooklyn Children's Museum.

The 1923 exhibit

Credit: Courtesy of the Brooklyn Museum

The Museum was progressive in displaying African objects as art

The 1923 exhibit "Primitive Negro Art, Chiefly from the Belgian Congo," was precedent-setting in how it treated the 1,500 African objects in the show. Stewart Culin, who was the founding curator of the Department of Ethnology at the Museum, curated the show, and was a self-taught ethnologist. The show was organized to showcase objects Culin had acquired in his constant travel, and set the stage for how cultural objects were represented in museums.

The Brooklyn Museum established an education department in

Credit: Courtesy of the Brooklyn Museum

The museum operated an art school from 1930 to 1985

The Brooklyn Museum established an education department in 1930 with lectures, classes and instruction, including one led by Native Americans in 1932. In 1941, the Brooklyn Museum Art School was formally founded and installed in the Museum's west wing.

But the museum was always interested in teaching - from its inception books and manuscripts were an important part of the collection. Back in 1896 in an address delivered at the museum (then known as the Brooklyn Institute of Arts & Sciences), Booker T. Washington said: "The study of art that does not result in making the strong less willing to oppress the weak means little." The art school was active until 1985.

Sitting on either side of the front side

Credit: GEORGIA KRAL

The statues in front came from the Manhattan Bridge

Sitting on either side of the front side of the museum are two imposing allegorical statues by Daniel Chester French. They were moved from the approaches to the Manhattan Bridge in the 1964, with each romantic imagining meant to represent Brooklyn and Manhattan. In comparison to the more imperious Manhattan statue (pictured), whose character is surrounded by animals, the Brooklyn statue appears more scholarly and welcoming.

The Victory Garden program was a nationwide effort

Credit: Courtesy of the Brooklyn Museum

Museum employees were gardeners, too

The Victory Garden program was a nationwide effort started by the federal government that encouraged people to grow fresh produce in under-utilized land to supplement the country's food supply during war time. By 1945 in Brooklyn 50,000 Victory Gardeners were cultivating 17,000 gardens in Brooklyn's backyards, vacant lots and city land.

The Brooklyn Museum joined the effort too, working with the Brooklyn Botanic Garden to grow vegetables in 3 acres of land behind the museum.

In 1929, Mrs. Edward Blum, the wife of

Credit: GEORGIA KRAL

It pipe organ was one of the first of its kind

In 1929, Mrs. Edward Blum, the wife of the president of the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences, donated a pipe organ to the musuem, making it one of just three museums in the U.S. and the first in the east to be home to a musical instrument of that size. The organ was built for the museum and was located in a spot overlooking the Beaux-Arts Court that now houses the 19th Century Modern furniture exhibit. The organ was later given to a religious institution, but when it was at the museum it was a popular addition. It was brought in at the tail end of the depression, a time when people attended museums in hopes of being entertained.

The design of the floor in the Beau-Arts

Credit: GEORGIA KRAL

The floor in the Beaux-Arts Court is partially transparent

The design of the floor in the Beau-Arts Court is unique and meant to let light into the impressive room. The room is also where the Brooklyn Museum hosts its First Saturdays dance parties. If you've never been to one, they are epic. There's something about dancing in a room surrounded by priceless works of art that can't be topped.

In the 1950s, a curator at the Museum

Credit: Courtesy of the Brooklyn Museum

Melvin the mummy was almost incinerated

In the 1950s, a curator at the Museum did not think mummies should be placed on view, Edward Bleiberg, Curator of Egyptian, Classical and Ancient Near Eastern Art at the Museum told us. That curator bought "Melvin," a Roman period mummy, for its mask and in case there were amulets in the wrappings.

"He wanted to dispose of the mummy because he did not want to store it," Bleiberg said. "He asked the department technician to incinerate the mummy. Mr. Giambolvo, the technician, refused on the grounds that the individual could have been a Christian. They then tried to bury it in Brooklyn, but could not do so because they did not have a death certificate. Lack of a death certificate also meant the mummy could not be shipped across state lines, though there was a museum in North Carolina willing to display it. In the end the mummy went to storage about 1956. Because we saved the wrappings, he was re-wrapped for the 2010 long-term gallery."

Today, the mummy chamber, (Melvin included), is among the most popular exhibits at the Brooklyn Museum.

In 1934, the Museum decided it needed to

Credit: GEORGIA KRAL

The main entrance used to have a grand staircase

In 1934, the Museum decided it needed to become more user-friendly, and the elaborate classical staircase that led up to the entrance was removed. The objective was to create ease of entry, and with the new entrance guests could see right into the museum instead of just seeing an imposing structure.

At the same time, no longer did guests enter through the grand doors seen in this picture, which emptied out onto the third floor gallery. In 2004, the current entrance and pavilion, designed by the Polshek Partnership, was built.

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