Generally, I am able to find historical sites wherever I roam. In some places, like Rome or Athens, I can literally throw a pebble and hit a place from the past, but in the United States it can be a bit more difficult, especially in smaller cities. To find history in your town, I suggest tempering one’s expectations…look for an old church, a museum in a century-old home, a historic office building. Some small cities can be surprisingly rich with historic sites, such as Saginaw, Michigan.
Although it is a city of about 50,000 in the middle of Michigan, Saginaw is fortunate to host several interesting cultural venues, two of its museums occupy historical buildings—the Castle Museum of Saginaw County History and the Saginaw Art Museum. This piece focuses on the art collection housed in the gorgeous former Ring Mansion (see this blog for Castle Museum).
History of the Museum
The Saginaw Art Museum is housed in the former mansion of the Ring family, which is described as an “Italian villa in the Georgian Revival style” (Saginaw Art Museum History). Clark Lombard Ring and his wife Elizabeth Palmer Merrill were the home’s owners. The couple represented two influential families in Saginaw at the time. In the second half of the 19th century, Saginaw was a thriving, growing town known for its salt and lumber industries. It was in the latter that the Ring and Merrill families made their fortunes.
Lizzie and C.L. Ring inherited his father’s home and on the land hired Charles Adams Platt, a noted New York architect, to design their new home. Platt had exhibited his work in Paris and traveled in Europe gaining inspiration, especially from Italy (I can totally understand how this happened).
The Ring family commissioned Platt in 1903. With visions of European grandeur, Charles Platt created the red brick home with white pillars that houses the museum today. The estate is stately and inviting, as is the formal garden he designed behind the mansion. Inside the home the rooms flow beautifully, bridging formality with functionality. I can imagine the Ring children would have been able to play and run around with ease.
The garden is my favorite feature. I love the terraced levels…each section with perfectly pruned privet hedges. A variety of flowers bloom throughout the year. A fountain used to flow, which must have provided a lovely respite from the summer heat of Michigan. The pergola over the pavilion would have given comforting shade for reading a book or enjoying a picnic.
The grounds and the home are worth the price of admission, but the artworks within the residence are the real stars of the show.
The museum opened to the public in the 1940s. Its permanent collection focuses on paintings, watercolors, and sculpture from American and European artists of the 18th through 21st centuries. There are also photographs, ceramics, glassworks, and other fine arts. Although not a focus of the collection there are some pieces that are substantially older than the bulk of the collection, such as a 12th century Atlantid statue, a Tang Dynasty Buddha, a 12th century baptismal font, and a 15th century reliquary of Saint Veronica with bones (I think they might be jaw bones) shaped to look like a heart within. Here are some of my favorites:
- Reclining Nude by Francois Thevenot, oil painting, Frnech, 1882
- Court Lady by Carle Vanloo, oil painting, French, 1760,
- In the Garden by Julia Roecker, oil painting, American, 1935
- Coast of Carmel with Rough Waves by Paul Dougherty, oil painting, American, 1919
- Evelyn Nesbitt by Carle Bienner, oil painting, American, 1908
- Indian Warrior Making Arrows at His Fire by E. Irving Couse, oil painting, American, c. 1910
- Seated Buddha by an unidentified artist, statue, Chinese, Tang Dynasty 618-906
- El Cid Compeador by Anna Hyatt Huntington, bronze statue, American, 1927
- Baptismal Font by unidentified artist, sandstone, French, 12th century
- Psiche e Amore by Aristide Petrilli, marble statue, Italian, c. 1890-1900
- Atlantid by unidentified artist, stone statue, French, 12th century
- St. Veronica of Binasco, reliquary, Italian, 15th century
The museums hosts temporary exhibitions from local artists and traveling collections of artwork. While I was there, I was able to take in a neat exhibit on the art of poetry where poems were visually re-imagined through images. The mansion’s library houses a major art reference collection of over 1100 written works. There is also a studio on site that offers various programs and events. I would love to take a painting class in the gardens—what inspiration!
I highly recommend visiting the museum and the gardens when you’re in Saginaw. The Saginaw Art Museum exemplifies the type of art, cultural, and historical treasures that punctuate the United States from sea to shining sea. Does your city offer a neat museum or highlight a historical site? Tell me about them in the comments…I would love to learn about the cultural places in your area.
See the website for current information about their hours and pricing. https://www.saginawartmuseum.org/
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