Art from the Sea

  • Arts & Culture
  • 1799

In 1799, a group of sea captains and traders formed the East India Marine Society in Salem, Massachusetts, to share valuable knowledge about how to safely transport merchandise to and from Asia. To be a member you had to have sailed beyond either Cape Horn or the Cape of Good Hope. Members were also required to contribute artifacts, art works, and natural curiosities acquired on the other side of the globe to build up a viewable collection. This grew into America’s oldest continually operating museum, merged with a museum funded by the great philanthropist George Peabody, and ended up as a treasure trove of Asian, Oceanic, and African culture, and one of the greatest extant gatherings of maritime art and history. Holding 840,000 works of art, more than 400,000 rare books, two dozen historic buildings (including a Chinese Qing dynasty house disassembled and carried the the U.S. in a ship), a half-million square feet of space, and an endowment over $600 million, what is now known as the Peabody Essex Museum ranks among the top 10 American museums. Contributions of $650 million for an expansion and enhancement that will be completed in 2019 came from the latest generation of a deep, long rank of private donors who have built up the museum.

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