Maryland’s free museums offer unique windows into art, history and culture-Span of free exhibits reveals Old Master paintings, Civil War sites, air technology and Chesapeake Bay heritage.
For entertainment, education or sheer curiosity, visits to museums can be among the best values around. Museums that have free admission are downright bargains.
That’s the message from the Maryland Office of Tourism, which has designated October as a month to experience the free museums in the state.
“In recognition of National Arts and Humanities Month, we want to let our residents and visitors know about these wonderful cultural resources – especially ones that are free,” says Margot Amelia, executive director of the tourism office.
“We are fortunate to have myriad museums in Maryland – with collections that feature everything from world-class art to depictions of regional culture,” she adds. “You can see works by Matisse and Picasso at the Baltimore Museum of Art, a display of aviation technology at the Patuxent River Naval Air Museum, or an exhibition that illustrates our maritime heritage at the Waterman’s Museum – all for free.”
Gary Vikan, director, Walters Art Museum, says: “Since the Walters went free in 2006, attendance is up 45 percent. The museum is a free weekend destination for families, which is especially important in these tough economic times.”
Here is a sampling of museums, arts centers and cultural heritage sites across Maryland’s five regions that offer free general admission:
Laurel Museum, Laurel (Prince George’s County) – Located in an 1840s building used to house mill workers, the museum recounts the history of Laurel and surrounding area through exhibits, books, photographs, textiles, oral histories and personal artifacts. And They’re Off is a current exhibit that illustrates the history of the Laurel Park racetrack. Laurel Park opened 100 years ago as the site of a four-county fair. It became a prominent venue for racing, concerts and fairs.
Delapaine Visual Arts Center, Frederick (Frederick County) – Housed in the 100-year-old Mountain City Mill on the banks of Carroll Creek in historic downtown Frederick, the center offers more than 50 exhibits annually in eight galleries of various sizes. Lectures, art trips, films, workshops, and more round out the educational experience.
Strathmore, North Bethesda – The arts center presents a lively and diverse program of art exhibitions, concerts and performing arts programs, and literary lectures and events. Works of art receive a spectacular presentation in the outdoor Sculpture Garden.
Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA) – Some 90,000 works of art are here, including the prominent Cone Collection – early 20th-century artwork by Picasso, Matisse, Cezanne, Gaugin and others – as collected by Baltimore’s Cone sisters, Claribel and Etta, during their trips to Europe. An exhibition of more than 350 prints spanning 500 years of printmaking – from Dürer to Lichtenstein – opens Oct. 30. Create your own artwork on Free Family Sundays.
Banneker-Douglass Museum, Annapolis (Anne Arundel County) – Named for Benjamin Banneker and Frederick Douglass, the museum is the state of Maryland’s official repository of material culture related to African-American heritage in the state.
Walters Art Museum, Baltimore – Located in the city’s Mount Vernon Cultural District, The Walters has a representation of world art that includes early Egyptian artifacts, Greek sculpture, Old Master paintings and Art Deco jewelry. The Chamber of Wonders showcases hundreds of natural history wonders from around the globe.
Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum, St. Leonard (Calvert County) – Located on a peninsula along the Patuxent River, “Jef Pat” is a 560-acre property with 70 archaeological sites. The Maryland Archaeological Conservation Laboratory, which houses 8 million artifacts, is here. Indian Village offers a look at life when John Smith sailed into the area 400 years ago. During the War of 1812, just off-shore, Joshua Barney led his Chesapeake Flotilla against the British in Maryland’s largest-ever naval battle.
Patuxent River Naval Air Museum, Lexington Park (St. Mary’s County) – In 1937, the Navy’s Bureau of Aeronautics recognized its need for a base where the testing of Navy aircraft could be consolidated. A location in St.. Mary’s County was selected. The advent of Pearl Harbor accelerated the process. Patuxent River Naval Air Base opened in 1943. The museum preserves the history of the base and the evolution of Naval air technology. For a $10 fee, take a 30-minute spin in the cockpit of a flight simulator.
Thomas Stone National Historic Site, Port Tobacco (Charles County) – This 322-acre park, open Wednesday through Sunday, includes the restored home of Thomas Stone, a signer of the Declaration of Independence.. Stone purchased Haberdeventure – “dwelling place in the winds” – in 1770. A family cemetery is on the property. The visitor center offers exhibits and an orientation film. Nature walks and ranger-led tours are available.
Harriet Tubman Museum, Cambridge (Dorchester County) – Open Tuesday through Saturday, the museum has photographs and a panel display that illustrate the life of the prominent “conductor” of the Underground Railroad, who was a Dorchester County native.. This is also the home of the Harriet Tubman Organization and Education Center. Tours of the area are available by appointment.
Museum of Rural Life, Denton (Caroline County) – Exhibits here reveal the county’s agricultural-based economy through the stories of its residents. Caroline County Historical Society headquarters are located here. The museum is open Monday to Saturday, through the end of November.
Waterman’s Museum, Rock Hall (Kent County) – Located at Haven Harbour, the museum documents the early days of oystering, crabbing and fishing. Its displays include artifacts, photos, carvings, boats and a reproduction of a shanty house. Open daily and by appointment.
FREE MUSEUM EVENTS IN MARYLAND
In addition to museums with free admission, these museum-sponsored events are free:
Free Fall Baltimore, in celebration of National Arts and Humanities Month, is 31 days of free performances, events, exhibits and workshops – more than 300 of them. The Baltimore Office of Promotion & the Arts coordinates this annual program.
Calvert Marine Museum in Solomons (Calvert County) presents Lore Oyster House Day, Oct. 1. The J.C. Lore & Sons Oyster House – a restored 1934 seafood packing house – is open on weekends, 1-4 p.m. through Oct. 9. Located near the main campus of the museum, it regularly has free admission. The museum itself offers free admission onPatuxent River Appreciation Days, Oct. 8-9, and on the first Friday of each month, 5-8 p.m.
Ward Museum of Wildfowl Art in Salisbury presents its annual Chesapeake Wildfowl Expo, Oct. 7-8. Admission to this event and the museum is free that weekend. The Expo is a tribute to the evolution of decoy art.. It includes competitions, carving demos, live music and a decoy marketplace on the parking lot.
The Heritage Museums of Havre de Grace hosts a free Community History Day, Oct. 29 at St. Patrick’s Hall in Havre de Grace. The event launches the town’s War of 1812: Havre de Grace Under Fire commemoration. It provides a look at 19th-century history and culture through music, dance and art, along with displays that reveal historical research, archeology and genealogy. Also, organizers encourage visitors to clean out their attics and bring items of interest to the event for free appraisals and possible inclusion in Chesapeake Collectibles, a regional version of PBS’ Antiques Roadshow.