Don’t forget St. Louis’ wonderful niche museums

Nancy Kranzberg

By Nancy Kranzberg, Special to the Jewish Light

Most of the major museums that we are most familiar with here in St. Louis have opened with new restrictions and guidelines. The St. Louis Art Museum, Contemporary Art Museum (CAM), the Sheldon Concert Hall and Art Galleries, the Pulitzer Arts Foundation, Missouri History Museum, etc., have each dealt with the pandemic in their own way.

Let’s not forget the other museums both large and small that are still open and dealing with the current situation. I’ll just list a few of these.

The World Chess Hall of Fame is located across the street from the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis in the city’s Central West End neighborhood. It displays artifacts from the museum’s permanent collection and temporary exhibitions highlighting the great players, historic games and rich cultural history of chess as well as the U.S. and World Chess Hall of Fame.


The special exhibitions are indeed quite worthy and have included, “Everybody’s Game: Chess in Popular Culture,” which took a playful look at how the ancient sport is represented in our contemporary culture by showcasing the game of chess as it has been featured in such mass media as magazine advertisements, rock music and movie posters and other popular venues; “A Queen Within: Adorned Archetypes, Fashion and Chess,” and “Bobby Fischer: Icon Among Icons.”

Currently, the museum is presenting an exhibition, “Keith Haring: Radiant Gambit,” which features artwork by Haring, a world-renowned pop artist, known for his art that proliferated in the New York subway system during the early 1980s. The exhibition includes a never-before-seen private collection of Haring’s works and photographs of the artist, bespoke street art, chess sets from London and newly commissioned pieces by St. Louis artists.

The Campbell House Museum, built in 1851, the first house in the elegant Lucas Place neighborhood, was the home of renowned fur trader and entrepreneur Robert Campbell and his family from 1854 until 1983.The museum contains hundreds of original Campbell possessions including furniture, paintings, clothing, letters, carriages and a unique set of interior photographs taken in the mid 1880s. Director Andrew Hahn says visitors are required to wear masks and tour appointments are encouraged.

And don’t forget the Field House Museum located in downtown St. Louis. The Field House Museum was designated a National Historic Landmark in 2007. It was opened in 1936 as the first historic house museum in St. Louis. The museum is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and has also be named a city of St. Louis landmark.

This house was Eugene Field’s boyhood home. During residence here his father, Roswell M. Field, served as the attorney who took Dred Scott’s freedom suit into the federal courts, leading to the infamous Supreme Court decision in Scott v. Sandford.

Not only is the home a gem, but the museum includes a wonderful small library and a toy collection. Eugene Field was not only a famous children’s poet, but also loved and collected children’s toys and dolls.

When we think of the St. Louis icon, the Gateway Arch, the tram ride to the top comes to mind, but don’t forget about the now national park’s incredible museum underneath, which is open daily from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. The museum was very recently redesigned and opened to the public in July of 2018. Six new story galleries cover 201 years of history about the Westward Expansion of the United States with an emphasis of St Louis’ paramount role in that era. Visitors are guided through time from the founding of St. Louis in 1764 to the building of the Arch, completed in 1965. The new museum describes the Westward Expansion period of the United States with more perspectives from the cultures involved.

David Brinker, director of MOCRA, St. Louis University’s Museum of Contemporary Religious Art, was sad to inform me that the museum is open for now only to visitors with SLU IDs and hopefully will reopen soon to the public. The museum is best known for bringing an interfaith focus to contemporary art.

Through exhibitions, collections and educational programs, MOCRA highlights and explores the ways contemporary visual artists engage the religious and spiritual dimensions. MOCRA serves the diverse St Louis University community, and the wider public, by facilitating personal discovery, experience and inspiration, while contributing to a wider culture of interfaith encounter and dialogue.

MOCRA Voices podcast features conversations with thinkers and practitioners at the intersection of contemporary art, religion and spirituality. For more information call 314-977-7170 or go to [email protected]

So why would I end with a museum that is now not currently open to the public? The reason is that it is worth the wait to go again to this incredible gem. I have the faith that this awful pandemic will end soon, and we will all breathe freely again and enjoy our wonderful museum and cultural institutions with no restrictions.