Rest of the Best 2014: Houston's Top 10 Small Museums
See that colorful sculpture above? That's more than art, that's a coffin. It's part of the fantasy coffin collection created by Ghanaian sculptor Kane Quaye at the National Museum of Funeral History. That's one of the reasons we like Houston's small museums - they offer the unexpected. Sure the blockbuster shows by the big outfits in the Museum District are wonderful (art by Picasso, Charles Marville, Soto, along with giant dinosaurs, elaborate Egyptian sarcophaguses, collections of famed jewels, what's not to like?), but they aren't often off-beat. Small museums can afford to be off-beat. They have a specialized audience who already loves them. True, the admission lines at the smaller museums don't wrap around the block like they do occasionally at the big three, but that's part of their appeal - no long lines or wall-to-wall visitors.
Courtesy of the National Museum of Funeral History A fantasy coffin created by Ghanaian sculptor Kane Quaye
There are lots of museums that didn't make this list; Czech Center Museum Houston, Houston Maritime Museum, the Police Museum. All of them interesting with unique offerings, but this is a list of the top ten so we had to narrow it down.
10. National Museum of Funeral History
415 Barren Springs, 281-876-3063
The "A Life Well Lived: Fantasy Coffins- Kane Quaye" exhibit is enough reason to visit the National Museum of Funeral History (the figures include a KLM airliner, Mercedes Benz, fish, canoe, leopard, chicken, bull, crab, eagle, lobster, shallot and Yamaha outboard motor). Add to that the collection of ornate hearses, the display of antique embalming equipment, the history of Popes' funerals and a really good bash at Halloween and on the Day of the Dead, and the museum earns its reputation as a must-see stop in Houston. The museum's slogan is "Any Day Above Ground Is a Good One." Come on, that's a pretty good slogan.
9. The Printing Museum
From the "Of Birds and Texas: the Art of Stuart & Scott Gentling" touring collection of the Printing Museum
1324 W. Clay, 713-522-4652
The Printing Museum (which recently changed its name from the Museum of Printing History), is somewhat less macabre than the Funeral Museum, but it has wonderfully varied and rotating exhibits that make it worth a regular visit.
There are the expected antique printing press, newspapers from the turn of the 19th century and the like but it's the fact that the museum mixes those with etchings, photographs and prints from contemporary artists that gives it extra depth and context.
Along with exhibits, the museum offers workshops and classes. There's a printmaker as an artist-in-residence.
8. San Jacinto Museum of History Few museums can boast a battleground location, but the San Jacinto Museum of History can. It's located on the site of the Battle of San Jacinto (1836, you know the one where Texas won its independence and all that?) The museum has rotating exhibits of artifacts from the early and mid-1800s that were found on the grounds or nearby (see the Moore gun above). The film Texas Forever!! The Battle of San Jacinto screens every hour. The Museum makes up the first floor of the San Jacinto Monument and next to the Battleship Texas. Pack you lunch and make a day of it.
Courtesy of the San Jacinto Museum of History Artifact identified as a Moore gun
1502 Alabama St., Houston, TX
6815 Cypresswood Drive, Spring, TX
5104 Caroline St., Houston, TX
415 Barren Springs, Houston, TX
4807 Caroline St., Houston, TX
5104 Caroline St., Houston, TX