The United States is filled with cities that have run into major economic problems, and that are still trying to recover. Baltimore falls into that category. Even as it struggles to renew itself, there are still many reasons to visit. At the top of the list is the fact that Baltimore has some fantastic art museums.
Baltimore is the largest city in Maryland, with over 660,000 residents. It was founded in 1729 and has been one of the largest seaports in the Northeast ever since. It was an industrial center, with steel and auto manufacturing anchoring its economy for many years. Today Baltimore’s main industries are service, government and tourism. Like many cities, this change has caused economic problems as high paying jobs have been replaced with lower paying ones.
But Baltimore’s industrial past has left us a few really good remnants, its museums. When you visit, one museum that you should make time for is the Walters Art Museum. It is located in the Mount Vernon-Belvedere section of the city, across the street from the iconic Washington Monument. The Walters is a public museum, owned by the city, and it is free to all. It was founded in 1931 when Henry Walters donated his extensive fine art collection to the city, along with his mansion and several other buildings. Walters was president of the Atlantic Coast Line Company, a railroad line, founded by his father, that was one of the primary freight and passenger lines to Florida.
Henry Walters had inherited a large collection of European and American art from his father. Over the years he expanded his holdings, branching out to include Asian and Middle Eastern art. In 1909 Henry Walters built an Italianate pallazo on North Charles Street which he used to display his work. When he died, the Walters Art Gallery, along with its entire collection, and his mansion were given to Baltimore for the “benefit of the public.”
The museum’s collection has something for almost any taste. Start your visit on the top floor of the museum. Here you will find European and American Art from the 18th and 19th and 20th centuries. Included is a gallery that has been arranged to look like Henry Walters salon, complete with the paintings that originally hung there. As you work your way down from floor to floor through the pallazo and a the main building, which was built in the 1970’s, you will move backwards through time, ending with ancient Greek and Roman art on the ground floor. There is also a collection of Asian art in a third building that is accessible from the 3rd floor of the museum.
For a totally different experience of the art world, travel one and a half miles, across the Inner Harbor, to the American Visionary Art Museum. Here you will find three buildings and a sculpture garden dedicated to contemporary artists who are pushing the boundaries. The main building has four floors of a collection that is visually stunning, with permanent and temporary exhibits that grab the eye. On the other side of the garden is a large barn-like building that houses a collection of kinetic sculptures. One wall is filled with smaller items that you can watch in motion by pushing a button. But the building holds some truly immense pieces, including an airplane and a hot air balloon.
Baltimore has received a lot of bad press recently, but there are many good reasons to visit. The Walters and the American Visionary Art Museum are just two excellent places to visit.
The Walters Art Museum – 600 North Charles St, Baltimore MD
Open Weds – Sun 10 AM – 5 PM; Thursday until 9 PM
Admission – Free for Everyone
The Charm City Circulator offers free transportation in the downtown, Inner Harbor and Federal Hill areas.
The American Visionary Art Museum – 800 Key Highway, Baltimore MD.
Open Tues-Sun, 10 AM – 6 PM
Admission - Adult: $15.95; Senior (60 and up): $13.95; Student/Child: $9.95; Children 6 and under: FREE!
The Charm City Circulator offers free transportation in the downtown, Inner Harbor and Federal Hill areas. It stops at the corner of Light Street and Key Highway, 3 blocks from the museum.