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by Mary Dickinson
November 7, 2003
Members of the PEM were invited to meet the curator of Chinese art, Nancy Berliner, and tour Yin Yu Tang with her. She told us she was in Huang Cun, in the prefecture of Huizhou in southeastern China, when the Huang family were meeting to decide the fate of their ancestral home. She was able to discuss with them the possibility of it becoming part of a museum in America. They embraced the idea and the house was taken apart piece by piece. Nancy recorded every aspect of the move and reconstruction in her book, Yin Yu Tang. I was able to get a signed copy of her book.
Inside the courtyard (it came with the house) Nancy explained how they tried to keep the house just as it was in China. They tried to include all the changes it experienced over the past 200 years. She explained the tiles over the front door, pairs of different birds representing harmonious marriage. The broken tiles on each side of the door were done deliberately to appease the Communist party, an effort to destroy the old in favor of the new. Roof tiles on top of the facade and on the hood over the door give an attractive dark accent to the whitewashed stucco over brick facade. Originally, only two tiny windows opened to the second floor. The house opens to an interior courtyard. This design protected the family during the long absence of the merchant.
Inside, Nancy explained the courtyard and pointed out how the common rooms on the first and second floor were opened to it. Several generations lived in the house at the same time. Three bedrooms were opened to the tour. A double size bed was sideways against the far wall and there was an armoire in each room. Elaborate carvings cover the bedroom windows. We were able to tour the storage room where they stored the casket. Proudly, they always showed the guests their casket. The kitchen is located behind the house.
To get to there from Rt 95 take Rt 128 E to the Peabody Essex Museum exit and follow road signs. Adults $12,Sen 10, Students 8
From journal Peabody Essex Museum
October 7, 2002
The heart of the newly-renovated museum is its stunning new atrium wing, shaped like the upside-down hull of a ship, in a nod to Salem's maritime past.
The new wing includes a large gift shop, with an especially good selection of asian items, exhibitions of Maritime and American Decorative Arts, revolving exhibitions, a cafe that serves drinks, sandwiches, and salads.
But the jewel of the museum is the 18th century Yu Yin Tang house. The house was found in rural China, purchased from decendants of the original owners, moved to Salem, and carefully reconstructed, brick by brick. The house is a popular attraction, and you can only go through it by obtaining a timed tour ticket (free with admission). These do run out, so go get your Yu Yin Tang ticket early.
One of the museum's other delights is East India Marine Hall, a single beautiful room located in the museum's original Federal granite building, with floor to ceiling arched windows at either end. It is lined with portraits of the Salem sea captains whose souvenirs from the east formed the beginning of the museum's collections, and with glass cases containing the curiosities they brough home. If you're interested in any item in the room, you can find out about it using one of the touch screens mounted around the edges of the room.
While you're visiting the museum, you can also see the main cabin of Cleopatra's Barge--the ridiculously named first deepwater yacht built in the US, and plenty of information about its owner, Salem merchant George Crowninshield Jr. It's dim in the reconstructed cabin, but once your eyes adjust to the dark, you''re struck by how luxurious the appointments are--the furniture stylishly painted and gilded(at least it was stylish in 1817), the walls panelled in exotic woods.
Admission to the museum includes tours of any of the PEM's restored houses. If you're pressed for time, go for the Three Centuries of Salem tour, which takes you through the late 17th century Ward house, the Georgian Crowninshield-Bentley house, and the Federal Gardiner-Pingree house. The latter was built by Samuel McIntire, and not only includes fine woodwork, but some McIntire furniture, too.
From journal Salem, Massachusetts: Sorcery, Seafarers, and Samuel McIntire