Vernacular Museums in America

Tiny Town, Hot Springs, AR

The role of an art museum is to preserve the best of the past and the present for the edification of people today and of future generations. Art museums do a wonderful job in the narrow world of fine art. The curators of these institutions, the gate-keepers, have the sole say on what is and what is not “art.”

However, American culture consists of far more than fine art. There are literally thousands of often little-known museums around the country that do the same for many other aspects of our culture, and the curators of these museums are often ordinary people who are fascinated by some aspect of the world around them.

Individuals are behind, for instance, The Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum, The Dragon Dreams Museum, or the Asphalt Museum. Some museums celebrate local heroes, from Ava Gardner to Billy the Kid, while other celebrate local events, like The War Between the States Museum or The Folsom Prison Museum. Sports museums dot the country featuring personalities from Bear Bryant to Babe Zaharias and sports from Figure Skating to Wrestling. Industry is celebrated in museums like The Mary Kay Museum, the Wal-Mart Museum, and the Spam Museum.

The variety of these native sociological observations about ourselves seem almost endless: The Giant Shoe Museum, Kidd’s Toy Museum, Bolt’s Tool Museum, The Money Museum, The Oklahoma Jazz Museum, and on, and on.

My goal has been to document as many of these vernacular museums as possible (time and money being the major constraints). To date, almost a quarter of the museums I have photographed sadly no longer exist.

In the future, I hope to add many museums to this collection.

View the Museum Project