Museums in the Caribbean Planning an island getaway? Well, you don’t have to leave your museum orientation and interests at home. The islands ot the Caribbean are rich in cultural, historic, and scientific institutions that can further your understanding of, and appreciation for, these exotic locations.
The Museo Bellapart is arguably the finest gallery of modern art in the Caribbean. The museum, which displays highlights from the vast private collection of entrepreneur Juan Jose Bellapart, is largely unknown because of its newness and its location on the fifth floor of the Honda headquarters on Avenida John F. Kennedy (809-541-7721).
Museo de Arte Moderno is a bright welcoming space in the concrete maze that is the Plaza de la Cultura. The building is festooned with huge, colorful modern canvasses and banners. Highhghts include the country’s earliest painters to its more recent and more famous ones, such as Yoryi Morel. The Museo de Arte Moderno follows no real order — you can turn the corner after gazing at an Expressionist painting and face a wall of pop art — but that is part of its charm (809-685-2153).
Less a museum than a showcase of the splendor that was once Santo Domingo, the Museo de las Casas Reales has a spectacular setting in the old section of the oldest European city in the New World. Housed in a renovated brick-and-coral 16*- century palace on Las Damas, the collection includes relics and maps that take you from the bizarre weaponry and military uniforms of dictator Rafael Trujillo to its most impressive grand salon hung with portraits of the Spanish kings (809-699-7601).
The town of Altos de Chavon is the home of the Museo Arqueologico Regional. More than 3,000 relics recall the centuries-long migrations from South America through the Lesser Antilles. They range from tools and weapons from the preceramic age to jewelry worn by the Taino, who became the dominant population in this region. Exhibit texts are both in Spanish and English (809-523-8554).
Victor Schoelcher was a Caribbean abolitionist, and the Musee Schoelcher is as much about the man himself as it is about slavery. Housed in a mansion near the Pointe a Pitre docks, the collection shows him to have been a man not only of iron principle but also of taste and wealth. Exhibits include 19*-century prints, an intricate working model of a guillotine, coffee and tea sets from his father’s porcelain works, copies of many statues from the Louvre, and implements and engravings recalling the inhumanity of slavery (590-590-820-804).
Ax heads never looked as good as they do at the Musee Edgar Clerc in the eastern port of Le Moule. Suspended and ingeniously lit, they acquire a sculptural presence in the spacious museum. Taino, Carib, Kalina, and Arawak cultures are all thoroughly covered in the monument to the migrations in the Lesser Antilles before A.D. 200 (590-590- 23-57-43).
A miraculous feat of engineering. The Citadelle was built by Haiti’s first king following the world’s first successful slave rebellion, and it took 20,000 men 13 years to construct it atop its 3,000-foot perch. Protecting the north coast at Cap Haitien, The Citadelle is the largest such fortress in the Americas. It was never besieged, although its walls, which are up to 46 feet thick, could have withstood almost any assault and remain wholly intact.
Not far inland, at Limbe, the Musee de Guahaba was created by William Hodges, an American missionary, doctor, and amateur anthropologist. Artifacts from archaeological digs follow Haiti’s history from the period of the Indians — Guahaba was their name for the town — until just after the buccaneers (509-262-6782).
On the grounds of Old Kings House in Emancipation Square in Spanish Town, the People’s Museum of Crafts and Technology covers the difficult decades following emancipation. Under the aged wooden rafters ofwhat was once part of the colonial Governor’s stables, an intriguing assortment of artifacts and narrative texts attests to a long period of transculturation, grounded in African customs (876-907-0322).
Hanover Museum faces the busy harbor in Lucea. The museum houses artifacts from the Great Western Rebellion of 1832, as well as a variety of hand-hewn objects of the island’s earliest inhabitants (876-956-2584).
The three-story Musee Departemental d’Archeologie et de Prehistoire is above all an homage to Amerindian cultures. Opposite La Savane in Fort-de-France, the museum presents prehistoric finds, such as beautifully incised and painted pottery, animal figurines, jewelry, and ritual dresses. On the top floor are recreations of undersea, forest, and village life (596-596- 715705).
The Empress Josephine is not too popular in the French Caribbean, having dissuaded Napoleon from abolishing slavery. Nevertheless, her childhood plantation home is now the Musee de la Pagerie.
The expansive grounds have a small cottage crammed with memorabilia of her extraordinary life — from sugar farmer’s daughter to empress of France. Highlights include the petite four-poster in which she slept as a young girl and the collection of paintings from both her West Indian and her imperial life (596-596-683834).
The huge Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico exhibits canvases, sculptures, photographs, and santos tracing 300 years of Puerto Rican visual arts. The west wing holds 18 galleries, while the main atrium is used for traveling exhibitions. The five-acre garden has 106,000 native flowers, 3 gazebos, and 14 modern sculptures (787-977- 6277).
The small Museo Pablo Casals occupies a two-story colonial house on the Plaza San Jose in Old San Juan. The renowned Spanish cellist founded the symphony orchestra in Puerto Rico, which was his home. The museum invites quiet walks among the photos and manuscripts, and allows for an viewing of his cello, an chance to listen to videotapes of the chamber music festival he started, and a movie house-sized screen for viewing them (787-723-9185).
“For Your Consideration,” The Docent Educator 12.1 (Autumn 2002): 8-9.