Art Works Blog

Blue Star Museum Road Trip through Cape Cod

We know, we know: if you’re headed to Cape Cod this summer, it’s probably to sit by the beach and gorge on seafood. But if you can break away from the breakers, why not explore the Cape’s museums? The Cape is rich with history and maritime culture, creating a perfect storm for museum collections. Plus, its gorgeous natural setting has attracted its share of notables, whose lives you can also learn about at local museums. Let’s take a road trip down the Cape (with a ferry ride or two for good measure) and visit some of the Blue Star Museums you can find along the way.

Nantucket Lightship Basket Museum (Nantucket, Massachusetts)

Before the invention of buoys, mariners were guided through treacherous waters by the beacons from lightships. Lightships were essentially floating lighthouses, although as moored boats, there was a higher chance of seasickness, boredom, and loneliness for those who manned them. Things could get so boring illuminating the Nantucket South Shoals that many lightship keepers—a number of whom were former whalers—began weaving baskets to keep themselves occupied. Over time, a distinct style of basketry emerged from Nantucket: a solid wooden base, rattan weaving, and staves, or wooden ribs. The tradition was passed from lightship keeper to lightship keeper, with the height of the art form emerging between 1870 and 1890. Today, the Nantcuket Lightship Basket Museum is dedicated to preserving this art form—which is today practiced by only a few individuals—both through teaching and exhibition of historic baskets.

John F. Kennedy Hyannis Museum (Hyannis, Massachussetts)

The Kennedys’ love affair with Cape Cod began in 1926, when patriarch Joseph Kennedy rented a summer cottage in Hyannis Port. Eventually, the family owned three houses on six acres in Hyannis, two of which belonged to JFK and his brother Bobby, who raised their own families there. JFK used the compound as the base for his victorious 1960 presidential campaign, and the house served as a tranquil retreat during his White House years.

At the museum, visitors can get a personal look at JFK, and his most cherished spot, exploring his love of sailing and the ocean; what life was like on the Kennedy Compound; and how the president spent his final summer on Cape Cod.

Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary (South Wellfleet, Massachusetts)

If you’d like to learn more about the ecosystem that makes Cape Cod such a lovely summer spot, head to the Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary. A part of the Mass Audubon system, Wellfleet Bay is situated on 937 acres and features five miles of nature trails, which take visitors through salt marshes, sandy shores, ponds, and oak and hickory woodlands. While exploring these different habitats, be on the lookout for fiddler crabs, herons, sea turtles, and hummingbirds. You can also go kayaking, birding, or take a wildlife cruise.

Edward Gorey House (Yarmouth Port, Massachusetts)

It’s slightly incongruous that someone whose children’s books were as dark and macabre as Gorey’s would set up house amid the sunshine and sea breeze of Cape Cod. But Gorey was an eccentric and unusual character, so perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising. At the author and illustrator’s home, where Gorey lived for the last 14 years of his life, visitors can learn about his personal and professional life, and browse some of his incredibly prolific artistic output. (This summer, examples of his cover art are on exhibition.) Kids can also go on a scavenger hunt through the house, as they search for each character featured in Gorey’s famous alphabet book, The Gashleycrumb Tinies.

Read an interview with the curator and director of the Edward Gorey House.

Benjamin Nye Homestead and Museum (East Sandwich, Massachusetts)

Before khakis and swimsuits, the leading styles of Cape Cod were aprons, shawls, and tricorn hats. At the Benjamin Nye Homestead, you can see what life was like for the area’s earliest pioneers, who began to establish settlements in the 17th century. Benjamin Nye was one of the first settlers in East Sandwich, and today his home—built in 1678—is the town’s oldest. The rooms in the house are decorated in the fashion of different periods, so visitors can get a sense of how life in the area changed over time.

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