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Over 1,000 Small (and Not-So-Small)
American Showplaces

Lynne Arany and Archie Hobson
(Henry Holt, 1998)

Book Excerpts

by Lynne Arany

A look at little museums in Texas is like capturing the essence of the American individualist. Texas museums are as diverse as the land is big. Along with the inevitable showplaces exploring those wild and woolly frontier days, you’ll find all kinds of museums showcasing the highpoints and high jinks and other key moments in Texas history, from political scandal to creation theory, from the birth of big oil to the birth of Dr Pepper, to the events at the Texas Book Depository to a collection housing Lee Harvey Oswald’s can opener.

San Antonio
Barney Smith’s Toilet Seat Art Museum: Former master plumber Barney Smith had to sell his Winnebago to make room in his garage for his toilet seat art display (411 of ’em at last count), which neatly covers the walls from floor to ceiling. Once there, you can appreciate the sweep of Mr. Smith’s oeuvre. From the early days of simply decorating the discarded seats with little antlers and a few turkey feathers, to full-scale tableau inspired by his travels, like a recent trip to the Dead Sea, or even one to his dentist. The carefully constructed pieces often use applied bits of oil paintings (his own), and dip into his inventory of finds like scout badges, false teeth, sea corals, perhaps a portion of a bowling ball, and, more often than not, motel keys—another collecting passion of the eclectic Mr. Smith.
• 210 824-7791, 239 Abiso, San Antonio, TX 78209
• On the north side of town, in the Alamo Heights section. It's 2 blocks off Broadway, inside the I-410 Loop. Go around to the rear of the house, the collection's in his garage and the entrance is on Arbutus St. He's retired and it's open "whenever he's around." He keeps the garage door open, and you can just stop in. FREE.

The Magic Lantern Castle Museum: Housed in a refurbished former San Antonio nightclub with a castle theme, this lovingly restored pseudo-feudal structure contrasts with and somehow complements the serious collection within. Jack Judson, collector, historian, and lantern enthusiast extraordinaire, will take you on a personal tour through the carefully displayed exhibits and paraphernalia of these rare and wonderful mechanisms, that seem to have been in use as an entertainment and an art form since time immemorial, starting with the earliest travelling performers, and, salesmen. We’re talking about picture projection here, a concept that started with a bit of painted glass and a candle, and grew up to be the inspiration for motion picture projection as we know it today. Concentration on magic lanterns from 1700s into the 20th century and their history throughout the world; glass slides, prints, books, accessories & related paraphernalia; worldwide scientific instruments for optical projection.
•, 210 805-0011, 1419 Austin Hwy, San Antonio, TX 78209
• It's a 10 minute drive northeast of downtown, right near the airport. By appointment only. FREE.

Mini Cake Museum: Frances Kuyper IS “The Cake Lady” and she’s been baking and decorating cakes since 1950. Recently retired from teaching and demonstrating, she’s now made a dream come true with this confection of a museum in her home. Models of decorating wizardry are on display (tell the food inspectors not to worry, they’re all done with Styrofoam and Perma-ice), and they’re as zingy as the exuberant Ms. Kuyper’s personality.
• 626 793-7355, 432-434 N. Lola Ave., Pasadena, CA 91107
• From I-210 exit onto Altadena Dr. N, then left onto Villa, and left again onto Lola. Her 5-tiered wedding-cake mailbox is the tip-off. By appointment only. FREE.

Copyright © 1998–2008 by Lynne Arany

Book Proposal

24-Hour Church of Elvis, OR • Museum of Incandescent Lighting, MD • Barbie Hall of Fame, CA • International Towing & Recovery Hall of Fame, TN • Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, MO • Gehrke Windmill Garden, WA • Museum of Bad Art, MA • Jell-O Museum, NY • Museum of Jurassic Technology, CA • Titan Missile Museum, AZ Skyscraper Museum, NY • Museum of Menstruation, MD • Burlesque Hall of Fame, CA • Dixie Truckers Home & Route 66 Hall of Fame, IL • Muscle Car Ranch, OK • Delta Blues Museum, MS • Liars Hall of Fame, NE • Dog Mushing Museum, AK • Bowling Hall of Fame, MO …and over a thousand more, in all 50 states

These and over 1000 more small museums across the country may not be on the main tourist track, but wouldn’t it be fun to know how to find them? With LITTLE MUSEUMS, we propose the first in-depth guide to America’s small and specialized repositories, from those housing items most gloriously mundane to those with collections more traditionally exquisite. Likely to be found in modest structures on ordinary byways, LITTLE MUSEUMS may even be built—like Houston’s Beer Can House—of the very materials that comprise the collection. The eclectic—and some might say, eccentric—curators of these smaller sites tell much of the story. Running the gamut from the informal amateur collector to the most organized academician, and everything in between, what they have in common is curiosity, commitment, and most delightfully, a wild obsession.

The grand museums, clad in marble and labyrinthine in their layout, while properly recognized for their importance as repositories of cultural artifacts of note, do not tell a whole story. Consciously or not, it’s clear Americans have a need to express their experience in their own way—and those with the calling have found that expression by becoming keepers of the essential artifacts of our lives and times. So collect we do, approaching our subjects with a wide range of attitudes, from the most reverential to the wildly whimsical.

Come along with us on a provocative tour of some of the most exuberant expressions of the American call-to-collect. From antiques to Americana to outright kitsch, LITTLE MUSEUMS is a witty and insightful directory to over 1000 museums, collections, and archives that you simply won’t find in tourist literature. Whether its inspiration comes from the mechanics of an aging industry (Sewing Machine Museum, TX), a mania for a popular icon (Tom Mix Museum, OK), one’s political convictions (Conspiracy Museum, TX), or a farmer who one day sees his crop in a whole new light (Pecan Art Museum, TX) a visit to a Little Museum is an opportunity to immerse in a singular view of a particular subject area, one that’s often an intrinsic aspect of American life. And, most importantly, one that—the bane of travelers everywhere—you won’t want to discover you’ve missed, whether you’ve gone down far-off backroads or you’ve been meandering the local byways of your hometown.

Along the superhighways and backwoods roads of America—in megametropolises and one-horse towns—thousands of little museums are ripe for discovery. LITTLE MUSEUMS unlocks the doors to the most unusual, historical, educational, obscure, and downright bizarre collections in all 50 states. Complete with Web sites, exact directions, and invaluable tips on when to go and what to know, LITTLE MUSEUMS is by far the most comprehensive and up-to-date guide available. This clever compendium is a must-have for your next road trip—by car or by armchair.

Copyright © 1998–2008 by Lynne Arany