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The Boston Globe

Arts

Museums Special

Artifacts: Tidbits about area museums

In 1936, the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston held its first fund-raiser, the Modern Art Ball. It was attended by many art-world luminaries, including Salvador and Gala Dalí, who arrived in shark costumes.A blank stone installed in 1908 over the front door of the Museum of Fine Arts was intended to be carved into a frieze. But the museum’s board couldn’t decide on a design, and it has remained blank for 103 years.

The Peabody Essex Museum, open since 1799, is the oldest continuously operating museum in the US. The museum began as a “cabinet of natural and artificial curiosities,’’ one of which is a 7-foot-tall statue of the Hawaiian god Kuka’ilimoku, carved of breadfruit wood.

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Lucky people named Isabella can visit the Isabella Stewart Gardner museum for free (usually $12). There, if they look underneath the painting “Europa’’ by Titian, they’ll find a piece of cream-colored cloth stretched over the wall, like wallpaper, which is actually part of a gown worn by Mrs. Gardner.

An often-told story about the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute is that it was built in the Berkshires because the Clarks were scared of a nuclear bomb hitting Manhattan. The real reasons are far more numerous and mundane, including the family’s love of nature and the charm of more remote places.

In New Haven, two enormous buildings line both sides of a whole block of Chapel Street. These are the Yale University Art Gallery and the Yale Center for British Art. The former was architect Louis Kahn’s first significant commission, and the latter, completed after his death, his last.

Wellesley College was the alma mater of Madame Chiang Kai-shek, who was also a gifted amateur painter. She gave five of her paintings to the college during a 1958 visit. They are being displayed for the first time at the Davis Museum, in an exhibition that opened Oct. 19.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology students don’t have to settle for posters in their dorm rooms - they can borrow one of 500 original works of art from the student loan art collection at MIT’s List Visual Arts Center to take home and keep for a year.

At the Fuller Craft Museum, the best art may be underneath you. The museum features 10 unique, handmade benches and chairs scattered around as open seating. Part of the museum’s “Sit on It’’ program, the furniture is crafted by well-known furniture makers including Boris Bally and Judy McKie.

The deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum is located on Sandy Pond, once called Flint’s Pond. Henry David Thoreau planned to build a cabin there, but was stopped by the owner, a farmer named Flint. In “Walden,’’ Thoreau bemoans that the pond was named after a “skin-flint, who loved better the reflecting surface of a dollar.’’

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