From a museumgoer's standpoint, the phrase "small is beautiful" might well have been spoken to describe the Currier Gallery of Art in Manchester, N.H. In this era of endless lines waiting to see publicity-hyped shows in huge museums, where one is told to "keep moving" as the treasure on display becomes little more than a blur, leisurely viewing the Currier's small but distinctive collection is a pleasant alternative.
Ironically, the Currier, considered to be one of the best small art museums in the US, is better known among curators and art historians in Paris and New York than it is in its own region. Both the Louvre and the Metropolitan have borrowed artwork from the compact gallery, which has as its motto, "One masterpiece is more to be desired than a roomful of run-of-the-mill paintings."
But travelers and even those who live here sometimes tend to dismiss Manchester as nothing more than a dull old mill town, an unlikely spot to find masterpieces. Those who do weave their way past the brick factories and unlovely business district to the museum's attractive site on Orange and Beech Streets find that Manchester's nickname as the "Queen City" is more apt than they knew.
The artistic pleasures begin before one even gets to the objects inside. The garden leading up to the Italian Renaissance-style building is landscaped with beautifully trimmed Japanese pines that strike a contrast with the museum's cream-colored limestone exterior. On either side of the entrance are brilliantly colored Byzantine-style mosaics assembled in Venice when the building was completed in 1929.
Although the museum's physical history goes back only to that date, it really was born in the late 19th century with the desire of New Hampshire Gov. Moody Currier for his state to have a notable art museum. When his widow passed on in 1915, she willed the site of her rambling Victorian mansion woven in still-vibrant red and blue silk threads. It was recently borrowed by the Louvre for a special exhibition on such work. On a less grand scale is the museum's 17 th-century embroidered English picture frame. The primitive but thoroughly charming work by an unknown needleworker depicts several women engaged in various tasks among a background of trees, flowers, insects, and beasts.
Beginning with the original 50 paintings, the museum has slowly and carefully acquired a wide-ranging collection. Among the stunning French works is a superb example of pre-impressionism, Claude Monet's "The Seine at Bougival," considered to be one of his best works.
The American collection contains some noteworthy examples as well. One of the museum's galleries is devoted to the works of Andrew Wyeth, including his "spindrift," a tempura of a beached dory. Edward Hopper, Georgia O'Keefe, Thomas Eakins, and John Singleton Copley also figure prominently among the collection as does the more primitive work of several unknown American folk artists. But perhaps the work most at home is Charles Sheeler's 1948 "Amoskeag Canal," which starkly and beautifully depicts an industrial scene not far from the museum.
Other galleries house a fabulous collection of 4,000 pieces of American glass and another of silver and pewter.Continuously changing are the museum's own special exhibits and those on tour from other sources. What doesn't change i s the surprise and delight that new visitors experience when they discover what big pleasures a small museum can provide