Plans are moving ahead for our renovation of the Pink Palace mansion. The Mansion was built in the 1920s and has undergone a series of re-imaginings in its long life. It started as Clarence Saunders’ palatial home that was meant to be a Southern showplace. Saunders lost his house before it was completed, and it was deeded to the City of Memphis to be used as a museum. The Memphis Museum of Natural History and Industrial Arts opened in 1930 with exhibits throughout the rooms. The early museum directors lived in the mansion, and by the 1970s offices, education classrooms, live animals, exhibits and collections storage crowded the space. The mansion closed to the public when the new exhibition building opened in the late 1970s. It reopened in the 1990s with exhibits about the changing roles of women, Cotton Carnival, Memphis immigrants and museum treasures.
Earlier this month the Collections and Exhibits departments took all of the artifacts out of the mansion exhibits. Each artifact removed from display was condition reported, which means that staff made notes of all damage and imperfections, and rehoused in storage. A few artifacts were put in new temporary homes throughout the museum. You can visit the shrunken head in the museum lobby, and the polar bear is in the bones exhibit on the first floor of the museum. Moving the polar bear was one of the more difficult feats, and you can watch an edited video of the move.
In January construction begins in the mansion. The country store, Piggly Wiggly and circus exhibits will be moving into the mansion. There will also be new exhibits about the Cossitt Museum, which was Memphis’s first museum, Clarence Saunders, the history of the museum, and the Burton Callicott murals. Visitors will be able to walk up the grand staircase in the lobby, and there will be a new elevator with access to the second floor exhibits. Some staff offices will also be moving to the second floor, and there will be new rooms to support special events.
Construction is expected to take an estimated eighteen months.
Caroline Mitchell Carrico is the Supervisor of Exhibits and Graphics Services. She has a master’s degree in history from The University of Memphis, and her favorite artifacts are the Cold War civil defense supplies.