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Museum Workshops that Wow

Hands-on workshops for groups can intensify the museum experience by engaging the senses rather than simply delivering facts. Groups can imagine life during the Civil War, design their own glass art or take charge of a space mission during workshops at these notable museums.


Museum of Glass

Tacoma, Washington

The vibrant colors and spiraling shapes of glass art leave many viewers impressed and amazed. To fully appreciate the art form, groups that visit the Museum of Glass in Tacoma, Washington, can participate in the Glass Fusing Workshop.

Instead of the more dangerous heated-glass process, this program allows groups to design and arrange cold glass into a tile or a magnet before instructors load the works into kilns. Participants can pick up the finished works in a week or have them shipped back home for an extra fee.

The contemporary glass art museum features a 20th- and 21st-century glass collection that includes the Chihuly Bridge of Glass, a spectacular walkway with colorful glass installments by Tacoma’s native son, Dale Chihuly. Visiting artists demonstrate how to create art from molten glass in the Hot Shop, a cone-shaped amphitheater.

Gettysburg Heritage Center

Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

Instead of learning about the Battle of Gettysburg in a lecture full of facts and figures, groups can zoom in on the life of one person for a more intimate picture. The Gettysburg Heritage Center in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, offers programs that discuss a specific aspect of Civil War life, such as Civil War: The Life of a Union Soldier, A Day in the Life of a Child in 1860 and Christmas Traditions in the 1860s.

Costumed interpreters and artifacts make the experience more believable. For example, an 1860s Gettysburg school teacher walks guests through a child’s typical day with a visit to a one-room schoolhouse, lesson time on slates and recess with period-appropriate games.

The Gettysburg Heritage Center strives to share the human story of the infamous battle from the perspective of both soldiers and civilians. The museum is divided into two parts: one area focuses on the battle with an animated map movie presentation, and the other uses artifacts, 3D programs and interactive displays to show how the battle affected the town’s citizens.

Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library

Winterthur, Delaware

The Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library in Winterthur, Delaware, encourages groups to experience furniture design and similar art forms with their hands. One Friday each month, the historic home and museum offers its Crafternoon program to lead participants on a backstage tour of rarely seen objects before adjourning to a related craft workshop.

At a recent session, groups examined toy furniture before creating their own dollhouse-worthy miniatures to take home.

The 175-room Winterthur home offers an impressive collection of early American furniture and decorative items. Docents lead groups to the museum’s most prized items while telling stories about the life of former owner Henry Francis du Pont.

Groups can also see the 70-acre garden with a narrated tram tour or attend one of the museum’s rotating exhibits, lectures and special events.

U.S. Space and Rocket Center

Huntsville, Alabama

What could go wrong during a space mission? The U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama, answers that question with experiential programs. The weeklong Space Camp for children and adults trains participants as astronauts and simulates a space mission.

Other shorter programs allow groups to experience some of the camp’s highlights, such as the one-night Surveyor program.

Even without an added program, groups can interact with space-related exhibits and demonstrations throughout the year. The Space Shot mimics the shuttle launch experience with increased gravitational pressure and three seconds of weightlessness.

Tours also let groups marvel at the historically important Apollo 16 command module, the Saturn V moon rocket and other space vehicles and artifacts. Later this year, the center will open a planetarium, a digital theater and an exhibit on the Apollo program.

National Quilt Museum

Paducah, Kentucky

Without understanding the difficulty involved in each stitch of a quilt, travelers visiting the National Quilt Museum in Paducah, Kentucky, can miss the magnitude of genius behind the quilts on display there. The Museum Experience allows groups to view the quilts on a detailed guided tour before designing and building their own quilt block.

Participants select their designs from precut fabrics in a variety of colors. Guides then walk them through blocking, quilting and framing.

The museum showcases the contemporary quilt experience through exhibits by renowned quilters who implement creative approaches to fiber art. The main gallery rotates a selection of the museum’s permanent collection of over 500 quilts. Two other galleries feature about 10 fiber art exhibits each year.