When somebody in MA says “Woodman’s”, my thoughts run to fried seafood and the venerable restaurant that catered many of the clambakes I have been lucky enough to attend. Nice thoughts, but today I visited an entirely different Woodman’s; equally enticing, in a very different way. The Woodman Institute Museum, in Dover, NH is a slice of times gone by, not only because it is a repository of historical artifacts, but because the whole feel of the place seems to bring you back, back to a time when curiosities were housed in glass cases; when the idea of stuffed birds, beasts, shells, rocks, civil war muskets, Japanese armor, antique cameras and whole rooms of dolls being in the same place didn’t seem weird at all. I came for the antique cameras, I stayed far longer than I had planned for the rest of the story.
The photo history part is easy, and offers me a compelling way to recommend this wonderful place to the people who come to sites like this one. The 2014 featured exhibit, up through November at the Woodman Institute Museum, is Tintypes to Digital, celebrating 175 years of Photography. It has been put together by Thom Hindle, charter member of PHSNE, a contributor to the 40th Anniversary Journal and, it turns out, past president of the trustees of Woodman Institute.
Showcasing many pieces from Thom’s own collection, the exhibit actually ranges beyond the title and includes a case filled with Daguerreotypes. Those, along with the many images and displays from the people who made photo history in this part of New England, give the show a life and relevance that is sometimes missing in blockbuster exhibits. It is an intimate and interesting display, varied and rich in detail. Like every other room we visited at the Woodman Institute Museum it is both surprising and just a little outside what you might have expected in a little, local museum in a small mill town in NH.
While a case may be made for the more environmentally accurate and modern displays of large, public museums, especially when it comes to stuffed animals, there is also a lot to recommend this throw back to a time when folks might line up to see a four legged chicken.
Visit it and don’t be in a rush. There are at least three buildings here, and multiple floors in two of them. The staff is as warm and welcoming as they can be and the whole experience will make you smile.