Kemerer Museum of Decorative Arts

n late November, I started a series of posts about Lehigh Valley, PA. This is the second installment of this series. To see others in this series, click on the label “Lehigh Valley” below this post.

In Bethlehem, PA, there’s a unique museum, inspired by a unique woman who was born just as the Civil War was ending. Annie S. Kemerer, born in 1865 just south of the town, lived and loved beautiful things. She married and had a son, but she outlived both her son and her husband. Throughout her life, she dedicated herself to collecting beautiful objects, and from her collections came the Kemerer Museum of Decorative Arts.

Housed in three connected 19th-century homes in historic Bethlehem, the museum, true to its name, offers a variety of interesting exhibits on the decorative arts — i.e., functional items that are, simply, beautiful, such as the collection of antique mirrors.

At the time we visited, an exhibit of “trees around the world” was on display, making it fun to explore interpretations of other cultures through each tree. Almost every room was decorated for the upcoming holidays and most had their own trees — some whimsical, such as the Antarctica Penguin tree in an area that catered to kids; some breathtakingly beautiful, such as the France Tree in Annie’s former parlor.
Annie married into a prominent Bethlehem family; she and her husband had one son. Annie and her family enjoyed surrounding themselves with beautiful furniture, paintings, and decorative objects. After the untimely deaths of her son and then her husband, she became a recluse but continued to be an avid collector of antiques. Through her generous bequest, the Kemerer Museum of Decorative Arts was established in Bethlehem after her death in 1951.

Her extensive personal collection includes lovely examples of Pennsylvania German textiles, exquisite furniture, priceless Bohemian glass, and her breathtaking 200-piece wedding china.

Through March 2018, there’s a fun exhibit, entitled “Gilded,” which looks at luxury items such as Bohemian gold-enameled glassware, Sterling silver tableware, mercury glass, handcrafted jewelry and spoons by Bethlehem-based silversmiths, metallic mirrors, and artwork mounted in gilded frames.

The second floor of the vault houses the distinguished Elizabeth Johnston Prime Dollhouse and Toy Collection, 44 structures and 6,000 pieces, making it one of the largest antique dollhouse collections in the United States. Notably, the dollhouses were also decorated for the holidays! This collection, spanning the period from 1830-1930, recounts 100 years of architectural and decorative arts history.

Getting there: 427 N New St, Bethlehem, PA 18018

Hours: Friday – Sunday from 11 am – 4 pm


For other day trip destinations in Lehigh Valley, go to the Blog’s Find a Great Place to Day Trip or click on the Lehigh Valley label below.

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