DURING SUMMERS IN COLLEGE, I worked in the basement of my hometown's heritage center, communing with eerie old mannequins boasting floppy wigs and broken fingers, set up to approximate a small homesteading community in early-1900s Montana. This secured my love for lesser-known, small-scale museums, with their unconventional displays and micro-narratives. This summer, I spent some time exploring a few of Portland's out-of-the-way museums and collections. Here's what I found.
Architectural Heritage Center
This center houses a couple of rotating exhibits, including one on architectural metal used in Portland during the Gilded Age. This means incredible ironwork, a massive zinc wolf head which was once on display on the former Ladd Block Building (built in 1881 and demolished in 1965), and beautiful column heads and stained glass. There's also an exhibit on vintage doorknobs, which sounds inane, but isn't. Instead, it makes you wish we still used such lavishly ornamental handles. The Architectural Heritage Center leaves you nostalgic for a time of craftsmanship and care.
701 SE Grand, Wed-Sat 10-4:30 pm, $3
Ernest Starr Memorial Museum of Dental Anomalies
This bizarre display used to be housed in OHSU's School of Dentistry, but was recently moved and reduced. Ernest Starr's dental collection now appears as a small glass case of terrifyingly fucked-up teeth, which looms in the waiting room of OHSU's dental clinic in Skourtes Tower. Dozens of diseased and disorderly teeth are mounted like butterfly specimens on slabs of resin—they're fascinating and a little horrifying, and definitely worth checking out.
2730 SW Moody, Mon-Fri, 8:30 am-4:45 pm, free
Kidd's Toy Museum
The name itself might look like a typo, but it's not—the museum is named after avid toy collector Frank Kidd. It's a fascinating place, less like a museum and more an idiosyncratic set of 20th-century toys. With few placards or explanations, you're left to wander display cases of old toys, many of them lead coin banks and metal vehicles. The cases are themed: One houses mechanical animal coin banks, another Halloween toys, another a variety of Mickey Mouse toys, another a large selection of unnervingingly racist toys, and so on.
1301 SE Grand, Mon-Fri, noon-6 pm, free
Rice Museum of Rocks and Minerals
Yes, the Rice Museum is technically in Hillsboro (a 25-minute drive from Portland on Highway 26). But it's worth the trip. The drive takes you past quaint dairy and hazelnut farms, and leaves you nestled in a forested area, surrounded by Douglas fir. Built in the '50s, the museum is an unassuming house where Helen Rice and her logger husband, Richard, amassed an incredible rock collection. The property is on the National Register of Historic Places, and was designed specifically to house the couple's rocks, with dozens of display cases built into the basement. It still feels like a home, with cozy carpet flooring and charmingly dated, patterned wallpaper and drapes upstairs, and yet there are things like a "Rainbow Room"—a dark room until you walk in, when the display case lights up to reveal glow-in-the-dark rocks. There's also an entire room filled with petrified wood, and many other delights.
26385 NW Groveland, Hillsboro, Wed-Fri 1-5 pm, Sat-Sun, 10 am-5 pm, $8
Portland Police Museum
The volunteer-run Portland Police Museum serves up an interesting slice of Portland history. Some favorite artifacts include massive ledgers the police bureau once used to maintain records, which include mugshots from the early 1900s, and beautiful handwritten script documenting awful crimes. Also: vintage handcuffs and a seriously vicious case of some very creative DIY weapons.
1111 SW 2nd, Tues-Fri 10 am-3 pm, free
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