Museums go beyond one city's history


Just a short walk from Monument Avenue, you'll find several fine museums, with exhibits ranging from the jewelry of czarist Russia to Pocahontas to a Mercury space capsule.

Boulevard, which intersects with Monument Avenue at the statue of Stonewall Jackson, is a good place to start a cultural tour. It's a short walk to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and the Virginia Historical Society.

The art museum has a wide-ranging collection, and you'll need hours to see it all. But there are some highlights that make even a short stop worthwhile.

One is the gallery featuring jewel-encrusted works by Peter Clark Faberge, who became the goldsmith and jeweler to Russia's imperial leaders near the end of the 19th century. The gallery includes five of the small, elaborate Easter eggs that were given to members of the czars' families.

The museum's description of an egg that Nicholas II gave to the czarina in 1903 hints at the artistic marvels: "[It is] made of red, yellow and green gold and platinum, set with diamonds and rubies. Miniatures of Peter the Great and Nicholas II and two views, of a hut Peter built himself and the Winter Palace, adorn the sides. When the top is opened, a tiny bronze replica of a 1782 statue of Peter the Great by the French sculptor Falconet arises from the inside."

The museum's West Wing, built to house the collections of a pair of wealthy Virginia patrons, is another distinctive feature. In it, you'll find the Mellon collection, including French impressionists and British sporting art. Across the central hall is the Lewis collection of contemporary arts, including works by Louis Comfort Tiffany, Mark Rothko and Willem de Kooning.

Visitors should also see the museum's Egyptian, Greek and Roman galleries, which include a rare, life-sized marble statue of the Roman emperor Caligula from the first century A.D.

A few paces north on Boulevard is the headquarters of the historical society, which has several galleries dedicated to shows about people or events. The headliner this spring: Pocahontas, who was born 400 years ago.

Most schoolchildren know the story about her rescue of Capt. John Smith, and the show offers several depictions of the event, while examining whether it actually occurred. The show also details her life after the rescue, including her abduction, baptism into Christianity, marriage to John Rolfe and trip to England, where she was touted as an example of the civilizing impact of the Virginia Company's colonization program.

The Science Museum of Virginia is a short walk away, in a renovated train station on Broad Street.

The museum has a planetarium and a big-screen theater, as well as exhibits about computers, telecommunications, aviation and other science topics.

Those are the main museums near Monument Avenue, but there's also a small museum and archive chronicling the history of Jews in Richmond. The collection at Beth Ahabah is part of a religious community that founded the nation's sixth synagogue, in 1789. Today, it includes several 18th- and 19th-century artifacts, including a silver snuffbox crafted by Myer Myers, a silver kiddush cup made by Henry Hyman and a silver Torah pointer made by Lewis Hyman.

IF YOU GO . . .

* Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, (804) 367-0844

* Virginia Historical Society, (804) 358-4901

* Science Museum of Virginia, (804) 367-1013

:. * Beth Ahabah Congregation, (804) 358-6757

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