The what of an art museum is easy enough: that would be art. The who would seem easy enough, too: that would be artists. But sometimes it’s artist, singular. There are those rare museums dedicated largely or entirely to the work of just one person.
Wondrous as are the opportunities afforded by a great encyclopedic museum like the Museum of Fine Arts, there is a special pleasure and intimacy that can come when the focus is on the work of just one maker. Those senses can be all the richer when, as sometimes happens, the museum is the artist’s birthplace or onetime home.
Here are seven examples of such museums, four in Massachusetts, one each in New Hampshire, Connecticut, and Rhode Island.
Cyrus E. Dallin Art Museum
The name Cyrus E. Dallin (1861-1944) might not be familiar, but several of the sculptor’s works are. His “Equestrian Statue of Paul Revere” (1899) is opposite Old North Church, in the North End, and another equestrian statue “Appeal to the Great Spirit” (1909) stands in front of the Museum of Fine Arts. The latter is an example of the many sculptures Dallin made relating to Native Americans. Born in Utah, he lived in Arlington the final four decades of his life. The museum is in the Jefferson Cutter House, an 1830 Greek Revival structure that also houses the Arlington Chamber of Commerce and the Cutter Art Gallery. 611 Massachusetts Ave., Arlington. 781-641-0747, dallin.org
Daniel Chester French (1850-1931) is second only to Augustus Saint-Gaudens (see below) among 19th-century American sculptors. His best-known work is the seated rendering of Lincoln within the Lincoln Memorial. Other well-known works include the “Minute Man” statue (1874), in Concord; the statue of John Harvard (1884), in Harvard Yard; and the equestrian statue of Civil War General Joseph Hooker (1903) that’s in front of the State House. Chesterwood was for many year’s French’s summer home and studio. Open seasonally (this year, through Oct. 27). 4 Williamsville Road, Stockbridge. 413-298-3579, www.chesterwood.org
Edward Gorey House
Edward Gorey (1925-2000) was an artist, yes, but he was other things as well: author, playwright, set and costume designer, even puppeteer. In all those realms, he displayed a cheerfully morbid sensibility. Gorey’s distinctively spindly style may be most familiar from the animated opening credits for the PBS series “Mystery!” Gorey purchased this 18th-century house in 1979 and lived there the remainder of his life. It’s also known as the Elephant House. That’s appropriate, in light of Gorey’s passion for animal welfare. Open seasonally (this year, through Dec. 29). 8 Strawberry Lane, Yarmouth Port. 508-362-3909, www.edwardgoreyhouse.org
Norman Rockwell Museum
Rockwell (1894-1978) moved to Stockbridge in 1953. By then he was already America’s best-known illustrator. His highly traditional subject matter makes it easy to overlook his skill and even daring as a draftsman. The museum, founded in 1969, moved into its present, Robert A.M. Stern-designed building in 1993. Its 998 paintings and drawings are the largest single collection of Rockwell’s art. In addition, it has the Norman Rockwell Archives, consisting of some 100,000 items, from working photographs to fan mail. 9 Glendale Road, Stockbridge. 413-298-4100, www.nrm.org
Saint-Gaudens National Historical Park
Augustus Saint-Gaudens (1848-1907) unveiled his masterpiece in 1897. The Shaw Memorial faces the State House. One of the greatest works of public art on the continent, it commemorates the service of the 54th Massachusetts Regiment in the Civil War. The unit comprised African-Americans, under the leadership of a Boston Brahmin, Robert Gould Shaw. More than 100 Saint-Gaudens works are on display in Cornish, in the park’s galleries and on its grounds. The centerpiece of the park, which is run by the National Parks Service, is Aspet, Saint-Gaudens’s house, built in 1817. Open seasonally (this year, through Oct. 31). 139 St Gaudens Road, Cornish, N.H. 603-675-2175, www.nps.gov/saga
Gilbert Stuart Birthplace and Museum
Gilbert Stuart (1755-1828) is responsible for what may well be the most familiar work of any American artist. His portrait of George Washington is the basis of the first president’s image on the dollar bill. One of the early Republic’s most distinguished artists, Stuart painted more than a thousand portraits over the course of his career. Among his subjects was the second president, John Adams: “I should like to sit to Stuart from the first of January to the last of December, for he lets me do just what I please, and keeps me constantly amused by his conversation.” Open seasonally (this year, through Oct. 14). 815 Gilbert Stuart Road, Saunderstown, R.I. 401-294-3001, www.gilbertstuartmuseum.org
J. Alden Weir (1852-1919) is less well-known than the school of painting he belongs to: American Impressionism. Other American Impressionists were Childe Hassam and John Henry Twachtman. They both stayed at Weir Farm, as did Albert Pinkham Ryder, John Singer Sargent, and numerous other artists Weir hosted there. He bought the property in 1882. The price was $10 and a painting. Even adjusted for inflation, that’s a bargain. The National Parks Service took over the 16 buildings on the site and the surrounding 60 acres in 1990. Open seasonally (this year, through Oct. 31). 735 Nod Hill Road, Wilton, Conn. 203-834-1896, www.nps.gov/wefa[email protected].