The Museum of Whimsy: Truly Fanciful and Odd in Astoria

Everything about it is odd. An old bank building housing a museum isn’t normal. A Museum of Whimsy isn’t normal. And then you walk in and unusual feelings overcome you. You’re not sure whether to be afraid of all the strange looking dolls or whether to be intrigued. Your own mind argues with you. But you walk further on, and these strange items seem to start speaking to you.

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You’re not sure whether to be frightened or fascinated with the eclectic collection at the Museum of Whimsy in Astoria. Photo credit: Trish Bright

To your left is a replica of an English Canal Narrow Boat. It’s the same size as a real one, and the inside is set up just they way it would have been when families lived on them. They were something you might compare to a river barge today.

Straight in front, behind the entry booth, is a beautiful collection of Folies Bergere dresses and five hats. Some of the hats even still have the dancer’s name inside. You can just imagine the dancer wearing the hat.

Around the room are dolls ranging from ugly and odd to breathtakingly beautiful in their realism. Wax boxes known as Wachsstock are displayed, showing their intricate beauty. The smallest item on display is one of these boxes that is only about one inch in size and is from Austria.

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The wax Wachsstock (wax box) collection is one of collector Trish Bright’s favorite items. Photo courtesy: Trish Bright

So where did this strange museum come from? It is the eclectic collection of owner and curator Trish Bright. She began collecting more than 30 years ago. “I’ve always been attracted to things that had something unusual about them,” she confesses.

The old bank building was built in 1924 and purchased in 2005 by Bright and her husband They renovated it as event space, which she furnished with some of the whimsical items and furniture that she had. They ran the event space for about five years. “Weddings were fun. The bride would spend the night in the upstairs suite and then have the wedding downstairs on the main floor,” explains Bright. But then she began to worry about the wear and tear on the building. “It’s such a grand old building. We want to be careful to preserve it.”

A little over a year ago, Bright decided she could combine the space and people’s interest in renovations with her great collection. The Museum of Whimsy opened in the summer of 2016.

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Intricate beauty is everywhere throughout the Museum of Whimsy. Photo credit: Nancy Keaton

Bright has objects from all over the world – Paris, Austria, Ireland, Bali, India, England and Scotland. She still adds to the collection as she can, especially if it’s wax. “If somebody approaches me with something unusual, I’ll take it. But I really love anything old made out of wax,” she smiles.

Her oldest item is in the Native American Indian exhibit. It’s a child’s Micmac chair made from dyed porcupine quills and built in the 1850s. “There aren’t many of these that have survived the years,” explains Bright.

The largest original item (not a replica) is the 19th century India Ceremonial horse and carriage. “I bought it from a place in Pasadena that’s now my favorite place to shop,” explains Bright. “I was looking for something small, like a blanket or pillow from India for a display. I found this website for De-cor in Pasadena. It’s run by a woman from India who imports things from her country to here, antiques and new. After I found the carriage I thought it would be perfect for a display. Then I started looking up horses and camels that would have pulled the carriage. I was going to get a life-sized stuffed camel and decorate, but then she showed me the ceremonial horse. It’s fun because I never knew about the culture and how this was used for wedding ceremonies.”

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The collection at the Museum of Whimsy is both beautiful and haunting. Photo credit: Nancy Keaton

When asked to pick her favorite item, Bright struggles. “It’s hard to say. They’re like my children. You don’t want to slight the other pieces,” she laughs.

Bright says the most common comment she gets from visitors is that they had no idea a lot of this stuff even existed in the world. They appreciate the time people took to create them. About 60% of the items are souvenirs from the past when people put a lot of time into creating beautiful handmade items. “Compared to today, these things are amazing,” gushes Bright.

Bright plans to keep the building open as a museum and to expand the gift shop because many visitors ask to buy reproductions.

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The Folies Bergere dresses are some of the most beautiful items on display at Astoria’s Museum of Whimsy. Photo credit: Nancy Keaton

“People are always so appreciative of the collection,” says Bright. “At first, they seem too intimidated to come in, but then they get teary-eyed when they don’t want to leave. It has that effect on people. It’s bizarre, even for me, to walk through. It has a certain spirit when you’re walking through seeing all these old things that have a lot of meaning.”

Museum of Whimsy
1215 Duane Street
Astoria, OR 97103
Closed for the Winter
Re-opening in early March 2018
Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 11:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
$5/person, $10/family or group

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