365 Things to Do in Memphis #115: Check out Asian and Judaic Art at the Belz Museum
It would figure that some of the most impressive works of art in Memphis are hidden in one of the city's more obscure museums. Assignment #115 in the 365 Things to Do in Memphis is to visit the Belz Museum and see them.
The Belz Museum is the permanent, public home of Jack Belz's (the same one that owns the Peabody Hotel) private collection of Asian and Judaic art. There are more than 900 works on display in the museum, which is semi-hidden in the basement of the Peabody Place building – if you go to into the lobby next to the Blind Bear and then head down the stairs, you'll be in the right place.
The larger Asian portion of the museum has rooms full of lifelike stone flowers, furniture, a jeweled menagerie of tigers, tiny elephants and phoenixes, hand-carved jade sculptures, decorative pieces and a room full of (occasionally scary-looking) dolls and puppets.
The most arresting things in the museum are the gigantic, intricate dioramas carved from ivory. They're incredible – every single tiny face has an expression, every roof has tiny carved tiles and the trees have itty bitty leaves.
The Judaic part of the Belz Collection is housed a single large room. There are handmade menorahs, sculptures (the museum has the largest collection of Daniel Kafri's work in the world) and paintings detailing the Jewish experience.
The coolest thing in the room is easily the Mills Violana-Virtuoso self-playing violin. It's sort of like a combination of a player piano, a violin and a jukebox (it's coin operated).
The Belz Museum is open Tuesday – Friday from 10 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. and on Saturday and Sunday from 12 p.m. until 5 p.m. Admission is $6 for adults, $5 for seniors and $4 for students.