You know those senseless dreams in which, for some unknown reason, you are in a strange place quietly admiring a row of gleaming old stoves and then you step through a door and are surrounded by a frantic buzzing and whirring of hundreds of toys and creepy dolls come alive, and you escape down a hallway to find a room with a billowy roof, full of old cars being driven by stuffed animals and music machines blowing bubbles? Well, there’s a museum in Maine that kind of feels like that.
It’s called Bryant Stove and Music in Thorndike, a small town just a few miles from Unity, home to the Common Ground Fair. Bryant’s sells beautifully restored antique wood cooking and coal heating stoves and for those alone it’s worth a visit. But it also houses a quirky, amazing collection of stuff, from button collections, to dancing Barbie dolls, to gorgeous working gramophones and player pianos. It is a little hard to describe, actually.
There are three sections in this small museum: the stoves; the toys; and everything else. The entry section belongs to the stoves, with rows of ornately decorated coal stoves on the right and many vintages of wood burning cook stoves on the left. They were for sale but sadly we don’t have room for one. The next attraction was the toy room. It was an experience. A switch on the wall brought the room alive from floor to high ceiling. It was a mechanical toy fantasy land–a frenzy of movement, sound, color, and details–too many to take in–unlike anything I’ve ever seen. To the accompaniment of carnival music, airplanes whirled, a bear teetered on a tightrope, toys rode on a moving ferris wheel, stuffed animals danced, and–my favorite–Barbie dolls jerkily emerged from a curtain in a fashion show.
There was way too much to take in. Every bit of space was stuffed with toys, moving or posed. It was dusty, kind of weird, very random, and oddly wonderful.
My favorite part of the museum, however, was the third section, a quonset hut with a billowy roof.
It was brimming with a fascinating hodgepodge of machines, from a whimsical collection of air-powered motors, to an amazing evolution of working music-making machines, flanked by old buggies and cars, all interspersed with miscellaneous odd and quirky things. And stuffed animals were propped in the oddest places.
There were informative signs throughout and, if he’s there, Mr. Bryant provides a personal perspective on his treasures. We unfortunately only caught him for a short time.
It takes time to see everything at Bryant’s. It’s like digging through some amazing person’s attic, or brain. We didn’t even scratch the surface. The museum was dog-friendly, but Zoe was nonplussed. Next time, we’ll leave Zoe home, and have a leisurely browse through this creation of a brilliant, unique imagination.