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Thursday, May 23, 2024 at 7:41 AM

SWFL’s Museum Odyssey: A Chronicle Of Art, History And Natural Wonders

SWFL’s Museum Odyssey: A Chronicle Of Art, History And Natural Wonders
REVS Institute, Naples


Museums abound throughout Southwest Florida. Some of them connect visitors to the local color and quirkiness of the region that no doubt inspired tales of “a Florida man” long ago. There’s also an authentic Seminole trading post deep in the Everglades where an infamous murder took place. And there’s a one-time roadside attraction that today promises visitors a look at real live gators, colorful birds and botanical wonders. 
We also have museums for kids, autophiles and art aficionados, as well as one reminding us to never forget the horrors of the Holocaust and the will to survive, and at least three museums dedicated to America’s military history.

America’s Military & First Responders Museum

Spanning the Revolutionary War to the war in Afghanistan, this hidden gem at the Naples Airport honors all military branches, its 800-square-feet is jam-packed with memorabilia including Medals of Honor, uniforms, weapons, flight suits, photos, model planes and battleships donated by veterans and their families. There’s even a Civil War surgeon’s medical bag with bone saws. Much of its 10,000-plus collection is warehoused; displays honoring first responders are currently on loan to NCH.
The POW/MIA memorial table honors those who gave all, with each element — from the white of the tablecloth to the upended goblet — chosen for its symbolism. 1,952 American flags pinned to an oversized Florida state flag serve as a reminder of Florida’s fallen Vietnam soldiers killed and missing in action. A kamikaze flag boasting the traditional signatures of villagers and commanders and a display with a red swastika armband, Nazi-era German work permits and weapons are a somber reference of hatred.
Hmm, how’d that happen? One of the more curious items is an instrument panel from a Huey helicopter purportedly flown in combat during the Vietnam War — origins unknown, for the record. Another fan favorite is the 1939 WWII Harley-Davidson carrier pigeon bicycle. 
Hours: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday-Saturday; noon to 3 p.m. Sunday
Admission: Free

— 500 Terminal Drive, Naples 614-205-0357, amfrm.org

— In addition to the Naples Veterans Museum, there are other noteworthy military museums in the area. The SWFL Military Museum & Library, located at 4125 Cleveland Avenue inside Edison Mall in Fort Myers, can be explored at swflmm.org. Another notable destination is the Military Heritage Museum, at 900 West Marion Avenue in Punta Gorda, where visitors can go to militaryheritagemuseum.org for more information. 


■ The Baker Museum
 The Baker Museum, Naples

Take your time: Spend an hour or two exploring The Baker Museum’s large-scale outdoor installations, the most concentrated collection of public sculptures in the U.S. Better yet, join a docent tour at 10 a.m. any Thursday.
Must-see: A mainstay since the museum’s opening, “Persian Seaform Ceiling” by renowned multimedia artist Dale Chihuly demonstrates why he’s the master of glass as light plays with 1,028 pieces of blown glass, creating an ethereal under-the-sea ambiance. Among the museum’s permanent collection of mostly modern and contemporary art, you literally can’t miss the 25-foot “Dawn’s Forest,” illustrating Louise Nevelson’s iconic assemblage style.
2024 Highlights: Come see “Botanical Revolution” that displays repurposed clothing and other textile art inspired by the bird and plant life of Southwest Florida through April 7. “Selections from the Ahmet Ertegün Collection” features a remarkable selection of modern art of the United States that demonstrates Ertegün’s comprehension of rhythm, pattern and color through June 16. Discover “Tradition Interrupted” (May 4 – July 28), where 12 artists blend old customs with innovative techniques, disrupting tradition while honoring the past across rugs, mosaics, metalworks and ceramics. 
Take in the sunset: Art After Hours from 6 to 9 p.m. on March 27, April 24, May 29, June 26, July 31, and Aug. 28. This fun evening of art and entertainment caters to audiences of all ages, featuring live music by local musicians, delightful food offerings, and complimentary admission to all museum exhibitions. 
Hours: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday; noon to 4 p.m. Sunday (closed Monday) 
Admission: $10 adults, $5 students, free for children 17 and younger. 

— 5833 Pelican Bay Blvd., Naples 239-597-1900, artisnaples.org/baker-museum

 ■ C’mon: Golisano Children’s Museum of Naples 

Primarily screen-free, C’mon proves play has no age limit, delivering an immersive, fun, and educational experience for children and families. Here, kids can build a spaceship (and fly far away), stage a rocket launch, tend to animals at a pet vet, journey through the Everglades, and explore the world around them. 
Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday, Tuesday and Thursday-Sunday (closed Wednesday) 
Admission: $20 general, $15 local residents, $10 for first responders, $2 for EBT, SNAP and WIC cardholders, free for members, children under 1 and local teachers 

— 15080 Livingston Road, Naples 239-514-0084, cmon.org 

■ Holocaust Museum & Cohen Education Center 
 Holocaust Museum & Cohen Education Center, Naples 

What to expect: Visitors embark on a chronological journey through history’s darkest days — from Jewish life between the two world wars, the rise of the Nazi party and the horrors of concentration and slave labor camps to Allied liberation and the Nuremberg Trials. With more than 1,000 WWII, Holocaust artifacts and original photographs, you’ll learn about odds-defying reunions and heroes who harbored families as told by Southwest Florida survivors, their families and liberators. 
Hours: 1-4 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday, closed Monday 
Admission: $15 at the door, $13 online 

— 975 Imperial Golf Course Boulevard, Suite 108, Naples 239-263-9200, hmcec.org 

■ IMAG History & Science Center 

Discover a world like never before at the IMAG, where you’ll explore Southwest Florida in ways that are truly unparalleled. Wander through its rich history, soar through its atmospheric conditions, and interact with its creatures up close. Engage in a hands-on experience by feeding stingrays in the SEA-to-SEE Touch Tank, unleash your creativity in the Engineering Lab, and encounter the vibrant web of life in the Animal Lab—from the majestic Tegu to the Florida Box Turtle. Command the forces shaping our world with the interactive Science on a Sphere, experience the dynamics of our planet in the Science of Motion, and find endless possibilities at the IMAG, catering to individuals of all ages. 
Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Thursday-Saturday, closed Tuesday, noon to 5 p.m. Sunday 
Admission: $19.50 for adults, $15 for college students (with ID) and children ages 3 to 18, free for children under age 2 

—2000 Cranford Avenue, Fort Myers 239-243-0043, theimag.org 

■ REVS Institute 

While car enthusiasts and gearheads may initially come to mind as the primary audience, the nonprofit Revs Institute holds a revered status among researchers, restoration experts, scholars, and anyone eager to explore how the advent of the automobile has forever shaped daily life, influencing both society and sport. 
Positioning the automobile as a form of art, the institute boasts a collection of over 100 historically significant vehicles built between 1896 and 1995, sourced from the personal collection of founder Miles Collier. Collier’s family, credited with introducing sports car racing to the U.S., has left an indelible mark on automotive history. The displays serve as a captivating roadmap and historic timeline, guiding visitors through the evolution of the automobile—from its infancy to the exhilaration of the open road, the quest for speed, and the race-winning excellence of Porsche. 
For those seeking a deeper understanding, insider intel suggests embarking on a docent-led tour and a behind-the-scenes walk-through of Rev’s operational workshop. Here, cars undergo meticulous restoration, returning to both working condition and their former aesthetic glory. Additionally, visitors can preview the online collection, offering a glimpse of cars not currently displayed. The collection can be explored by manufacturer, year, and keywords, unveiling hidden gems like the rare 1961 Citrően 2CV Sahara and a 1901 carriage-like Benz Dos-à-Dos that surfaced with a simple “rare” search. 
Hours: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday 
Admission: $20, docent tours $30, docent/workshop $35. Online reservations are required. 

— 2500 Horseshoe Drive South, Naples 239-687-7387, revsinstitute.org 

C'mon: Golisano Children's Museum of Naples
■ Smallwood’s Store 

Perched above Chokoloskee Bay in the Ten Thousand Islands and steeped in history since its opening in 1906, this store-turned-museum, a National Register of Historic Places site, is a treasure trove of ancient Calusa artifacts. Reflecting its origins as a Seminole trading post, the museum showcases original furs, animal pelts, and carvings. In its heyday, this establishment served as the only market and post office in the wild western Everglades wilderness. 
The store gained notoriety when townsfolk gunned down the Wild West outlaw and suspected murderer Edgar J. Watson right outside its doors in 1910, an event immortalized in the 1990 novel “Killing Mr. Watson.” 
Boat tours around the bay often offer glimpses of the critically endangered smalltooth sawfish, which favors these waters. Adding to the experience, kids revel in the novelty of sipping an ice-cold Coca-Cola dispensed by a meticulously restored vending machine. The Tigertail gift shop pays homage to Seminole Chief Charlie Tigertail, featuring authentic Seminole crafts and local artwork, providing a charming blend of history, nature, and local culture. 
Hours: December-April, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily; May-November, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily 
Admission: $5 

— 360 Mamie Street, Chokoloskee 239-695-2989, smallwoodstore.com 

 Smallwood’s Store, Chokoloskee 
■ Wonder Gardens 

Established in 1936 as a roadside attraction, the Everglades Wonder Gardens in Bonita Springs dropped “Everglades” from its name in 2020. The nonprofit Wonder Gardens, once known for attractions like the swinging bridge over the alligator pit and alligator feedings, has transformed into a vibrant botanical garden. Now focused on local flora and fauna, it provides a sanctuary for over 300 rescued reptiles and birds, including juvenile gators, free-range peacocks, and lively flamingos. 
Hours: 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily 
Admission: $12 for adults, $7 for children ages 4 through 12, $10 for seniors. 

— 27180 Old 41 Road, Bonita Springs 239-992-2591, wondergardens.org 

— Naples Botanical Garden also celebrates Southwest Florida’s native flora (and other subtropical and tropical flora around the world), as does the Peace River Botanical & Sculpture Gardens in Punta Gorda. Find out more at naplesgarden.org and at peacerivergardens.org.