It was 1799. A group of enterprising sailors from Salem, Massachusetts, decided to establish the East India Marine Society, covenanting in its charter to collect natural and artificial curiosities from beyond the Cape of Good Hope (the Republic of South Africa) or Cape Horn (Chile). These were the beginnings of the Peabody Essex Museum – the oldest continuously operating museum in the US, whose total holdings include over 2.4 mln exibits of Asian, African, Native American and Oceanic art and culture, maritime art and American decorative art, as well as 24 historic buildings. The Museum is believed to be one of the most dynamically developing in the US.  

The activity of the Museum is multi-faceted. First of all, there are numerous and diverse exhibitions. The Museum tries to supplement them with workshops, theatrical performances, concerts, lectures and film shows. For instance, the exhibition ''Origami Now!'' was accompanied by a series of workshops presenting various paper-folding techniques, and a lecture on the connections between those techniques and mathematics. Interestingly, the Museum not only tries to enrich its visitors' experience, giving them opportunities to gain in-depth knowledge and understanding of the presented art and culture, but it also allows them to participate in the process of creating exhibitions. For example, in relation with the latest exhibition entitled ''Wedded Bliss, The Marriage of Art and Ceremony'' – presenting works inspired by wedding ceremonies by artists from different continents – the idea has emerged to create a wedding album on the Museum website Those viewing the website are encouraged to submit the photos from their wedding day with comments. Selected images will be included in the exhibition media installations.

Apart from that, the Museum compiles presentations about the exhibitions from previous years, frequently in the form of microsites, and make them available on-line. One example of that is the exhibition on contemporary art from the Caribbean entitled ''Island Thresholds'' from 2005, which can be viewed at Also, the Peabody Essex Museum introduced ARTscape on its website – an on-line tool which enables users to view images of museum exhibits, create their own ''collections'', as well as learn what connections there are between particular pieces.  'It is used mostly by educators and researchers, but there are also lots of casual users and visitors to the museum. Many users in the education field will use it to build a customized "curriculum" of inter-connected objects for their students prior to their visit to the museum,' says Dominick Pangallo, from the PR Department. In addition, the Museum runs the Philips Library, with a collection of documents and manuscripts, and is involved in conservation of historic buildings.

Undoubtedly, one of the boldest and most impressive of the Museum's endeavours is the Yin Yu Tang project – dismantling, transport, re-erection and preservation of a 200-year-old Chinese house. Originally the Yin Yu Tang house was situated in a small village in the mountains of Huizhou region in southeastern China. It had been built for a prosperous merchant around 1800 and served as home for 8 generations. The house was put up for sale in the 1990s. Around that time, the authorities of Huizhou region were trying to find an American cultural institution willing to join in projects to protect and conserve historical buildings in that reagion as well as to increase international awareness of the traditional architecture from that part of China.. Cooperation was established with the Peabody Essex Museum and, among other projects, the transfer of Yin Yu Tang to the US was agreed upon. 

The measurements and drawings were made, and Yin Yu Tang was carefully dismantled. The resulting 2735 wooden components, 972 stones and more than 60 000 bricks and tiles were packed in wooden crates, transported by truck from the village through the mountains to the port of Shanghai, loaded on a ship to Tokyo, then transferred onto another ship to New York, and eventually the creates reached the Museum in Salem. Conservation and repair work, or even replacement of some parts, was necessary due to damage from transport. The reassenbly of two-storied Yin Yu Tang was arduous and took a few years. The re-erected house inside the museum building was opened to the public in 2003.

Visiting Yin Yu Tang is a memorable experience. The house layout itself is interesting: 2 parallel wings separated by a rectangular courtyard in the middle and joined by walls on the sides. The courtyard was the centre of activity in a Chinese home. Here the children could play while the women were doing household chores and chatting. Almost all the windows of the house face the courtyard, which served as the primary source of light for the rooms – hence its name ''sky well''. Yin Yu Tang's rooms show traces of the past. There are, for example, traditional lattice windows, pieces of wallpaper from the beginning of the 20th century, a government loudspeaker installed in the 1960s (no-one could  turn it off or turn it down), etc.

More everyday objects, clothes, family photos and letters are on display in the Yin Yu Tang Gallery, right next to the house. From the gallery, visitors walk into the Yin Yu Tang Resource Room. This is a room full of objects from China, which may not only be viewed, but also touched, for instance, traditional fans, old abacuses and  compasses, games and puzzles, or books available for reading on the spot (ranging from children's fairy tales to books on Chinese architecture – in the original or in English translation). There are also short documentaries about Chinese culture and the transfer of Yin Yu Tang from China to the US. The house can also be viewed at the microsite

The Museum has entered the third century of its existence doubling its gallery space. Its permanent exhibitions have been arranged anew to emphasize the connections between art and culture as well as to point out the influence they have on each other. Many collections have been made accessible for viewing on-line. The re-erected Chinese house has been open to the public. Undoubtedly, the Museum will not stop at that and will continue to expand its activities, seeking new ways of presenting art, architecture and culture and bringing them together.