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Sunderland, England

Sunderland Museum and Winter Gardens

A museum and gardens with unusual plants and a history of progressive programming for the blind. 

The Sunderland Museum and Winter Gardens combines unusual botanical specimens and an eclectic showing of historical and art objects.

Its exhibitions include the Hetton Gliding Reptile, an ancient flying reptile, as well as Sunderland’s first Nissan car, a Walrus killed in Siberia in the 1880s, and a taxidermy lion named Wallace. The museum was founded in 1846; it was later damaged in World War II by a parachute mine and was recently entirely rebuilt, complete with a steel and glass gardens that holds 2,000 unusual trees and flowers. 

The most significant contribution of the museum, however, came in 1913 when the then-curator J. A. Charlton Deas started sessions for the blind. Children and adults were able to come to the museum and take a “touch tour,” running their fingers over strokes of paint on a canvas or examining the shapes of taxidermy animals like Wallace. It was one of the first programs of its kind and was influential in programming for the blind in museums around the country.