Midtown Memphis Walking Tour and Joey’s Favorite Museum in the South

Joey and I woke up early on Saturday morning in order to walk and play with our dog Deuce before heading to midtown Memphis to meet up with Mel of Rockin’ Running Tours. We were the only ones up for a Saturday morning tour so we got a private tour. As we walked briskly through the midtown area, Mel told us all about the history of Memphis from the Civil War to the horrifying yellow fever outbreaks of the 1870s to the development of the big money cotton market. We didn’t know anything about Midtown when we arrived for our tour but it ended up being our favorite neighborhood in Memphis. We enjoyed it even more than the touristy downtown center and there were plenty of things to see and places to eat in Midtown!

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During our wide loop through the area we walked through beautiful old historic houses on tree lined streets, neighborhood coffee shops and cafes, a newly remodeled area with brand new trendy restaurants, and lots of street art on buildings and bridge overpasses. I loved all of the pops of color and artistic vibe. We ended up returning to Midtown for lots of great food at prices much lower than downtown.

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The Dixon Gallery and Gardens were only a short drive from the Midtown area so after a quick pit stop at Starbucks for some coffee and breakfast sandwiches, that’s where we headed. Having done my research beforehand, I knew that the entrance to the museum and gardens was free on Saturday mornings. I always love it when museums have their free entrance times during the weekend! But even if you happen to not be able to catch the free entry time at the Dixon, if you are in Memphis you must pay this place a visit. I am almost certain that if we lived in Memphis, Joey would enthusiastically sign us up and pay for a museum membership.

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We began in the gardens which were blooming like crazy with the full spectrum of colors during mid summer. The current garden feature upon our visit was a series of different “gallery frames” scattered throughout the garden in which visitors could re-enact some of the famous works which waited for us in the Impressionist display inside the museum. We snapped several of these fun photos then headed inside to see what the real things looked like.

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In additional to an impressive permanent collection, the Dixon also houses a large rotating exhibition space. During our visit, Charles Courtney Curan’s work was on display. Curan is especially known for his breezy outdoor scenes of women and children. The girls run, dance, pick flowers, and sunbathe while looking perfectly angelic in the long dresses appropriate for the turn of the 20th century. The majority of Curan’s work was done between 1890 and 1910. Interestingly enough, although we loved the lightness and watercolors of his outdoor works, we also enjoyed his dark paintings of Paris at night whose only light came from shadows. Curan’s skill with the paintbrush enabled him to create the appearance of the glow of the street lamps and the lamps reflections in pools of water on the street below.

But of course, I must tell you why this is Joey’s favorite museum in the south! In addition to it being free (always a plus), the museum was also extremely well curated with thought provoking commentary placed next to each painting. I also enjoy being asked questions about the art I am looking at and I really appreciate it when the museum’s staff takes the time to provide background information and questions which make the art more meaningful.

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Many tourists to Memphis overlook the Dixon museum because it is a bit far away from the downtown tourist track and not a park of the rock n’ roll track. But you will have missed out if you visit Memphis without making a stop at this treasure trove of art with works both modern and more than 200 years old. Be sure to check before your visit because the Dixon also hosts many fun events throughout the year. I wish we could have been there for the food truck round up! Just another reason to return to Memphis!

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