A new perspective on art, history and technology

Those who remember the pink stucco and brick façade of the original Elliott Museum will be surprised at the “pink lady” now. The Grand Dame has been reincarnated. The demolition and reconstruction took 1 1/2 years.

Having just reopened, the new Elliott Museum appears to blend into its setting on Hutchinson Island, not far from the ocean. The colors and materials of the new building are reminiscent of sand and stone; its two-story front windows reflect the sun and sky.

Passing under the oversized porte cochere, you enter through glass doors to stand in a sunlit rotunda. That sense of light and airiness follows you as you move through spacious galleries.

But what you also notice is sound. There’s plenty of clanging and whirring as visitors pull levers, turn cranks and make gears turn while experiencing hands-on exhibits.

“A museum is a reflection of its community,” says Jennifer Esler, president and CEO. “So what we do here at the Elliott is to look at art, history and technology through a combination of traditional museum exhibits and more interactive experiences.”

The museum was founded in 1961 by Harmon Elliott who was a part-time resident of Stuart. It was in honor of his father Sterling, who had over 100 patents to his name. After he worked with Harmon, they had 220 patents between them.

“Harmon wanted to showcase his father’s inventions, some of his own and a large collection of automobiles,” says the curator, Janel Wilson.

The museum was a local gem that served the community well for more than 40 years. But hurricane damage in 2008 plus a donation of 55 Model A commercial vehicles and $10 million from the local Donnelly family signaled it was time for change.

The original building was demolished. After the $21 million redo, the museum is double its original size. And the building — two stories, more than 40,000 square-feet — Silver Leeds certification.

Highlights of the museum’s green technology include lighting that either has motion sensors or is set on timers, bathrooms with no- or low-water facilities, and plenty of brightly colored recycling bins throughout.

On the ground floor through September, the Changing Exhibition Gallery hosts Machines in Motion. The exhibit features 40 full-size working replicas of contraptions Leonardo Da Vinci sketched and recorded in his codices or handwritten notebooks. Feel free to make them work.

In the Struggle for Power exhibit, we see how early cars powered by gas, steam or electricity competed for dominance. It’s a struggle that continues today, says Wilson.

Straight ahead is Stuart Main Street, where replicas of the facades of historic local buildings are the backdrop for 13 vehicles including six Ford Model “A” and “AA” commercial vehicles built in 1930 and 1931. Kids get a kick out of “driving” the very rare 1931 bright yellow model AA school bus.

If you see a crowd standing in front of the 36-foot-high windows at the end of the room, they are viewing the robotic system that uses electricity and hydraulics to retrieve 47 antique cars and trucks from three levels of stacked storage. Although this stacking system has been used in parking garages in cities including Miami, this is the only place it’s part of a museum exhibit, says John Giltinan, associate car curator.

With the push of a computer button, the automobile you want to view is automatically retrieved from its space, brought to the main floor and moved onto a stainless steel turntable. There, under the spotlights, it rotates for all to see.

Don’t leave without visiting the 1,300 items of baseball memorabilia, including the signatures of every player in the Hall of Fame through 1994.

Or have a meal at the Frances Langford Outrigger Café. Those of a certain age will remember Langford as the star of 28 films and a popular member of Bob Hope’s USO tours during World War II, Korea and Vietnam. Her career as well as her home and restaurant in Jensen Beach are celebrated here.

On the way out, take a minute to explore the brightly colored beams of Let Your Mind Soar. Set on the museum’s front lawn, this sculpture is by Peter Freudenberg, who is known for his monumental works such as a water tower shaped like a peach.

Reflected in the museum’s front windows, this polychrome piece adds a touch of whimsy while demonstrating the museum’s focus on art and technology. “I smile every time I see it,” Esler says.

Deborah S. Hartz-Seeley can be reached at