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“It's in the Bag”
Review of Esse Purse Museum

Esse Purse Museum
Ranked #4 of 107 things to do in Little Rock
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Attraction details
Recommended length of visit: <1 hour
Owner description: Dedicated purse museums in the world are rare jewels of history: Amsterdam, Seoul and Little Rock claim the distinction of being home to the three brick-and-mortar galleries in existence. ESSE Purse Museum at 1510 Main in the SoMa district of Little Rock opened its doors in late June 2013 to share what's inside the fabulous exhibit featuring over 500 artifacts. More than a fashion history, the museum showcases a compelling narrative of the 20th-century American woman - decade by decade - through the bags she carried and the contents within. The delightful displays of purses are complemented by carefully selected items women from each era carried - true history held in a handbag. Small photos in the displays and enormous backlit photos on the north wall show real women with their personal bags. Three cozy dioramas - "Nothing's More Natural Than Skin," "By Land, Sea or Air" and "A Night on the Town" - feature specialty purses, and a large, whimsical art installation addresses the essence of a woman, her handbag and the contents within. ESSE, which grew out of a traveling exhibit selected from owner Anita Davis' extensive collection of bags, is a privately-owned museum housed in a historic building in an up-and-coming, hip neighborhood, close to other world famous attractions like Central High School (the only school that is a national park) and the William J. Clinton Presidential Center and Park. More than just a trip down memory lane or history lesson, ESSE Purse Museum is a don't-miss experience. Museum hours are 11 a.m. - 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and 11 a.m. - 3 p.m. on Sunday. Admission is $10, $8 for students (6-18), seniors (60 and up) and military. Children 5 and younger are free. Call for group rates and special tours.
Reviewed 7 April 2014

I was trying to think when the last time a small city had the good fortune of a private citizen building and operating a museum, particularly one of high quality. The numbers you might recall might be counted on one hand. Little Rock is undeniably fortunate to have a benefactor who has done this, taking a lifelong collection, building a gem of a museum around it, and opening to the public. In a repurposed building, along a street recently reenergized with interesting shops and cafes, the Esse Purse Museum currently has a chronologically organized history of American women's fascination with the hand bag during the 20th Century; and also houses a temporary exhibit for the next 60 days, of a similar collection of women's hats. With the purses comes a narrative and accompanying exhibitry which explains America during each decade - our work, recreation, our challenges and our successes, all interpreted through the handbag...and often all the things which spill out of the bag. There are snapshots and handerchiefs and wartime remembrance and much more. The museum appeals therefore not just to those who like style and design but to the historians in each of us. At first I was confused about just whom I should recommend to visit this museum. Women would seem a natural to enjoy Esse, but I soon was reminded that I liked it too... and I realized that guys like me with an interest in our country's history would find it interesting. I believe teen and preteen girls would definitely fall for Esse, but as to younger children and most boys?... I really do not know. I want to say one thing about the design of the exhibitry before I forget...this is no amateur installation. The cases and display design would match decorative arts museums of New York and major European galleries. There is one more draw to the museum. Aside from the very impressive Historic Arkansas Museum gift shop , the Esse shop is easily the best museum shop in town and probably the most interesting jewelry display I've seen in the state. I'm headed there for Christmas shopping. Don't be put off by some $1500 purses for sale, there are plenty of very unusual things there for ordinary budgets...which brings me to the only issue of the museum, admission cost. Unfortunately, the owner, though hugely generous in opening this fine facility for the public's pleasure, does not have the means of Alice Walton, and must charge to keep the museum up and running. There are no city subsidies available, thought here probably should be. The $10 entry fee (discounts for students and seniors and small kids free) can be off-putting to travelers on a budget. However, when you figure a mediocre lunch or a movie can approach that, I can safely say that there is nothing mediocre about this experience. I got my money's worth, but I'd like to see the owner explore various ways to bring more travelers and locals to the museum for less cost. I anticipate creative changing shows here, and cutting edge ideas in the future. This is the kind of place which puts our town on the map and I'm hopeful it receives much support. I'm just wondering if they let bag ladies in free.

2  Thank jimjade3
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
LauraCHardy, Guest Relations Manager at Esse Purse Museum, responded to this reviewResponded 7 April 2014

Thank you, thank you for your well-thought-out and detailed review! We're so proud of ESSE and are very pleased you got to experience the bonus display of hats and millinery accessories. Thank you for visiting and for taking time to share your thoughts and reactions.

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Write a ReviewReviews (149)
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"for sale"
in 14 reviews
"gift shop"
in 21 reviews
"women and men"
in 2 reviews
"display case"
in 3 reviews
"unusual things"
in 2 reviews
"last century"
in 2 reviews
"gift items"
in 2 reviews
"local artisans"
in 2 reviews
"capital hotel"
in 2 reviews
"temporary exhibits"
in 2 reviews
"united states"
in 2 reviews
"special exhibit"
in 2 reviews
"self guided tour"
in 2 reviews
"worth the trip"
in 2 reviews
"clinton library"
in 5 reviews
"great place to visit"
in 2 reviews
"contents"
in 26 reviews
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122 - 126 of 149 reviews

Reviewed 28 March 2014

The presentation of the material is very will put together. It describes the history of the decade in terms of purse styles and content. I even owned one of the suitcases as a child in the 60s.

Thank jbrophy
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
LauraCHardy, Guest Relations Manager at Esse Purse Museum, responded to this reviewResponded 30 March 2014

We're glad you think the displays are well put together but regret you consider the $10/$8 admission to be expensive. Please be aware that this is a privately funded museum and that in addition to collecting all the items for the museum, the owner also restored the building in which it is housed. Thank you for visiting, and we're glad you saw something to remind you of your childhood.

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Reviewed 22 March 2014

This is an amazing display. Interesting items--beautifully arranged and lighted. The displays are a history of the 20th century through purses AND THE THINGS THAT ARE CARRIED IN THEM. We went because we enjoy fashion and collect vintage clothing, but this was so much more.

Thank jaejae
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
LauraCHardy, Guest Relations Manager at Esse Purse Museum, responded to this reviewResponded 24 March 2014

Thank you, thank you, for taking time to do such a nice, concise review – and for helping us spread our message that women's history is carried in handbags. We're so glad you came in.

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Reviewed 21 March 2014

The museum was well-put together, very handicap accessible for my mother who was on crutches, very interesting and unique (and we have traveled all over the country and seen many different museums), the information was presented in a very neat and orderly manner. Overall, the staff was very passionate, the collection was interesting, the price was not bad for the amount of stuff you get to see. And the shop is very cute.

Thank kcals
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
LauraCHardy, Guest Relations Manager at Esse Purse Museum, responded to this reviewResponded 22 March 2014

Thank you so much for your kind review. We enjoyed having you and are so glad you were pleased with your visit.

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Reviewed 16 February 2014

Quite the sleeper of a museum. We found it due to other comments on TripAdvisor. The purse collection is well curated and paints a personal history of women in the 20th Century. Recommended (especially for gals!).

Thank swannygal
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
LauraCHardy, Guest Relations Manager at Esse Purse Museum, responded to this reviewResponded 17 February 2014

Thank you so much for taking time to give us such a nice review. And what a treat to have visitors from San Francisco!

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