Westmoreland Museum of American Art
Westmoreland Museum of American Art Reopens
After being closed for seven months of renovation, the Westmoreland Museum of American Art reopened its doors on June 6, 1999. Funded by the Museum's 3-year capital campaign, The Campaign for Enriching the Public Experience, the renovation was the culmination of years of planning to design a Museum that is more visitor-friendly.
Key to these improvements were physical changes to the second floor of the Museum where the important American collections are housed and significant temporary exhibitions are mounted. The redesign of these galleries was stimulated by a desire to make them more accessible and understandable to the visitor in terms of traffic flow and arrangement, and to better exhibit the growing permanent collection. Eight galleries housing over 450 pieces of art were involved in this realignment. Prior to the renovation, the permanent collection was housed in galleries on opposite wings of the building with the temporary exhibition galleries wedged between them. Not only was this confusing to the visitor in moving through the galleries with temporary exhibitions interrupting the flow of the permanent collection, but it also meant that when the staff changed the temporary galleries they had to close parts of the permanent collection to the public. The renovation united the permanent collection and created separate, distinctive galleries for temporary exhibitions on one wing of the Museum.
The main permanent collection galleries, Galleries A and B, house paintings by nationally recognized American artists including John Frederick Kensett, Alfred Thompson Bricher, William Michael Harnett, Severin Roesen, William Merritt Chase, Cecilia Beaux, John Singer Sargent, Mary Cassatt, John Sloan, Robert Henri, Milton Avery, among others. In the new installation, (left and right images) the Museum's curator integrated both two-dimensional and three-dimensional objects, bringing sculpture (formerly housed in a separate sculpture court) and decorative arts together with the paintings. Sculptures include works by Paul Manship, Harriett Frishmuth and Paul Bartlett, among others. The decorative arts include a Windsor Settle, c. 1790; Chippendale Tall-Case Clock, c. 1803; Federal Pianoforte, 1830; and Federal Swell-Front Sideboard, c. 1820.
Temporary walls were fabricated and installed to divide the spaces and create intimate viewing areas in the permanent collection galleries. All of these components have been designed to be moveable, providing the Museum staff the option to rearrange as time or new acquisitions require. The new permanent collection galleries maximize the visitor's experience with works of all media in one viewing area, providing them with a continuity in viewing the permanent collection which was formerly lacking. This arrangement further allows the audience to see and compare objects simultaneously with their two-dimensional counterparts, providing a more complete learning experience with regard to the historical development of American art. Reopening skylights and installing clestory windows (left) give visitors the opportunity to enjoy the artwork in the natural, northern light in which it was created and best viewed. In addition all new track lighting was installed.
Rather than install the collection chronologically, since it basically spans a period of less than two hundred years, the Museum's curator decided to concentrate on the subject areas that are the Museum's strength in collecting: portraiture, landscapes and still lifes. Within each subject area, the collection is arranged chronologically, bringing sculpture and decorative arts together with paintings of the same period. This provides a richer, more cohesive viewing experience for visitors allowing them to compare early works in each of the subject areas with those made at a later date, without having to traverse the entire collection to do so.
New interpretive tools, including gallery guides, text panels and extended labels have been provided in each gallery to enhance the educational value of a museum visit. Also, visitors are now able to use a touch screen computer to access the Museum's data base and see works of art not on view or to gather more information about specific pieces in the collection. An Acoustiguide tour is also being developed for the permanent collection.
Of particular importance is the creation of an educational suite consisting of a lecture room; relocated and enlarged studio; a relocated and redesigned children's interactive gallery called Kidspace; which are all located adjacent to the existing art reference library. The new lecture room eliminates the need to use galleries for special events that, in the past, made them inaccessible to visitors. It also provides a meeting room for corporate members and area groups. Kidspace provides a fun and engaging experience for families with children and was designed to enhance their visit to the Museum. Using the theme, Art in Animals, young visitors can participate in interactive stations and hands-on activities relating to the Museum's collection. For the younger children, stuffed animal friends are provided to accompany them on their visit offering something to touch and entertain them during their tour. All of these new, public, non-gallery areas were created without sacrificing any gallery space; instead staff moved to smaller offices to insure enough room for the public.
A welcoming, spacious lobby (left) now includes a Visitors Center where visitors can get a Museum map and information about WMAA programs and exhibitions, as well as other cultural highlights around the area. The lobby is enhanced with a new, graceful, marble central stairway that connects the main lobby with the second floor, inviting visitors to view the permanent collection and special exhibitions.
Article revised 10/12/99.
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For further biographical information on selected artists cited in this article please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.
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