Westmoreland art museum ready to show off new look, collections
By the end of the week, the new Westmoreland Museum of American Art will be unveiled.
“After years of planning and two of construction, we are so pleased that the new Westmoreland is the museum we have always hoped it could be,” says Judith H. O’Toole, the Richard M. Scaife director and CEO of the museum. “The transformation of the existing building and the addition of a dramatic east wing, all set in a lush landscape, is breathtaking. The new and restored galleries are seamless, and the newly enhanced collections are impressive. We can hardly wait to open our doors to the public.”
When the doors open for a grand reopening party Oct. 24 and community day Oct. 25, visitors can expect to find a complete renovation of the 30,000-square-foot existing building, which first opened in 1959.
A 13,287-square-foot addition drastically increases the overall size — by 44 percent — with new galleries, community and educational-programming spaces and a dramatic, canti-levered wing that will provide expanded space for traveling exhibitions, as well as a new collection of post-1950s art works recently gifted to the museum.
The $38 million expansion forced the downtown Greensburg museum to close for two years and set up a temporary location in the former Stickley furniture store on Route 30 in Unity.
The renovated building is sustainable in every sense of the word — financially, socially and environmentally. It is LEED certified, thanks to a transformational design by Susan T. Rodriguez/Ennead Architects of New York City.
Barbara Jones, the museum’s chief curator, says the new and newly renovated galleries and a chronological layout of temporary and permanent exhibition spaces will offer the visitor a chance to “travel back in time” in an art-historical context.
“The one thing that we are doing differently is that we are moving people first to the cantilevered gallery, because they generally do come to see the temporary exhibitions,” Jones says. “So, the target traffic pattern, or flow, is through the temporary exhibition first. And then go back through the 1950s. And then move back in time through the 20th-century gallery.
“Then, the center gallery, which is what we call the ‘sense of place’ gallery, which is all Southwestern Pennsylvania landscapes and scenes of industry,” Jones says. “So, when you hit that gallery, you are sort of in the heart-center of the museum, and you are surrounded by everything. Then, you move into the 19th century, then the 18th century.”
The first exhibit visitors will be directed to is “A Passion for Collecting: Selections From the Richard M. Scaife Bequest,” on display in the temporary exhibitions gallery in the cantilevered addition.
The Westmoreland Museum of American Art inherited half of Scaife’s 500-plus-piece art collection, sharing it with their colleagues at the Brandywine River Museum of Art, near Philadelphia.
“He didn’t give us one inkling, or the Brandywine either, that he was giving us part of his collection,” Jones says. “We got incredible things in the Hudson River School area … and some early modernist things.”
The Scaife collection was divided between the two museums in a round-robin selection process that took place between December 2014 and January 2015 after months of research and analysis by staff at both institutions.
This inaugural exhibition will feature 85 outstanding pieces from the collection, including works by William Trost Richards, a favorite of Scaife’s; Jasper F. Cropsey’s “Starrucca Viaduct,” an important painting showing a landmark structure in Pennsylvania; George Inness’ “Moonrise, Alexandria Bay,” an excellent example of tonalism; and a large sunset scene by Albert Bierstadt of the California coastline.
The exhibit includes 17 drawings of schooners by 19th-century painter James Buttersworth that hung in Scaife’s home in Nantucket, Mass., as well as a stained-glass window by John La Farge, a prominent New York City painter and stained-glass artist of the late 19th century. Included are five paintings by the famed early 20th century self-taught artist John Kane, which are hanging in an adjacent gallery.
“The Scaife collection has added significantly to the late 19th and early 20th century collections, adding many important works by artists not previously represented in the collection or artists underrepresented,” Jones says.
“What’s it has done for us now is, it will allow us to rotate things in and out, so now our permanent collection will change more frequently,” she says. “Rotating them will give visitors something different to see every time they visit.”
In a gallery behind the Scaife exhibit, visitors will find another temporary exhibition, “All About Color & Geometry: Selections From the Diana and Peter Jannetta Gift of Art.”
In December 2010, Shady-side residents Diana and Peter Jannetta promised the Westmoreland a transformational gift — their collection of more than 100 objects of modern and contemporary American art.
With this gift, the Jannettas have enabled the Westmoreland to broaden its collecting scope for the first time in its 55-year history, enabling the museum to complete the story of American art through the 20th and into the 21st century.
There are 130 works: paintings, drawings, sculpture, prints, glass, ceramics and photographs by noted artists such as Donald Judd, Richard Anuszkiewicz, James Turrell and Ellsworth Kelly; glass artists Dale Chihuly, Dante Marioni, Thurmond Statom, Mary Ann “Toots” Zynsky and Pittsburgh artist Kathleen Mulcahy; ceramics by Warren MacKenzie; and a collection of 19th and early 20th century photographs by Mathew Brady, Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Steichen and Luke Swank.
Twenty of these works are on loan for this opening exhibition; others will be shown periodically as exhibitions rotate in the gallery.
“For us, it was transformational, because it really pushed us past the 1950s,” Jones says.
The third temporary exhibit that will be on display is “Making the Westmoreland Museum of American Art,” which, as the title suggests, is all about the renovation.
The exhibit includes architectural drawings, models, photographs and renderings that describe the design process that created the museum building from its earliest permutation to the present.
“It’s fun,” Jones says. “It’s going to be set up like an architect’s studio or office. It’s all going to be up with magnets. It’s not going to be precious. It’s not going to be framed. It will be rather informal, but not messy.”
Kurt Shaw is the art critic for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at [email protected].