$3.2 million expansion begins for Western Md. art museum

December 19, 1993|By Greg Tasker | Greg Tasker,Staff Writer

HAGERSTOWN -- Western Maryland's only fine arts museum has broken ground on a $3.2 million addition that will double exhibit space and enable visitors to see well-known works more regularly.

"We'll be able to show a great deal more than we can now," said Theron K. Rinehart, president of the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts board of trustees. "Ninety percent of our collection we can't show right now. We're a museum, and we've got to get these things up."

Expected to be completed in spring 1995, the 12,000-square-foot addition will more than double the size of the museum, which was built in 1929 and was last expanded in 1940, Mr. Rinehart said.

The bulk of the museum's nearly 5,000-piece collection is late-19th-century and early-20th-century American art. The collection also includes some old masters, European paintings, prints and sculpture.

"We have some art that hasn't been displayed in 20 years," said Odell H. Rosen, the museum board's treasurer. "Some pieces you might see only once in a decade."

Among the museum's 19th-century treasures are "Scene on Catskill Creek," an oil by Frederic E. Church and one of his earliest and best-known works, and "Bowl of Flowers," a watercolor by John LaFarge.

The museum's paintings have been regularly lent to national museums.

"The [expansion] really allows us to exhibit more of our excellent collection," said Jean Woods, the museum's director. "The more art you have on display, the more people are likely to come to the museum."

The museum attracts about 60,000 people annually.

The new U-shaped wing will include space for traveling exhibits, art classrooms, a shop and administrative offices. The current museum building will be renovated.

When the new wing opens, a collection of turn-of-the century American and European landscapes donated to the museum two lTC years ago by Dr. Albert R. Miller Jr., a retired professor of economics from Baltimore, will be displayed.

He donated more than 150 works by 60 artists, including a work by James A. M. Whistler, whose most famous painting is popularly known as "Whistler's Mother."

Dr. Miller chose the Hagerstown museum for his collection after surveying museums in the mid-Atlantic region. He said he chose the Washington County museum because he knew the collection would be displayed and because he was impressed with the museum's director.

"This museum is better known than generally realized," Dr. Miller said.

Museum officials had worked on the expansion for about six years before yesterday's groundbreaking. State, county and local money will pay for the project.

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