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The Crown Jewel of Washington County: Washington County Museum of Fine Arts

The Crown Jewel of Washington County
Washington County Museum of Fine Arts
by Jennifer Leese

At the Washington County Fine Arts Museum in Hagerstown visitors can step back into history, see fine art, explore fantastic collections and exhibits, and experience culture.
The Washington County Museum of Fine Arts has a long and impressive tradition of cultural leadership in the Cumberland Valley region, providing residents and visitors with access to an outstanding Permanent Collection and an active schedule of exhibitions, musical concerts, lectures, films, art classes and special events for children and adults throughout the year.
The Museum's professional standards of excellence in collection, exhibition and interpretation have earned it the coveted accreditation of the American Association of Museums (AAM), an honor extended to fewer than ten percent of the nation's museums.
"The Washington County Museum of Fine Arts serves this community, including the four-state region, in numerous ways. The museum holds in trust for this and future generations art collections of lasting significance. Works of art are records of past times, past cultures, but they are also stories told through the "voice" of the artist, and from one person's point of view. The Museum's Timoteo Viti (1469-1523) self-portrait, painted in Italy in 1506 when the artist was 36 years old, gives us a picture of the artist who was the teacher of the famous high Renaissance artist Raphael. A key to the painting is the palette, held in the artist's left hand. Painted on the palette are grape leaves linked by a vine, signifying a play on the artist's last name. Viti=vine.
The museum is a place where people are inspired, instructed, and stimulated. Looking at works of art provides a relief from day-to-day pressures and uplifts the mind and spirit. The study of art can be a lifelong interest or one started late in life.
Because of the national importance of our art collections, the intimate scale of the museum, and the historic landmark building on the beautiful City Park Lake, the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts is known as "a jewel"," informed Rebecca Massie Lane, Director, Washington County Museum of Fine Arts.
Small but significant groups of European, Asian, African, contemporary and early American art fill out the WCMFA's diverse collection. The museum's Mid-Atlantic location has placed it in a prime position to collect early American portraiture, folk art, and decorative art, including an impressive group of portraits by members of the Peale family, a collection of Mid-Atlantic stoneware, and folk carvings by Wilhelm Schimmel. Asian decorative art and African art fill cases on opposite sides of the museum's Fulton Gallery, and European Old Masters find a perfect home in the museum's Schrieber Gallery. Just around the corner a glowing collection of Bohemian glass is displayed alongside its American Tiffany counterparts.
The Museum sits in the middle of the beautiful Hagerstown City Park and is easily accessible from Interstates 70 and 81. The Museum is free with plenty of parking. The building itself is fully accessible to those with disabilities. "It is such a pleasure to work at the Museum. I drive through the beautiful City Park each morning, and as I enter the museum driveway, I am greeted by the roses in the Kaylor Garden, and the Hyde and Shepherd building is graceful, always well-attired in its Flemish Bond brick with stone rustication, cornices and columns," said Lane.
On September 16, 1931, the museum's doors opened to the public as a result of the generosity of William H. Singer Jr., and his wife, Anna Brugh Singer. William, a painter and the son of a Pittsburgh steel magnate, married the lively Hagerstown native, Anna, in 1895. The two spent most of their adult lives in Europe pursuing their interests in painting and collecting artwork to enhance their homes in the Netherlands and Norway. Anna longed to provide Hagerstown with the cultural benefits of a museum. During a 1927-1928 visit to the United States she proposed her gift of a museum building and foundational art collection.
At the museum's twenty-fifth anniversary in 1956, Anna reflected on her hope that the museum would be a broadly based cultural center that would provide the cultural advantages she had lacked as a child; "giving younger generations a fuller appreciation of joy and beauty than had been afforded me."1 Her influence shaped the WCMFA into a holistic cultural institution-providing exhibitions of fine and decorative art, music and performing arts, and art education for children and adults.
Anna Hyatt Huntington's (1876-1973) Diana, is poised mid-action in the East Portico of the Museum, her arrow shot into the air, her hound ready to follow its arc and fetch her prize, a moment suspended in time, forever. Huntington was born and raised in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the daughter of a Harvard professor of paleontology. Her early interest in animals is attributed to her father's influence. As a developing young artist, she focused her talents on the portrayal of animals in the medium of sculpture. She studied under noted artists, including Gutzon Borglum, creator of the presidents' portraits on Mount Rushmore. (In the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts' collection is a very fine marble head of Abraham Lincoln by Borglum.)
In 1903 Huntington exhibited her sculpture of two horses titled Winter Noon at the Society of American Artists in New York. She exhibited the same sculpture again at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in 1904. She won the Purple Rosette of the French Government and was made a Chevalier of the Legion d'Honneur for her equestrian group of Joan of Arc. Huntington is known for bronze equestrian sculpture, including Joan of Arc, Riverside Drive, New York, El Cid at the Hispanic Society of America (New York City), and Andrew Jackson, A Boy of The Waxhaws, Andrew Jackson State Park, Lancaster, SC, which depicts a young Andy Jackson, sitting astride a farm horse. Anna Hyatt Huntington was one of the most prolific American artists of the 20th century, producing hundreds of models that were cast in bronze and aluminum. Her studio at Brook Green Gardens in Charleston, SC is home to another cast of her (ITALICS)Diana of the Chase, 1922(END ITALICS).
Anna Hyatt Huntington's friend, poet Maxwell Anderson wrote this:
(CENTER)For Anna Hyatt Huntington's Diana
Now you have shot your arrow at the Sun,
little Diana, and the god caught you there -
the living wind still in your up-blown hair,
your eyes burnt back from staring hard upon
the target of the glory of high noon -
caught and immured you in his burnished air
forever, a too valiant challenger,
lifting the empty sockets of the moon.
Had you walked soberly your forest shade
and hid your virgin lustre under cloud
and let your bow hang at the eaves unstrung
you had not died so light and fierce a maid,
for, dying, gone to join the mutinous crowd
of beautiful blind rebels who died young. --Maxwell Anderson(END)
The original building was designed by New York architects Shepherd and Hyde and the cornerstone, which can still be seen at the museum, was placed in 1930. The original building followed the traditional Greek temple format for museums, common at this time. The portico faced east directly across from the West entrance. Two large galleries, now named the Kerstein and Smith Galleries, flanked the entry, a great hall (today's Schreiber Gallery). A vital element of the first building was the art classroom, located on the lower level of the building, and provided as part of Mrs. Singer's explicit instruction. After the death of William Singer, Anna Brugh Singer returned to Hagerstown in 1949 for the opening of an addition to the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts, which she had given. The addition provided an exhibition gallery that could also serve as a concert space-today's Bowman Gallery-to help fulfill Mrs. Singer's emphasis that the Museum should provide for the performing arts as well as the visual arts. In addition, two smaller galleries were added on the South end of the building. Today, these are the Fulton Gallery of decorative arts and the Singer Memorial Gallery.
The 1994 building addition provided much-needed expanded gallery space, two art classrooms, offices, a visitor's services area and support services. In 200x, Howard and Anne Kaylor gave the beautiful garden which now graces the East Portico and provides City Park visitors with a lovely vista across the lake.
Ms. Lane said "The Museum is currently planning to enclose the inner courtyard to provide a public gathering space for the community. It will serve well for performances, lectures and symposia, tour groups, a daily cafe, evening functions, as well as enabling the Museum to present its extensive collection of sculpture to the public view."
Unable to choose one or two valuable pieces, Lane said, "The Museum's Collections are all valuable. There is something for everyone at the Washington County Museum of Fine arts, from William Singer's entrancing landscape paintings to works by the Peale family of painters, to Hudson River landscapes to regional artists. Sculptures of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Benjamin Franklin are among our treasures as are works by the folk carver Wilhelm Schimmel, and anonymous Fractur painters and quilters. African and Asian art are among our treasures, along with a significant collection of fine art glass and a growing collection of drawings and original prints."
Hours: Tuesday through Friday 9am to 5pm; Saturday 9am to 4pm, and Sunday 1 to 5pm. They are closed Mondays, New Year's Eve, New Year's Day, Good Friday, Independence Day, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day.
For more information visit, call 301-739-5727 (TDD: 301-739-5764) or write: Washington County Museum of Fine Arts, PO Box 423, City Park, Hagerstown, MD 21741. The Museum offers an active education program, free Sunday afternoon concerts and lectures, and opportunities for group tours with our trained art museum docents.
(MUCH SMALLER TEXT)1. Mrs. William T. Hamilton Jr., The Twenty-Fifth Year (Hagerstown, Maryland: The Washington County Museum of Fine Arts, 1956), 4-5, 14-15.

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