by Jennifer LB Leese
“I had no idea this place was here,” says Sharron Tan, mother from Myersville.
Hagerstownians have seen it many times while watching their children play, listening to music at the band shell, feeding the ducks and swans, or when buying refreshments at the concession stand. Perhaps you’ve noticed it during the annual Hagerstown Blues Festival when unique art lines the massive porch during their “Porch Sale.” However, many gaze upon its beauty, but have never stopped to see what’s inside.
“A lot of people don’t even know we exist,” says Donna Mason, portraiture and oil painting artist. “Many confuse us with the museum [Washington Country Museum of Fine Arts].”
Situated on top of a grassy hill overlooking one of the most beautiful city parks in America is a Georgian-style mansion house. Known as the Mansion House, this gem with its welcoming wrap-around porch and cheerful appearance is located in Hagerstown City Park. John Heyser, miller-horticulturist, home builder, and artist, began building this gigantic yellow and white house in 1843 using bricks made from the mud of the swan inhabited lake that the house currently overlooks. John Heyser named his creation “Cedar Lawn” because of the red cedars that line the path in the front of the house. The swampy land, known as Heyser’s Woods, was the designated ground for the first Hagerstown Fair on October 13, 1854. Interestingly, Confederate and Union forces used Heyser’s Woods to camp on during the Civil War.
After John Heyser’s murder, while traveling in Florida during 1882, Alexander and William Armstrong bought the land. Alexander later gave his share of the land to his brother William, who in 1890 sold the land to the West End Improvement Company where factories operated until 1915 when the City of Hagerstown purchased the 50-acre land for $40,000 and began construction on the City Park. The swamp was drained, creating the lower lake, and landscaper George Burnap set to creating the park, as we know it today.
The Mansion House opened on August 30, 1991 as an art gallery and control center for the Valley Art Association. Originally formed in 1938, the art association presently has 100 members from three states.
The minute you walk into the enormous structure you feel awestruck, but as you stroll from room to room on old, squeaky floors gazing at the beautiful creations cleverly presented on each and every wall, you begin to feel the artist’s passions. Nationally known artists such as Donna Mason (oil), Audrey Mentzer (watercolors), Donna Bingaman (portrait), Tamara Hoffman (oil), and husband and wife duo Ted Murray (watercolors) and Lucille Murray (acrylics) currently display and sell their breathtaking paintings at the Mansion House on the huge first floor.
The Valley Art Association not only provides the public with links to these talented artists, they also generate art awareness within the community by arranging monthly workshops where these artists talk about what they do and show how they do it. On the third Wednesday of every month at 7 p.m. feature artists come to demonstrate their style of art during the association’s meetings held at the Mansion House. Mike Gouker, an art teacher at North Hagerstown High School, has taught numerous classes demonstrating how to draw using various shapes and dots.
The association also organizes art-related field trips to places like Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania as well as offering a scholarship fund for talented local art students. Those interested in helping raise money can donate by dropping money in the jar that sits by the front door. With brand new board members, the Valley Art Association, along with the president Karen Davison, is actively working on putting together more field trips for the near future.
Almost everyone sends Christmas cards, but how many have original paintings from local artists decorated on the front flap? Starting November 1 visitors can purchase these picturesque cards as well as shrink-wrapped prints of original artwork during the Mansion House’s Holiday Sale. Further events include November’s “All Members Show” referred to as an event with “Never been seen original artwork” and December’s winter and holiday themed exhibit-both in the North Gallery. Additionally, from December 3 to January 23, stop by the Washington Country Museum of Fine Arts to see works from local artists in the “Valley Art Show.”
If you’ve been to the Washington County Hospital lately, then you’ve most likely seen the local artist display known as “Art in the Hallways” off the main lobby. A percentage of the proceeds from all sales go to the Washington Auxiliary.
The Mansion House Art Gallery is a wonderful place to visit to learn about, browse, and purchase fine art. The Valley Art Association is a highly respected organization for local artisans...both are in an old mansion...a hidden treasure in itself.
The Mansion House Art Gallery is there for your taking-it costs nothing to explore and is open year-round in the City Park on Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sunday from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. The City Park is located on Virginia Avenue/Route 11 South in Hagerstown. For more information, please call: (301) 797-6813.