Baltimore Sun Coverage (April 10, 1932)
Hagerstown’s New Museum of the Fine Arts: A former Resident Provides Washington County Town with Building Worthy of Larger City
By KATHERINE SCARBOROUGH
A Museum of Fine Arts, architecturally charming and filled with paintings and sculpture which would do credit to discriminating metropolitan institutions, is scarcely an orthodox appurtenance of a small inland American city which numbers its population at little more than 30,000 inhabitants.
Such a possession, however, actually is the portion of Hagerstown and is the gift of a former resident, Mrs. William H. Singer, Jr., whose husband’s reputation as a landscape painter of the first rank extends over two continents. Before her marriage Mrs. Singer was Miss Anna Brugh, daughter of th elate Peter A. Brugh and Amelia Irving Brugh.
The Museum has been presented to Hagerstown and Washington county in memory of Mrs. Singer’s parents and will be turned over formally to the municipal and county authorities by a committee of local men and women headed by Mrs. William H. Hamilton, Jr., [sic] Which has spent more than three years in intensive preparation for the event.
Every detail of the project, from consultation with the architects (Hyde & Shepherd, of New York) to the hanging of the last picture has been supervised by the committee in the absence of Mrs. Singer, whose home is in Norway and who has been unable to come to America to give it her personal attention. The results of the committee’s efforts, however, are all that the most meticulous donor might ask.
Admirably set in the cup of a hill in the city park (which in itself is rated by Park Internationale as one of the two most beautiful parks within city limits in the United States), the museum appears to have grown naturally on the ground some fifty feet back from the rock-studded edge of the lake, where white swans are decoratively in evidence.
The entrance to the building faces the driveway rather than the lake, but before reaching the doorway the approaching visitor sees the semicircular rotunda overlooking the water and the satisfying end facade, with its richly colored bricks, limestone quoins at the corners and classical balustrade.
IN CLASSICAL SCHOOL
Architecturally, the building is of the classical school expressed in the Georgian manner so apposite to the Maryland Scene. IT is designed to permit the erection of additional harmonious units as the museum may grow, but the present structure is complete in itself. Maryland brick were used for the wall, with a binder which was achieved after much experimentation for color and which, in the changing lights and shadows, blends with the brick and limestone trimming almost like a tapestry. Before the double doors there is an uncovered limestone portico. The doors, of solid walnut fitted with brass knobs, open into a small vestibule with a terrazzo floor, green in tone, with brass pin lines dividing the diamond-shaped blocks. The baseboard is of green marble, beautifully veined, and the plaster of the walls is mixed to resemble Caen stone of a soft pink tone.
From the vestibule another set of heavy walnut doors, half glass, opens into the Sculpture Court which extends through the center of the building to the rotunda on the lake front. The walls of this room repeat the tones of those in the vestibule. The four doorways leading out from the sides of the court are recessed slightly into archways which form semi-circular panels above each of the doors, affording an admirable setting for cartouches or plaques which may, at some time, be exhibited.
There is an ample space on the side walls and over the doors at each end to permit the exhibition of large tapestries and rugs and there is also room for cabinets for the display of smaller objects of art. From the center of the ceilings hangs a single bronze electric fixture which dispenses properly distributed and diffused light.
Occupying the place of honor in the center of the Sculpture Court is a meter-high reproduction in bronze of Paul Bartlett’s Lafayette, the original of which stands in front of the Louvre in Paris, having been given to France by the school children of America. Against the walls stands Gutzon Borglum’s Lincoln, Rodin’s Head of One of the Citizens of Calais, in terra cotta, and several Rodin bronzes, all placed on plinths of walnut made especially to receive them as well as to fit into the setting.
On the walls of the Sculpture Court hang ten magnificent Tibetan pictures, religious in subject and developed in strange reds, blues and greens, the colors apparently symbolic, for they are repeated in every picture. This collection, which is one of the few of its kind in existence, has been declared by Mrs. George Drexel, of Philadelphia, and expert on Tibetan art, to be particularly fine.
To the left of the Sculpture Court, as one enters the building, is a cloak room which may also serve as a small exhibition room. Next is the Print Room, quite modern in style, with a mirror like floor, black window trim and aluminum walls. This room is used as a setting for Chinese and Japanese prints, blacks and whites, and exhibits of similar character.
On each side of the Sculpture Court and connected with it by wide doorways are the main exhibition rooms. The Walls are covered with Japanese grass cloth of a grayish tan color which blends with the Caen stone effect of the Sculpture Court. Concealed moldings make it possible to hang pictures without using nails and to display those of different sizes at different heights without marring the walls. The lighting of the rooms, both natural and artificial, has been arranged so that shadows and glare are eliminated.
THE INITIAL COLLECTION
The initial collection–which the building was designed to house–includes, in addition to the pictures and sculpture mentioned, canvases by American and foreign painters whose work is definitely modern.
Only one painting by the donor’s husband, whose work is to be found in eight museums in this county and Europe, hangs in the building. This represents a Norwegian landscape, which is Mr. Singer’s acknowledged metier, and was the gift, not of the artist himself, but of R. Bruce Carson, to whom the artist had presented it before the museum took form.
Other pictures include the work of such men as Childe Hassam, Maurice Fromkes, Louis Paul Dessar, H. Golden Dearth, Jacob Dooijewaard, J. B. Johgkind, Sigourd Skou, a Norwegian American; Gaston La Touche, whose large canvas Fete Espangole, is one of the highlights of the collection; Israel Israels and M. A. J. Bauer, who delights in Oriental subjects and is represented both in water color and in oil.
In the basement of the museum there is a large assembly room where illustrated talks on various phases of art are held both for adults and school classes. Here also are held exhibitions of student’s work and of amateur photography of an artistic character. This room is so situated that it is possible to use it without opening the rest of the building.
Other basement rooms are designed so that objects of art may be brought into the building, unpacked, cleaned if necessary and dispatched by elevator to the exhibition halls without being carried though the rest of the building. In the basement, too, is a modern air conditioning system which insures the even temperature of the humidity necessary for the preservation of works of art.
Plans for the museum as an expression of Mrs. Singer’s affection for the place of her birth were made tentatively some four years ago in New York at a dinner which took place during an exhibition of Mr. Singer’s work in that city. Upon the return to Hagerstown of several residents who had attended this affair a committee was formed to handle the details and superintend local matters connected with the gift. In addition to Mrs. Hamilton, the chairman, this committee included Miss Mary L. Titcomb, R. Bruce Carson, Lynn K. Brugh (Mrs. Singer’s brother who died last winter), William T. Hamilton Jr., Henry Holzapfel, Harry R. Rudy, J. Stewart Miller, Robert McCauley, John S. Kausler and John B. Ferguson.
The first problem to be met was the acquisition of a maintenance fund which would enable the museum to function in accordance with the single stipulation made by Mrs. Singer in connection with her gift: that admission to it be free to the public at all times. The Board of County Commissioners agreed, at the instance [sic] of the committee, to appropriate annually $5,000 for this purpose. This figure was matched by the city and the committee was able to go ahead with the assurance that operating expenses had been provided.
The citizens of Hagerstown have demonstrated their approval of this expenditure by visiting the museum in large numbers, more than 16,000 having passed through its doors since they were first opened to the public.
As an institution which belongs to the county as well as to the city the museum has undertaken a work of pioneering which will extend its benefits beyond the confines of Hagerstown.
An automobile has been secured to carry pictures and lantern slides to school and parish houses in the rural sections, where they will be explained by competent speakers.
Hagerstown’s first traveling library was the first of its kind in the country and it is known from coast to coast for the excellence of its work. The new peripatetic museum undoubtedly will evoke similar applause for its effort to open new horizons to those cut off by circumstances from city life and its cultural opportunities.
Washington County Museum of Fine Arts
Washington County Museum of Fine Arts
43 x 29 cms
Washington County Museum of Fine Arts (Md.), Anniversaries, etc.; Washington County Museum of Fine Arts (Md.), History; Art museums, Maryland, Washington County, History; Hagerstown (Md.), history.
Washington County (Md.), 1928-2006