By Matthew Guerry
Photographs from Ennead Architects / The Westmoreland Museum of American Art
The Westmoreland Museum of American Art has exhibited a vast collection of works for over 50 years. These past two years, however, the museum added a 140,000-square-foot East Wing, resulting in a bigger, better creative space within. After years of operating at the temporary The Westmoreland Museum of American Art @rt 30 location, the doors to the revamped space will reopen the weekend of October 24 with a Grand Reopening Celebration.
Plans to update the museum have been in the works since the early 2000s, says Judith O’Toole, The Richard M. Scaife director/CEO of The Westmoreland, and were motivated in part by the museum’s proximity and similar appearance to The Westmoreland County Courthouse. “People thought we were an extension of the courthouse,” O’Toole says. “It wasn’t so much that we got the courthouses mail, but that our building was interpreted as an official, intimidating, and not very welcoming structure. We wanted to change that so we could get people to walk inside.”
To make it happen, New York City architectural firm Ennead Architects, LLP, helmed the museum’s redesign, while Pittsburgh-based LaQuatra Bonci Associates took care of the landscape architecture. In addition to the larger gallery space, the museum received indoor and outdoor gathering places, along with several outdoor sculpture exhibits in the gardens that feature indigenous Pennsylvania paintings. More comprehensive educational areas were built, as well — amenities that O’Toole says the museum lacked prior to renovation.
The already extensive collection at The Westmoreland has expanded to include new, diverse pieces. An update to its collection policy, which long declined art contributions dated after 1950, now allows the acquisition of modern pieces. With this change in place, Diana Jannetta, art critic and museum board member, and her husband, Peter, contributed more than 130 paintings, drawings, prints, sculptures, and other works from their private collection to the museum.
Accompanying these contributions are a number of pieces from long-time museum member and supporter Dr. Michael Nieland. He and his wife, Lilly, who is an artist herself, assembled a private collection of sculptures by artists like Hiram Powers, Isidore Konti, and Frederick William MacMonnies, many of which are soon to be displayed in the museum.
“This collection of sculptures has been carefully selected over a period of years with a dedicated focus aligned to the curatorial vision of Dr. Nieland,” says O’Toole. “The works will add significant depth to our current sculpture collection by broadening the artists represented and increasing the number of works by some well-known artists.”
Additionally, The Westmoreland has acquired more than 200 pieces from the private collection of the late Richard M. Scaife, philanthropist and publisher of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Scaife’s collection was divided up between between The Westmoreland and the Brandywine River Art Museum in a series of round-robin selection processes.
“We did research — looked at where our collection had gaps, which paintings we wanted the most, and created our lists,” says O’Toole. Some of the most desired pieces that The Westmoreland did take in were five rare paintings by John Kane. The famous, self-taught painter called Western Pennsylvania home for much of his life, making the acquisition even more meaningful. “Kane’s paintings are very valuable and very difficult to find in the open market,” says O’Toole. “To receive five of them in one fell swoop was very dramatic.”
The Westmoreland has long sought to merge the old with the new, something evident in the art it exhibits, and made even clearer in its bold new facelift. O’Toole says The Westmoreland challenged the architects to create a design that combined the museum’s past and present, but in a way that appeared as though it had all been built at the same time. “Our charge to them was to create a building that didn’t look like it had a new wing attached to an old, tired building; to create a cohesive design throughout.”