Temporary Space Sparks Spontaneity Westmoreland Museum Embraces 'Pop- Up' Approach in Interim Home

By Thomas, Mary | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA), January 16, 2014 | Go to article overview

Temporary Space Sparks Spontaneity Westmoreland Museum Embraces 'Pop- Up' Approach in Interim Home


Thomas, Mary, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)


Sometimes treasure hides in plain sight.

Many recognize the Westmoreland Museum of American Art in Greensburg as a regional attribute with a permanent collection and changing exhibitions that champion contemporary local artists as well as historic artworks.

But few realize that it also has international prominence, in part due to the critically lauded "Born of Fire: The Valley of Work" exhibition that traveled to Europe between 2007 and 2010. It featured the museum's prize industrial artworks and was shown in cities that included Oberhausen in the Ruhr River Valley of western Germany and Chemnitz in eastern Germany, according to Barbara Jones, the museum's chief curator.

"Born of Fire" returned to the Rhineland Industrial Museum in Oberhausen as a major component of the exhibition "Feuerlander, Regions of Vulcan" in 2010 when Essen, also a part of the Ruhr region, was designated European Capital of Culture. "Visitors came from France, Belgium, Italy and Germany," Ms. Jones wrote in an email.

The Westmoreland regularly draws visitors who are interested in a wide range of Americana, collectors who recognize the importance of heritage works, and scholars who continue to make discoveries about the American character through artists who visually represented their times.

Interest has risen particularly among collectors of southwestern Pennsylvania artists, such as those of the Scalp Level School, Ms. Jones wrote. The Scalp Level School refers to a group of artists who in the 19th century painted Appalachian landscapes in the area of Scalp Level in Cambria County.

"But we are known to other institutions and collectors for specific works by specific American artists such as Mary Cassatt, Winslow Homer, John Singer Sargent and John Francis," Ms. Jones wrote. "Our still life, 'Fruit and Wine,' of 1858, was selected by the Art Institute of Chicago for their exhibition 'Art and Appetite, American Painting, Culture and Cuisine,' over their own John Francis still life."

Sometimes family members of artists represented in the collection visit. Those have included relatives of Otto Kuhler (1894-1976), who visited in the fall from Colorado. "They didn't know about his industrial work, only the work he had done when he moved out west. It was a revelation to them," Ms. Jones wrote. Other recent visitors were the great-grandson of Scalp Level School leader George Hetzel (1826-1899) and his family, including his mother, George Hetzel's granddaughter-in-law.

The artist files that scholars and collectors come to look through are still accessible, but some collection favorites are traveling while the museum building is being renovated and expanded. The Westmoreland expects to debut its North Main Street location in Greensburg in spring 2015. In the meantime, the museum is in a temporary location dubbed the Westmoreland @rt 30. The address is 4764 Route 30 in Unity, just east of Greensburg. Locals will recognize that as the former Stickley Audi & Co. furniture store across from the former Mountain View Inn.

The 30,000-square-foot building is about as large as the museum, but the spatial layout is quite different and includes large open areas. That, and the fact that the staff isn't operating out of its home base, have inspired new ways of approaching temporary exhibitions and programs that invite spontaneity. The museum calendar lists "Pop-Up" exhibitions, workshops and salons at what might be thought of as a pop-up museum.

An added bonus is that the temporary spot along the scenic, historic Lincoln Highway has drawn a new audience to the museum.

"We have had many people visit the shop and the galleries who say they had not been to the museum building in downtown Greensburg," said Christie Black, then-director of marketing and public relations for the museum. …

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