Maryhill Museum expansion gives visitors room to appreciate art
Thursday, July 5, 2012
GOLDENDALE — Auguste spread out a bit, but didn’t move, Marie still has her gilded throne, Loie’s dancing in the corridor, as usual, and the girls of fashion remain decked out upstairs.
But, oh, how different it is.
Maryhill Museum of Art, the splendid castle on the cliff, recently completed its first-ever addition, and it’s already scoring high on the “wow” scale.
“By and far, the feedback has been 99.9 percent good,” said Colleen Schafroth, executive director, standing amid the vast expanse of glass that encloses the new wing.
As soon as the $10 million expansion opened in May, curious visitors began flooding in to see how the new wing fits — both into the museum’s Beaux Arts architecture and into the river-bluff terrain — as well as what fits into the wing itself.
While the new 25,500-square-foot extension, designed by GBD Architects of Portland, adds a dramatic flair, the effect is by and large subtle, with little alteration to the original structure.
The museum, which opened in 1940, is known for its eclectic collection, which includes unusual chess sets (some 300 of them), Native American baskets and European paintings.
Auguste Rodin has always been a major feature. Now, his 80-plus sculptures and drawings don’t have to share an exhibit room with anything else, thanks to more overall space in the new wing. Also famous are the diminutive mannequins, dressed in French designer clothing from the 1940s, known as Théâtre de la Mode. They continue on view on the top floor.
People are still greeted on the main floor by artifacts from the reign of Queen Marie of Romania, while movie clips of turn-of-the-19th-century dancer Loie Fuller regale in a lower hall. Both women are considered co-founders of the museum, with their friend industrialist Sam Hill, who built the mansion in 1918.
But for visitors this summer, it’s the new wing that’s creating the buzz. Partly underground, it cantilevers out from the back, or southern side, of the museum leading viewers toward the river bluff through a gleaming glass pathway.
The new space, however, is not so much for displaying artwork as it is for extending the museum’s mission to exhibit and educate as well as properly maintain its collection. Because the museum was originally built as a home, space for preservation, research and gatherings has been minimal.
The expansion corrects that, explained Steven Grafe, Maryhill’s curator of art, by providing four main components: an educational center, large enough to seat 100 people; spaces for storage, research and collections work; an outdoor plaza, with sweeping views of Mount Hood and the Columbia River; and a new cafe.
There’s also display space in various spots along the new extension.
“We knew we needed practical areas,” Schafroth said. “It wasn’t the goal of the project to add a lot more exhibit space.”
An overriding intent was to stay true to the original building’s concept, using the same steel reinforced concrete and stone, much of it ice age basalt quarried from the construction site, then transformed into walkways and counters.
“Everything here is about basalt,” Schafroth noted. “I think it’s really important that the addition was done with great sensitivity to the historic building, the site and the historic integrity so that nothing overpowers the original.”
The new cafe, called Loie’s, still serves mainly deli items, but there’s activity afoot to expand the menu to include crepes. (Loie, a Chicago native, lived much of her life in France.)
No matter what the repast, the great draw for diners is the panoramic vista.
Indoors or out on the terrace, which opened up views that couldn’t be seen before, every direction offers a pastoral pastiche — the curling strand of highway, tugboats coursing against the river current below, basalt cliffs above, soaring kingbirds, purple lupine, stately pines, golden wheat fields and rolling vineyards.
The original cafe, smaller and darker, was housed in the same room as the Rodin sculptures. Now the works spread out all on their own, lending a more serene setting for the bronzes and plaster figures. It gives “The Thinker” a quieter place to ... well, you know.
“You can now have the joy of seeing the gallery with Rodin without all the cafe noises and espresso machine going,” Schafroth said.
The new wing also provides far greater space to care for and preserve artwork. With 5 percent to 10 percent of the museum’s collection of 20,000 objects on view at any time, it’s incumbent upon the staff to store remaining items correctly under climate-controlled conditions.
It’s what happens to those items while awaiting their turn in the limelight again that is so key, Grafe emphasized.
“I’d like to see everything be exhibited over the course of every decade,” Grafe said.
So behind-the-scenes care is an important function of any museum, he said.
“Preservation is vital,” he said. “Not everything can be out, so it’s keeping things resting until it’s game time again.”
Schafroth said one of Maryhill’s great attributes is that visitors don’t get overwhelmed by all there is to see, becoming drained as they move from room to room to room.
Because the facility is not an immense space, that works in its favor, she maintained.
“You can see this museum in a day. People stop by here, and we can convert them; they’re awed by something that they hadn’t thought of before.”
The awe factor costs money, of course. The new addition is named the Stevenson Wing for Mary and Bruce Stevenson, major benefactors from White Salmon who donated $2.7 million to the project. (Bruce Stevenson was one of the founders of SDS Lumber of Bingen.)
Monies from state grants, trusts, foundations and 400 individuals, giving between $10 and $2.5 million, brought fundraising to completion.
Maryhill is also in a unique position, at least for a museum, because the historic structure came with some 5,000-plus acres, some of which is leased to orchardists and farmers, generating about $60,000 a year. The museum also leases land to the owners of 15 wind turbines, producing electricity for the power grid as well as about $250,000 in revenue for Maryhill per year.
So, although the museum endured some lean times when the economy began dipping several years ago, Schafroth said the facility is on stable footing.
“We’re OK. But we always need more money.”
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