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dec. 8 miller house

December 08, 2000

Mansion House Art Center



By KATE COLEMAN / Staff Writer

photos: RIC DUGAN / staff photographer

Mansion HouseThe walls of the Mansion House Art Center hold a lot of Hagerstown history.

Since 1991, the Georgian-style house on the hill in City Park has featured the work of Valley Art Association members.

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The group pays a "very kind" rent to the city of Hagerstown, the property's owner, said Marilyn Harper, gallery director.

Christmas treeIt completes a nice circle. John Heyser, who started building the house in 1842, was the "first known artist" to be born in Hagerstown, according to Jean Woods, director of Washington County Museum of Fine Arts. Portraits of his brother, George, other family members and religious subjects are in private collections, Woods said.

Valley Art Association artists' work is on display at the Mansion House year-round, Fridays and Saturdays, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Sundays, 1 to 5 p.m. Artwork with a "Merry Christmas" theme will be featured through December.

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There will be an open house Sunday, Dec. 10, from 1 to 5 p.m.

Staircase railingThe Mansion House was built with bricks made with clay from what is now the west bank of City Park lake. Heyser set the house at the top of 170 swampy acres given to him by his father. It was completed in 1846, according to "The Hagerstown City Park, 1734-1916," a 1979 paper by Hood College student Leslie Ann Cruger, on file at Washington County Historical Association.

Heyser named his house "Cedar Lawn," for the trees that lined the lane from the house to what is now Virginia Avenue. The first Hagerstown Fair was at the Heyser farm in 1852. Years later, Heyser's brother, George, took first prize for his grape wine at the fair. During the Civil War, the land became a campsite for Union and Confederate soldiers.

Heyser was murdered in Florida in 1882. His property was sold in 1884 to William and Alexander Armstrong. In 1890, William Armstrong sold the property to West End Improvement Co. It was too swampy to develop, but Hagerstown Ice Co., and Cumberland Valley Spoke and Bending Co. operated there.

Wreath in WindowThe City of Hagerstown purchased it in 1916 for $40,000. It later became City Park.

The house on the hill was a home for park caretakers and later a place for Washington County Historical Society to exhibit its holdings.

For the last decade, the Mansion House has been home to Valley Art Association, an organization founded in 1938 as The Society of Hagerstown Artists.

The effort was spearheaded by local artist Marcella Cox, who wanted to organize an exhibit for Washington County Museum of Fine Arts. At the same time, downtown merchants wanted to display local artwork in their windows, according to a 1991 history of the organization compiled by member Betty Heck, a Hagerstown artist.

It was an exclusive group. To be eligible for membership, an artist must have had a painting accepted by the museum's Cumberland Valley Show.

In April 1940, the society had its first program. The group of 11 spent the evening sketching. To be voted in as a member, an artist also needed to attend three meetings and bring in artwork. The society began to collect dues - $1 per year - in 1941.

In 1947, the group's name was changed to Hagerstown Art Club, and membership was opened to people "merely interested in the study and appreciation of art."

In 1959, residents of nearby towns and states became eligible for membership. The group became Valley Art Association in 1983, when Clyde Roberts was president. He is president today.

Roberts and artist Lonnie Jenkins teach classes at the Mansion House. Members rent gallery space, but no commissions are charged on sales of their paintings, Harper said. There is a featured artist each month.

The 120-member association also works for the community. It has donated money and artwork to benefit area causes and sponsors annual scholarships for high school art students. The group also sponsors artists' workshops and guest instructors.

There is an informal gathering of artist-members on Wednesday mornings at the Mansion House. They bring whatever they are working on and work together.

Painting by yourself gets lonely, said Fairfield, Pa., artist Betty Roby.

"We encourage each other. We critique each other's work," said Audrey Mentzer of Hagerstown.

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