75 years of culture

Washington County Museum of Fine Arts celebrates anniversary

Washington County Museum of Fine Arts celebrates anniversary

September 10, 2006|by JULIE E. GREENE

For professional artist William Clutz, teacher Tom Danaher was instrumental in his career, and therefore, so was the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts.

Clutz, 73, took classes with Danaher, including two years as a teenager during the time Danaher taught at the local museum in the mid-1940s. Clutz went on to have a successful career with his oil and pastel paintings of urban scenes included in exhibits at The Museum of Modern Art and Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

Clutz is one of countless people to take classes at the museum or enjoy the myriad of artwork that has hung on its walls during the past 75 years.

Several special exhibits and concerts are planned for the coming year to mark the museum's 75th anniversary. They start with "Our Fondest Dreams and Hopes: Celebrating the 75th" - an exhibit of photographs, documents, catalogues and brochures from the museum archives and important paintings from the museum's permanent collection.


Clutz's teacher Danaher was a rebel considering the conservative nature of Washington County, Clutz recalled. He trained in New York and was friends with expressionist artist Jackson Pollock, said Clutz in a recent phone interview from his Rhinebeck, N.Y., home.

Danaher, at least through the eyes of Clutz, accomplished just what Anna Brugh Singer had hoped when she and her husband, William Henry Singer Jr., donated the money to build the museum that opened in 1931 in Hagerstown's City Park.

"Anna was very interested in expanding the cultural horizons of the citizens of Hagerstown, and she seemed particularly interested in benefiting young people," said Meg Dameron, the museum's curatorial coordinator.

The Singers

Anna Singer grew up in Hagerstown, living not far from where the museum now stands.

She met "Billy" Singer, the son of a Pittsburgh steel magnate, at a party in Shepherdstown, W.Va., where he was visiting friends. The two married in 1895.

William Singer went on to become a respected artist and, upon his father's death, inherited a fortune that he and Anna used to build the art museum in City Park. By the time the museum opened, the Singers were living in Norway. Anna Singer visited Hagerstown periodically.

Dameron said the Singers set up the museum so that it would be capable of growth; and that it did, with expansions in 1949 and 1994.

Anna Singer was mindful of the museum's need to serve the public, requiring more space in the future, Dameron said.

The couple also donated the artwork of William Singer and several of his friends to start the museum's collection.

The museum's collection includes more than 6,000 works of art. They include European old master paintings such as Giovanni Massone's "Saints Mary Magdalene and Paul," as well as Asian and African art, but the strength of the collection is 19th century American art.

Continuing progress

More than once the museum's directors - including John Richard Craft, Bruce Etchison and Jean Woods - have renewed the museum's focus on 19th century American Art, which is what the museum is known for, Dameron said.

In recent years, the museum has limited the number of shows each year to about 12, concentrating on bringing in the works of more prominent artists while still showcasing regional talent, Dameron said.

Having fewer exhibits "has allowed us to spend more time researching artwork so there's more educational material with it," she said. This allows each exhibit to be more cohesive and tell a story.

In addition to exhibiting art, the museum hosts concerts, lectures and art classes for people of all ages.

Admission to the museum is free, as stipulated by the Singers, Dameron said.

Joseph Ruzicka, the museum's director, said families such as the Grohs, Bowmans, Kersteins, Schreibers, Kaylors and Waltersdorfs have stepped up to provide funding for the museum's physical and programming needs.

Board members and staff will begin work this year on a long-term strategic plan for the museum with some new projects already in the works.

The museum has had a Saturday morning youth program since it opened, starting with a story-time hour, said Amy Blank-Rowland, museum educator.

A new preschool art class is starting in October and free workshops begin in December to help artists with the business side of their work, Blank-Rowland said.

The museum also is working on a future art therapy program for residents of nursing and assisted living homes as well as lending its resources to a future after-school arts academy two local churches are creating, Blank-Rowland said.

"I think the museum now has really met and exceeded the vision that (the Singers) had," Dameron said.

For more information ...

To learn more about the history of the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts, visit Western Maryland's Historical Library online at The Web site contains copies of historical photos and documents.

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