If you’re seeking a cultural interlude as the holidays approach, you might zip over to London to take in J.M.W. Turner’s finest at the Tate. Then, it’s on to the Louvre to see Leonardo’s Mona Lisa, followed by a quick jaunt to the Vatican to check out Michelangelo’s Pietà.
Or, more realistically, and certainly closer to home, there’s the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts.
Located in Hagerstown, Md., the Museum of Fine Arts is, considering the size of its community, an unexpected gem with a permanent collection that includes old masters and American paintings (think members of the Peale family, Frederic Edwin Church, and Norman Rockwell), as well as sculptures (Auguste Rodin and others) and textiles, glass (Lalique and Tiffany), and pottery (George Ohr).
Additionally, special exhibits, a wide variety of educational opportunities and, of course, a gift shop, are all housed in a 12-gallery, 31,000-square-foot facility situated by the City Park lake. Best of all, admission to this picturesque museum, chartered by the state of Maryland and supported in part by the city of Hagerstown and Washington County, is free.
Opened during the Great Depression
Founded by Hagerstown native Anna Brugh Singer and her husband, William H. Singer (his father was one of William Carnegie’s partners), the museum is celebrating “85 Years of Hopes, Dreams, and Wishes … Fulfilled,” having first opened its doors on Sept. 16, 1931, during the Great Depression. In addition to funding the construction of the neo-Georgian building, the Singers presented an initial gift of more than 100 works, many procured through influential friendships established as they traveled the world.
In subsequent years, two additions, one in 1949 and the other in 1994, as well as the newly enclosed Kaylor Atrium, have brought the facility to its current size. And new acquisitions continue to expand the range of the museum’s holdings.
On special exhibit now and throughout the season is Sea of Hope II, a groundbreaking installation by sculptor and University of Maryland professor Foon Sham, in honor of his mother who died from cancer in 2002. Drawings of Mongolia and Bali by Dutch artist Willem Dooijeward are on view as well. Additionally, a “zodiac” of 12 works of art from the permanent collection, selected to illuminate an issue or concern of national importance, is also on display.
To help visitors to Hagerstown get into the holiday spirit, a wide slate of celebrations are on tap, including the lighting of the City Park tree (Dec. 2), a Victorian Christmas performance presented by the Maryland Entertainment Group (Dec. 9), and a free concert by the Museum Consort (Dec. 20). Special events are also planned at the nearby Hager House and Museum House Art Gallery.
There really is no place like home for the holidays … or maybe a special place that’s just a short drive away.
For more information:
Washington Co. Tourism: visithagerstown.com