Last Friday morning—one week past—a crisp, clear and windy day, I joined about 20 other docents for a hard hat tour of the Westmoreland Museum of American Art at the top of N. Main St. in Greensburg, PA. The museum has been undergoing a multi-million dollar expansion and complete gutting and renovation of the original structure.
Museum director and CEO, Judith O’Toole, conducted the tour, and it was terrific. All the spaces in the original building are being reconfigured with an emphasis on introducing more natural light to interior spaces. As our party stopped in each unfinished area, Judy held up architects’ renderings of what those spaces will look like in finished form and offered insights into how the new spaces will be utilized. In addition to the studio room for hands-on artistic creation by students and the relocated museum gift shop, it was exciting to hear that a staffed café will be part of the new facility. Our bundled group could have used some steaming lattes as we braced ourselves against the November wind on those cold concrete floors.
I was rather surprised—and delighted—that we were invited to walk out onto the concrete floor of the new cantilevered addition that thrusts over the Maple Avenue hillside, enclosed only by the angular steel girders on all sides. This new space will be glass enclosed and will offer dramatic views of the Court House and downtown Greensburg, as well as the hazy, distant ridges of the Laurel Mountains. The line of hard hat, worker-bee docents, tip-toeing ahead of me over the puddles of water on the concrete slab, brought the beginnings of life to that behemoth concrete-steel sculpture in progress.
The finished museum will look more like a completely new edifice than an old building sporting a new addition. Ms. O’Toole explained that the architects have worked diligently to achieve this uniformity of renovation.
Beyond the refurbished interior spaces of the museum, the grounds will feature relaxing pathways through vegetation that will be eye-catching in all four seasons and will extend welcoming walkways from downtown Greensburg to the world-class art in the new Westmoreland. The bridge over the railroad tracks on Main Street, and possibly the bridge on Maple Avenue, leading down the hill to St. Clair Park, will feature strategically located glass portals with monoscopes to give curious passers-by a unique glimpse of art works within the museum interior as well as artistic displays throughout the exterior landscape. How wonderful that a stroll through town or a walk in the park might lead one, organically, to a priceless afternoon at the museum.
With the addition of new works from the estate of Mr. Richard M. Scaife and some other sources, there should be no gaps in the American art displayed from the contemporary back through the 1700’s. Greensburg will be the site of a truly world-class museum of American art. Director O’Toole expects that all activities at the temporary site on Route 30-East will cease by mid-July when the move back to the permanent home will commence.
Mark your calendars for the last weekend in August, 2015—the expected grand opening of the gemstone of Southwestern Pennsylvania. Look for me in the café if you miss me in the galleries.
© Dave Knoepfle