Hagerstown art gallery reopens with new look

HAGERSTOWN — An art gallery once known for its floor-to-ceiling paintings and darker colorings was reopened to the public Sunday, showing off its brighter, more sparsely decorated atmosphere.

The William H. Singer Jr. Memorial Gallery at the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts closed more than two years ago after snow and ice melting on the flat roof began leaking into the gallery, Museum Director Rebecca Massie Lane said.

It was the quick action of Facilities Manager Mike Churchey and former museum educator Amy Hunt in discovering the initial leak during their morning rounds, in February 2011, that helped spare any of the artwork in the gallery from damage, Lane said Sunday before the gallery’s reopening.

The emergency closure of the gallery and storage of its artwork led to an opportunity for museum officials to have the gallery redesigned, Lane said.

The gallery still displays several notable works of art, but in a more modern atmosphere that includes eco-friendly bamboo flooring, energy-efficient lighting and a touchscreen that enables patrons to learn about the history of the art on display, as well as the museum’s founders.

William Henry and Anna Brugh Singer founded the museum, which opened in Brugh’s hometown in 1931.

The Singer Gallery is part of the museum’s first addition, which dates to 1949.

Lane said the restoration of the gallery and the replacement of the roof over the museum’s 1930 and 1949 sections cost more than $340,000. The new roof is a white membrane.

Several groups helped pay for the work.

The Alice Virginia and David W. Fletcher Foundation helped with the emergency roof replacement, with additional aid provided by the Kershner Sisters Foundation and the Albert E. & Naomi B. Sinnisen Foundation, according to a news release from the museum.

Grants from the Samuel Freeman Trust and Nora Roberts Foundation sponsored the restoration, and the curatorial and educational reinterpretation of the gallery, the release states.

The Singer Gallery, reopened after Sunday afternoon’s ribbon cutting, is now focused on the collection interests of the museum’s founders, Lane told about 42 people attending the ceremony in the museum’s atrium.

Guest Curator Hollis Koons McCullough explained to the crowd how the redesigned gallery was set up.

McCullough’s mother, Ellen Koons, traveled from Peachtree City, Ga., to see the redone gallery.

“I think it’s wonderful,” said Koons, adding that if she didn’t think it was good, she would admit it.

“I think she’s done a wonderful job,” Koons said of her daughter’s work.

Hagerstown resident Pat Reynolds said she loved the gallery, adding that its new color looks wonderful. The walls are painted a medium gray.

Reynolds said she remembers the chandelier that used to hang in the gallery.

“That wouldn’t fit right now with the new design,” she said.

Fulton County, Pa., resident Spence Perry, who serves on the museum’s board, said the redesign is “remarkable.”

He called it “very clear” and “very logical,” helping patrons understand the art on display.

Before, patrons couldn’t see the art near the ceiling and there were pages missing from notebooks that described the art, Perry said.

“It’s so much better,” he said.

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