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Cape Ann Museum leads tour of massive rehab project

Posted: 2/22/14

By Keith Powers, Cape Ann Beacon - The Cape Ann Museum has had many lives. Its roots trace to 1830, when the Gloucester Lyceum hosted the likes of Emerson, Thoreau and Horace Mann. In 1873, it was actually founded as the Scientific, Literary and Historical Association. In the early 1920s, the acquisition of the Davis House on Pleasant Street became its first permanent home, and that home has been renovated and improved multiple times over the course of the past century. Link to the full story here.

This summer a new era begins.

As the centerpiece of a heady $5 million capital campaign, nearly the entire museum has been gutted and is being modernized and reorganized. Home to the greatest collection of Fitz Henry Lane paintings and drawings in the world, and the most sophisticated repository of the history of Cape Ann, CAM will reopen this summer with upgraded building systems, substantial renovations to the seminal Lane and Davis galleries, new Central and Lens galleries, new homes for its expansive Folly Cove Design, Granite and Maritime collections, and a greatly enhanced entryway.

"This campaign was driven by the fact that we have to take care of our own collection," says museum director Rhonda Faloon, who led a hard-hat tour with curator Martha Oaks. "We’re a repository of the history of Cape Ann and we feel a responsibility to that," Oaks adds. "The history of Cape Ann, from early Native Americans to painters like John Sloan — it’s all here."

The Cape Ann Museum has come a long way from its days as a historical society. Buttressed by its outstanding collection of Lane’s works, and including examples from nearly every major artist who has worked on Cape Ann — including Sloan, Marsden Hartley, Stuart Davis, the Manships and others — CAM has become a must-see destination on the checklist of area museums.
Leadership by Faloon and Oaks has helped. A $5 million campaign is no small deal and, at this stage, even before reaching out to the public, Faloon says that contributions stand at $4.4 million. Oaks has curated engaging and thoroughly researched exhibitions in recent years — collections of Hartley, Ralph Coburn and others come to mind — that have raised the museum’s artistic profile far beyond the region.

The renovation and reopening should bring added growth. Yearly attendance, now "at about 20,000, and growing by 2,000 or so every couple of years," Faloon says, should increase dramatically. Membership, she says, stands "now at about 1,500, and I’m expecting a bump in that, too." Downtown Gloucester’s designation as the Harbor Town Cultural District by the state and the enhanced street presence of the museum’s entryway should help increase visitor-ship and visibility as well.

The museum will probably not reopen until mid-July. "The contractor is supposed to hand over the building to us at the end of May," Faloon says, "and it will probably take about six weeks to re-install the collection. We’ll have a whole series of events after that, which we can’t really announce just yet. But August and September will be really busy months for us."

When the museum reopens, it will probably have new hours. Most likely, it will open on Thursday evenings for the first time, at least through September. And CAM will no longer close for the month of February, making it a year-round attraction.

For the opening, a collection of about two dozen newly acquired Stuart Davis sketches will be on display in the Central Gallery, and the Thatcher Island Fresnel lens will be dramatically positioned in a new space on the ground floor. In addition to the re-articulated Granite, Folly Cove Design and Maritime collections, and a new Cape Ann Room that will introduce visitors to the museum, the upstairs galleries will house exhibitions that focus on the permanent collection.

As far as new technologies in the museum, Faloon says, "we’re being conservative." There will be a film and audio display about the Thatcher Island light in the Lens Gallery, and Wi-Fi throughout the building. Eventually, the online catalogue raisonné of Fitz Henry Lane’s works — a major, ongoing project slated to be completed sometime in 2015 — will find its way into the Lane Gallery.
But no matter what the changes, "this will be a quiet place to appreciate the paintings," Oaks says.

The Cape Ann Museum will be closed for renovations until mid-summer. Updates on the project can be found at capeannmuseum.org.