De Hirsh Margules, Mother Ann Lighthouse, Eastern Point, Gloucester, 1946. Gouache on paper. Gift of Jean M. Horblit, 2002. [Acc. #2002.004.002]
Gloucester’s Cape Ann Museum is on a roll. Its exhibition, “Edward Hopper & Cape Ann: Illuminating an American Landscape,” broke attendance records at the 148-year-old institution, attracting more than 36,000 visitors from 48 states over its three-month run. And benefactors recently made a generous donation of hundreds of pieces of Cape Ann American art.
Director Oliver Barker wants to build on that momentum by renovating the museum’s main campus interiors, updating gallery spaces and upgrading HVAC systems.
The work would temporarily close the museum’s downtown presence, but its off-site annex known as the Cape Ann Museum Green would remain open. That four-acre expansion debuted in 2020 and includes a 12,000-foot center with flexible gallery and archival storage space.
“Now that we have built a campus where we can properly house our collections in a state-of-the-art facility, we’re really keen to maximize the forward-facing spaces of our downtown campus,” Barker said.
The downtown campus is made up of five separate structures, with its oldest, the Captain Elias Davis House, built around 1804. The museum last shut down for renovations in 2014.
Once completed, the facelift will make the buildings more accessible, both physically and intellectually, according to Barker.
“Anyone coming to visit us in years ahead hopefully will experience a revitalized display, and amplified narratives, of Fitz Henry Lane and so many other 19th century artists that have been inspired by Cape Ann,” he said. Refreshing stories from the local fishing and granite industries are also a priority.
The museum’s spruced up galleries would be ready for visitors by America’s 250th anniversary in 2026, provided it can hit its fundraising goals, Barker said.
“I underscore, as a small nonprofit, it’s very contingent on the ability of this community to really support this important initiative. We are hopeful that will happen,” he said, “So I’m very excited that we have this opportunity to build on some of the growth and momentum that we’ve experienced as an institution, certainly during my tenure, and particularly during this past year.”
Barker wouldn’t share fundraising numbers for the renovation, citing the uncertain economic environment. But he did say individuals, institutions and local government officials have gotten behind the effort.
And Barker was happy to confirm another groundbreaking exhibition that will open at the museum in 2026. It will explore the periods modern artists Milton Avery, Adolph Gottlieb and Mark Rothko spent experimenting together on Cape Ann in the 1920s, 30s and 40s, and how it influenced their later work.
In September, Janet and William Ellery “Wilber” James of Palm Beach, Florida donated more than 300 works by artists including Winslow Homer, Stuart Davis, Adolph Gottlieb, Marsden Hartley and Jane Peterson. Thirty-three pieces from the collection are currently on view at the Cape Ann Museum through March 24, 2024.
Andrea Shea, Correspondent Arts & Culture
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