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RNP News Item
April 27, 2012

Maryhill Museum of Art: Inside and outside a mansion of oddities along the Columbia River

Maryhill Museum of Art, with its hybrid of serious museum and mansion of oddities, is adding another dimension to its lofty perch high above the Columbia River Gorge.

The museum opened its season on March 15 after its annual closure for the winter months. But a lot has been happening in those months: On May 12 and 13, Maryhill unveils its new Mary and Bruce Stevenson Wing, a roughly $10 million expansion project that is the biggest thing to happen to the museum in a long time.

The addition will play the modern 21st century Felix Unger to the existing structure's 20th century Oscar Madison, adding efficient storage space, a modern exhibit area and educational spaces, as well as a cafe and open patio area.

The wing, designed by Portland's GBD Architects, is one more attraction to the stately manse and grounds that give visitors unencumbered views of Mount Hood, the Columbia River, Biggs Junction and Sherman County.

Old favorites include:

* Sculptures, studies and drawings by Auguste Rodin.

* A huge collection of Native American artifacts, including knives, bowls and hundreds of baskets.

* Architect Brad Cloepfil's 148-foot-long cantilevered progression of concrete that leads viewers out along a bluff overlooking the river.

* A full-scale replica of Stonehenge. Built as a tribute to the soldiers of Washington's Klickitat County who lost their lives, a plaque at the site says it was the first monument in the nation to honor the dead of World War I.

* A collection of vaguely creepy but exquisite French miniature fashion mannequins in a tableaux called Theatre de la Mode.

A room full of Romanian furniture, paintings and accessories from Queen Marie of Romania.

Binding the disparate collection together is Sam Hill, the outsize personality, entrepreneur, railroad executive and friend to artists and Romanian aristocracy who built the poured-concrete manse. He began the Beaux-Arts-style mansion in 1914, intending it to be his home. But World War I and financial difficulties sidetracked those plans. Artist friends convinced Hill to turn the building into a museum. In 1926, Queen Marie came to the U.S. to dedicate the museum, but it didn't open to the public until 1940, nine years after Hill's death at age 73.

If that's one of the most mazelike beginnings for a museum, its collection is just as labyrinthine.

And that's exactly the appeal of this Oregon-Washington treasure, which seems to have something for every kind of museum-goer, whether artistic minded or families with children. Plus it has plenty to offer nature lovers on its 5,300 acres, with glorious views in every direction.

Maryhill is a peculiar, beguiling place -- part serious art museum, part Beaux Arts artifact, part fortress -- surrounded by wineries and windmills.

Take a drive on a sunny day and check it out.

Here's a quick guide to some of the different ways to experience it.

Enjoying the new Mary and Bruce Stevenson Wing 

The historic Maryhill mansion was conceived and built as a home, not as a museum to store and exhibit valuable works of art. But the museum staff has made things work over the years, exhibiting about 20 percent of the museum's roughly 20,000 objects while storing the rest in cramped but climate-controlled quarters.

Still, the need to have more square footage and a space for scholars and others to study art didn't go away. Same with the need for an educational center, as well as more storage and exhibition space.

Conversation about adding a new wing began back in the 1990s, says Executive Director Colleen Schafroth. Gifts from private donors, foundation grants and funding from Washington state made the new wing a reality. It is named for late patrons of the museum who gave substantially to the new wing.

The Stevenson Wing gives the museum 25,000 square feet of additional space. The multi-level wing, part of which is underground, includes a cafe, gallery, art education center, collections storage room and outdoor interpretive space with additional signs to give visitors a chance to learn more about the museum.

The public can get a glimpse of the new wing when the museum's "British Painting From the Permanent Collection" opens on May 1 in the wing's lower-level hallway gallery. Special dedication events and tours on May 12 and 13 will officially unveil the building. Admission is free both days.

To read the full article from The Oregonian, please click here:

To read more about how renewable energy has benefitted the Maryhill Museum of Art, please click here:

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