Special to The Herald-Mail
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What does it mean to reach the age of 80? While people are living longer, 80 is nevertheless viewed as a venerable age and a time to be marked with attention and celebration.
On Sept. 16, the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts celebrated its 80th year. And has become, in my opinion, one of the region's most influential cultural entities.
To celebrate, we are hosting the 80th Anniversary Gala Celebration on Saturday, Oct. 1. The museum staff, personnel and friends will celebrate through a banquet to be held under the Kaylor Atrium's glass roof.
Star gazing will be part of the evening, along with the experience of the beautiful lighting effects donated by the Barr Family and Ellsworth Electric as part of the Kaylor Atrium project.
There will be a silent auction of eight creative art events or experiences. Monies raised from the auction will benefit the museum's programs and help sustain the museum for another 80 years.
With the theme "Honoring the Past; Launching the Future," the museum's history will be commemorated in an evening to remember.
The museum will celebrate throughout the coming year, with attention being given to eight themes that were part of the museum's foundation, and are still important today.
Tradition 1: Still offered today, free admission was one of the Anna Brugh and William H. Singer Jr.'s clear directives to the combined city, county and founding board members of the museum who took part in its founding.
Tradition 2: Educational programs for young people remain a hallmark of this museum, and through local support, many are free of charge or subsidized. The museum's participation in the annual City Park Autumn Arts Festival this weekend focused on the 80th anniversary. The museum is organizing an exhibition to commemorate the impact of the Museum Art School. People who took classes at the museum, and who went on to become practicing artists, art educators, and arts advocates, are all invited to contact the museum to tell their stories and to learn more about the exhibition, perhaps even to have a work of art exhibited.
Tradition 3: Art collections and exhibitions of national and international significance and support of regional artists date back to 1931. The Cumberland Valley Photographic Salon and the Cumberland Valley Artists exhibition have been continuously offered since the museum was founded, in a remarkable, uninterrupted series of 80. "The Wyeth Family of Artists" exhibit, now on view in the museum's Groh Gallery, is part of the 80th-year celebration.
Tradition 4: Providing a beautiful home for the distinguished art collections, exhibitions and programs has been of high importance. Since July 15, 1930, when the cornerstone was laid, the beauty of the building, the gardens and the site of City Park have all enhanced the aesthetic experience of the museum. The recent completion of the Kaylor Atrium has intricately unified the three earlier building projects, thus linking the museum's founding with the present and future.
Tradition 5: The museum has been a center of artistic, civic and social life for 80 continuous years. Founded in a unique public-private partnership, the museum's solid foundations have sustained it for 80 years. A great diversity of visitors have entered the museum, from near and far, newcomers and long-time residents of the region. Artists' careers have been launched through the annual Cumberland Valley competitions and through group and solo exhibitions. Lasting friendships and even life-long partnerships have begun at the museum.
Tradition 6: Musical recitals and concert series have been offered since 1937, and over the years, many have become endowed programs. Watch for Sunday concerts throughout the coming year; they are affordable and delightful.
Tradition 7: Without devoted volunteers, including members of the board of trustees, daily volunteers now known as the Singer Society, and the Hagerstown Garden Club who gave generously of time and talent, the museum would not have reached the level of excellence it now maintains. Over 80 years, volunteer hours have reached an astonishing 800,000 hours in community service.
Tradition 8: The tradition of recognizing the date that the original generosity of Anna Brugh and William Henry Singer Jr., who gave the building and art collections to start the fledgling institution on a path of excellence and service to the community. Bequests and endowed gifts, together with public and private funding have sustained the museum. The future of the museum depends upon the continued support of the community.
In 1940, at 80 years old, the artist Anna Mary Robertson Moses, better known as "Grandma Moses," was honored with a solo exhibition, "What a Farm Wife Painted," which opened October 1940 at New York City's Galerie Saint-Etienne.
That show launched her into national attention. Her first seven decades were devoted to the hard labor of being a farmer's wife and she only began painting in old age.
Yet, she launched a luminous artistic career as an octogenarian. Similarly, as the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts looks back and celebrates, it also looks forward, in hopes of 80 more years of providing the community with opportunities to encounter works of art of national and international importance, opportunities to experience an artistic activity, social and intellectual opportunities, and opportunities to participate in the life of a highly meaningful and inspiring organization.
Rebecca Massie Lane is director of the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts.