The first large-scale expansion and upgrade to the building that houses the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum and the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum since its opening in 1985 is slated to break ground in April 2017. “The expansion means the creation of dedicated gallery spaces for fine art, costumes, archaeological artifacts, weapons, numismatics, and a host of other materials that are now too rarely seen,” said Ron Hurst, Carlisle Humelsine chief curator and vice president for collections, conservation, and museums.
When it opens in 2019, the new wing will add 65,000 square feet with a 22-percent increase in gallery space to the Art Museums, which will enable the Art Museums to show considerably more of their celebrated collections. It will also significantly improve public access to the building through a new visitor-friendly entrance on Nassau Street. This new entryway will replace a circuitous, partly-underground route with a tunnel and multiple stairs through the reconstructed Public Hospital of 1773, which was the first building in North America dedicated to treatment of the mentally ill.
The short video above offers a quick tour of the expansion plans.
The project has been the primary capital priority of The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation’s $600 million Campaign for History and Citizenship. To date, all but $1.6 million of the $40 million budgeted for the expansion has been raised. Both the Boards of Trustees for the Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg (as the two museums are collectively known) and the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation gave their final approvals of the expansion plans when they held their respective meetings on November 17 and 19.
The Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg are home to internationally renowned collections of American folk art through the present day and to British and American fine and decorative arts from 1670-1840. The Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum, which will celebrate its 60th anniversary in 2017, is the oldest, continuously operating institution in the United States dedicated solely to the collection, exhibition and preservation of American folk art.
The DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum, which marked its 30th anniversary last year, features furniture, paintings, silver, numismatics, ceramics, tools, textiles, maps, weapons and other media. Combined, these diverse and extensive collections play critical roles in Colonial Williamsburg’s mission to inform and engage Americans in the dramatic story of their country’s founding.
“The Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg are the crown jewels of the Foundation. The collections they house are the foundation upon which we tell America’s enduring story,” said Colonial Williamsburg President and CEO Mitchell B. Reiss. “We can now provide our guests a grand museum entrance worthy of the priceless artifacts they contain.”
Additional enhancements will include:
- A new lobby and orientation space overlooking the pastoral site of the John Custis House and Garden, and a grand concourse that will provide access to both museums which will improve visibility of the complex to guests approaching on foot from the Historic Area.
- An expanded museum café and store will move to lobby level where they may be accessed without a ticket and will be bathed in natural light through new, expansive windows overlooking the picturesque Bicentennial Park.
- Parking, including that for the mobility challenged, will be considerably improved.
- Colonial Williamsburg buses will pick up and drop off passengers right at the museum entrance. The current bus stop is near the intersection of Henry and Francis Streets.
- Space and equipment for efficient museum operations and exhibition presentations.
- New and upgraded mechanical and climate-control systems.
- Expanded programming and activities to engage visitors.
New York-based architectural firm Samuel Anderson Architects has been selected to design the expansion, construction for which is anticipated to take approximately 24 months to complete. In 2006, the same firm designed the space that now houses the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum when it moved from its previous location in the building that now houses The Spa of Colonial Williamsburg.
“Colonial Williamsburg is a place that grounds us in the principles that have sustained us as a nation for more than 240 years, and our world-class Art Museums—unparalleled in their collections, exhibitions, and programming—are critical to telling our unique American story,” said Steve Miller, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation trustee and campaign chairman. “The Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg will soon take their rightfully prominent place in the Williamsburg landscape, and we are thrilled.”
Please consider supporting the museum expansion with a gift to the capital campaign. Learn more here.