Walters Art Museum Outlines a New Vision for its Mt. Vernon Campus

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Exterior work on Hackerman House

The Walters Art Museum is using the start of construction work on Hackerman House to outline a new vision for its Mount Vernon campus, from the way directors refer to certain buildings to what they display inside.

Museum director Julia Marciari-Alexander today led a two-hour tour of the Hackerman House construction site at 1 W. Mount Vernon Place and outlined key points of the renovation project and the larger vision behind it.

One of the big ideas, Marciari-Alexander said, is for the Walters to treat the buildings on its campus with as much care and sensitivity as all the other objects it conserves.

“We are approaching the revitalization of One West Mount Vernon Place as if the building itself were a work of art,” Marciari-Alexander said. “By adhering to the highest possible preservation standards, the refurbishment retains the building’s rich architectural heritage while highlighting its many stunning features – a grand spiral staircase, Tiffany skylight, rooftop ornaments (palmette antefixes), intricate wood carvings and molding designs, and Baccarat-style chandelier.”

The project is part of set of goals and initiatives outlined in the museum’s new strategic plan, which envisions it as a “transformative force in the region that inspires people to connect with each other through experiences with great works of art from across the globe and throughout time,” Marciari-Alexander said.

“This new view of One West Mount Vernon Place is an example of our strategic plan in action,” said Ellen Bernard, president of the museum’s board of trustees.

Museum director Julia Marciari-Alexander leads a hard hat tour of Hackerman House
Museum director Julia Marciari-Alexander leads a hard hat tour of Hackerman House

Opened as part of the Walters in 1991, Hackerman House was closed for repairs in 2014. Exterior restoration work recently got underway.

The multi-year construction project is expected to cost $10.4 million, including $5.2 million for renovation of the Hackerman House and another $5.2 million for other buildings or spaces, including renovation of the former Carriage House behind Hackerman House and reinstallation of the John and ‘Berthe Ford Gallery constructed in the former backyard of the Hackerman House.

The museum has raised more than $6 million of the $10.4 million figure from public and private sources and is working to secure the rest.

The Walters is changing the way it refers to the Hackerman House, the Carriage House and the Ford Gallery. From now on, they will be referred to collectively as One West Mount Vernon Place, the address of the house, but they will also will retain their individual names. For example, Hackerman House will be called Hackerman House at One West Mount Vernon Place.

Directors want visitors to think of the Walters as a comprehensive campus, not just the 1904 “palazzo” building or the 1974 building or the Hackerman House, Marciari-Alexander said. “It is this whole area,” she said. “We are the greatest stakeholders on this block.”

In the former library
In the former library

The carriage house and the Ford Pavilion are scheduled to reopen in the fall of 2017. Hackerman House will reopen in the spring of 2018.

Hackerman House will no longer be used as the home for the museum’s Asian art collection, as it was from 1991 to 2014. Once it reopens, it will be used for changing exhibits and events, including recitals and dinner parties. Because of the changing uses, “we are envisioning a very different Hackerman House going forward,” Marciari-Alexander said.

The changing exhibits are intended to encourage people to visit more often, she explained. “We don’t want to create a place that is static. We don’t want people to think, ‘I’ve already seen it.’ “

The Asian art that was in the Hackerman House will not be put in storage but will be shown elsewhere within the museum, the director said. “It’s not that it’s going off view. It is that it will be seen in a different way.”

The Hackerman House’s front door on Mount Vernon Place will be opened on special occasions. For most of the time, it will not be open as a result of climate control considerations, and visitors will enter from the rear of the building as they did before.

The windows will be lighter in tone. The current dark “scrim” on the outside of the windows will be replaced with a scrim that is not as dark, which will make it easier for people to see into the building and out of the building.

The conservatory off the main level of the Hackerman House will be used as a coffee bar. The former library will house rare books. A second level room will be turned into “The Studio,” where visitors of all ages will be encouraged to create their own works of art. It’s the Walters’ answer to the maker spaces that are opening around the city.

Furnishings in the Hackerman House will either be “from the moment of the house,” which was built between 1848 and 1850, or “manifestly of this moment,” meaning the present.

The first exhibit in the renovated Hackerman House will celebrate the Walters’ collection of ceramics from around the world. The installation is likely to change over time rather than stay in place for years.

Works from the Asian art collection will find a home in the refurbished Ford Gallery and Carriage House as well as other areas of the museum. The Ford Gallery will house a collection of East Asian and Southeast Asian art. The Carriage House will display a gift of Southeast Asian art from the Doris Duke collection, which will be on exhibit for the first time, as well as works donated by Alexander Griswold. Works will be from China, Japan, Burma (now Myanmar), Thailand and Laos, among other countries.

Lewis Contractors is the general contractor for the project, while Marks, Thomas Architects is the architect of record. Exhibit design and interiors are being created by Richard Molinaroli of R+A+M Design Studio. Regan Associates is the project manager and owner’s representative. Additional firms working on the project include: Flux Design, exhibit lighting; Mueller Associates, mechanical and electrical engineer, and Wiss, Janney, Eisner Associates, consultant for the building ‘envelope.’”

Ed Gunts

Ed Gunts

Ed Gunts is a local freelance writer and the former architecture critic for The Baltimore Sun.
Ed Gunts


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