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'Mr. Fitz' honors HMOA founder for 60th anniversary

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- It might have become the Fitzpatrick Museum of Art had Herbert Fitzpatrick insisted.

Fitzpatrick, general counsel and later board chairman of the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway (now CSX Corp.), gave the Huntington Museum of Art the land the museum sits on. He also gave the museum a founding collection of more than 425 pieces -- American and European paintings, antique British silver from the Georgian period, Near Eastern prayer rugs and Asian ceramics.

Fitzpatrick gave his gift of the land -- 52 acres -- in 1947 and challenged local citizens to raise the money for a museum. That same year, former Huntington Mayor Rufus Switzer had died and left a sum that threw off $20,000 per year to maintain a culture center -- if local residents would raise $250,000. Local people raised the money and the would-be culture center turned into the museum, which opened Nov. 9, 1952.

Originally called the Huntington Galleries, the Huntington Museum of Art celebrates its 60th anniversary with the exhibit "Mr. Fitz," 120 works from the museum's largest and most diverse collection.

"There were a lot of people who wanted to make something happen, but it might not have happened without him," said Margaret Mary Layne, the museum's executive director. "He said, I'm going to give all this stuff, but you have to build the building to get it."

Although the exhibit went up Oct. 20 in what museum officials call a soft opening, the big celebration begins with a gallery walk at 5:30 p.m. Nov. 9 -- 60 years to the day from when the museum first opened its doors in 1952. Charleston artist Barrie Kaufman will lead the gallery walk through a Curator's Choice exhibit of her recent and not-so-recent paintings and prints.

"The reason we're opening them together is that we want to make clear we're not only celebrating the past, but we're also celebrating the creativity of now and the future," Layne said.

The museum is the oldest art museum in West Virginia, and by far the largest. The Clay Center offers 9,000 square feet of display space for its art; the Huntington Museum offers 17,000. The Clay Center has a collection of roughly 800 objects; the HMOA has more than 10,000, a collection that grows slowly some years, quicker in others as people donate a piece or two or bequeath collections. The collection grew by 14 in 2009, 81 in 2011.

The Fitzgerald exhibit will stay up a full year, except for when preparations for the museum's ball displace it during part of February.

The son of an Episcopal minister, Fitzgerald came to Huntington in 1895, according to Chris Hatten, the museum's librarian and researcher. Fitzgerald had a bachelor's degree and law degree from Washington & Lee University and worked at a succession of Huntington law firms, one of which did work for the C&O Railway. Eventually, C&O hired him, and that work took him to Richmond, Va., and later Cleveland, Ohio, though he generally commuted on weekends to his Huntington home.

In 1947, Fitzgerald was 75 and retired when he proposed the museum.

Fitzgerald gave the museum its Renoir -- a small oil portrait -- and its Picasso, a crayon and ink nude of the artist's mistress, Dora Maar. Fitzgerald extensively collected the French pre-Impressionists and gave the museum works by Jules Breton, Jean-François Millet and Julien Dupré; also two paintings by Eugène Boudin, both a pre-Impressionist and then an Impressionist, and three by Charles-François Daubigny.

"We started with a lot," Layne said. "That made it easier to get more. We would never have gotten Daywood if we weren't already a strong institution with a strong collection."

In 1970, the museum added an auditorium and the Daywood Gallery to accommodate the Daywood Collection assembled by Ruth Woods Dayton, who insisted that selections from the collection assembled by her late husband and her must hang six months a year. In 1996, the museum added a plant conservatory and soon after the Touma Gallery to accommodate the Near Eastern collections of Drs. Joseph and Omayma Touma. In 2009, the museum added the Isabel Daine Gallery to display changing exhibits of works on paper.

Like other arts groups, the museum has had to live frugally since the recession hit in 2008. The annual budget has shrunk from $2.2 million to $1.96 million. When the associate curator left, the full-time curator had to carry the job herself for more than a year until Layne could afford a new associate.

"The recession was a blow," Layne said. "Museums are creative places. If you think creatively and work hard, you can come up with ways to do well whatever the economy or life throws at you. And that's what we've done."

The museum has an endowment between $8 million and $9 million and another $6 million in dedicated trusts. Most of the income helps fund operations, but some is dedicated exclusively to the purchase of art.

The museum used to rent exhibits, but now usually swaps shows directly with other museums, sometimes in Ohio and Kentucky, but also in Alabama and Georgia. "There are no loan fees. We load our van, wrap and pack them ourselves," Layne said.

The Huntington museum attracts 17,000 visitors a year, plus nearly 8,000 students who come through on school tours. The museum reaches another 18,000 youngsters in after-school programs and off-site activities, Layne said. "The challenge is to evolve your institution to continue to be relevant to people. As technology has changed, the way people want to interact with art continues to change."

Fitzgerald died in 1962 at 90, a lifelong bachelor who lived privately and stayed out of surviving photos from the museum's opening day.

"He could have asked that the museum be the 'Fitzpatrick Museum of Art,'" said longtime museum spokesman John Gillispie. "But the community has supported us for 60 years, and it's rightfully called the Huntington Museum of Art."

'Mr. Fitz'

WHERE: Huntington Museum of Art, 2033 McCoy Road, Huntington

WHEN: Through Feb. 3 and again from Feb. 23 through Oct. 20, 2013

HOURS: 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday

ADMISSION: $5 per person, $18 for a family of four or more. Free on Tuesdays.

WHAT ELSE? Barrie Kaufman's gallery walk at 5:30 p.m. Nov. 9 is free, as is the reception that follows. Call 304-529-2701.

Bob Schwarz reported on the arts for many years for The Charleston Gazette and the Gazette-Mail. Now retired, he lives in Phoenix and may be emailed at robertbschwarz@gmail.com.


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