by William R. Valerio
Charles Knox Smith, founder of Woodmere Art Museum, was a passionate art collector, the owner of a mining business, and a member of Philadelphia’s Common Council (the precursor body to today’s City Council).
Raised in Kensington, he lived downtown until he purchased Woodmere in 1898. His vision was to transform the estate – not only the building but also the grounds – into a unique experience: “a path to God” that could be achieved through the contemplation of great works of art in the context of the sylvan beauty of nature.
As Woodmere’s director today, I might not use the same phrases or vocabulary, but I would say that Smith was right – the combination of art and nature makes for a unique, mind-opening experience that many of us would describe as spiritual.
It is with this foray into institutional history that I would like to introduce Woodmere’s next phase of strategic growth and invite members of our community to a presentation at Woodmere at 7 p.m. Thursday, April 7.
Together with Matthew Baird, architect, and Mark Bowen, civil engineer, I will describe our intent to reinterpret Smith’s vision of a museum that makes the most of its collection by integrating the experience of art with the experience of nature. We will present a plan to reduce storm water flow on our site, thereby improving our stewardship of our six acres on the Wissahickon.
We will also be installing some exciting outdoor sculptures: the magnificent 30-foot “Spring & Triangle” (2016), by Dina Wind, and “The Free Interpretation of Plant Forms” (1967) by mid-century modernist Harry Bertoia. The Wind sculpture is a contemporary fabrication of a model that the artist dreamed of realizing on a public scale.
The Bertoia sculpture is a city icon, formerly installed at the Civic Center in West Philadelphia. With its new home at Woodmere Art Museum, it will resume its position as a city landmark. Both sculptures are larger than any current works on the Woodmere grounds and will be transformative, by virtue of their monumental scale, in creating a dialogue with our grand, natural setting.
With these steps forward, Woodmere’s goal is to open many more doors to the future, revitalizing our founder’s vision of a great museum that inspires creativity by bringing art and nature together. I hope you will join us on Thursday, April 7, and I look forward to answering questions and providing further information.
A public unveiling of “Spring & Triangle” will be held at 3 p.m. Saturday, June 11. We welcome you to join us for a ribbon cutting and attend a lecture with Kurt Wulfmeyer, the sculpture’s fabricator.
Please also enter our Guess the Weight contest by uploading a photograph of the sculpture to Instagram by 4 p.m. Saturday, June 11, with the hashtag #Spring&Triangle. Include a correct guess of the weight of the 30-foot sculpture and receive a one-year Woodmere membership and a genuine industrial spring collected by Dina Wind in her search for the materials for her sculpture!
William R. Valerio, PhD., is the Patricia Van Burgh Allison Director and CEO at the Woodmere Art Museum.