First, a confession; I belong to the sometimes-hip, sometimes-reviled caste of people who enjoy but don’t profess to “get” art. One of my favorite places to visit in the city of Pittsburgh proper is The Carnegie Museum of Art (I only wish there was still an option for admission to only the art gallery; the natural history section has never appealed much to the romantic likes of me).
However, in my humble (and less-than-scholarly) opinion, The Westmoreland Museum of American Art is equally worthy of a visit. The collection is just as enjoyable, and as a bonus, there is no ridiculous fee, as there is for the Carnegie Museum. For The Westmoreland Museum of American Art, there is a mere $5 suggested donation, and children under twelve and students with ID get in free.
Oh, and another plus is that photography of items that are in the museum’s permanent collection is permitted, as long as a flash isn’t used. These items can be identified by studying the plaque for the relevant work and determining if there is a date of acquisition; if so, the piece can be photographed.
The description “American Art” hardly hints at the wealth of material dedicated to southwestern Pennsylvania; the entire first-floor gallery is comprised of works concerned with the Pennsylvania wilderness and the industrial Pittsburgh in its heyday. Knowing the city and its surrounding areas as they stand in 2010, it’s always a kick to see photographs and paintings that depict an earlier era. There are no photographs proper in the museum, but there are a number of works that are eerily similar, and without the benefit of the informative plaques, people such as myself would be fooled into thinking they were photographs.
Apart from the portraits that graced one entrance to the second floor permanent gallery, I was impressed, awed, or at least interested by every painting in the collection. The gallery was well organized, generally according to the subject of the works; for example, there was an entire section devoted to still-life paintings of various fruits (I know that might not sound like the most exciting thing, but trust me, it’s oddly and perhaps unexpectedly fascinating).
Unfortunately, this article is probably going to be published too late for most readers to take advantage of the current temporary exhibitions (they will be closing Sunday, January 9; I was told at the museum that the end date was this Sunday, but the website says the ninth, so…). This is a shame, because the works on display by Joyce Werwie Perry were wonderful pieces. My favorite was titled “Sleep Tight” and portrayed two children, well, peacefully sleeping. This serene, otherwise sentimental image was marred by a knife that had been taken to the left side of the piece…actually, most/all of the paintings in this section were apparently done with “oil and knives to canvas” (I’m paraphrasing from memory here…I hope I’m not too far off), but this was the one where the technique was most obvious and, in my opinion, effective.
The other temporary exhibitions were also excellent (according to the website, the title is “Associated Artists of Pittsburgh: Celebrating a Century of Art). If you can make the trip before these exhibitions end, I strongly encourage you to do so. If not, I’m sure the next exhibitions will equally impressive (they’ll be opening on January 30th).
Anyway, enough of the uninformed art critiques…The Westmoreland Museum of American Art is a wonderful place, and its perhaps odd location for many Pittsburgh residents should not deter anyone with the means from visiting.
Directions: The museum is located right off of Rt. 66 in Greensburg. Heading south, it will be on the left immediately after the middle school (which is located at the top of a rather steep hill). Heading north, it will (of course) be on the right, but I didn’t notice any buildings that would serve as landmarks…luckily, the building is pretty hard to miss, and the turn for the parking lot is easy enough to see. Although the parking lot is decent-sized and was relatively empty when I went, I have to doubt the website’s claim to “plenty” of free parking on busy days…then, perhaps the museum never gets all that busy, which was also a plus; unlike the Carnegie Museum, I pretty much had the galleries all to myself (well, the docents and me).