Those looking for the heart and soul of art in Philadelphia should look no further than the Woodmere Art Museum in Chestnut Hill. Located in the very Northwest corner of Philadelphia, it has a committed focus to the art and artists of Philadelphia which originated with its founder. Charles Knox Smith, a sell-made man from modest beginnings, purchased a newly renovated Victorian home (originally built in the 1860's) in 1901 as a retreat location and a place to house his art collection. Later he would add a 450 square foot gallery and then the breathtaking two-story rotunda gallery complete with balcony (known today as the Catherine Kuch Gallery). Smith collected over 2,000 pieces of 18th and 19th century art, and upon his death, he donated the museum and his collection to the city "for the use and benefit of the community". The Woodmere Art Museum has chosen to stay true to the wishes of Charles Knox Smith by using the location for "telling the story of Philadelphia's art and artists".
Woodmere is constantly refreshing the contents of its galleries with loaned works and highlighted pieces from its permanent collection - all available to view online as well. The entrance leads you past the admissions desk and museum shop and directly into the Corridor Gallery and Severo Antonelli I and II Galleries. The most recent additions to the building, these Galleries give you an intimate look at some of Philadelphia's most interesting artists. A favorite of ours on display at the time was Cliff and Pebbles by Edna Andrade, a part of On Paper: The Gift of Ann and Don McPhail. Past the Corridor Gallery, the Ethel M. Schnader Gallery is a brightly-lit, high ceilinged room showcasing Women and Biography (Feb 8 - June 1). Look for the portrait done by Violet Oakley of Edith Emerson. A beautifully talented artist in her own right, Edith Emerson was the director of the Woodmere Art Museum from the 1940s until 1978, growing and enhancing the building and collection during her time there.
From this point, it's an easy step down to the unbelievably impressive Catherine M. Kuch Gallery or Rotunda (ask for assistance at the front desk for handicapped and stroller accessibility). This amazing room is by far one of the best designed galleries that we have experienced. With the art curving around you and an additional view of everything from the Dorothy J. del Bueno Balcony (accessible from the Severo Antonelli II Gallery), this gallery would get you excited about viewing any kind of art. During our visit, the gallery was complimented with the large abstract paintings from the Quita Brodhead: Bold Strokes exhibit (Feb 8 - June 1). A favorite of ours in this beautiful collection was Swamp Willows, located on the Balcony. The Catherine M. Kuch Gallery is not just used for art exhibits, but as a gathering place for all kinds of cultural experiences from lectures and musical performances to rare film screenings.
The kitchen of the old house in Woodmere has been reconstructed as the Helen Millard Children's Gallery. This gallery highlights pieces and art projects from local schools as another way to connect with and give back to the Philadelphia community. From here, visitors can turn down the Stairway Gallery and enter the Founder's and Parlor Galleries. It suddenly feels like you have stepped back in time as you wander the original rooms in Woodmere and admire selections from the collection of Charles Knox Smith. With a nod to art, culture, and history, there are a lot of details to take in. Make sure you get a good look of the bust Abraham Lincoln, as he actually posed for this sculpture, making it one of the most accurate pieces done of him. Also pay attention to the portrait hanging above the fireplace to get a glimpse of the man who started it all: Charles Knox Smith. Woodmere offers complimentary Audio Tours of the Founder's and Parlor Galleries via loaned MP3 Players or your own Smartphone.
A visit to Woodmere Art Museum is a must for anyone from or who loves Philadelphia. Admission is only $10 for adults, $7 for seniors, and FREE for members, children, and students with valid ID. The Founder's Gallery, Parlor Gallery, and Helen Millard Children's Gallery are always FREE, and the museum offers FREE admission to everyone on Sundays. They also participate in the Blue Star Museum Discount, giving FREE admission to military families between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Woodmere is opened Tuesday through Thursday from 10am to 5pm, Fridays from 10am to 8:45pm, Saturdays from 10am to 6pm, and Sundays from 10am to 5pm. The museum is closed on Mondays and select holidays. Parking is FREE.
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