museums at your fingertips

Greensburg is home to the Westmoreland Museum of American Art.  Opened in 1959, its holdings range from 1700 to the present. The museum has always been wellknown for its southwestern Pennsylvania art, but its contemporary collection is growing, thanks to a 2016 total transformation of the original neo-Georgian building’s space and the addition of a stunning cantilevered addition with a 16-foot high gallery.

”Our audiences are very interested in contemporary American art,” says Judith Hansen O’Toole, the Richard M. Scaife Director/CEO.  “We’re also interested in showing the full panorama of American art.”

Although the expansion, which permitted the display of larger contemporary pieces, was welcome, O’Toole notes that at the same time the public didn’t want the museum to change too much or grow too big. “You can see [what is on exhibit] in one or one and a half hours without being rushed; two hours is ideal,” she says.  And while that amount of time is ample to “engage” with a few works, she recommends several short visits for an in-depth exploration of the collection. O’Toole suggests two things that should not be missed. American impressionist Mary Cassatt’s painting Mother and Two Children is one. Another is a major portrait of George Washington by Rembrandt Peale.

An important Tiffany window acquired in 2001 is always on view.  The brilliantly colored window—which depicts a typical Irish farmstead with a thatched roof—was commissioned in 1905 by Greensburg resident Thomas Lynch from a photograph of his ancestral Irish home. For whatever reasons, the window was removed and then re-discovered at a Christie’s auction, where the Westmoreland was the successful bidder. The museum then conducted a campaign to pay for the window’s purchase, restoration and installation.

This Tiffany glass window, a favorite of Westmoreland Museum of Modern Art was commissioned in 1906 by a prominent Greensburg resident.

Also on exhibit are some of the works bequeathed to the museum by billionaire Greensburg (and later Pittsburgh) Tribune-Review publisher Richard Mellon Scaife, who died in 2014. Scaife divided his art collection between the Westmoreland Museum and the Brandywine Conservancy near Philadelphia. Included in the bequest to the Westmoreland were several works by Scottish-born Pittsburgh primitive painter John Kane, including Along the Lincoln Highway and Boulevard of the Allies, which chronicle Pittsburgh in the early 20th century.

The two museums took turns choosing from among Scaife’s collection of several hundred works, O’Toole says the Scaife pieces complement the museum’s permanent collection. “There is one wall full of Scaife,” she says, “And we’ve also integrated some of the pieces within the collection.”  Staff members can point them out to you.

This Chihuly glass sculpture hangs at the Westmoreland Museum of American Art.

Pittsburghers will enjoy the Westmoreland’s many works documenting the city’s industrial past. Furniture, stoneware and quilts are part of a large swath of American decorative art on display.

Continue your day of art in Greensburg by turning left on Main to W. Otterman Street and visiting the beautiful Westmoreland County Courthouse. Designed in 1906 in the Beaux Arts style by William S. Kaufmann, it is a contributing property to the Greensburg Historic District and was listed separately on the National Registry of Historic Places in 1978. At 175 feet high, it is one of the tallest buildings in Greensburg.

The Butler Institute of American Art is in Youngstown.  Founded in 1919 by Ohio industrialist and philanthropist Joseph Butler, the main building was designed by the famed architectural firm McKim, Mead and White, and like the Westmoreland, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

“You can see American art from the start to today,” says Dr. Louis Zona, executive director & chief curator.  “You can see how society changed [such as] by the effects of WWI, WWII on our culture.  I just love to see the history of our art, our culture.  We really try to stay with that.”

That goal is met with paintings and printed works.  “We have prints by virtually every major artist of the last 150 years,” says Zona.  “We add every year.  We want a complete survey of American art in prints.”  There is also an expansive display of folk art, including utilitarian duck decoys and fanciful carousel horses.

Winslow Homer’s Snap the Whip is one of the many beautiful and familiar paintings you’ll see at Youngstown’s Butler Institute of American Art.

Winslow Homer’s Snap the Whip of 1872 is the masterpiece not to be missed. One of two versions of Snap the Whip (the other is in the Metropolitan Museum), both of which portray a childhood moment in a one-room schoolhouse, the Butler’s version has mountains in the background, while the other does not.  The museum’s American Western Collection displays two compelling portraits by Elbridge Ayer Burbank from Butler’s personal collection: Geronimo and Chief Joseph, first Americans who played an important part in our history but whose images many people may not have seen. Also in the Western Collection is the beautiful Oregon Trail by Albert Bierstadt.  Other important collections include The Hudson River School, The Marine Collection, and the American Impressionist Collection, which includes a nice representation of the works of beloved painters such as Mary Cassatt and John Singer Sargent.

Twentieth century works you won’t want to miss are Pennsylvania Coal Town, an Edward Hopper masterpiece, and September Wind and Rain, a landscape by modernist master Charles Burchfield. Among the contemporary works are paintings by Robert Rauschenberg, Chuck Close and George Segal. And for the sports nut in the family who just came along to please everyone else, there’s a bonus: the Butler’s Donnell Gallery of American Sports Art, featuring paintings such as George Bellows’ boxers to an Andy Warhol portrait of baseball great Pete Rose. Virtually every sport is represented.

Perhaps the most unique aspect of the Butler is its ability to showcase works of multimedia, a capability Zona fostered as the result of his friendship with David Bermant, who is considered the inventor of video art. The late Bermant, a California shopping mall developer with a great interest in combining art and science, acquired a renowned private collection of kinetic art—art that depends on movement.

“I’ve had a long-term interest in art and technology,” says Zona. He takes pride in the Butler’s Beecher Center, which was built to display electronic, computer, holographic and laser art and offers a digital media theater for performance art and high-definition film presentations.

Both the Westmoreland and the Butler rotate their works on display as well as mount regular exhibitions. There’s always something new.