Tacoma Art Museum: Over Eight Decades of Connecting People Through Art

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By: Adrienne Edmonson

The Rebecca and Jack Benaroya Wing grand opening exhibitions, Metaphor into Form: Art in the Era of the Pilchuck Glass School will open January 19, 2019, with a week of partner and member events preceding the public opening, where TAM proudly will continue its legacy of showing thought provoking exhibitions.

Founded in 1935, as the Tacoma Art League, Tacoma Art Museum (TAM) marks its 83rd year as an art museum that preserves and exhibits art, which in 1963, started collecting art. In that time, TAM also has been a leader in engaging and inspiring the community with high quality in-depth exhibitions, educational programs, and community festivals.

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In 1971 one of TAM’s leaders, Mrs. L.T. Murray, suggested to her husband that he buy an old bank building for the purpose of transforming it into a permanent home for an expanded Tacoma Art Museum. The museum’s decision to locate downtown permanently in a substantial structure established a cultural benchmark in an otherwise decaying area. The museum gradually demonstrated that downtown Tacoma provided a viable location for major cultural and educational institutions and has remained one of downtown Tacoma’s cornerstones ever since.

In 1973, the museum received national accreditation from the American Association of Museums. This recognition served to establish TAM’s credibility as one of only 251 American museums nation-wide to receive this recognition.

TAM then claimed an important niche in children’s art education, primarily for elementary and middle school students. The Tacoma Junior League raised $35,000 to transform a space on the bottom level of the museum into an education space, which hosted more than 15,000 youth every year. Exhibitions that appealed to schoolchildren were shown twice a year, providing new subject matter and exposure to fine art. This helped cement TAM’s role as an important cultural institution in Tacoma as a provider of education programs to students of all ages, including at the college level.

TAM gradually also emerged as the region’s premier collector and exhibitor of Northwest art. While the Northwest boasted many excellent art museums, some of which did have collections of art from the region, none concentrated on the Northwest so singularly.

The collections now include well-known Northwest artists such as Guy Anderson, Mark Tobey, Paul Horiuchi, Morris Graves and others, as well as many of the younger artists who were just beginning to gain respect and recognition. TAM’s collections grew to include not only traditional media, but also photography, video, studio glass, and studio jewelry.

Starting in 1990, the museum staged at least one exhibition annually devoted to a single Northwest artist, originally called the 12th Street Series, and later in 2011 renamed the NW Perspective Series. Artists chosen often didn’t back away from controversial and esoteric topics, which garnered TAM a reputation for fostering edgy and innovative artists in all media. The result was a sense of affinity to TAM among regional artists, who donated works to the collection and lavishly praised TAM’s vision and courage.

TAM WEB.jpgIn 2003, TAM opened its doors to its new home on Pacific Avenue, and has enjoyed unparalleled success, marked by an almost doubling of its holdings, a succession of highly acclaimed exhibitions, and expanded public.

Studio glass art emerged as a significant area of collection strength since the museum moved to its new location. Dale Chihuly donated approximately 70 works as a “gift to the community.” These included examples from almost all periods of his career and made up the largest permanent retrospective display of his work on view since 1987.

The Museum acquired a third collection in 2012, when it accessioned 400 works from the Paul Marioni collection, through a combination gift and purchase. The museum’s glass collection was further anchored in 2013 by 151 works donated by Anne Gould Hauberg, a well-known art patron and TAM board member, and co-founder of the famous Pilchuck Glass School. Her gift to TAM comprised outstanding examples of early Chihuly works including a hand-woven window covering with colored glass bars, a wine bottle, cylinders and baskets. The collection also includes works by such renowned artists as James Carpenter, Joey Kirkpatrick and Flora C. Mace, Paul Marioni, Richard Marquis, William Morris, Italo Scanga, Therman Statom, Lino Tagliapietra, and Toots Zynsky.

Erivan and Helga Haub, a German couple fascinated with the American West and long-standing ties to Tacoma, generously gifted 295 works of art to TAM, along with the funds for a new wing expansion, an endowment, and a curator. This gift placed TAM’s western art holdings in the top tier of American museums. The Tacoma area was the Haub’s first home in America and the birth place of their three sons. TAM, other local nonprofits, as well as Tacoma, all greatly benefitted by the generosity and philanthropy of the Haub family, who has been instrumental in the redevelopment of downtown Tacoma.  In 2014, TAM opened the Haub Family Galleries showcasing the Haub Family Collection which includes iconic artists such as Frederick Remington, Charles Russell, Thomas Moran, John Nisto, Mian Situ, Georgia O’Keeffe, and Catherine Critcher.

In January 2016, TAM received an unexpected gift. Becky Benaroya, art collector and widow of the noted Seattle philanthropist Jack Benaroya, gifted 225 pieces of her art collection of Northwest studio glass and works of art by other Northwest artists to TAM. In December 2017 additional pieces were promised increasing the total legacy gift to 353, which will bring TAM’s holdings in glass to approximately 1,000 pieces. The Benaroya’s strong desire was to keep the collection united and to place it at an institution with the demonstrated ability to display the works within the broader context of Northwest art. To support the gift, Mrs. Benaroya provided approximately $14 million to construct a light-filled and spacious gallery that would highlight the glass, and funds to cover transitional costs during construction of the new wing.

TAM continues to offer over 100 educational programs each year, as well as a multitude of community festivals, all while expanding access to the museum through dozens of free programs, as well as free admission for veterans and their families, Tacoma high school students, and youth 18 and younger on all Saturdays.

For more information on Tacoma Art Museum exhibitions, community events, and educational programming visit TacomaArtMuseum.org.

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