The Springfield Museums at the Quadrangle have received a planning grant of $40,000 from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to develop an interpretative plan for the George Walter Vincent Smith Art Museum.
The first museum to be built at the Quadrangle, the G.W.V. Smith Art Museum opened in 1896 to house the diverse collections of George Walter Vincent Smith and his Springfield-born wife, Belle Townsley. Smith made his fortune in a carriage manufacturing business in New York City and retired at the age of 35 to devote his life to “the pursuit of beauty.”
Smith’s collections include Asian decorative arts, Middle Eastern carpets and textiles, Japanese arms and armor, late-19th-century American paintings, and Italian watercolors. Today, 115 years after the museum opened, Smith’s artistic vision has been preserved and his treasures are still on view in the museum with many objects in their original display cases.
Grant funding will make it possible to convene a group of scholars who will formulate ideas for making the museum and its exhibits relevant to 21st-century audiences while preserving its distinctive original character and the intent of its founder. The planning grant will set the stage for the reinstallation of the collections and new interpretation in the form of gallery guides, updated labels, cell phone tours, or touch screen computers.
The grant proposal was reviewed by five panelists, four of whom gave it a rating of excellent and one who rated it as very good. The proposal was judged in part for its national significance, with one panelist commenting, “First, the Smith collection is significant and historically valuable. Second, the building for the Smith collection is significant and historically valuable. Third, the Springfield Museums is highly professional, competent and accomplished.”
Other grants for the G.W.V. Smith Art Museum received in 2011 included an NEH grant for the installation of air conditioning and an Institute of Museum and Library Services grant to restore seven Tiffany stained glass windows that are original to the building.