TAM breaks ground on Haub art wing

The Tacoma Art museum held a ground-breaking ceremony last week to mark the beginning of the museum's building expansion and redesign to house the Haub Family Collection of Western American Art. The new galley space is set to be “transformative” and launch TAM into the highest rungs of Western American Art in the nation.

“This is a remarkable moment for the museum,” said director Stephanie A. Stebich. “We are taking a historic step toward connecting Tacoma’s past and present through art. This extraordinary project is proof of our community’s dedication to the arts, and we are honored to be able to create a gathering space where we can all meet and share art moments for generations to come.”

Construction of the Olson Kundig-designed, 16,000-square-foot wing begins in late October and will double the museum’s gallery space, provide greater art experiences for visitors and increase the museum’s role in downtown Tacoma.

The ceremony began with a blessing by the Puyallup Tribe and a performance by the Puyallup Canoe Family. It included speeches by U.S. Congressman Derek Kilmer, Gov. Jay Inslee, Mayor Marilyn Strickland, art collector Christian Haub, TAM Board President Steve Barger and Stebich.

The $15 million wing will double TAM’s exhibit space just 10 years after the museum opened, and the Haub collection will vault the museum into the top ranks of American Western Art in the nation.

“The arts are one of the great economic engines in our state,” Inslee said. “This is a great economic investment for our state. It means 135 construction jobs. It means 10 permanent positions at the museum. It means 20 percent more projected visitors making investments right here in the state of Washington. The Seahawks are a great economic engine. Boeing and Microsoft are great economic engines, but it’s great that we have a new economic engine right here in Tacoma.”

The expansion translates into a boost of the museum’s economic impact by $1.5 million annually for a total of $5.9 million in tourism spending.

The project’s team also includes Murase Associates as the landscape architecture firm, Sellen Construction as the project’s construction company, and Bonewitz Project Leadership as project management.

The project will create a lobby and gallery space. It will also include a new family interactive gallery, a sculpture hall and a visitor orientation room. Changes to the existing museum will include a new entrance from the parking level, a faster elevator from the parking level and improvements to the cafe and museum store. The museum’s outdoor plaza will also be transformed with a canopy that will arch over both the existing museum and the new wing. Outdoors, public art installations will be woven into the areas surrounding the museum.

The Haub donation includes three parts: The art work itself, a donation toward housing the exhibit in the new wing and an endowment to provide money for restoration and programs that highlight the art. Other partners in the TAM expansion include private donors, the National Endowment for the Arts, the State of Washington Building for the Arts program and the City of Tacoma.

The Haub Family’s donation of 280 works of Western American art was announced in July 2012 after two years of study and negotiation. German industrialist billionaire Erivan Haub has ties to Tacoma, dating back to when he visited with his wife Helga in the 1950s. Three of his sons were born at Tacoma General Hospital. He has had business and family interests in the area ever since. So, his son Christian Haub said, it only seemed natural that the family donates the collection to Tacoma.

“It had to be somewhere where the family had a heritage,” he said. “Fate brought us together.”

It also didn’t hurt that Stebich spoke German and was born in the same German town as the Haub family business’ headquarters.

The museum currently has two works from the collection at the museum on view in its exhibit “Sitting for History: Exploring Self-Identity Through Portraiture.” The rest of the works will be coming to the museum in the future. Around 100 of those works will be on view in the new wing’s opening exhibition. Future exhibits of the collection will tackle how artists portrayed the West, how they depicted Native Americans and now non-Americans viewed Western legends and icons.

The collection includes prominent 19th century artists who shaped our views of Native Americans, mountain men, cowboys, and pristine American landscapes. Big names in the collection include George Catlin, John Mix Stanley, Thomas Moran, and Frederic Remington. From the 20th century, the collection includes artists, such as E. Martin Hennings, Georgia O’Keeffe, Tom Lovell, and John Clymer. who brought modern art movements west and who explored western history and American identity The collection also includes many artists who are active and working today. Contemporary Native American artists William Acheff and Kevin Red Star take a fresh approach and portray American culture in a modern light, and pop artist Bill Schenck uses humor and satire to challenge long-held assumptions about the American West. Together, these collections will offer a comprehensive understanding of the Northwest region as part of the expanded history of the West.

“There really is a wonderful depth in this collection,” said curator Laura Fry. “It really is a treasure trove.”

The exhibit will open in fall of 2014.

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