Visual Arts

Philadelphia, PA – April 2022 – Woodmere Art Museum and the Maguire Foundation announce a grant of $10 million to create the Frances M. Maguire Hall for Art and Education, renaming the former Saint Michael’s Hall and enabling Woodmere’s renovation of the historic Chestnut Hill estate. Woodmere will transform the generous parlors and bedrooms of the mansion to create galleries for the Museum’s permanent collection of works by Philadelphia’s artists, a hands-on children’s art and education center, a museum café, and public programming spaces. Just seventy steps from Woodmere’s main building on Germantown Avenue, Frances M. Maguire Hall enables Woodmere to expand on its mission to offer experiences with the art and artists of Philadelphia. Strengths of Woodmere’s collection that are to be installed in Frances M. Maguire Hall include Philadelphia’s unique configuration of American Impressionism; Violet Oakley and the Red Rose Girls; Arthur B. Carles and Philadelphia’s modernism; figurative realism in twentieth-century Philadelphia; and the multicultural spectrum of the city’s art today. Since 2010, a top collecting priority at Woodmere has been to bring a greater diversity of artists into the collection, and this has led to the acquisition of important historical and contemporary works. Woodmere’s main building will continue to be the location for galleries of nineteenth-century art (including Woodmere’s superlative collection of Hudson River paintings), special exhibitions, and children’s art, and for the Museum Store and staff offices.

According to William R. Valerio, the Patricia Van Burgh Allison Director and CEO of Woodmere, “Frances M. Maguire Hall represents a transformation. Woodmere’s holdings of approximately 9,500 works stand as one of the important collections of American art, and this will become evident as never before. Most of the 17,000 square feet of Frances M. Maguire Hall will be galleries and public spaces. The new Love Kids Art Center will also be a game changer, expanding our capacity to serve Philadelphia’s schoolchildren and families. To date, Woodmere has served more than 10,000 children annually in school programs and family activities, and I foresee that the number will greatly multiply. Woodmere’s overall visitation stood at about 50,000 annually prior to the pandemic, and we also predict a big jump in that number as well.”

James Alexandre, the chair of Woodmere’s board of trustees, comments, “The Maguire Foundation’s gift to create the Frances M. Maguire Hall is a signature moment, not just for Woodmere but for Philadelphia and its community of artists. The Foundation’s leadership turns dream into reality, making our collection accessible to students and art lovers from near and far. Woodmere is deeply honored to name the building Frances M. Maguire Hall, in this way conveying gratitude to one of the most loving and generous individuals who participated in the history of the institution.”

Woodmere first learned in March 2021 that the Sisters of Saint Joseph intended to sell the former Saint Michael’s Hall. The sisters had initially used the mansion as a dormitory for students, but then converted it into a residence for themselves through most of the period of their ownership. With an outpouring of community support and contributions from individuals across Philadelphia, Woodmere purchased the estate in October 2021 and endowed its maintenance.

Sister Karen Dietrich represented the Sisters of Saint Joseph in the sale of the property. She said, “We have cared for this beautiful home and its grounds since 1924, for almost one hundred years. From my first conversations with Bill Valerio in March, it seemed clear that Woodmere would be a wonderful steward for the property. The Sisters’ land ethic commits to preserving and treasuring the earth, and Woodmere certainly shares those values. We all look forward to seeing Woodmere’s infusion of the creative spirit of Mrs. Maguire all through the building and across its landscape.”

Frances M. Maguire (1935–2020) was an artist and philanthropist, who, with her husband James J. Maguire, founded the Maguire Foundation. Known to family and friends and throughout the art community as Frannie, she was a much beloved advocate who believed that art opens the mind and the soul alike, promoting spiritual health and self-expression. She was especially focused on opportunities for children’s art education.

Mrs. Maguire served on Woodmere’s Board of Trustees from 1989 through 1995, thereafter serving continuously as an emeritus trustee and as a member of its Collection Management Committee. Megan Maguire Nicoletti, one of Frances and James Maguire’s children and the CEO of the Maguire Foundation, said, “My mother saw the world through the unique eyes of an artist and found beauty in surprising places, where no other person did. She shared her love of the arts with every member of our family and with any person she came to know. Abstract painting was her passion and she felt a real spirit of camaraderie with the artists of Philadelphia, past and present, and especially those, like her, who were inspired by the work of Philadelphia’s great modern painter Arthur B. Carles. In creating Francis M. Maguire Hall and supporting Woodmere, we are assuring that her legacy is shared with current and future generations.”

Woodmere’s director, William Valerio said, “As a collector, Frannie had a great eye—the eye of an artist —and her taste was adventurous. She often pushed other members of Woodmere’s Collections Management Committee out of their comfort zones. I recall, for example, that she was instantly passionate about the work of Jonathan Lyndon Chase, an artist who pushes the envelope in so many interesting ways, and as a result has become well known. Thanks to Frannie, Woodmere acquired an important, large painting by Chase, and I look forward to seeing it installed on the walls of the building that is named for her.”

Frances M. Maguire Hall was built in 1854 as a country retreat for the family of Maria Louisa Farr Trotter and William Henry Trotter, an importer of steel, copper, and tin. To this day, some of their descendants live in Philadelphia and remain in the metals industry. Woodmere recently acquired a portrait of Mrs. Trotter by Thomas Sully that was painted in the same years the house was built. In 1868, Henry Latimer Norris acquired the estate; having recently sold his family’s business to Baldwin Locomotive Works, he was retired businessman. Latimer owned the house until 1884. The next owner, Alfred C. Harrison, a sugar merchant, significantly renovated the house in the 1890s, working with Cope and Stewardson, one of Philadelphia’s premier turn-of-the-century architectural firms. Mr. Harrison was an art collector who served on the board of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts; he was surely friendly with fellow collector and neighbor Charles Knox Smith, who founded Woodmere. By purchasing the estate, Woodmere has prevented commercial development of the site, which, through almost certain demolition of the mansion, would have sustained as many as twenty-three single-family residences. Woodmere will also preserve the open greenspace and address the environmental imperatives associated with its location at the center of the Wissahickon Watershed, which is estimated to provide between 15 and 20 percent of Philadelphia’s drinking water.

Matthew Baird Architects of New York City and Mount Desert Island, Maine, will be the lead architect. The firm, known widely for its arts and residential commissions, has been working with Woodmere for a number of years on master planning. Baird was raised in Chestnut Hill, and his first architectural internship was in the firm of Mitchell Giurgola with offices in the PSFS building. He later worked for Jacobs Wyper of Chancellor St, and for ten years after graduate school, he worked with Tod Williams and Billie Tsien, serving as project architect for the American Folk Art Museum. Baird will be working in partnership with Krieger + Associates Architects and Andropogon Associates, the landscape architects.

Matthew Baird said, “When I was young, growing up on Willow Grove Avenue, I remember a shared sense of loss when so many of the region’s great historic buildings were demolished, and these included Mellor, Meigs & Howe’s Laverock and Julian Abele’s Whitemarsh Hall. Much of the open greenspace of Northwest Philadelphia is gone now too, due to the intense pressure for development. It is thrilling that the community and the Maguire Foundation have come together with Woodmere to vote in favor of architectural history and the vision to create Frances M. Maguire Hall. Our goal is to bring back and enhance the historic house and provide Woodmere with the galleries it needs. The new café will be an exciting visitor experience, and we will bring in more natural light, integrating interior and exterior spaces and taking advantage of the spectacular beauty of the four-acre site.”

The landscape architects Andropogon Associates will develop a landscape vision that includes pedestrian accessibility, greater biodiversity, a new “art trail” connecting Woodmere’s two buildings, a variety of sculpture installations, and “art + nature” garden experiences across the grounds.

Darren Damone, Principal and Director of Practice Development at Andropogon Associates, said, “The key to our vision for the grounds at Frances M. Maguire Hall involves preserving the massive scale and dignity of several great heritage trees, some of which date to the nineteenth century, including a magnificent European beech. At the same time, we will address the museum’s needs, balancing practical requirements, including parking for school buses and storm water management, with the intention to install sculpture and create unique garden experiences that interpret the site, including its Lenape history. In keeping with our commitment to sustaining local ecosystems, we will plant native species that are not only beautiful, but also nurture the communities of microorganisms, insects, and birds that are essential to the health of the land. We are also working with Woodmere’s Education staff, who ask that we prioritize certain plants that provide for natural dyes and fibers to use in paper-making and other projects in the children’s art studio.”

Architectural planning and review are well underway, and Woodmere intends to begin construction in early 2023. Frances M. Maguire Hall will open to the public in fall 2024.

About Woodmere Art Museum
Housed in a 19th-century stone mansion on six acres in the Chestnut Hill neighborhood of Philadelphia, Woodmere offers a unique museum experience that centers on the art and artists of Philadelphia. Vibrant exhibitions explore the achievements and social ideas of Philadelphia’s artists in the broader context of American art; Woodmere prioritizes diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility in its collecting, programming, and admission policies. Throughout the year, Woodmere offers family events, tours, gallery talks, lectures, panel discussions, studio art classes, film, and music performances. Woodmere brings the experience of art and nature together with a growing collection of sculpture installations across our six green acres.

The core of Woodmere’s collection is the gift of Charles Knox Smith (1845 – 1916). Born of modest means, Smith built his fortune in the mining industry, and he became a city leader and passionate art collector. In 1898, he purchased the Woodmere estate with the grand ambition of creating a museum of the fine arts immersed in the green beauty of Chestnut Hill. He expanded and transformed his home into a showcase for his art collection as a gift to the people of Philadelphia. Smith focused much of his collecting on Philadelphia’s artists, but his Hudson River paintings remain on view as the best in Philadelphia to this day. For almost forty years up to 1978, the artist Edith Emerson was Woodmere’s director, and she established a focus on women artists, especially collecting those in the circle of her life partner, Violet Oakley.

Woodmere is located at 9201 Germantown Avenue, Philadelphia PA, 19118. Open to the public Wednesday – Sunday 10 a.m. – 5 p.m., Admission is $10; FREE on Sunday. For more information: woodmereartmuseum.org.

About The Maguire Foundation
The Maguire Foundation is committed to improving the quality of life for people and educating the next generation of leaders. Founded by James J. and Frances M. Maguire and grounded in the teachings of Saint Ignatius Loyola that we are men and women for others, the foundation invests in education, arts and humanities, and the relief of hunger and homelessness.

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