O'Toole retiring as head of Westmoreland Museum of American Art
Twenty-four years ago, Judith Hansen O'Toole arrived in Greensburg, newly hired as only the second director of The Westmoreland Museum of American Art in its six-decade history, succeeding Paul Chew.
On Thursday, she announced her intent to retire on June 1, 2018, the date marking the 25th anniversary of her accepting her position.
Now the Richard M. Scaife Director/CEO, O'Toole still recalls her excitement when asked to interview for the job.
"It was a museum of American art, which is not very typical. My emphasis in art history was American art," she said.
An expert and author in the field of 19th- and 20th-century American art, she is a member of the Association of Art Museum Directors, where she serves on the professional issues committee, and has been a peer reviewer for the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, the Institute of Museum and Library Services and, currently, the American Alliance of Museums.
O'Toole, 63, has received numerous honors and recognitions, most recently the 2017 Stage Right "Heart of the Arts" award.
Originally from Minneapolis, she earned a master's degree in art history from Penn State University. She served her first directorship at the Sordoni Art Gallery in Wilkes-Barre.
Enticed by the challenge of running an independent, nonprofit museum, she moved with her family, including sculptor husband Kevin O'Toole, 64, and daughters Sarah O'Toole, 28, and Rachel O'Toole Marling, 26.
In The Westmoreland, O'Toole found her professional home.
"There was always another project around the corner to get excited about. Truth to tell, I did interview for other positions. I always came back and kissed the ground The Westmoreland stands on," she said.
During her tenure, O'Toole has guided The Westmoreland through growth and change, transforming it into a nationally recognized museum. She has organized a number of significant exhibitions, including shows of American still-life painting and the artists of the Hudson River School. From 2012-15, she led the museum through a transformational renovation and expansion that resulted in a more accessible, LEED Silver, modern building.
"There is a lot of great programming coming up and exhibits planned. It's really just a great moment right now. This was a huge achievement for all of us," she said.
Efforts like the new Center for Creative Connections, an all-ages exhibit, and the popular Art on Tap events are drawing in more children and families, she said, breaking down intimidation barriers for museum visitors.
Carol Brode, Seton Hill University art instructor and director of its Harlan Gallery, met O'Toole soon after she arrived at the museum.
O'Toole and her staff have encouraged collaborations with the university's art program, she said.
"We've had a number of students do internships at the museum," Brode said.
"I think during her time there she really changed the museum from what was a small, regional museum to a nationally recognized museum with the special focus on American art," she said.
A succession committee will engage a search firm in order to undertake a national search for its next director/CEO.
"She aptly guided The Westmoreland through our major renovation and expansion, carrying out the vision she had for the museum," board President Diana Janetta said of O'Toole.
"(Her) hard work and guidance over 25 years enabled us to successfully complete two capital campaigns. ... Her impeccable scholarship contributed to a wealth of spectacular exhibitions, including the iconic 'Born of Fire,' which traveled internationally," said past board president Bruce Wolf.
"I think I've achieved what one person can achieve in one place," O'Toole said.
Mary Pickels is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-836-5401 or firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @MaryPickels.