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Two gifts from Dick Scaife

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In this file photo from December 2005, Westmoreland Museum of American Art Director and CEO Judith Hansen O’Toole and the late Dick Scaife share a quiet discussion. Scaife's wealth, land and art collections will be distributed among two foundations, a trust, an art museum and a conservancy, according to his will.
Otto August Kuhler (1894-1976), “Steel Valley, Pittsburgh,” circa 1925, oil on canvas, 45 x 50 inches, Westmoreland Museum of American Art, Greensburg.
John James Audubon (1785-1851), “Osprey and Weakfish,” 1829, oil on canvas, 40 x 26¼ in., National Gallery of Art, Washington, donated by Dick Scaife in 2005.

In 2004, a majestically sized painting by Pittsburgh artist Otto Kuhler was discovered in New England by Bob Gilliland, who brought it to his art gallery in Ligonier.

It is one of Kuhler's most ambitious scenes, showing Pittsburgh in its steel-making heyday and its smoke-laden daytime work mode, in deep umbers and sullen beiges.

I fell in love with the picture, but the museum didn't have the funds to acquire it.

The next weekend, Dick Scaife went to see what was new at Gilliland's gallery, and to engage in conversation about American art. Bob showed him the Kuhler and bragged a bit about how The Westmoreland's director had deemed it to be “the best Kuhler” she had seen to date.

“Judy?” asked Dick. “Why didn't she buy it?”

When Bob told him the reason, Dick replied that perhaps he should just buy it for me. And he did.

Bob was so excited about what he had unwittingly done that he dialed my office number before Dick firmly closed the gallery door as he left.

Two years later, I picked up my office phone one afternoon and heard Dick's cheerful voice: He had a watercolor painting in his dining room and was thinking of moving it to make room for something else. He said it really didn't fit with The Westmoreland but decided to call me about it.

When I heard that it was by William Trost Richards, one of the top Hudson River School artists, and that the subject was one of Richards' favorite spots on Narragansett Bay, I was confounded: Why would Dick believe it wouldn't fit in the Museum's stellar collection? Could he possibly think it was too good for us? So I asked why.

He replied that it was painted on a rather gloomy day, and looking at it depressed him a bit. (Dick is known for his love of sunshine and blue skies.) He said he always thought of The Westmoreland as a pleasant and beautiful place, with fond memories of being uplifted by its collection.

I was unbelievably touched — but I quickly told him I'd love to accept the Richards anyway.

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