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Westmoreland Museum of American Art makes other arrangements for collection during facility expansion

| Monday, April 29, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Sean Stipp | Tribune-Review
Collections Manager Doug Evans prepares to move art work from the main fine art storage vault at the Westmoreland Museum of American Art. The museum is getting ready for an $18 million dollar overhaul of the main building, the addition of a newly designed LEED-certified east wing, and a redesign of the grounds. While the renovations are under way, the museum plans to continue operations in the former Stickley Audi & Co. furniture store on Route 30, east of Greensburg in Unity, under the working title “Westmoreland @rt 30.”

Doug Evans and Mike McSorley gingerly rolled a 5-foot-wide American Eagle sculpture perched atop a dolly into the freight elevator at the Westmoreland Museum of American Art in Greensburg.

With gloved hands, Evans, the museum's collections manager, and McSorley, an art handler, gently steered the dolly down a passageway to the fine-art storage area.

During the next few weeks, art handlers will just as precisely move the museum's 3,400-piece collection to the former Mt. View Interiors building in Unity.

Museum officials are using the building, which housed Stickley Audi and Co. until last year, as a temporary site during the Greensburg cultural attraction's 12,500-square-foot expansion to start this summer.

Westmoreland @rt 30, as museum officials call the interim site, will house some of the museum's collection, while other pieces will be put in storage there.

The priceless masterpieces — the museum staff affectionately calls them “the greatest hits” — will go on a four-city road trip during construction.

“We have to get everything out of the building — every file, every painting, every piece of sculpture, everything,” said Judith O'Toole, museum director and chief executive officer.

The eagle, chiseled from Pennsylvania yellow pine, came to the museum from the doorway of the former Second National Bank in Uniontown. Museum officials will put the sculpture into storage at @rt 30, along with the Tiffany stained glass window in the collection.

The museum has hired Bonsai Fine Arts of Glen Burnie, Md., to move the precious cargo.

“They've worked with us in moving all kinds of things, including things from private collections far-flung from Greensburg,” O'Toole said.

About 60 “greatest hits” — valuable works by such masters as Mary Cassatt, John Singer Sargent and Winslow Homer — will travel to Memphis; Vero Beach, Fla.; Athens, Ga.; and Glen Falls, N.Y., to be displayed, museum officials said.

Some 40 pieces referred to as “Blasted Trees to Blast Furnaces” — a pictorial history of Western Pennsylvania — will likewise take a journey, bound for Milwaukee, Annapolis and possibly other museums.

Movers will use boxes designed to transport art, said museum curator Barbara Jones.

“Everything has to be packed in a certain way, either in a crate made specifically for the work or in a special container — an Air-Flow container, which is a box that is reinforced with a liner that has foam in it and protects the painting as it travels,” Jones said.

The Tiffany window will have a “special travel crate, and it will actually live in that while it's at @rt 30,” Jones said.

Handlers will use “soft packing” for other artwork, wrapping the pieces in a protective layer and then adding a layer of bubble wrap, Jones said.

“They will be transported the six miles (to Mt. View) in bin boxes — boxes that can hold a certain number of paintings together,” she said. “They're separated by cardboard, and so they travel very safely for a short distance.”

Bonsai will pack and move the art in phases over the next few weeks, museum officials said.

“(Bonsai) has a schedule for packing everything and moving it over there,” O'Toole said. “They'll be building a special storage facility over at Mt. View with its own security.”

Museum officials examined several sites before focusing on the former Unity furniture store.

They scrutinized a former grocery and canvassed sites in industrial parks. Then someone suggested the former Mt. View Interiors building.

“It was almost too ideal,” O'Toole said.

Designers had divided the building into sections for a furniture store, making it perfect for offices, art exhibits and educational areas, O'Toole said.

The building met climate-control requirements, which most of the other sites didn't.

And the site was positioned right along busy Route 30, less than 5 miles from Greensburg.

Leaving the Westmoreland County seat was the only real negative about using the Mt. View building, but that departure will be temporary, O'Toole said.

“The more we looked, the more the Mt. View building offered what we needed,” she said.

The owners of the Mt. View building wanted the museum to move there, O'Toole said.

“We're excited about it,” said Guy Davis, who owns the building with his siblings. “For years, both father and mother were members of the museum. I know Dad and Mom would be proud, even on a temporary basis, that the museum will be in the building.”

Museum officials will use the time during the move and expansion to photograph, clean and document the collection.

They want to have all the artwork back in the expanded museum by January 2015, in time for a May grand opening.

Bob Stiles is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-836-6622 or bstiles@tribweb.com.

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