If you know the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art, it’s probably because of its extensive collection of art glass and other works by Louis Comfort Tiffany that brought renown to the museum just six miles from downtown Orlando.
The Morse has the largest collection of Tiffany’s work assembled anywhere. But as the museum’s leaders made plans for a celebration of its 75th anniversary in February, they thought about its early years, the first 30 or so, before Tiffany’s work was popular and other artists were the stars of what began as a small college gallery. And they thought about the museum’s first director, Hugh F. McKean, who held that position for more than 50 years.
“One of the things that Hugh had always said was ‘We’re not just a Tiffany museum, you know,’” said Laurence J. Ruggiero, the museum’s director. “It’s Tiffany that makes us a national treasure, but there is this other aspect of the museum that’s more fundamental, it is its soul, its DNA.”
So when the Morse created an exhibit of 60-some pieces celebrating its 75 years, it included only a few of Tiffany’s works. The exhibit highlights the museum’s collections of portraits, American art glass, pottery and other items, some of which hadn’t been displayed in 30 or 40 years.
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It’s Tiffany that makes us a national treasure, but there is this other aspect of the museum that’s more fundamental.
Laurence J. Ruggiero, Morse Museum
That decision was in part a tribute to McKean and his wife, Jeannette Genius McKean, who founded the museum in 1942 at Rollins College. The McKeans were less interested in the traditional idea of masterpieces, Ruggiero said, believing that “any sincerely viewed art, sincerely made, deserves appreciation.”
The McKeans especially valued pieces that illustrated the style, techniques and other aspects of American art. They believed art would enhance the lives of people who saw it, and they wanted to educate the community about art. “The idea that it’s only for experts is just nonsense,” Ruggiero said.
The exhibit features pieces that speak to the roots of American art. A selection of American glass includes a Tiffany piece as well as three-face glass — three faces that look out in three directions and become the stem of a goblet or the handle of a bowl, a creation that appealed to the middle class — and iridescent carnival glass that sold for pennies to the masses, according to the museum, and “which you will never see exhibited anywhere else,” Ruggiero said.
Another work in the exhibit is an oil painting by William Merritt Chase of Sylvester S. Marvin, an industrial baker whose company became the centerpiece of Nabisco. Museum visitors look at the portrait “not so much as portraiture but here is the man who started Nabisco, the cookie king,” Ruggiero said.
The exhibit, Celebrating 75 years — Pathways of American Art at the Morse Museum, is one of several events marking the museum’s 75 years and runs through Jan. 21, 2018.
The exhibit gives the museum’s leaders a chance to look ahead. Much of the museum’s growth has centered on Tiffany, but Catherine Hinman, the museum’s director of public affairs and publications, says, “There is a long-range plan, an interest in acquisitions … to strengthen aspects of the collection that are already pretty strong.
“This is a chance to reaffirm our values, to re-establish who we are.”
The Morse Gallery opened at Rollins College in 1942. After 75 years, it’s located in the heart of Winter Park and run by a private foundation.
The roots of the museum go back to Jeannette Genius, an artist and interior designer who grew up in Chicago but often spent time at her grandfather’s second home in Winter Park. She enrolled for a summer session at Rollins College in 1926, launching what would become a lifelong association with the private liberal arts college. In 1942, the same year she was elected to the Rollins College Board of Trustees, she founded the Morse Gallery and named it after her grandfather, a Chicago industrialist and Winter Park philanthropist. Hugh McKean, an artist and art professor (and later president) at Rollins, was named director.
The two married in 1945, donated art to the Morse — including Tiffany pieces that Jeannette’s mother had collected — and Jeannette designed the vignettes in which the art was displayed. Hugh was the director from 1942 until his death in 1995. Jeannette remained heavily involved with the museum, staged its first Tiffany exhibit, and made the decision that led to the couple amassing the museum’s large Tiffany collection. She died in 1989.
The museum has moved twice within Winter Park since its founding and expanded once at its current location at the center of the town. With the 2011 addition of a wing to house the Daffodil Terrace and other remains of Tiffany’s Long Island estate, the Morse has more than 19,000 square feet of gallery space. It is no longer part of Rollins College but is run by a private foundation.
Meanwhile, the gallery at Rollins acquired a new collection and became a museum in its own right, the Cornell Fine Arts Museum, boosting Winter Park’s reputation for art.
Morse Museum’s 75th anniversary events
Book debut: “Timeless Beauty: The Life and Art of Louis Comfort Tiffany” (Schiffer Publishing, $29.99), compiled by the museum, debuted in September. The book presents a chronological view of more than 200 Tiffany objects in the Morse Museum’s collection. Available in the Morse Museum Shop.
Special exhibition: “Celebrating 75 Years — Pathways of American Art at the Morse Museum” features objects that reflect the range of the Morse’s collection and the values of the museum. Runs through Jan. 21, 2018.
February open house: Free admission to the galleries to commemorate the museum’s 75th anniversary, Feb. 1-28.
Audio tour: The new museum-highlights audio tour, to debut Feb. 1, will be accessible through personal cell phones. It provides information and history on 40 objects in the Morse collection. Each stop includes a brief narration — often with commentary by museum staff or archival audio from the museum’s first director, Hugh McKean — that will enhance understanding and appreciation of the work of art. The new tour complements the audio tour currently available for the exhibition “Louis Comfort Tiffany’s Laurelton Hall.”
75th anniversary reception: A public celebration with champagne and live music on the date the museum opened its doors in 1942. Feb. 17, 5-7:30 p.m.
The metropolitan center of Orange County is home to five art museums. Located in Winter Park and Orlando, they are small, but studying their exhibits can fill a day or two. All are open six days a week and closed on Mondays.
Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art: Louis Comfort Tiffany is the star, with his gorgeous glass windows, Byzantine-inspired chapel interior, the Daffodil Terrace from his Long Island estate and other works, but the museum also has collections of American art pottery, American paintings from the late 19th and early 20th century, graphics and decorative art.
445 N. Park Ave., Winter Park; 407-645-5311; www.morsemuseum.org. Admission: $6 adults, $5 seniors 60+, $1 students (with valid ID), free for children younger than 12. Open 9:30 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, 1-4 p.m. Sunday.
Cornell Fine Arts Museum: Currently closed for a change in exhibitions, the museum will reopen Jan. 14 with “The Black Figure in the European Imaginary,” an examination of how European visual arts imagined black people from the mid-18th to early 20th century. The museum has six galleries and a print study room, plus an exhibition of contemporary art at the college-owned Alfond Inn. Highlights include a collection of Old Masters paintings, the Alfond contemporary art collection and more than 1,200 watch keys.
Rollins College Building No. 303, 1000 Holt Ave, Winter Park; 407-646-2526; http://www.rollins.edu/cornell-fine-arts-museum/. Admission: free. Open Tuesday 10 a.m.-7 p.m.; Wednesday-Friday 10 a.m.-4 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday noon-5 p.m.
Albin Polasek Museum & Sculpture Gardens: The former home of Albin Polasek (1879-1965) is now a museum and sculpture garden featuring primarily his work and overlooking Lake Osceola. Polasek, a Czech-American, was a noted sculptor and head of the Sculpture Department at the Art Institute of Chicago. His works are primarily figurative, often with a religious theme, and are in stone, bronze, plaster and wood.
633 Osceola Ave., Winter Park; 407-647-6294; http://polasek.org/. Admission: Adults $5, seniors 60+ $4, students (age 12 through college) $3, children under 12 free. Open Sunday 1-4 p.m.; Tuesday-Saturday 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
Orlando Museum of Art: With 19,000 square feet of gallery space, this museum is about the same size as the Morse. Its permanent collections include classic American works from the Colonial period to 1945, American contemporary art and graphics, art of the ancient Americas and African art — primarily textiles, masks and beadwork. This museum and the Mennello (below) are in Loch Haven Cultural Park with other museum and theatrical venues.
2416 N. Mills Ave., Orlando; 407-896-4231; http://omart.org/. Admission: Adults $15, seniors 65+ $8, children 4-17 and college students (with ID) $5, military (active duty and veterans, with ID) free, children 3 and under free. Open Tuesday-Friday 10 a.m.-4 p.m., Saturday and Sunday noon-4 p.m.
Mennello Museum of American Art: The Mennello has a permanent collection of paintings by “primitive” artist Earl Cunningham (1893-1977) as well as American art of various genres and time periods. Outside is a lakeside sculpture garden that currently features works by Alice Aycock, creator of the controversial passion flower sculptures in two Coral Gables traffic circles. The third annual Indie-Folkfest featuring American art, music and food, will be Feb. 11. Every second Sunday is Family Day, with kid-friendly activities.
900 E. Princeton St., Orlando; 407-246-4278; www.mennellomuseum.com. Admission: Adults $5, seniors 60+ $4, students (with ID) and children 6-18 $1, children under 6 free, active military (with ID) free. Open Tuesday-Saturday 10:30 a.m.- 4:30 p.m, Sunday noon-4:30 p.m.