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2011 museum openings: Riding the range with the Dutch

Courtesy Ronald Regan President Library and Museum

Stand in front of a green screen and act in a movie with the late Ronald Reagan or hop aboard a model horse and pretend you are riding with the former president on his California ranch.

These are just some of the interactive opportunities that are part of a major overhaul of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum in Simi Valley, Calif., which is part of a yearlong celebration of the Feb. 6 centennial of Reagan’s birth.

The museum upgrade is one of several new or expanded museums that have opened in recent months or will open this year.

Ronald Reagan
Presidential Library and Museum

“We are doing it in a more interactive and engaging way,” said Melissa Giller, director of communications and programs for the Reagan library and museum.

The 26,000-square-foot renovation of the museum, which opens to the public Feb. 7, adds 18 new galleries. “It encompasses his life from birth through postpresidency,” said Giller.

Giller said most of the galleries are thematic, exploring issues such as the Cold War and Reagan’s economic policies, and others deal with aspects of his life, such as a room devoted to his beloved Rancho del Cielo and Camp David.

That’s where you can take the virtual ride across the plains of Rancho del Cielo and see artifacts such as Reagan’s cowboy boots and hat and the saddlebags his military aides used to carry the “nuclear football codes” on his horseback rides.

Another gallery focuses on the Berlin Wall, with chilling re-creations of life in East Berlin during Communist rule. It includes the sounds of marching soldiers, sirens and barking dogs; blowing wind; a 12-foot-high re-creation of a guard tower; and artifacts such as a border guard’s uniform and East German ID cards.

“You get a feeling of what it was like,” said Giller.

In the White House gallery, visitors get a behind-the-scenes look at what is involved in putting on a state dinner, complete with planning a menu and designing White House china.

“We have animated President Reagan’s personal diary so that a visitor may search on any selected dates or events to read his handwritten recorded thoughts,” said Giller.

The museum’s replica of Reagan’s Oval Office and the Air Force One gallery where the plane that flew Reagan and several other presidents is displayed were not changed.

Charles Hosmer Morse
Museum of American Art

Winter Park, Fla.
The Morse Museum’s impressive collection of Tiffany objects gets even larger this month with the opening of a new 12,000-square-foot wing that will showcase most of its holdings of objects and architectural elements from Louis Comfort Tiffany’s Long Island country estate, Laurelton Hall.

The $5 million project increases the museum’s exhibition space by nearly 50 percent with 11 new galleries and triples the size of the courtyard garden at the museum’s rear entrance.

A centerpiece of the new galleries is the restored Daffodil Terrace, an 18-by-32-foot outdoor room supported by eight 11-foot-tall marble columns topped with bouquets of glass daffodils.

In addition to the terrace, more than 250 objects, including leaded-glass windows, lamps, art glass, pottery and furnishings, from Laurelton Hall’s dining, room, living room and reception hall are displayed in the new galleries.

Tiffany built 84-room Laurelton Hall in the early 20th century on nearly 600 acres overlooking Cold Spring Harbor and Long Island Sound. After his death, its contents were sold, and the property was subdivided. In 1957, after a fire destroyed the house, Hugh McKean and his wife, Jeannette, who built the Morse Museum’s collection over a 50-year period, salvaged architectural elements, windows and other objects from the ruins.

Huntsville Museum of Art

Huntsville, Ala.
In late November, the Huntsville Museum of Art celebrated the opening of its Davidson Center for the Arts, a new wing that adds 18,000 square feet of space.

“It almost doubles our exhibition space,” said Jenny Lane, the museum’s communications manager. “One of our biggest problems was trying to incorporate touring shows with eight galleries. This gives us a lot of extra things for people to see during the times that traveling exhibitions are changing out.”

The expansion’s seven additional galleries allow the museum to bring in more traveling shows and to display more of its permanent collection, such as the American Studio Glass collection, the 21-piece collection of Buccellati Silver Animals and some 70 paintings, drawings and sculptures by American women.

Lane said one of the attractive features of the new wing is the cherry hardwood floors, which the old galleries do not have, and floor-to-ceiling windows on the west facade, “which give beautiful views of Big Spring International Park.”

The expansion also added four new special-event spaces and a covered stage for the city’s Concert in the Park series.

Columbus Museum of Art
Columbus, Ohio
The 13-month renovation of its 1931 Italian Renaissance-revival building that the Columbus Museum of Art unveiled on Jan. 1 is designed to make the visitor experience more meaningful and the museum’s galleries more accessible.

Nancy Colvin, marketing and communications manager for the museum, said the renovation included a complete reimaging of the way the art is presented in the galleries.

“It had typically been hung in a chronological way or by groupings, such as European impressionist all together,” she said. “Now, they are hung in a thematic way that tells a new story about the collection. It mixes different genres and tells a very interesting story about the pieces.”

For example, Colvin said one gallery is now called Love and War, with all the paintings on one side dealing with love and all the ones on the other side having to do with war.

The overall theme of the reinstallation is “Creative Change,” which highlights the changes that have influenced art from the Renaissance until today.

The renovation also included upgrades to make the building more accessible, such as raising the floor in the center Derby Court, which also got a new vaulted skylight ceiling. All of the hardwood, terrazzo and marble walls, ceilings and floors were reconditioned.

“The auditorium was completely updated with new seating and technology to move us forward,” said Colvin.

The former cafe was converted to a hands-on activity room, and a new family gallery features exhibitions that are family appropriate.

Harwood Museum of Art

Taos, N.M.
The University of New Mexico’s Harwood Museum of Art, the second-oldest museum in the state, dedicated its three-level, 10,700-square-foot expansion in mid-December.

The expansion includes a new gallery named for Beatrice Mandelman and Louis Ribak, two legendary artists who were central to the Taos Moderns movement; a 130-seat, state-of-the-art auditorium with high-definition projection and surround sound; and an expanded and enhanced conservation and storage area that triples the museum’s capacity to conserve its collection of art objects and historic photographs.

“Many of today’s museum expansions focus on revenue centers like gift shops and restaurants, so it’s important for our community to know just how much of our attention is going into the care and conservation of the collection,” said the museum’s new director, Susan Longhenry.

Madame Tussauds
Madame Tussauds Washington D.C. opens its $2 million U.S. Presidents Gallery on Feb. 17; it will feature wax figures of all 44 U.S. presidents.

The launch of the gallery will make Madame Tussauds Washington D.C. the only place in the world where people can see and interact with all 44 U.S. presidents.

“We are looking forward to providing the public with the unique opportunity to experience all of the U.S. presidents in a way unlike ever before,” said general manager Dan Rogoski.

Since the gallery was announced last February, Madame Tussauds’ studio artists have created entirely new wax figures of 28 U.S. presidents, with each figure taking three to four months to complete.

Throughout the year, figures of the presidents have been shown around the country to promote the gallery’s opening. They have included President Gerald Ford at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum in Grand Rapids, Mich., for the 97th anniversary of his birthday; founding fathers George Washington and Thomas Jefferson at the Independence Visitor Center in Philadelphia over the July 4th holiday; and most recently, Presidents Washington, Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln at Mount Rushmore in South Dakota in honor of the 69th anniversary of the monument’s completion.

Natural History Museum
of Los Angeles County

Los Angeles
Two major components of a massive six-year, $135 million transformation of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County — the new Dinosaur Hall and the new North Campus — are scheduled to open in July.

The much-anticipated Dinosaur Hall will fill two galleries in adjoining historic buildings and will be twice the size of the museum’s old dinosaur galleries.

The new galleries are being touted for the size and inventiveness of the major mounts, for the world’s only T. rex growth series and for the transparent treatment of the science that surrounds dinosaurs.

The 14,000-square-foot exhibition will feature more than 300 fossils, 20 full-body specimens, manual and digital interactives, and large-format videos. In addition to the T. rex series of an adult, juvenile and baby, the exhibition’s standouts will include a Triceratopos, a 68-foot long-necked Mamenchisaurus and large reptiles that lived in the oceans that covered what is today California.

One part of the two-story galleries is in the recently restored 1913 Building, the beaux arts structure that was the museum’s original building, and the other is in the newer 1920s Building, which has been fitted with floor-to-ceiling windows that allow passersby on the South Lawn outside to see the dinosaurs inside.

The 3.5-acre, $30 million North Campus will feature urban wilderness experiences and exhibits and will serve as a new front yard for the museum.

The ongoing transformation, scheduled to be completed in time for the museum’s centennial in 2013, features renovation of nearly half of its public spaces, with the addition of seven new galleries, five new permanent exhibitions and new visitor amenities including a renovated store and cafe.

The Age of Mammals exhibit and the restored Haaga Family Rotunda opened last year in the 1913 Building.

Luray Valley Museum
Luray, Va.
The Luray Valley Museum, a new addition to the Luray Caverns complex in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, traces the history of the valley from pre-Columbian Native Americans to the 1920s.

The log Stonyman building has artifacts, documents, decorative arts and clothing displayed in chronological order.

Restoration continues at the seven-acre site, which has nearly a dozen structures that have been moved there from around the region to represent a small 19th-century farming community.

Restoration work has been completed on a large threshing barn, the 1835 house of the county’s first judge, the Elk Run Meeting House and a corncrib. A re-created mining station provides panning opportunities in a sluice.

A detailed restoration is under way of the area’s first African-American school.