Editorial: Renovated Hood Museum Is Ready for Its Debut

  • The Hood Museum of Art's Citrin and Engles galleries overhang the entrance to the building's new atrium in front of the original entrance near the Hopkins Center in Hanover, N.H., Thursday, Jan. 17, 2019. A grand re-opening will be held to celebrate the $50 million overhaul on Jan. 26 at 11 a.m. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. James M. Patterson

Published: 1/25/2019 10:09:49 PM
Modified: 1/25/2019 10:10:03 PM

In his 2010 book,A History of the World in 100 Objects, Neil MacGregor, former director of the British Museum, wrote of German printmaker Albrecht Dürer’s 1515 portrait of an Indian rhinoceros, a beast that Dürer had read about but never seen. “It is striking, evocative and so real you almost fear it is about to escape from the page. And it is, of course — exhilaratingly? distressingly? reassuringly? (I don’t know which) — wrong.”

The point of including Dürer’s fanciful woodcut among his book’s 100 objects was not to reveal its zoological shortcomings (the beast is depicted covered in scales and armor plates, and it sports whiskers and an odd extra horn on its neck). Rather, MacGregor used Dürer’s rhino to highlight humanity’s endless curiosity about “the world beyond our grasp,” and how we often use art and artifacts to explore that world as we try to understand it.

We are fortunate in the Upper Valley to have a striking number of institutions eager to help us, in their unique ways, explore and understand our world — the Montshire Museum of Science in Norwich, the American Precision Museum in Windsor, Billings Farm & Museum in Woodstock, Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site in Cornish, the Enfield Shaker Museum, the Fort at No. 4 in Charlestown, and dozens of town historical societies, to list just a few.

But for many, the crown jewel of Upper Valley museums is the Hood Museum of Art in Hanover, which reopens today after a 30-month, $50 million renovation and expansion project that will almost double its exhibition space, triple its classroom space and, as staff writer Sarah Earle reported on Sunday, offer more visitor-friendly entrances from Lebanon Street and across from the Dartmouth Green.

Named for benefactor Harvey P. Hood, Dartmouth Class of 1918, who went on to become chairman and president of New England dairy giant H.P. Hood & Sons, the Hood Museum of Art opened in 1985 and finally brought Dartmouth’s collections of art and artifacts — one of higher education’s largest and oldest — together in one place. According to the museum’s website, it was deemed a “national model” for college and university museums when it was accredited in 1990.

Among its 65,000 pieces from six continents are a set of 3,000-year-old Assyrian stone reliefs, a fresco by José Clemente Orozco, The Epic of American Civilization, (a National Historic Landmark), works by Pablo Picasso and Georgia O’Keeffe, and collections of European, African, Asian, Aboriginal Australian and, significantly, contemporary Native American art.

But after nearly 35 years, the original museum, designed by architect Charles Moore, was no longer serving its constituencies as well as it might.

Classroom space — critical to the Hood’s mission — was inadequate to the task. As Earle reported, thousands of students, from Dartmouth and other area schools, met in the museum’s one small classroom every year. “We have a long history of using the museum’s collection in our teaching,” Mary Coffey, associate professor of art history at Dartmouth, told Earle. “We believe really firmly that we should get students engaging with actual works of art.” After the renovation, teachers and students now have access to three large classrooms in the Bernstein Center for Object Study, and architects Tod Williams and Billie Tsien designed them to handle any piece or project likely to come along.

Also problematic was the way the museum presented itself to the world. While hardly a fortress, some elements of the original structure — the entrance gateway, for example — were perhaps less inviting than they could or should be. Today, the entrance across from the green is a large, glass-fronted facade. And with 16 galleries now, up from 10 before the renovation, the Hood has much more space to display its collection, and much more room for curators to flex their creative muscles.

“We were always called a hidden treasure,” Hood Director John Stomberg told Earle. “We’re ready for our debut.”

It must be noted that the renovation is not without its critics, some of whom bemoaned the changes made to Moore’s original design. We will leave that discussion to those more qualified. For now we will note that the project was funded largely with private donations, and that admission to the museum is, and always has been, free — another reason to acknowledge how fortunate we are to have such an institution in the Upper Valley.

As MacGregor, the former British Museum director, wrote: “All museums rest on the hope — the belief — that the study of things can lead to a truer understanding of the world.” In the renovated and expanded Hood Museum, students and visitors will find their search for that truer understanding more inviting, and more exhilarating.

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