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Hagerstown’s Experiment in Art

Washington Post coverage of distance learning art education. Click on the MEDIA ITEMS below for more information


ONLY AN HOUR and a half's drive northwest of Washington lies Hagerstown, Md., where there is an unusually interesting small art museum which is well worth a visit. It is also in Hagerstown that the Ford Foundation has just concluded the second year of a five-year experiment in closed-circuit educational television, of which the museum forms an important part.

The Washington County Museum of Fine Arts opened its doors in 1931, the gift of Mr. and Mrs. William H. Singer Jr. The original Georgian brick building was enlarged' by two wings in 1949, presented by Mrs. Singer in memory of her husband, who had recently died. An important gallery in the new south wing is the Singer Memorial Room, where a permanent group of William H. Singer's own paintings hang. Long a resident of Holland and Norway, Singer depicted with a clear impressionist palette the scenes he loved best in his two favorite countries. In the north wing is a spacious Music Room and Auditorium.

THE MUSEUM is placed in a green park facing a lake filled with swans. It is a charming setting which displays to the best advantage the low, long building as the visitor sees it reflected in the waters.

You approach the Museum from the rear, entering a two-story hall which opens onto a Georgian porch facing the lake. In the hall are hung examples from the permanent collection of the Museum. Among the notable paintings are a self-portrait and a portrait of an old woman by Rembrandt; a portrait of a lady by Titian; a "Young Boy" by Mary Cassatt; a landscape by Courbet; "St. Jerome" by Joachim Patinir; Pellegrini's "The Cyrus Legend"; a landscape by Daubigny; "The Ascension of Christ" by Benjamin West; Louis Eil-shemius' "Mt. Shasta," and a group of Dutch, French and American paintings, the gifts of Mr. and Mrs. Singer.

Sculpture is represented with works by Rodin, Bourdelle, Borglum, Bartlett and Huntington as well as examples by anonymous French, Spanish and Flemish artists. In the central hall hangs a large Brussels tapestry designed by Teniers, and other tapestries and Renaissance furniture were later presented by Mrs. Frederick Eichberg.

In the south wing is a small gallery with glass cases in which art objects are placed. Currently the gallery is given over to a loan display of archaic jades, once the property of the ruling house of China. In the room next to it and in the two galleries of the north wing there is a large exhibition of American paintings, beginning with Benjamin West and continuing with John Hesselfus, Thomas Cole and Thomas Sully. Later movements show the work of Eastman Johnson, John Twachtman, Child Hassam, Mary Cassatt, John LaFarge, Eugene Speicher and Jonas Lie. A print exhibition by American artists completes the display.

AMONG THE MANY activities of the Hagerstown Museum are regular concerts, film showings and lectures held in the auditorium; monthly exhibitions; art classes both summer and winter for adults and children; a children's gallery with changing shows; loan collections of reproductions and slides, and last but not least the Closed-circuit Television Project of Washington County.

In 1956 the Fund for the Advancement of Education of the Ford Foundation decided to try an experiment in educational television in the public schools, and for this purpose chose Hagerstown, which qualified statistically as a typical American town. The purposes of the plan were to find out just how far education could go toward utilizing television, and whether TV could meet the threat of teacher shortages. State and national educators have been watching the success of this pilot experiment, where for the first time television is being used for an entire school system.

The Television Project is carried by coaxial cables to all schools, the Washington County Museum and the Public Library. The points of origin are the studios of the Board of Education building, two high schools, the Museum and the Library. The classes include art, English, history, plane geometry, arithmetic, science, music and social studies.

THE HAGERSTOWN Museum was asked to take over the art program. In the first year of operation it presented between 50 and 60 art lessons by television, directed to students of grades one to six, and special exhibitions of particular importance were televised to students of various age levels. The television system allows the student to take a guided tour of the Museum, visiting the exhibitions under the guidance of the Museum's director, Bruce Etchison, without leaving his classroom. (Interestingly enough, the Museum has found that far from discouraging attendance, these guided television tours actually bring many children into the Museum who have not come there before.)

The classes are divided between Etchison, who has the fifth and sixth grades, and Clyde Roberts, instructor, at the Museum Art School, who teaches grades one to four. In 1957, when only 23 schools were in the project, they spoke to more than 1000 students at each lesson—a total of more than 6000 a week. This year, when all 49 schools throughout the county becomes a part of the system, the figure will almost double.

TV lesson periods are limited to 30 minutes with preparatory and follow-up work done by the teacher in the individual classroom. The art curriculum includes such subjects as cartooning; line, shape and form; movement; color; perspective; landscape; sculpture; drawing; figure; portraits and sketching. Both Etchison and Roberts are trained artists who draw and paint in the TV studio right along with the children in the classrooms.

Every fifth lesson is given over to review, and at that time the schools send in examples of the children's work to be discussed on TV. Demonstrations are held and examples are selected from the Museum's collections to illustrate the subjects discussed. Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter art projects are carried out on a community basis.

It is perhaps too early to know what the results of the Hagerstown educational television project will be, but there can be little doubt of the great contribution made to the community by this dynamic little museum.

Washington County Museum hours are Tuesday-Saturday, 10-5; Sundays and holidays, 1-6; closed Mondays.


Leslie Judd Portner

Washington County Museum of Fine Arts


Collection Location:
Washington County Museum of Fine Arts

Washington Post, page E7

Washington County Museum of Fine Arts (Md.), Anniversaries, etc.; Washington County Museum of Fine Arts (Md.), History; Art museums, Maryland, Washington County, History; Hagerstown (Md.), history.

Washington County (Md.), 1928-2006

Western Maryland Regional Library
100 South Potomac Street
Hagerstown, Maryland 21740

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