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Arts

Taft Museum historic house reopens just in time for 200th anniversary

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Ryan Kurtz
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Taft Museum of Art

The Taft Museum of Art is celebrating the reopening of the historic house following a multi-million dollar infrastructure repair and upgrade project. The 200-year-old Lytle Place mansion closed a little under a year ago, though adjoining parts of the structure remained open during construction.

"The overall project was about $12.7 million. Before the pandemic it was $10.7 (million) and we paused and when we started the project up again, everything had gone up by 20% for obvious reasons," says Deborah Emont Scott, Louise Taft Semple president and CEO.

people with scissors cut a white ribbon while standing on the front portico of a mansion.
Tana Weingartner
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WVXU
Dignitaries cut the ribbon on the bicentennial infrastructure repair project at the Taft Museum of Art.

The renovations include upgraded fire and security systems, enhanced climate control systems, and a fortified foundation. Seventy percent of the historic wooden siding was preserved, as well as other work to windows, metal works and more.

Scott says there are still a few projects left to finish, such as installing an ADA accessible ramp along the front of the building.

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Courtesy
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Taft Museum of Art
Scaffolding going up at Taft Museum as infrastructure improvements began.

The museum is marking the 200th anniversary of the historic mansion with a bicentennial celebration, including tours, entertainment, and free admission on June 26. The museum itself is also celebrating 90 years of existence.

In addition to the infrastructure improvements, the museum has reinterpreted its collection, much of which was packed away during the work.

"We challenged ourselves with the question, 'How do we make a collection built in the early 20th century relevant to a diverse audience of the early 21st century?' " Scott says. "We reinterpreted the entire permanent collection, we quadrupled the number of extended labels that used to be present. We also added many 'more to the story' labels where we talk about class, gender issues, and social events that had an impact on the life of the time."

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Courtesy
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Taft Museum of Art
Stanton Millworks employees work on windows from the historic house.

"The museum also re-examined its archives (and) the museum provided the most up-to-date scholarly research and insight for the next generation of visitors," a release adds. "This included introducing a new digital interactive, Memoirs of a Mansion, providing access to educational resources previously unavailable to the public, and renaming and restructuring galleries to provide more inclusive information."

The reopening comes as longtime President and CEO Deborah Emont Scott prepares to retire at the end of the month. Her position will be filled by Lindsey NeCamp while the museum searches for a permanent replacement.

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Ryan Kurtz
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Taft Museum of Art
The Duncanson Murals in the foyer of the historic house.

The historic Duncanson murals adorning the home's entry hall were covered and monitored during the renovation.

Cincinnati artist Robert S. Duncanson is considered the most well-known African American artist of the Civil War era. The eight murals inside the Taft House were commissioned by one of the home's previous owners, Nicholas Longworth, whom the Cincinnati Art Museum says recognized and fostered Duncanson's talent. They're considered "the most significant pre–Civil War domestic murals in the United States," according to the Taft Museum of Art.

Duncanson Artist-in-Residence Ajanaé Dawkins spoke about the importance of Duncanson and his work during the ribbon cutting. She provided her remarks afterward to WVXU:

"When I first saw the Robert S. Duncanson murals, I was struck by their grandeur. As I was looking at them, I thought about Audre Lorde’s essay, Poetry is not a Luxury. I think about it in the context of Robert S. Duncanson and remember that art in general is not a luxury.

"As grand as all of this is, it is not a luxury. It is critical that we remember the American landscape as it was through the eyes of Black Americans. It is also critical that we allow this space to expand our imaginations.

"It is likely that Robert S. Duncanson’s mother, who we know was enslaved, could not imagine a world where her son would travel the world and leave his mark on history. She likely could not have imagined that he would have even been well compensated for his work or develop a friendship with someone like Nicholas Longworth.

"I hope that entering this space today challenges us all to think past the limitations of our current imaginations when we think about what is possible in the world we live in and how we can contribute to those possibilities."

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Courtesy
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Taft Museum of Art
A conservator checks one of the Duncanson murals.

The museum has a traditional collection with lots of European influences. The museum opened in the 1930s with works from the personal collection of Anna Sinton Taft and Charles Phelps Taft.