Article & Photos by
Delaware often gets overshadowed by her flashy big neighbors
the mega-metropolis' of Washington D.C., Philadelphia and New
but don't be fooled, it's no sleepy hollow. Delaware is a feisty,
independent little state with a vibrant art scene.
And the arts are anchored by three top-class institutions, the
excellent Delaware Art Museum (DAM), the edgy and innovative Delaware
Center for the Contemporary Arts (dcca) in the big northern city of
Wilmington and the charming Biggs Museum of American Arts in the
heritage park of the capitol, Dover.
Chihuly Bridge in the Delaware Art Museum
DAM has just celebrated it's 100th birthday
and contrary to it's name, the museum is not owned by the state. It is a
private, non-profit organization which shares it's treasures within,
hosts workshops in it's studios and extends outreach programs throughout
the state for all Delawareans. While it has an impressive collection,
it's mostly known for it's collection of British Pre-Raphaelite art,
works by renown Delaware artist Howard Pyle and other American
illustrators. In fact, DAM was built on the foundation of a collection
of 100 Howard Pyle paintings back in 1912. But it's not just a
collection of art on show type museum. It is holds arts-related events
like Art After Dark on Friday nights, has a delightful sculpture garden
and offers highly regarded workshops in separate studios. Their calendar
is full and locals are spoiled for choice.
Crying Giant in the sculpture garden, DE art museum
It reaches out to the more rural areas with innovative programs like the
pop up campaign throughout the state. They made life size copies of some
of the museum's most popular paintings and put them in outdoor locations
for the summer. The reproductions were so good lots of people got
worried the weather would damage the artwork regardless how much the
museum said they were copies. It proved a very popular program, fans
traveled the state in search of them, took photos of themselves next to
the copies and posted them on the museum's facebook page.
Pottery studio for workshops at the DE art museum
Their slogan could easily be 'there's always something interesting
happening at the DAM.' There is no stuffy,
feel to this friendly art museum with approachable staff and a relaxed
atmosphere. The ambiance is enhanced by the location of the museum in a
quiet, historic and elegant neighborhood.
Mermaid - by Howard Pyle being put in place in Milford for the
ART is Everywhere program by DE Art Museum
The dcca (they like to use lower case) on the other hand is located in
the inner city, part of the newly revitalized river front area. They
first appeared on the Wilmington art scene 35 years ago. They moved
locations a bit to start with before settling in to their present
location, an old tram carriage factory. It has loads of character, think
industrial chic, and makes for a fabulous art center.
Delaware Center for Contemporary Art housed in an old factory in
Unlike a traditional museum, the center has no permanent collection and
entrance is free. And you'll want to go as often as possible - they
change exhibits in all the galleries regularly offering as many as 30
exhibits a year. They have 7 galleries, 26 artists studio's upstairs, an
auditorium, class room and a small museum shop. One of the 7 galleries
is reserved for the studio artists showing the work of two artists each
Entrances to 2 galleries in dcca from the foyer... note the
They are part of the Wilmington First Friday Art Loop when new exhibits
are launched and the artists studio's are open to the public. Special
events are held throughout the month. The art is contemporary, edgy and
exciting but it is not intimidating. The whole atmosphere is relaxed and
welcoming. It's always a hive of activity offering new wonders.
artist in residence set up work space in a gallery dcca
Dover, the capitol, is located in the middle of the state and boasts a
delightful heritage park housing the state's government buildings,
without a doubt one of the prettier capitols in the nation. The Biggs
Museum of American Art sits right in the middle of this historic park.
It was founded 20 years ago by Sewell C. Biggs but recently was in need
of expansion and spiffing up. In 2012 a series of happy events allowed
dreams to come true and led to 'The New Biggs Capital Campaign.' Their
- they couldn't have chosen a better word. It is a little gem. The Biggs
launched a $1.7 million campaign to expand and renovate. Ryan Grover,
the curator for the past 10 years,described the process as
raised a little and did some construction, raised some more, constructed
with the promise never to close the museum during renovation. They are
justifiably proud they will complete the project a year early. They
aimed for energy efficiency and used sustainable flooring, plus they can
boast to be one of the first institutions in the country to install
L.E.D. lighting throughout the building.
of color on walls highlights various exhibits, in this case the
original staircase Biggs Museum of American Art
The three floors are a treasure trove of Delaware history ranging from
period furniture to modern art by the likes of renown local painter,
Jack Lewis, all arranged with strategically placed bright colored walls
and good lightening. The first floor is reserved for their revolving
exhibits with the second and third floors housing their permanent
collection. Upstairs the display meanders through small rooms in to
larger ones and then off around the corner in to another hallway. It's a
bit like wandering through a large grand estate house in England. They
like to mix it up and keep things lively by interweaving exhibits, such
as the Award Winners show, amongst the permanent collection. This mix
could have a modern folk art piece of sculpture happily nestled next to
a period portrait painting. The blend is exciting and intriguing.
Period furniture and carefully researched wall paper
Biggs Museum of American Art
Events and workshops are part of their yearly calendar and recently the
artists and artisans of Delaware by Hand joined forces with the Biggs.
Don't drive by Dover heading to the beaches this summer, be sure to stop
and visit the little gem. Then explore more of the excellent arts in
towns like Milford and Rehoboth Beach. You will not be disappointed.
walls carefully placed to highlight the collection Biggs Museum
of American Art
The arts are a fast growing industry in Delaware, and not just in the
metropolitan area of Wilmington. The growth can be evidenced by large
number of self-employed artists from musicians, dancers, painters and
theater groups settling in the burgeoning art towns like Milford or
Rehoboth Beach downstate.
These three institutions: the Delaware Art Museum, the Delaware Center
for the Contemporary Arts and the Biggs Museum of American Art, strongly
supported and encouraged by the state through the cheerleading Delaware
Division of the Arts, lead the charge to make Delaware not just the
First State, but the First State of the Arts.
Biggs Museum of American Art in Dover
For more about
Delaware see Renee's Route