Published: Jan 14, 2011
On Savannah's Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, just four hours south of the iconic civil rights leader's hometown, the SCAD Museum of Art is creating a home for one of the most significant collections of African American art at any museum in the United States. Just as Dr. King dreamed of uniting the country through peace and understanding, Savannah native and retired surgeon Dr. Walter O. Evans hopes to foster a greater awareness of and appreciation for the contributions of African Americans to the global art community through his donation to SCAD of major works by some of the greatest African American artists.
In the very spot from where Dr. Evans took his first train ride, and in what is the only surviving antebellum railroad station in the country, the $27 million expansion of the SCAD Museum of Art will include the creation of the Walter O. Evans Center for African American Studies, as well as space for all the collections and exhibitions of the museum. In the spirit of Dr. King's desire for people to embrace diverse cultures, works by Robert Duncanson, Edmonia Lewis, Romare Bearden, Jacob Lawrence and Richard Hunt, among others in Dr. Evans' collection, will share museum space alongside other SCAD collections, including photographs by Muybridge, Warhol and Leibovitz, paintings by van Dyck and Gainsborough; prints by Hogarth and Rauschenberg, studies by Picasso and De Kooning, and fashion by Chanel and Christian Dior - a true amalgam of nationalities, generations and artistic visions.
For Dr. Evans, the reasons to establish a permanent home in Savannah for his collection are deeply personal. The SCAD Museum of Art isn't just some museum on some street in some city. For decades, MLK Boulevard was known as West Broad Street, one of colonial Savannah's original streets from 1733. It later became the Harlem of the South, where jazz filled the streets on Saturday nights followed by the hymns and rhythms of church on Sunday. It's where fish frys and family reunions were community affairs - and it's where Dr. Evans grew up.
"My mother still lives here. Savannah is my home. I want children here to learn from my collection, to see themselves represented on gallery walls. I also envisioned my collection living at an institution that would not only respect and appreciate the works, but that would also create meaningful educational components around the works. I'm fortunate that such a place exists in Savannah: SCAD."
When Dr. Evans and his wife, Linda, approached SCAD in 2005 with the idea of donating some of their artistic and cultural treasures to the university, SCAD President Paula Wallace didn't hesitate. "I immediately said, 'yes, yes, yes.' It is not only a tremendous honor that Walter and Linda have entrusted SCAD with their cherished collection, but the opportunities for SCAD students, and students worldwide, to study such important and historical works of African American art is priceless."
In keeping with Dr. Evans' wishes and with SCAD's resolute commitment to arts education, the SCAD Museum of Art has been designed not merely for contemplation, but for study and creation. Film students will study Aaron Douglas's "Boy with a Toy Plane" to discover how the artist uses light to create character. Fashion students will study garments in the SCAD Costume Gallery to learn the secrets of couture handwork. Sculpture students will study Elizabeth Catlett's "Homage to Black Women Poets" to divine the miracle of 3-D design. SCAD students, local students and students from around the world will study and maybe even endeavor to transcend these great works.
Upon the expected fall 2011 completion of the restoration of the 1853 freight depot of the Central of Georgia Railroad, the new SCAD Museum of Art will feature an additional 65,000 square feet of gallery, museum and educational space, including the Evans Center, classrooms and a 250-seat theater. Additionally, there will be a landscaped courtyard, new sidewalks and an 86-foot-tall steel and glass lantern that will stand over a central atrium and a glass-walled gallery where there were once railroad tracks. Glass box enclosures over the original arches will add a contemporary design element while preserving the building's original footprint.
Currently, all of the historic brick walls are stabilized with steel beams and repointed by masons with historic mortar, concrete has been poured for most of both floors, the ground has been leveled, a metal roof covers the second floor, and work on the tower has begun. "It feels good to watch the progress of the museum expansion," said Dr. Evans, who regularly tours the construction site. "SCAD has a long history of restoring buildings carefully, meticulously, on time and on budget. I'm looking forward to seeing the finished museum."
So are the art aficionados across the world. From the Evans Center and SCAD's prominent collections to the building's design itself, the SCAD Museum of Art is poised to become one of the most important artistic and cultural centers in the country, a place that will supremely represent a multitudinous array of global artistry and imagination, vision and innovation, a place that Dr. King himself would be proud to visit.
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SCAD Museum of Art expansion at a glance
- Architects: Lord, Aeck & Sargent, Atlanta, Georgia; Neil Dawson, AIA, Savannah, Georgia
- Urban Designer: Sottile & Sottile, Savannah, Georgia
- Museum Consultant: Quenroe Associates, Boulder, Colorado
- Contractor: Carson Company, Savannah, Georgia
- Engineer: Newcomb & Boyd, Atlanta, Georgia
- Groundbreaking: January 2010
- Estimated Completion: September 2011
||17,000 sq. ft.
||65,000 sq. ft.
||82,000 sq. ft.
||5,100 sq. ft.
||16,300 sq. ft.
||21,400 sq. ft.
||1,100 sq. ft.
||4,250 sq. ft.
||5,350 sq. ft.