As with all renovations, there were minor hiccups and major inconveniences, but the nearly two-year $1.7 million renovation of East Tennessee State University’s Reece Museum is complete, and the museum will reopen Tuesday.
Museums are not only tasked with telling a story, but with preserving its artifacts. Though some of the changes won’t be apparent, the museum’s more than 20,000 artifacts will benefit from the new lighting system, improved temperature and humidity control and new windows that filter out damaging ultraviolet light.
The museum also is in a better position now to care for items on loan from other institutions, making it eligible for traveling exhibits it wouldn’t have qualified for in the past, museum director Teresa Hammons said.
One such exhibit is “IndiVisible: African-Native American Lives in the Americas” coming in November from the Smithsonian Institution Travelling Exhibit Service. The exhibit focuses on the history of Americans with a dual Native American-African heritage, and is just one example of the extended programming the museum will be able to offer.
Hammons said the building was last renovated in 1964, and some of the materials used then had to be taken out.
“In 1964 they used different materials. The floor tiles and ceilings were asbestos. They were torn out and replaced,” she said. “The new lighting system resulted in an electrical upgrade.”
Asked if there was an unexpected glitch, Hammons said it had to be the windows. “The building was built in 1920. Every single window was a different size, and the glass had to be custom made.”
It was important to maintain the integrity of the building, she said, which was built as a library when the single room in Gilbreath Hall no longer met needs. She had a privileged view of the structure during the renovation. “Once the building was gutted, you could see the original bones of the building. It was beautiful to see the building that way.”
The renovated building had to meet current fire and safety codes resulting in a new fire exit, an elevator, a new handicapped accessible entrance and an ADA-compliant restroom for those with disabilities.
Downstairs, an area that visitors seldom see, is an expanded storage area with museum-quality shelving and new art racks. “We’re very proud of our artwork,” Hammons said, adding the collection includes work by Mary Cassatt, Pablo Picasso, Rodin and Matisse. It also houses an extensive collection of works by John Alan Maxwell, an acclaimed artist who grew up on Locust Street in Johnson City.
The museum recently received “thousands of sketches of what we call ‘his lovelies,’ ” Hammons said, explaining they were drawings of “voluptuous women.” The sketches will be the focus of a future exhibit.
On Tuesday when the museum reopens, four exhibits will be on display: “We Shall Not Be Moved” from the Tennessee State Museum (see story, page 2E); “Vanishing Appalachia” with photographs by Don Dudenbostel and field recordings by Tom Jester, offering a look at aspects of Appalachian life that are dying: diners, cock fighting, the Ku Klux Klan, snake handling, moonshine and more; works by Bill Bledsoe, who was commissioned to do a series of 12 paintings of ETSU; and a multimedia exhibit on the early history of country music in the Tri-Cities.
The music exhibit contains footage that has never been published, including footage taped at homes and at festivals, Hammons said. It also represents a new direction for the museum — increased cooperation with departments at ETSU. “We worked with the Center for Appalachian Studies and Services and the bluegrass program,” she said. “We’re looking to the departments for exhibit ideas so we can bring or create exhibits they can use in the classroom.”
Summing up the renovation process, Hammons said, “We’re always trying to reach the next level. There’s always something to be done.”
Though the official grand opening won’t be held until November after students have returned for fall semester, a celebration will be held Saturday from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. with music by Appalachian ballad singer Katie Hoffman and stories from Leon Overbay.
New hours are: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday; 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Thursday; and 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday. Admission is free. There are three designated parking spots in front of the museum reserved strictly for museum patrons. Ask for a parking pass when you enter the museum.
For more information, call 439-4392.