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Allentown Art Museum

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The Allentown Art Museum was established through a grassroots effort led by the teacher, painter, and critic Walter Emerson Baum (1886-1956). Founded and incorporated during the Great Depression (1934 and 1939, respectively), the Museum served the local community for 20 years in a city-owned Federal-style house, primarily exhibiting the works of area artists.

In 1960 and 1961, a gift of 53 Renaissance and Baroque paintings and sculptures from Samuel H. Kress (a native of nearby Cherryville, Pennsylvania) brought the Museum to a new level. The Kress gift stimulated community visionaries and Museum friends to purchase and refurbish a building suitable to house the new collection. The Museum stands on that location today.

In 1975, an expansion to the building was completed to enhance the Museum's programs and collecting plans. At the time, the Museum installed a room designed by Frank Lloyd Wright as part of its permanent collection.

The collection, still largely defined by European paintings in 1975, expanded with a large collection of textiles and another gift of works on paper. The 1978 acquisition of Gilbert Stuart's beguiling portrait of Ann Penn Allen, granddaughter of the founder of Allentown, set the benchmark for the qualitative standards of the collection. The Museum's goal, to develop an American collection parallel to the quality of the European collection, is one that the Museum is well on its way to achieving.

In 2010-2011, the Museum underwent renovation to include approximately 10,000 more square feet of gallery, storage, and public space. Another 25,000 square feet of existing facility was also refurbished.

Today, the Allentown Art Museum of the Lehigh Valley embraces the broadest possible audiences, offering tremendous variety and quality in our collections and exhibitions, educational and popular programs, and a busy calendar of public events. We serve over 100,000 participants annually, of whom more than 14,000 are children in school programs.

The Museum's collection of more than 17,000 works of art offers our community the opportunity to experience nearly 2,000 years of cultural heritage in an accessible and visitor-friendly environment.

While our magnificent permanent art collection is at the core of the educational mission of the Allentown Art Museum of the Lehigh Valley, the role of special exhibitions from elsewhere has become an important factor in recent years as a vehicle for reinvigorating membership and attendance. At the re-opening of the Museum in mid-October of 2011 we launched our special exhibition program with a timely and extraordinary exhibition of Renaissance and Baroque Old Masters that gave tribute to one of our greatest benefactors.

Shared Treasure: The Legacy of Samuel H. Kress was a fitting exhibit to launch the new, expanded Museum. Our first special exhibit of 2012 was the exciting Who Shot Rock & Roll: A Photographic History, 1955 to the Present, an exhibition of approximately 175 iconic photographic images of the legendary stars of the rock and roll era covering the past half century. Our big summer 2012 show attracted illustration and fantasy-art fans from across the country.

At the Edge: Art of the Fantastic was the largest assembly of original fantasy art ever brought together in the United States: from William Blake in the late eighteenth century to twentieth century comic book illustrators. Organized and curated by Patrick and Jeannie Wilshire, founders of IlluXCon, At the Edge included more than 150 original works of art, both historic and contemporary.

Currently, in the fall of 2012, we have in our upstairs galleries three engaging special exhibitions. The first is an important selection of early and later works by the Abstract Expressionist artist Franz Kline, who spent his childhood in the coal region just north of the Valley. Franz Kline: Coal and Steel, curated by Robert S. Mattison, illustrates how Kline was influenced by the industrial landscape. Walker Evans & The American Social Landscape Photographers includes Depression-era images of Easton, Bethlehem, and Phillipsburg, New Jersey, along with other photographs from the collection of Valley resident David Sestak.

Finally, in light-flooded Fowler Gallery, twenty-one select pieces from the Lerner Contemporary Glass Collection help celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Studio Glass in conjunction with the Art Alliance for Contemporary Glass. We also have scheduled a full calender of events around the special exhibits.

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