Colonial Williamsburg To Undertake $40 Million Dollar Expansion Of Its Art Museums

December 8, 2016

The first large-scale expansion and upgrade to the building that houses the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum and the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum since its opening in 1985 is slated to break ground in April 2017, marking the conclusion of a $40 million capital campaign announced two years ago. The project has been the primary capital priority of The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation’s $600 million Campaign for History and Citizenship. To date, all but $1.6 million has been raised, and the remaining amount is anticipated to be raised by the end of 2016. Both the Boards of Trustees for the Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg (as the two museums are collectively known) and the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation gave their final approvals of the expansion plans when they held their respective meetings on Nov. 17 and 19.
The Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg are home to internationally renowned collections of American folk art through the present day and to British and American fine and decorative arts from 1670-1840. The Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum, which will celebrate its 60th anniversary in 2017, is the oldest continuously operating institution in the United States dedicated solely to the collection, exhibition and preservation of American folk art. The DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum, which marked its 30th anniversary last year, features furniture, paintings, silver, numismatics, ceramics, tools, textiles, maps, weapons and other media. Combined, these diverse and extensive collections play critical roles in Colonial Williamsburg’s mission to inform and engage Americans in the dramatic story of their country’s founding.
“The Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg are the crown jewels of the foundation. The collections they house are the foundation upon which we tell America’s enduring story,” said Mitchell B. Reiss, president and CEO of The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. “We can now provide our guests a grand museum entrance worthy of the priceless artifacts they contain.”
When complete, the new wing will add 65,000 square-feet with a 22 percent increase in gallery space to the Art Museums, which will enable the Art Museums to show considerably more of their celebrated collections. It will also significantly improve public access to the building through a new visitor-friendly entrance on Nassau Street. This new entryway will replace a circuitous, partly-underground route with a tunnel and multiple stairs through the reconstructed Public Hospital of 1773, which was the first building in North America dedicated to treatment of the mentally ill.
Additional enhancements will include the following:
- A new lobby and orientation space overlooking the pastoral site of the John Custis House and Garden and a grand concourse that will provide access to both museums, which will improve visibility of the complex to guests approaching on foot from the Historic Area.
- Guest services, such as an expanded museum café and store, will move to lobby level, where they may be accessed without a ticket and will be bathed in natural light through new, expansive windows overlooking the picturesque Bicentennial Park. Car parking, including that for the mobility challenged, will also be considerably improved. In addition, the Colonial Williamsburg bus stop will move to the museum entry area from its current location near the intersection of Henry and Francis streets.
- Enhanced programming and activities to engage visitors.
- Space and equipment for efficient museum operations and exhibition presentations.
- New and upgraded mechanical and climate-control systems.
New York-based architectural firm Samuel Anderson Architects has been selected to design the expansion, construction for which is anticipated to take approximately 24 months to complete. In 2006, the same firm designed the space that now houses the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum when it moved from its previous location.
“Annual visitation to the Art Museums has been on the rise for several years, but that growth will accelerate with the creation of a more visible and guest-friendly entrance, expanded exhibition galleries and improved guest services,” said Ronald L. Hurst, the foundation’s Carlisle Humelsine chief curator and vice president for collections, conservation and museums. “The expansion means the creation of dedicated gallery spaces for fine art, costumes, archaeological artifacts, weapons, numismatics and a host of other materials that are now too rarely seen.”
Major gifts to the capital campaign for the Art Museums expansion have been pledged from across the country, proving that expanding the Art Museums is an important and essential component of fulfilling the foundation’s goals of strengthening and re-imagining its role in the 21st century as a leader in both historical preservation and history education. In addition to generous giving from Virginia residents, donations have been pledged by supporters of the Art Museums in California, Texas, Nebraska, Wyoming, Oklahoma, Minnesota, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, the District of Columbia, Maryland, New Jersey, New York and Massachusetts.
“Colonial Williamsburg is a place that grounds us in the principles that have sustained us as a nation for more than 240 years, and our world-class Art Museums—unparalleled in their collections, exhibitions, and programming—are critical to telling our unique American story,” said Steve Miller, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation trustee and campaign chairman. “The Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg will soon take their rightfully prominent place in the Williamsburg landscape, and we are thrilled.”
To see a brief video of the expansion plans, please visit
Image courtesy of the Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg.


More Articles