The Dayton Art Institute
By Jud Yalkut
Ever since benefactor Julia Shaw Carnell funded the 1930 building project for the magnificent museum structure on the hill overlooking the city across the Great Miami River, it has been a treasured landmark for the Miami Valley area as well as a timeless cultural icon. The building was designed in an Italian Renaissance style by the architectural firm of Edward B. Green and Sons of Buffalo, New York, known for their design of Buffalo’s Albright-Knox Art Gallery and the Toledo Museum of Art in Ohio.
Inspiration came from an amalgam of ideas about the Villa Farnese at Caprarola, designed by Giacomo da Vignola, whose staircase is reverently duplicated by the institute’s grand double staircase down to Riverview Avenue.
Dayton photographer Jane Reese, who lived and worked adjacent to Riverview Avenue, observed that Mrs. Carnell was a saint who opened “the door of heaven to many people of this city!” The New York Times of the era referred to its site as a “little acropolis” and called the building “one of the most significant examples of Renaissance design in this country.”
A 1987 Master Facilities Plan called for new galleries for the now burgeoning collection and a temporary exhibition wing, after the lamented demise of the Institute’s Art School program, but no action was taken until 1992 when the Board of trustees and then new Director Alex Nyerges engaged the architectural firm of Levin Porter Associates. This resulted in the completion of the original conception for the Institute of an octagonal structure, completing Green’s original plan, with two new wings and a magnificent central rotunda accented by the swerving and sensual ironwork railings of Dayton sculptor Hamilton Dixon.
Key to the ambiance of the Institute were the two Cloisters, now with the Contemporary Gallery looking out through refurbished wrought-iron grills to the open air Italian Cloister, and the now beautifully glass-ceilinged Shaw Gothic Cloister accessible through the Medieval European galleries, with the original stonework of the arches being restored. But as any venerable structure over the years requires care and special attention to preserve its look and amenities, a welcome influx of grants have now been offered to renew the Institute’s complex and its necessary attention to detail.
Much needed building repairs will be enabled by a generous grant of $45,000 from The Dayton Foundation, who requested that DAI consider its long-term strategic needs and “prepare a letter that would help the new leadership team of Executive Director Michael Roediger and Associate Director Jane Black begin with a solid foundation.” Being respectful of coming events, Black noted that the museum intends on “moving forward with repairs that protect our incredible collection and return items to the galleries that have been taken off view.”
Roediger also sees this as assisting in “new, innovative programs and exhibitions being planned for DAI.” There are also requests for repairs to plaster damages in some galleries due to roof leaks, including leaks to a lower gallery caused by drainage issues in the Italian Cloister. A $75,000 challenge grant from the Berry Family Foundation will also help with repairs, and Roediger adds: “the Rip and Denise Hale Family have made a gift to help restore the Italian Cloister.”
All of this is really good news for the DAI. But even with the recent news that so many resources have become available to help with the restoration process, the DAI has still more aspirations for repair work in the future, including upgrading the parking lot, reworking the front steps and the front doors, restoring the steps of the Grand Staircase that dominates the hillside view of the Institute and restoring the chapel ceiling-entrance to the Italian Cloister. Fortunately, a generous gift from the Virginia W. Kettering Foundation has enabled the beginning of work on the copper roof and the repair of a number of skylight leaks and ceiling damages as well.
These accomplishments and further aspirations collectively come together to form a renewal program titled “Community Investment: A new day, a new dawn, your new DAI.” Donations towards the cause will be matched dollar for dollar by the Berry grant
(Anyone wishing to donate towards the “Community Investment” program should contact DAI’s Development Department at (937) 223-5277, extension 239, or online at www.daytonartinstitute.org/annualfund.)
Reach DCP visual art critic Jud Yalkut at JudYalkut@DaytonCityPaper.com.