Samuel Hill purchased 5300 acres along the Columbia river with the idea that if he built it, they would come. The problem was that the acreage was so out in the middle of nowhere, even though it was along the river. It just didn’t catch on.
He built a mansion in the middle of this community for his family. The project was not a success. In 1917, the construction was stopped. In 1926, the mansion was dedicated as an art museum. It was named Maryhill, after his daughter. Samuel Hill died in 1931, the museum was still unfinished.
Alma de Bretteville Spreckels took up the mantle and in 1940 the museum opened to the public. It’s the most bizarre and isolated museum (maybe in the whole world). It’s bizarre because it’s out in the middle of nowhere and the Hills had some amazing connections.
As you walk into the museum, the first thing you see is beautiful, gold, carved wood furnishings. This large collection is furnishings and other items, including a crown replica, from Queen Marie of Romania. She came to dedicate the museum and donated many items to get the museum up and running.
Upstairs is Theatre de la Mode. In the mid 1940’s, fabric was a prized commodity so fashion designers created their collections in miniature. The outfits were displayed on little wire dolls (about 1/3 human size). Once the “dolls” were no longer needed, they were saved by Alma who wanted them for the museum.
Head to the basement for a large collection of Native American items. I was so impressed and drawn into the exhibit that I completely forgot to take pictures. The collection has items from tribes stretching from Eskimos to the Navajo and both coasts. The history in the room makes you breathless. I was just amazed at the variety. My husband said there were only so many baskets he could look at. For me, I was just stunned by how they could take one item (a basket) and give it so many purposes with just little alterations here and there. The genius behind the designs was so impressive. And the continuity from tribe to tribe. In my heart, I know that learning to replicate those techniques will become invaluable some day.
On the other side of the basement is a collection of Rodin sculptures. It was Loie Fuller that convinced Samuel Hill to turn his home into a museum. She was actively involved in the theatre in Paris. She was, also, good friends with Auguste Rodin. For those unfamiliar with his name, you may know his most famous work – The Thinker (sculpture).
Between the large exhibits are rooms of local artists and their works. There’s even a room for children to leave behind their own art.
Now, while the museum is awesome, there was one thing we really didn’t want to miss.
In 1918, Samuel Hill had a replica of Stonehenge built out in the middle of nowhere – miles from the museum. In 1929, it was dedicated to 14 young men who died in WWI. When Samuel Hill passed away, his cremated remains were buried nearby overlooking the river.
This was my third visit to Maryhill and I think the visit I got the most out of. When I was younger, it was cool but I never gave much thought to what it all meant. Now that I am older, and much wiser, I found myself shocked by how moved I was. The whole project has a sort of magical element. While I know more now, it’s still just as magical.
If you find yourself along the Columbia River (either side) stop over and spend some time at Maryhill. There is a charge for the museum but not to wander the grounds or to see the memorials. There is another newer memorial that we skipped because we had already been there for quite some time.
For more information, stop by the Maryhill Museum of Art website.