Seventy-five years after opening for the first time, Winter Park’s Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art will celebrate all of February.
The Morse Museum, which holds the world’s most comprehensive collection of works by Louis Comfort Tiffany, has a number of celebratory installments planned for its anniversary.
February will bring a whole month of free admission as well as a 75th anniversary exhibit, a new cellphone audio tour and a free champagne reception on the evening of Feb. 17.
The 75th anniversary exhibit, which includes a wide variety art, aims to show the original emphasis and commitment of the museum, which was to connect the community with the arts, said Laurence Ruggiero, the director of the Morse Museum for over 20 years.
“It’s a reflection of the founders’ belief that all art deserves a sincere consideration and has the capacity to improve your life,” Ruggiero said.
The cellphone audio tour involves dialing a number and listening to different narrations about pieces around the museum. Previously, the tour was only available in Laurelton Hall, but it has been expanded museum-wide and now includes 40 objects.
The updated cellphone audio tour will begin on Feb.1.
Jeannette Genius McKean, the granddaughter of Winter Park philanthropist Charles Hosmer Morse, founded the Morse Museum. The collection began modestly in the early 1940s with objects that Jeannette and her husband, Hugh, brought from their homes.
In the 1950s, Jeannette held one of the world’s first exhibits of Tiffany’s work, which sparked the interest of one of Tiffany’s daughters who then helped them gain more of Tiffany’s artwork. They spent the next 30 years collecting Tiffany material.
“Eventually it became a premiere collection of Tiffany,” Ruggiero said. “Which gave [the museum] an international role and a national significance.”
The museum has grown, changed and developed its collection and physical structure since its doors opened on Feb. 17, 1942 as a small installation on Rollins College campus.
In the 1990s, the museum was moved to its current location on Park Avenue. Since then, it has expanded in order to include the Tiffany Chapel and the Laurelton Hall wing, which uses art and architecture to construct a small recreation of Tiffany’s Long Island home.
Although Ruggiero compared choosing the museum’s must-see pieces to trying to choose your favorite children, he thinks that the most visually and emotionally unique experience that the museum has to offer is the Tiffany Chapel, because it is its own environment and is something that can’t be seen anywhere else.
“It’s like stepping into the inside of a jewel box,” Ruggiero said. “You’re completely surrounded by this thing.”
With more space for exhibition, there are now more items on display. When the Park Avenue location first opened, visitors could see everything in an hour, according to Ruggiero. Now it takes a couple hours.
“That’s good not only because it provides people an opportunity to see more of these things, but it also establishes a gravity or resonance to what you see,” Ruggiero said.
Like the amount of items on display, the number of visitors to the museum has also spiked, according to Catherine Hinman, director of public affairs.
In 1994, the museum had 18,382 visitors. In 2016, there were 71,810 visitors, which is almost a 300 percent increase.
Guests from all around the world come to see the collection, Hinman said. The funny thing is that many residents of Winter Park aren’t aware of what’s in their own backyard.
With the 75th anniversary, Ruggiero and Hinman hope to reconnect with the community. They hope to show the public that the items at the Morse Museum are like their own private collection.
On Friday, Feb. 17, the museum’s anniversary date, the public is invited to a free champagne reception from 5 to 7:30 p.m.
“We want people to come often and embrace this collection and learn about it,” Hinman said.