T. W. Wood, recently widowed and childless, made plans to leave a collection of paintings to the people of Montpelier, but it became more complicated than he or anyone else could have imagined.
In 1889, a large sum of money had been left to the city on the death of Martin and Fannie Kellogg, $300,000 of which was to be used for the erection of a public library. Fannie's nephew, John Hubbard, contested his aunt's will, feeling that she had been in no condition to sign the document and indeed, he found witnesses that agreed with him. The court declared the Kellogg will null and void and Hubbard became the sole heir of the Kellogg fortune.A suit was filed to contest the court's decision and just before it was to go to the Vermont Supreme Court, a compromise was reached. Hubbard agreed to spend $30,000 on the construction of a library with an additional endowment to be paid at the completion
of the project if the city would relinquish its claim on the estate and the library. In addition, the library upon completion was to be turned over to the Montpelier Public Library Association (MPLA) and Hubbard was to be one of the trustees. While this compromise was accepted by the MPLA, it created great divisiveness within the community.
While the library was under construction, T. W. Wood published an open letter to the MPLA in the local paper offering to donate his works of art to the newly organized YMCA provided that the MPLA keep their collection of books there as well. A proposition was sent to the MPLA stockholders by several of the trustees in favor of Wood's proposal. After much public discussion and still more divisive sentiment within the community, Wood's proposal was accepted and on August 8, 1895, the Wood Gallery of Art was created by a deed of gift in trust of forty-two paintings, watercolors and etchings for the city of Montpelier.
Given that Montpelier was such a small, fairly insular city, the controversy would not die. The Kellogg-Hubbard Library was built while the YMCA, MPLA and the Wood Art Gallery were housed on one floor in the Vermont Mutual Insurance Company building on State Street. Both institutions applied to the City for funding and both were turned down. The MPLA threatened to send its books to the Kellogg-Hubbard, but this was stopped by an injunction.
In 1896, Wood's friend Professor John W. Burgess felt that the Gallery and MPLA and YMCA deserved their own building. Professor Burgess who taught at Columbia College, was a summer resident of Montpelier living at Redstone, and was married to Montpelier native Ruth Payne a student of Wood. Burgess financed the purchase of property on State Street (part of the site of today's Capitol Plaza), renovated the existing building and added a fireproof addition. The Gallery had its opening reception in its new building on July 27, 1897. The controversy finally died and in 1899 the MPLA moved its books into the Kellogg-Hubbard, leaving the Gallery and the YMCA in their shared space.
The original gift of forty-two works of art began to grow almost immediately. Soon Wood donated more of his work including copies of many of the Great Masters which Wood had painted for the edification of his fellow Vermonters. His friendships with other artists of his day were reflected in gifts from Frederick S. Church, Asher B. Durand, William Beard, J. G. Brown and many others. Upon Wood's death in 1903, the bulk of his estate and work were left to the Gallery.
The Gallery became a Montpelier landmark, the controversy if not forgotten, confined to a historical curiosity. Following the Great Depression the Gallery was chosen as the only official Vermont repository for the artwork from the Works Progress Administration (WPA) although some WPA work is at other locations in the state. The date of this acquisition is uncertain, but it was most likely sometime shortly after the end of the Second World War. In 1948, the Kellogg-Hubbard Library approached the Gallery with the desire to join the two cultural enterprises of the city into one building. In 1953 the Gallery moved into its new location on the upper story of the library and changed its name to the T. W. Wood Art Gallery. This is a time that is fondly remembered by many in the community. Several generations enjoyed having the entities under one roof for the esthetics and convenience the arrangement provided. The arrangement was a successful one for years until the expanding needs of both institutions indicated a need for change.
In 1985, Vermont College/Norwich University invited the Gallery to move into College Hall where the Gallery changed its name once again to the T.W. Wood Gallery & Vermont College Arts Center. This name change turned out to be fairly brief and the name T. W. Wood Gallery & Arts Center came in to use and is used to this day.
In addition to hosting Vermont College's Master of Fine Art-Visual twice a year, the permanent collection is stored and presented along with changing exhibitions of contemporary art. The Gallery also provides a venue for concerts, lectures and a variety of events while continuing to maintain Vermont's artistic heritage and presenting the finest in the visual arts today.
Joyce Mandeville, the Executive Director of the T. W. Wood Gallery for twelve years, came to the Gallery after almost a decade of writing literary fiction. During her writing years she lived in England, traveled extensively in Europe where she haunted museums, galleries and stately homes. When she returned to the States in 2000, working in a gallery was a natural fit. She lives in East Hardwick where she pursues her passion for hiking, snow-shoeing and sailing.
For a link to the 1913 catalog of works in the Wood Collection (free on Google Books), click here .
|Thomas Waterman Wood, Self Portrait, 1884, Oil on canvas, 30" x 24"|
|Thomas Waterman Wood, The Quack Doctor, 1897, Oil on canvas, 28" x 40"|
|Thomas Waterman Wood, Montpelier, 1855, Oil on canvas, 14" x 9.5"|
|The Painting Gallery, 1897|
|Thomas Waterman Wood, View of Main Street, 1875, Oil on canvas, 48" x 24"|