Arts and Entertainment

San Juan Islands Museum of Art opens in new location May 25

The San Juan Islands Museum of Art opens May 25 on the corner of First and West streets.  - Richard Walker
The San Juan Islands Museum of Art opens May 25 on the corner of First and West streets.
— image credit: Richard Walker

The San Juan Islands Museum of Art re-opens May 25 in the historic Brown House on the corner of West and First streets, Friday Harbor.

According to the National Park Service, the Brown House originated at Fort Bellingham in the 1850s and was disassembled and moved to American Camp during the joint military occupation of 1859-1872, where it served as an officers' quarters.

After the joint occupation ended, the house was moved to its current location, where it served a variety of commercial roles, from blacksmith shop to art gallery. The National Park plans to return the building to American Camp at some point.

But in the meantime, interim museum director Nina Pellar LeBaron has transformed the interior of the building into a space suitable for exhibits — airy, light, roomy, with some of the interior alterations that have been made over the years muted by her color palette and organization.

It was a delightful project for LeBaron, an architect with experience in historic preservation. As she embarked on the project in March, she explored nooks and crannies created during alterations in the building’s commercial life.

"It will look different,” she said at the time. “There will be new paint and a reorganization of space.”

She said she believes the building offers more square footage than the former Springtree Restaurant site, where the IMA was located until Dec, 31. The new site also allows IMA some time to get on a firm financial footing; IMA will occupy the site rent-free and will only pay for utilities.

“We are very appreciative and grateful for the generosity of Friday Harbor House owner Langdon Simons,” LeBaron said.

‘Museum Row’ on First Street
IMA was created Jan. 1 in the merger of Westcott Bay Institute for Art & Nature, which operated the museum and Westcott Bay Sculpture Park; and the Visual Arts Museum of San Juan County, which had proposed building an accredited art museum in the San Juans.

IMA’s move will create a sort of Museum Row on First Street, within walking distance from the ferry landing. Also on First Street: The American Legion military museum, which features artifacts related to the military service of islanders dating to the 1800s; and the Whale Museum, which is devoted to the study of marine mammals, particularly the endangered Southern resident killer whales.

Nearby are the San Juan Historical Museum, uptown on Price Street; and the San Juan Aviation Museum at Friday Harbor Airport.

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