The Hoxie Gallery: A History
One does not have to look far in Westerly to find a concert, theatre production, museum, or gallery exhibit. And, if you didn’t already know, Westerly Library has one of the premiere art galleries in the state. It has for over a century.
Believing that the building should fulfill its purpose as a museum, Mrs. Wilcox offered the Memorial and Library Association an addition, to be built in the northwest corner of the original building, which would house the Wilcox’s art collection. The Trustees agreed, as long as the addition included extra shelving for the library’s growing collection.
The addition opened on January 30th, 1902. The Westerly Sun described it in stunning detail: "The art room itself is 40 feet by 26 feet. The floor is of hard wood, highly polished and waxed. The walls of the room are covered with velvet velour, which forms a background for the pictures. In the day time, the room is lighted by means of overhead skylights, and in the evening 100 incandescent lights, with a large reflector." Miss Sallie Coy remarked that it was “like a room out of the Arabian nights”. The gallery displayed twenty-nine of the Wilcox’s paintings, including works by Jasper Cropsey, Arthur Fitzwilliam Tait, and Léon Perrault. It appears that stack room was initially one level, as it was not until early 1906 that the steel stacks were completed and the glass floor and stairway were installed. The gymnasium, below, was also enlarged through this addition.
Nearly thirty years later, Mrs. Wilcox’s nephew, William D. Hoxie, commissioned the plans for a second addition. Constructed in 1928, this new wing contained a new Children’s Room with an art gallery above and museum below. The former art gallery has now become a stack room for books, doubling the library’s storage capacity.
The Hoxie Gallery largely remains as it was designed: a 16-foot vaulted, backlit ceiling, with Spanish cork floor, and oak wainscoting. Originally, the gallery featured the Wilcox art collection that was displayed in the 1902 addition, but in the 1960’s renovation these pieces were moved to other areas of the building. The original skylight was closed and the plaster gallery walls were covered with beige linen. A series of hanging wooden panels accommodated changing exhibitions, including traveling shows from the Smithsonian Institution.
The 1970s and 80s saw a wide variety of artistic and historical exhibits, including a major exhibit on Westerly granite, quilts from local collections, and a special bicentennial exhibit entitled “Aunt Lydia’s Parlor,” featuring 19th-century fine and decorative art from the library’s and other collections.
Libraries are always working hard to create ways to support the arts and enrich their community’s through the library, and Westerly Library is no exception. Our Hoxie Gallery has ever-changing exhibits featuring the works of local artists and cooperative groups, all of which are free and open to the public. Be sure to stop by – I assure you, you will not be disappointed.
by Brigitte Hopkins, Executive Director