Friday, November 9, 2012
What in the Sam Hill?
It was June 1968. I was headed for Portland where it was my intention to complete and defend my thesis. I had the entire family along. They deserved a couple of months in the great Northwest!
We were traveling along US 30/I-80N, now I-84, in Eastern Oregon. Standing on the escarpment on the other side of the Columbia River was a solitary building, quite large and completely out of place, for the land was totally barren, nothing for miles around. This necessitated a side-trip. Fortunately, there was a nearby bridge spanning the river.
What we found when we arrived at the site of the building was not to be expected, for we had never heard of Maryhill Museum of Art.
Samuel Hill was born in the South, but his parents relocated the family to Minneapolis when Sam was a child. Following graduation from college and his study of law at Harvard, Hill returned to Minneapolis to practice. He became law clerk and advisor to the president of the Great Northern Railway. Sam married the boss's daughter. They had two children, a daughter, Mary, and a son, James.
Sam Hill became president of Seattle Gas and Electric and moved to that city. He experienced great business and social success in Washington State. Among many other activities, he became president of the Washington State Good Roads Association. He was instrumental in the development of the Columbia River Gorge Highway.
Ultimately he purchased a large tract of land and determined to build a town and a home for himself along the river. Unfortunately, lack of irrigation pretty much doomed the plan and though he had constructed a mansion, it was never lived in. He called the place Maryhill after his daughter.
A friend of Hill, Loie Fuller, persuaded him to turn the place into a museum. He donated his own art collection and started acquisitions of other fine art. In 1926, Queen Marie of Romania, at Sam's invitation, visited and dedicated the museum in a ceremony that drew two thousand visitors. The museum did not actually open to the public until 1940.1
We were frankly astounded at the fantastic collections housed in this museum. I am sure that many acquisitions have been made since our visit. Traveling and "on loan" exhibits are a part of the offering, but there are numerous wonderful permanent exhibits. There is an astonishing display of the works of Rodin which includes sculptures and drawings. My personal favorite was the collection of chess sets which required a room of its own. The daughters, who were nine and eleven years of age at the time were quite impressed with the doll collection. In fact, so were both parents, because it was staggering, indeed. The link in the footnotes will give you a better insight into this great place.
I am truly thankful that we took the time to climb the face of that hill (in the car, of course) to find out what was "up there." If you are ever within an hour or two of the place, be sure to make the drive up that hill. Maryhill, that is!
Sam Hill 1857 - 1931 RIP
1Maryhill Museum of Art website