Sam Hill was an entrepreneur and a dreamer, and was also quite rich. This allowed him, in 1907, to purchase 6,000 acres of land in the east end of the Columbia Gorge in the state of Washington to follow his dream of establishing a town and a Quaker farming community. At first his grapes, apples and peaches did well, but few settlers came. His farming dream soon withered like the grass on the parched, dry slopes that surrounded the spot where he chose to build his home.
With the fading of his agricultural dreams, his friend Loie Fuller, an acclaimed Folies Bergere dancer, convinced him to turn his mansion, a castle-like chateau overlooking the Columbia River, into a museum of art. Through Fuller’s alliances in Parisian art circles, Hill acquired a collection of original Auguste Rodin sculptures that are now on display at the Maryhill Museum of Art.
As the museum continued to grow, several eclectic permanent displays were added such as the Native People of North America, an International Chess Set collection, and the Theatre de la Mode Miniature French Fashions of 1946. The Loie Fuller, Sam Hill and Maryhill Galleries display significant paintings by American and European artists, and additional sculptures dot the outdoor gardens.
After Hill’s death in 1931, another friend, Alma Spreckels of the San Francisco sugar family, took the helm and as its principal benefactor, donated much of her personal art collection and finished the museum, opening it to the public in 1940 on Sam Hill’s birthdate.
The museum sits amid 26 acres of gardens 100 miles east of Portland on Washington’s scenic Route 14, the Lewis and Clark trail, just west of Biggs Bridge in Goldendale. It is open March 15 through November 15, daily, from 9am-5pm. Maryhill has earned the highest honor a museum can receive: accreditation by the American Association of Museums.
Maryhill Museum of Art, (509) 773-3733, www.maryhillmuseum.org