Ocala's Appleton Museum marks milestone with silver celebration
Published: Saturday, December 15, 2012 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, December 14, 2012 at 4:07 p.m.
Twenty-five years ago, one man's dream came true. And Marion County has been basking in its afterglow ever since.
Appleton 25th Birthday Party
When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday
Where: Appleton Museum of Art, 4333 E. Silver Springs Blvd., Ocala
Info: 291-4455 or www.appleton
25 years of events
- Botswana Children's Art from Florida State University, 1991
- “Salvador Dali, Homage to the Great Masters: The Mythology Nouvelle,” 1994
- “Alumni and Staff Exhibition of the Florence Academy of Art,” 1996
- “Inuit Art: Prints and Carvings,” 1997
- “Piranesi Prints,” 1997
- “The Sculptor's Line: Henry Moore Prints and Maquettes from the William S. Fairfield Collections,” 1998
- “Remarkable Remains of the Ancient Peoples of Guatemala,” 1998
- “Portrait Photography from Hollywood's Golden Age,” 1998
- “ABCs of Pop Art: America, Britain, Canada — Major Artists and Their Legacy,” 2000
- “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” 2001
- “19th Century Masterworks,” 2001
- “French Realists from the Fontainebleau Forest,” 2001
- “Homage to Van Gogh: International Artists Pay Tribute to a Legend,” 2001
- “20th Century Masterworks from the Art Gallery of Ontario,” 2002
- “The Highwaymen,” 2002
- “Speak Softly and Carry a Beagle: The Art of Charles Schulz,” 2002
- “Rubens, Jordaens, Van Dyck, and Their Circle: Flemish Master Drawings from the Museum Boijmans van Bennigen,” 2002
- “Spanish Master Drawings from Dutch Collections,” 2004
- “Deborah Butterfield,” 2005
- “In the Studio of Paris: William Bouguereau & His American Students,” 2007
- “Diana Princess of Wales: Dresses for a Cause,” 2007
- “Art of the Chopper,” 2010
- “Katharine Hepburn: Dressed for Stage and Screen,” 2012
- “Sendak & Co.: Children's Book Illustrations Since ‘Where the Wild Things Are,' ” Nov. 18, 2012–Jan. 20, 2013
An avid collector, Chicago industrialist Arthur Appleton dreamed of a place to store the "stuff" he'd accumulated over a lifetime — as well as get it out of the house at his Bridlewood horse farm in north Marion County.
"I've always liked nice things," the usually interview-shy Appleton once told the Star-Banner.
Before it was over, the Appletons had given up their billiard room, half of their living room and had only a 10-foot clearance to watch TV in their Florida room.
His wife, Martha, had described the "clutter" in another interview: "I like things in their proper place, everything neat and tidy. It drove me up the wall, everything was so cluttered. There were even things in the linen closets."
Turns out, the "proper place" was the Appleton Museum of Art, which celebrates its silver anniversary this weekend.
While its actual 25th birthday was Thursday, the museum will host a free public party from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday.
"Since opening in December 1987, the Appleton Museum has provided the citizens of Central Florida with a world-class art collection, exceptional cultural experiences and countless educational programs," notes Cindi Morrison, who took hold of the reins as museum director just weeks ago, in the invite. Admission is free Sunday, allowing visitors to enjoy the special entertainment, as well as the museum's current and permanent exhibitions.
Then next week, after the face painting, magical illusions and party hats of a birthday celebration, the Appleton returns to its prime directive: being a cultural center.
"It's such a huge gift from the Appleton family," says James Henningsen, president of the College of Central Florida, which oversees the Appleton. "It's a treasure not only for Ocala, but for the entire state."
Today the Appleton boasts a collection of more than 18,000 pieces, though only about 1,300 are ever on display at any one time. Additionally, it's about to send its medieval Persian ceramic exhibit — one of the most complete collections of its kind — on the road early next year.
And the exhibits, primarily the core permanent collections, draw visits from Australia, Europe and South America.
"Every month I do a marketing report, and we find we have visitors from all over the southeast states and around the world," says Steve Specht, Appleton's marketing director.
Some of the most popular touring exhibits that have stopped at the Appleton: a Salvador Dali homage to the great masters in 1994; "How the Grinch Stole Christmas!" in 2001; "19th Century Masterworks" in 2001; "20th Century Masterworks" in 2002; the "Art of Charles Schulz" in 2002; a collection of Princess Diana's dresses in 2007; and a collection of Katharine Hepburn's clothing in 2011.
"We've got some great, world-class museums in the state," says Malinda Horton, executive director of the Florida Association of Museums. "And absolutely, the Appleton fits right in with them."
New director Morrison is determined the Appleton remains in that world-class category. Or better.
"I like challenges," she says. "Not that the Appleton is a challenge, but I like to put my stamp on any organization I work for."
First order of business is completing the accreditation process begun by her predecessor, Dr. James Lofgren. An inspection tour by a panel from the American Alliance of Museums is set for February.
"The AAM approval is like the Good Housekeeping seal of approval," Morrison says. "It tells other museums and organizations that we have the proper conditions, that any artwork we might borrow will be cared for properly and that we have the professionals to care for the work."
It also means the possibility of drawing "bigger, better" and more significant touring exhibits from other major museums.
Beyond that, it's her mission to attract more visitors to the museum. In recent years, only about 26,000 people visit annually. With a $1.9 million operating budget, that works out to about $73 per visitor.
"I'd like to see 100,000-plus," Morrison says. "I set the bar high.
"There's wonderful potential here to be something truly grand and I think Mr. Appleton had a fabulous idea of having this museum here. With over 300,000 people in this area alone, we should be seeing more of them come through the door."
In nearly five years as director of the Mulvane Art Museum at Washburn University in Topeka, Kan., Morrison boosted attendance from 35,000 per year to more than 90,000, she said; the year the Mulvane hosted a Lego exhibit, she said more than 130,000 people dropped in.
"If the experience we provide is very positive, they will come back," she says.
A child of Pennsylvania, Morrison is no stranger to Ocala; her parents own a winter home in nearby Beverly Hills, and she frequently visited them. Yet she never visited the Appleton on any of those trips.
"My father was not an art appreciator," she says.
Someone who does appreciate art is local artist Peggy Watts, who was on the advisory panel when the museum first opened.
"It's been wonderful having it," she says. "We're so far from the large cities."
Once an Appleton docent, Watts says she specialized in working with younger children on field trips to the museum.
"It's been great for school children," she says.
And that's another one of Morrison's goals: a greater emphasis on education and connecting with kids.
That is good news to Patti Griffiths, a retired Star-Banner editorial page editor who currently serves on the museum's advisory board.
"Once children understand, they get excited about museums," she says. "It doesn't stop."
When traveling with her granddaughters, Griffiths says, visiting museums always was on the itinerary. Now grown, the granddaughters still include museum stops in their travels.
"I think we'll see a lot more of this with Cindi," she adds.
A bit of history
Actually, the story of the museum begins in 1982, when Arthur Appleton offered to donate $8 million to build a museum to rival any other in the state at the time; he also planned to donate his collection of pre-Columbian artifacts, African art, antique textiles, Persian ceramics, Japanese sculpture, 18th and 19th century European paintings and so on to put into it.
With the city of Ocala's donation of 44 acres in eastern Ocala, work began on the structure in 1984. Some of the materials used to build the structure include 80,000 square feet of Travertine marble from Italy, 15,000 square feet of Capao Bonito granite from Bolivia and 44 teak doors, each nearly 9 feet tall.
At its formal opening, then-Gov. Bob Martinez hailed the Appleton as "a new source of cultural excitement."
"It is easy to overlook the arts, but it is a terrible oversight," Martinez added. "The arts are an essential element that define the spirit of the community."
Cathy Eiselt, a visitor that day with her son, described the experience as "like walking through a time machine in air-conditioned comfort, starting before Christ and extending until after Christ."
When it opened, the Appleton ranked among the larger museums in the state. Ten years later, Arthur Appleton's sister, Edith-Marie, donated another $2 million that was matched by the state for the construction of a 22,000-square-foot wing on the east side of the building.
To help capture state funding, the Appleton came under the joint control of Florida State University and Central Florida Community College, now called the College of Central Florida.
But in 2004, FSU began pulling out of the arrangement; currently, CF is overseeing the Appleton alone.
"It was like adding another campus," says Charles "Chick" Dassance, the retired CF president who wrangled the legalities — and practicalities — of the separation. "But it added an element of true uniqueness to the college."
It's a uniqueness Henningsen says CF is eager to use.
"We're increasing the number of classes that take advantage of the Appleton," he says. "It creates a more robust experience for our students."
Moreover, the college and museum are looking to more partnerships with the community itself, he adds.
Good, says Sara Dassance, president of Fine Arts for Ocala — which goes back even further than the museum: "One of my goals this year is to build all kinds of partnerships with other community organizations. And the Appleton is such a cool place."
The Appleton is one of 365 museums in Florida, according to FAM's Horton.
"They range from the teeny-tiny to the largest," she says.
They also cover a range of interests from aquariums to history, art to children's museums, and science to zoos.
Combined, Florida's museums draw more than 30 million visits annually, even in the slower times of recent years, she says.
"Times have been tough for all of them," Horton adds, "but I'm amazed at the ways they've come up with to survive."
But the Appleton has survived and, this weekend, is ready to party.
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