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Westervelt-Warner Museum of American Art

Nancy Callahan, Tuscaloosa, Alabama
The Westervelt-Warner Museum of American Art in Tuscaloosa houses the private collection of Jonathan "Jack" Westervelt Warner (1917- ), a philanthropist and retired board chairman of Gulf States Paper Corporation. Considered by leading American art critics to be one of the top two private collections of American art in the world, it is also regarded as the most noteworthy private assemblage of American art available for public viewing.
Westervelt Warner Museum of American Art
During a 40-year period, Warner acquired works by the most notable names in the history of American art. Warner made his first auction purchases in 1970, acquiring several Native American portraits by Charles Bird King (1785-1862), the first American artist to specialize in portraying Native Americans. Those acquisitions awakened a love of art in Warner. Since that time, he has steadily built his collection, with study, hard work, and passion.
The artists range from Thomas Cole, founder of the Hudson River School art movement, to American Impressionist Mary Cassatt, the first female American artist to achieve international acclaim. Others represented are John Singer Sargeant, Winslow Homer, James McNeill Whistler, Alfred Jacob Miller, William Merritt Chase, and Paul Revere. Also on exhibit are sculptures, including pieces depicting the plight of Native Americans; religious works by Hiram Powers; and a bust of Martin Luther King Jr. by Ed Dwight, the first African American chosen for the nation's astronaut program. It also houses one of the largest groupings of William Aiken Walker scenes of the South during Reconstruction.
Other museum holdings include objects d'art, such as a complete set of Tucker china from the first china factory in this country, in Philadelphia, from the late 1820s. The 400-plus pieces are displayed in a home-style atmosphere amidst nineteenth-century furniture, including pieces by Duncan Phyffe, a Scottish cabinetmaker who, as a young man, set up shop in New York City and emerged as the most important furniture maker of his time. A Philadelphia Federal-style secretary-bookcase, circa 1800, discovered in a barn in Argentina and purchased by Warner over the telephone, is also on display.
Jonathan Westervelt Warner
Because of Warner's penchant for early American history, most of the works are from the nineteenth century. He especially enjoys art pertaining to George Washington, the Dutch settlement of the Hudson River Valley, Manifest Destiny and the push West, Native American history, and the American Civil War. Twentieth-century American art is also represented, with works from New York's "Ash Can" School, including paintings by George Luks; "Regionalist" Thomas Hart Benton; American Realist Jamie Wyeth; and Tuscaloosa's Evan Wilson, the youngest artist whose work is shown.
Until the museum was opened, Warner displayed his art in a variety of places: his home, the Gulf States International Headquarters, the President's Mansion at the University of Alabama, the University Club in downtown Tuscaloosa, and the Mildred Warner Home. The latter structure was formerly the Washington Moody Home (1822), which Warner owned for a span and renamed in memory of his mother, Mildred Westervelt Warner. In 1938, she became Gulf States president, one of the first women in the United States to head a large corporation. The Westervelt family had established the company in Tuscaloosa in 1928. In 2002, the Jack Warner Foundation purchased a former utilities conference building overlooking Lake Tuscaloosa, at the North River Yacht Club, and Warner placed much of his collection there and opened it to the public.
In the fall of 2007, Warner forged a relationship with the Tuscaloosa city and county schools to enable every fourth grader to see the museum free of charge. Museum staffers visit fourth grade classes in advance of the tours to prepare students for the museum experience. Local 10th-grade school groups and others from outlying counties also visit the museum.
Westervelt-Warner Museum of American Art
Individuals may purchase a yearly membership, which enables them to visit the museum any time that it is open and to attend other special museum events. Corporate memberships also are available. Often, museum tours are packaged with walks through Warner's nearby home and gardens, "Whispering Cliffs." The Warner home features more of his collection, including works by naturalist John James Audubon (1785-1851), famed for his paintings and prints of North American birds, and Maxfield Parrish (1870-1966), an illustrator who garnered international acclaim for his dream-like, fairy-tale paintings used in magazines and advertisements. The eight-acre gardens surrounding the Warner home emphasize his preference for Japanese botanical arrangements and also feature alfresco sculptures, altars, crosses, stone steps, and walls suggesting a feel for an Old West Spanish mission.
The museum has hosted visitors from all over the world, including art critics, students, historians, writers, political and business leaders visiting the university, and tourists to the area. Yearly, the museum draws a sizeable and expanding number of visitors, in 2008 reaching more than 8,000.

Additional Resources

Armstrong, Tom. An American Odyssey: The Warner Collection of Fine and Decorative Arts. New York: Monacelli Press, in association with Sotheby's, 2001.

Washington and Lee University and Warner Collection. American Icons: Images of George Washington and Robert E. Lee from the Warner Collection. Lexington, Va.: Washington and Lee University, 1999.
Published:  February 13, 2009   |   Last updated:  April 16, 2012