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A world-class art mu­seum in the west­ern US ben­e­fited from some sur­pris­ing pa­trons, writes Shan­delle Bat­tersby

Bay of Plenty Times - - December Indulge -

As­mall mu­seum perched on a hill­top over­look­ing the beau­ti­ful Columbia River Gorge in Wash­ing­ton is the last place you’d ex­pect to find more than 85 works by Au­guste Rodin in­clud­ing plas­ter stud­ies, water­colour sketches, bronzes and ter­ra­cot­tas.

The Mary­hill Mu­seum of Art’s col­lec­tion fea­tures some of the French sculp­tor’s most fa­mous pieces of art, in­clud­ing The Thinker, The Burghers of Calais and por­tions of The Gates of Hell. The Rodin dis­play is just one part of an eclec­tic col­lec­tion that ranges from or­nate chess sets and small carved ivory cru­ci­fix fig­ures from all over the world, to a var­ied col­lec­tion of Na­tive Amer­i­can art.

We were vis­it­ing the mu­seum on a shore ex­cur­sion as part of Un-Cruise Ad­ven­tures’ Four Rivers of Wine and His­tory cruise on the Columbia and Snake rivers of Ore­gon and Wash­ing­ton. We’d wo­ken that morn­ing to find our replica steamship, the SS Legacy, docked at the charm­ing town of The Dalles on the Ore­gon side of the Columbia River; we’d have to cross back into Wash­ing­ton state for the day’s ac­tiv­i­ties.

As we wound our way through the dry, sage­brush-cov­ered land­scape on our way to the top of the hill, a half-hour drive from The Dalles, we learned more about the re­mark­able his­tory of the man who founded Wash­ing­ton

The cruise: Un-Cruise’s jour­neys along the Columbia and Snake rivers run from April to Novem­ber.

De­tails: Mary­hill Mu­seum of Art is at 35 Mary­hill Mu­seum Dr, Gold­en­dale, Wash­ing­ton. Ad­mis­sion is $12.50. mary­hill­mu­seum.org

On­line: visit­theusa.com, un­cruise.com

it. Sa­muel Hill was a suc­cess­ful busi­ness­man best re­mem­bered for his ad­vo­cacy of paved roads in the area at the be­gin­ning of last cen­tury.

Hill — con­trary to ur­ban myth he’s not the Sam Hill ref­er­enced in the pop­u­lar ex­pres­sion — had orig­i­nally planned to start a Quaker com­mu­nity named for his daugh­ter Mary, and the three-storey Beaux Arts man­sion was sup­posed to be a pri­vate home, but he ran into fi­nan­cial and lo­gis­ti­cal prob­lems and build­ing stalled in 1917.

Luck­ily, he’d made a few im­por­tant friends over the years, in­clud­ing dance pi­o­neer Loie Fuller, who con­vinced him to turn the build­ing into an art mu­seum and who hap­pened to be a per­sonal friend of Rodin; Queen Marie of Ro­ma­nia, who do­nated trea­sures such as Eastern Or­tho­dox icons and many per­sonal ef­fects and palace fur­nish­ings; and San Fran­cisco sugar heiress Alma Spreck­els, who saw the project through af­ter Hill’s death in 1931 to its open­ing in 1940.

Spreck­els was also re­spon­si­ble for one of the jew­els in the mu­seum’s col­lec­tion, the 68cm-tall man­nequins wear­ing authen­tic mid-1940s haute cou­ture from the Theatre de la Mode. This was a tour­ing ex­hi­bi­tion cre­ated to help re­vive the French fash­ion in­dus­try af­ter World War II and raise money for war re­lief. The orig­i­nal sets may not have sur­vived but the clothes and fig­ures are re­ally some­thing spe­cial.

An­other high­light is the col­lec­tion of his­toric pho­to­graphs by semi-pro­fes­sional pho­tog­ra­pher Thomas Le­an­der “Ma­jor Lee” Moor­house, an Ore­gon busi­ness­man and for­mer mayor of Pendle­ton who worked as an In­dian agent on the Umatilla In­dian Reser­va­tion. One of his favourite sub­jects was Dr Whirl­wind, a Cayuse medicine man, who loved any ex­cuse to get kit­ted up for a pic­ture in elab­o­rate head-dresses and na­tive jew­ellery, as well as Na­tive Amer­i­can trad­ing blan­kets, nor­mally owned by Moor­house.

At the mu­seum you’ll also find Euro­pean and Amer­i­can paint­ings, a na­tive plant gar­den and a sculp­ture park with stun­ning views of the river gorge be­low.

On the way to or from the mu­seum, make sure to stop at Hill’s near-ex­act replica of Stone­henge, built in the early 1900s as a memo­rial to the lo­cal Klick­i­tat County sol­diers who fought in World War I. Ded­i­cated in 1918, it was the first World War I memo­rial to be built in the United States. Hill’s gravesite is nearby.

He may have never had the chance to live at Mary­hill, but thanks to the build­ings he left be­hind, Hill clev­erly en­sured that his legacy will last for gen­er­a­tions.

Top: Views over the Columbia River Gorge, Wash­ing­ton, from the back ter­race of the Mary­hill Mu­seum of Art; Above: a prized Rodin sculp­ture,

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