Art league to renovate stables

$200,000 project will create high-tech storage space
Rehoboth Art League President Diana Beebe, left, and Executive Director Sheila Bravo stand next to plans for a renovation of the old horse stables into a storage facility for the league's art collection. The art league hopes to begin the project early next year. BY RYAN MAVITY
December 30, 2013

A high-tech art storage facility and an old horse stable are an unlikely combination.

But Rehoboth Art League plans to bring the two together by turning an old stables on its Henlopen Acres campus into a storage area for its art collection.

“When these buildings were built,” executive director Sheila Bravo said, “they didn’t consider storage of artwork and collections in the way we need to store them today.”

Bravo said the art league has raised the estimated $200,000 cost of converting the stables into usable space for artwork. Now, the league is seeking approval from Sussex County and the town to begin construction. Bravo said an anticipated three to four months of construction is not expected to begin until early 2014.

“Preservation of this campus is very important,” Bravo said. “The storage has been a major challenge."

Bravo said some works date to the 1920s and need to be protected from light and humidity. Works on paper, particularly oil paintings and photography, are succeptible to deterioration caused by humidity, she said.

Sussex County has no facilities with humidity control, Bravo said, so the art league preserves the collection by exhibiting the works in climate-controlled galleries or loaning them out to outside museums. The league has 700 items in its permanent collection – which includes paintings, water colors, sculptures and photographs – and wants to show more of the works on-campus, Bravo said.

“We felt it was really critical to have space on campus. We can not only care for the collection but start to exhibit it a lot more,” she said.

Bravo said the stables date at least to the 1800s, although the history of their use is not well-documented. She said the art league has used them primarily for storage. Over time, Bravo said, the roof has deteriorated and is badly in need of repairs. The stables also sit adjacent to the Homestead on land registered in the National Register of Historic Places.

The art league’s plan is to renovate the stables into a climate-controlled storage space for art work. The dimensions of the building will remain the same. The building's most notable feature, three open bays, will be enclosed, but a trompe l'oeil mural will give the appearance they are open, offering architectural interest while reducing natural light to prevent light damage to paintings.

“We don’t want any lights in there. There won’t be any windows or anything that light can get into. But we wanted to retain the exterior look,” Bravo said.

Bravo said once renovated, the stables will by open only by invitation.  Besides storing the collection, Bravo said, the renovated stables will also provide a workspace for maintaining paintings, such as rematting or reframing. The interior will be completely insulated to allow temperature control.

“This has been one of the biggest challenges the art league has faced in the last 10 years,” she said. “We’re not only preserving a collection, we’re preserving the building.”

Art league President Diana Beebe said, “To us, it feels like an elegant solution. It’s very consistent with the historic property. It doesn’t change anything about the historic nature of the campus or how we use it.”

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