The Heckscher Museum of Art serves the community of Long Island through the presentation of great art and art education programs. Since its creation, the Museum has operated with the assumption of the inherent civic value of publicly accessible art.
In 1920, the German-American industrialist and developer August Heckscher opened the Museum and park for the benefit of the people of Huntington and the surrounding region. Operated by a private foundation, the Museum presented works by Old Masters such as Lucas Cranach, François Girardon, and Henry Raeburn as well as important American painters like Edward and Thomas Moran, Ralph Albert Blacklock, and George Inness. One can detect a certain Romantic spirit in the preference for images of Venice and the American West within the original collection. In the era before World War II, Long Island was essentially rural with an array of large country estates along the north shore. Figures like Henry Clay Frick, Louis Comfort Tiffany, and Theodore Roosevelt owned large estates along the North Shore. For a decade, the Museum enjoyed a charmed existence.
The situation changed dramatically with the crash of the stock market in 1929 and the Great Depression that followed. The foundation governing the Museum was no longer able to operate the Museum and so the collection remained static and was accessible on a very limited basis. Eventually in the 1940s, the efforts of concerned citizens, including local art teachers and members of the Huntington Township Art League (now the Art League of Long Island), with some assistance from the Town of Huntington, resulted in the reopening of the Museum to the public on a regular basis. In 1954, ownership of the institution passed to the Town of Huntington.
The modern life of The Heckscher Museum really began in 1957 when the Town of Huntington delegated operational responsibility for the Museum to the Board of Trustees of a newly formed, non-profit corporation lead by George Wilhelm. Almost immediately the collection began to grow. Plans were developed for a more active exhibitions schedule and a program of educational initiatives. In 1962, Eva Gatling was hired as Director, one of the first women to direct an art museum. During her tenure, the Museum made its most important acquisition since its foundation with the purchase of George Grosz’s Eclipse of the Sun—
a monumental painting from the height of his activity in Berlin in the 1920s. Many more objects were added to the collection during her 16-year career, including a number of works by Arthur Dove who, like Grosz, had lived in Huntington for an extended period.
Subsequent directors placed great emphasis on education programs and exhibitions. The staff grew in number and professionalism. The addition of the Baker/Pisano Collection focusing on American modernist works in 2001 was the single largest gift to the Museum since the founding donation. A major historic preservation and renovation project, under the direction of Centerbrook Architects, was initiated in 2007, upgrading the exhibition space and highlighting the original architectural features of the building.
Today The Heckscher Museum seeks to thrive and grow in four basic areas—education and public programs, collections, and exhibitions.
The Heckscher Museum of Art serves the people of the Town of Huntington and surrounding communities. Through exhibitions of its permanent and loan collections of art and related museum programs, it seeks to provide inspiring and transformative educational experiences to encourage a broader understanding of our past and present and enrich the quality of life of the individuals it serves.