A Treasure of Art and History

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The stately Beaux Arts style building at 825 Gallia Street in downtown Portsmouth, Ohio, first served the area as a banking focal point in the early 20th century. The Security Central National Bank, as inscribed on the front, soundly survived the Great Depression and the structure itself survived the Great Ohio River Flood of 1937. But now, rather than money, it’s a vault for treasures of art and history for all to enjoy. The Southern Ohio Museum and Cultural Center has quite an interesting past and even a brighter future, all of which that started with an idea at one man’s dinner table.

As the bank expanded, it eventually outgrew the 21,000-square-foot facility that had been its home since 1918. It was sure to be destroyed but knowing that it would only create a few parking spaces, a group of visionaries stepped in. Dr. Greg Gillan, Clayton Johnson, Thomas Reynolds, Mickey Warsaw and Dale Sielaff formed a non-profit corporation with the goal of working toward the preservation of the city’s past and enriching its future.

The group, according to Warsaw, approached the bank about donating the building to the city for a museum and cultural center. “The concept for the museum came about at our dining room table,” said Susan Warsaw, Mickey Warsaw’s wife. “That’s where it all began.” The bank, having already relocated, generously donated the building to the city in 1977. The city, in turn, would lease the building to the corporation. “Now we had an idea and a building, but no money to operate a museum,” Mickey Warsaw added. But that didn’t stop them. After many more meetings around the Warsaw dining table, the men devised a plan to raise the funds.

“I believe it was Clay Johnson who approached Edmund Kricker and shared our vision with him,” said Mickey Warsaw.  Mr. Kricker was the chairman of the board and CEO of the First Federal Savings and Loan. The Kricker family had a long history in the banking industry in Portsmouth and had a passion for supporting projects that benefited the community. Mr. Kricker agreed to fuel the capital campaign – with a challenge. He would donate one dollar for every two dollars raised, up to $100,000.

The community met the challenge and the capital campaign raised more than $300,000 –enough money to get the plans off the Warsaw dining table and into the hands of architects who would convert the magnificent building into the Southern Ohio Museum and Cultural Center (SOMACC). With a major renovation complete, SOMACC opened its doors on September 9, 1979, to the community that had so richly embraced it. It was no surprise that the main exhibition area, the Kricker Gallery, was named for its primary benefactor.

After nearly 35 years, the museum has undergone some additional renovations to bring it into the 21st century. The most recent renovation includes a new elevator, improved restrooms and updates to the 100-seat Hopkins Theatre. The renovation is also making way for an outdoor space for performing art shows, concerts and lectures. The outdoor area is a vacated alley adjacent to the building that will be gated at both ends. This came about with the cooperation of the City of Portsmouth and a neighboring pub on the other side of the alley that will also have use of the newly created venue.

Today, the museum houses four permanent collections, including the ever-popular historic photograph collection of the late Carl Ackerman, collector of historic photographs. Local history researchers seek his photographs and their imagery was used for many of the Portsmouth Floodwall Murals.  The collection of more than 10,000 photographs, documenting the history of Portsmouth during the 19th and 20th centuries, was given to the museum to preserve its value for future generations.  Cataloguing the collection is an ongoing effort and more than half of the photographs have already been digitized and are ready for public access.

Other collections include the paintings of Portsmouth born artist, Clarence Carter (1904-2000) whose works can be found in prestigious museums around the United States, including the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C.  The two other collections are The Art of the Ancients, a 10,000-piece prehistoric Native American artifacts display from the Charles and William Wertz Collection; and the Anna Louise Stanton Doll Collection.

The performing arts are also a very important part of the museum programming according to the center’s director, Pegi Wilkes.  Now in its 14th year, Cirque d’Art was developed to give area youth the opportunity to express themselves. The program incorporates all types of dance, tumbling and acrobatics.  “A community survey revealed that the lack of youth activities ranked third in community concerns,” said Wilkes.  “I had been involved with a similar program in Vero Beach, Fla.,” she added.  “It was a perfect opportunity, even though I thought I was retiring.”  The first year Cirque d’Art had 55 students and currently there are 260 participating.  The program employs five adult instructors and numerous teenage assistants.PM13May_Museum-1454

The Southern Ohio Museum and Cultural Center has stood the test of time and has far surpassed the expectations of those who first envisioned it.  “I’m so proud to see the museum growing and thriving.  It was really gratifying to be a part of its beginning,” said Mickey Warsaw who was involved with the museum for more than 25 years.   “That says a lot about the people of our community.  We’ve got great people here.”

If you go:

Southern Ohio Museum and Cultural Center
825 Gallia St., Portsmouth, Ohio
(740) 354-5629
www.somacc.com

Hours:  Tuesday – Friday – 10 a.m. – 5 p.m., Saturday 1-5 p.m.

Cost:  $2 for adults, $1 children.  Fridays free.

PM13May_Museum-1512Southern Ohio Museum and Cultural Center

Photos by Ashley Gallaher Quinn

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Lisa Carver

Lisa Carver is originally from Akron, Ohio, but has lived in Greenup County, Ky., for the last 30 years. She is a single mother of two amazingly awesome grown sons and a six-year-old daughter who keeps her young. She has worked at the Portsmouth Area Chamber of Commerce for 21 years. In her free time, she is passionately active in her church, Allen Chapel Church of Christ in South Shore, Ky., and enjoys writing, genealogy and spending time with her kids.

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