Museum expansion: Tacoma Art Museum’s new Haub wing is nearly complete, with floors, walls, ceilings and plenty of light

The exterior might look dark and brown, but the inside of Tacoma Art Museum’s new Haub wing is as light as they come.

The $15.5 million extension and renovation will house its new collection of Western American art. German billionaire collectors Erivan and Helga Haub are donating 280 works, including works by Frederic Remington and Thomas Moran.

Two months before the expansion’s opening, the wing’s three galleries and sculpture hall have floors, walls and a ceiling, with light pouring in from Pacific Avenue and the main entrance now in use.

A recent tour also revealed a few design aspects that museum officials believe are unique to TAM.

One is the hand crank that operates the slatted window shades protecting the sculpture hall from the western sun.

Clearly visible from Pacific Avenue, the shades are made from planks of brown Richlite, a post-waste building product made in Tacoma, that are mounted on six big steel frames that slide together, meshing like fingers.

The rollers, visible from the outside and similar to sliding closet doors, will be controlled on the inside by a 2-foot-wide hand crank – no computer remote-control here.

“We think it’s completely unique to us,” said membership manager Thomas Duke, as he led the tour of museum staff members and the press.

Other unique features are visible inside the wing.

Following the Haub family’s instructions to have plenty of natural light in the galleries, the walls dividing the two smaller ones from the hall have cut-outs on all sides, with the sides angling inward to widen the gap.

This design, Duke thinks, also is unusual. Combined with an extensive track lighting grid overhead — plus the white walls, pale maple ceiling and floors — it makes for a bright, airy space.

Other elements now in place are the mini-gallery tucked behind glass doors from the lobby, which will house sculptures and other works that need a separate space, and the storage room and coat check right behind it, complete with firehouse-red lockers and black door frames.

The red-black theme continues through the reception desk and out to the tall entrance doors, now in use after months of visitors entering through the gift shop.

On the outside, the towering steel overhang still needs the semi-opaque vertical covering on which the museum’s name will be displayed. The sidewalk frontage still needs native landscaping, six birch trees and the two commissioned sculptures that will flank each end.

Inside, work continues on the shop, café and interactive studio, which will open in November.

The newer, bigger elevator from the parking lot is working, and the window wall as you come out frames Mount Rainier, letting still more light into the expansive lobby.

Construction has been adhering to schedule and budget since breaking ground in November 2013, Duke said.

That will allow money to be spent on extras such as a better audiovisual system to stream events and lectures into the lobby.

One of the most significant changes might also be one of the smallest.

On the reception desk, sitting next to the museum’s Northwest art mascot Leroy the Pup, is another plush toy — a shaggy bison, complete with red cowboy bandanna. The West now has moved in with the Northwest in the TAM image.

“We think it’s a good fit,” said Duke.