Western art collection goes on display at Tacoma Art Museum

“Drei, zwei, eins!” With a rousing countdown in German, Stephanie Stebich, the executive director of the Tacoma Art Museum, led a group ribbon cutting Saturday morning that officially opened the museum’s new wing, showcasing art of the American West and doubling the museum’s gallery space.

Erivan Haub, the German grocery store magnate who donated his family’s Western art collection to TAM and paid for the new wing with a $20 million gift, beamed from a wheelchair pushed by his wife, Helga, during the celebration.

“I’m happy with it — very happy with it,” Haub said of the new wing. “It’s very well-done.”

Nearly 300 people packed the museum’s largest hall for a blessing by the Puyallup Tribe of Indians and opening remarks by Stebich, TAM’s Board of Trustees President Steve Barger, Tacoma Deputy Mayor Victoria Woodards and U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer.

In keeping with the Western theme, Kilmer began his remarks with a hearty, “Howdy, y’all.”

“Today is a day that highlights the fact that Tacoma is not only the City of Destiny,” Kilmer said. “It has become the city of extraordinary destinations.”

The Haubs have been key supporters in the redevelopment of downtown Tacoma, supporting the University of Washington’s Tacoma campus, the Museum of Glass and LeMay-America’s Car Museum.

Shortly before 11 a.m., the new wing opened to members of the public for the first time, beginning a steady procession that lasted throughout the day. Visitors were admitted on a first-come, first-served basis, regulated by colored wristbands to keep the new galleries below their 240-person maximum occupancy.

Inside were 130 pieces from the 295-piece Haub collection, including classic works from the 19th and 20th century by Albert Bierstadt, Thomas Moran, Frederic Remington, Charles Russell and Georgia O’Keeffe. Many of the works have never before been on public view.

Most of that selection will remain on display for at least one year, said TAM public relations and communications manager Julianna Verboort, with some works on paper being rotated during the year.

In the museum’s lobby, visitors and benefactors ate cupcakes provided by the Celebrity Cake Studio and were serenaded by a string orchestra from Henry Foss High School.

A number of those who turned out for the celebration came in cowboy clothes. The Haubs’ three sons, all of whom attended, wore cowboy hats.

TAM’s gift shop and cafe went slightly Western, too. The gift shop stocked not only the new exhibition catalogue, “Art of the American West: the Haub Family Collection at the Tacoma Art Museum,” but also glossy collections of Moran, Russell and Remington and a $20 poster, “Yipee Ki-yay,” publicizing the new gallery space.

A new item appeared on the menu at TAM Café for the occasion: “Bison Bolognese,” made of “free-range ground bison” in a tomato sauce.

The Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium showed up with an American bald eagle, and the city of Tacoma closed down Pacific Avenue from 1-4 p.m. for free “Wells Fargo Stagecoach” rides — with real horses.