Haub family's Western art gives Tacoma a new drawing card

Tacoma’s existing museums cover a lot of bases.

Cutting-edge glass? Check.

Cool cars? Check.

State history? Contemporary Northwest art? Maritime stuff? Notable manuscripts? Check, check, check and check.

Now, with the opening this weekend of the Haub Family Galleries – a 16,000-square-foot, $15.5 million wing of the Tacoma Art Museum – the city has something else to attract visitors, something not available anywhere else in the region: a premiere collection of Western art.

The Haubs’ very generous gift to the TAM – a 295-piece art collection and $20 million to build a wing to house it in – is the biggest in the museum’s 79-year history. The German couple, Erivan and Helga Haub, and their children have long had a close relationship with Tacoma (all three sons were born here). They’ve taken a special interest in its economic renaissance and blossoming arts scene.

Approached to support redoing TAM’s plaza along Pacific Avenue, the Haubs countered with an idea of their own: a plaza, yes, but also a museum wing for their world-class Western art collection.

The collection spans the late 18th century to today. All the big names are there – Charles M. Russell, Thomas Moran, Albert Bierstadt, Georgia O’Keeffe and Frederic Remington – as well as modern artists with growing reputations. The collection even has a Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington, believed to be the only one in this state.

The Western genre has its critics in the fine art world, for various reasons. Some argue that much Western art is overly romantic or even kitschy, that it can stereotype or mythologize Native Americans. We’ll leave all that to the art experts, but even they will admit that Western art is wildly popular, including among many Europeans.

For that reason, the Haub wing has great potential to draw more visitors to Tacoma. And perhaps people coming to see the Western art will stick around for other things. Maybe they’ll walk across TAM’s expanded lobby to take in the museum’s non-Western offerings and patronize local businesses, including hotels and eateries.

The wing – designed by Seattle architect Tom Kundig – doubles TAM’s gallery space and gives the museum a more substantial, welcoming profile on Pacific Avenue. Passers-by can peer into the sculpture hall and be sheltered by a covered walkway. The design complements that of the original building by architect Antoine Predock without overwhelming or clashing with it.

As part of the remodeling to add the wing, the main museum building reaped some benefits, including that larger lobby, suitable for hosting events; bigger cafe and restrooms; and an interactive art space that is free to the public.

The Haub family’s gift to their adopted city is one that is likely to bring national, even international, attention here. We join others in the community in thanking the Haubs for their generosity.