The Bruce Museum is in the early stages of a major renovation and expansion. Robert Wolterstorff, the new executive director and CEO, is the man tasked with overseeing the $45 million project. Back in June, on just his sixth day on the job, he signed the paperwork for a $15 million gift from Cerberus Capital co-founder William Richter. Welcome to Greenwich, Robert.
Wolterstorff wasn’t involved in the Richter negotiations until pen hit paper, and he inherited a fully realized plan when he came onboard. However, the future of the museum, dubbed The New Bruce, is in his hands now. Wolterstorff describes the feeling as “anxiety without worry.” He comes to Greenwich from the Bennington Museum in Vermont, which he says he left with some guilt because they too were launching a campaign to undergo a major renovation.
Originally a private home built in 1853, the Bruce Museum came to be when Robert Moffat Bruce deeded his property to the town upon his death in 1908, stipulating that it be “a natural history, historical, and art museum for the use and benefit of the public.” The first exhibition opened in 1912. Wolterstorff is excited to take The New Bruce into a new era. “Museums, I would argue, are about community,” he says. “They’re about socializing and not just about you looking at things in isolation. They’re about you looking at things in communion with a friend and then you go and have a coffee afterwards.”
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Coffee isn’t an option at the Bruce at the moment, and Wolterstorff feels that’s one of the things that’s been holding the museum back. But $45 million can help pay for more than a coffee kiosk. The expansion will include a glass-walled restaurant overlooking Bruce Park that will also have outdoor seating. Oak trees that need to come down will be repurposed as benches and new trees will be planted.
More importantly, when the Bruce roughly doubles to 70,000 square feet, there will be a devoted auditorium and four galleries for permanent collections. “If you don’t have room to display a permanent collection, people don’t give you stuff,” Wolterstorff says. “Why would you give me a great painting if you knew it was going to be in the basement?”
Education is a major focus as well, and an extra classroom or two will allow the Bruce to host 50,000 students a year, about twice the amount who come through the door now.
The areas of the old museum being renovated this winter will be finished and reopened Feb. 1. The next day, what is open now will close for renovation. They will break ground — Wolterstorff says he hopes they give him a shovel — on the expansion on July 1. Eighteen months of construction and six months of installation have the target date for the unveiling of The New Bruce in summer 2022. Wolterstorff is also in charge of securing a $15 million endowment to ensure sustainability.
“We are trying in the new installation to focus more on Connecticut,” Wolterstorff says. “In fact, that’s one of my hopes for the art collections also, that we see Connecticut in the context of the world.” The director feels he was uniquely qualified for this job because he was a biology major before he pursued art history. He’s quick to point out that science will soon have four times as much space for special exhibitions.
But art is in his heart. Other than finalizing Richter’s $15 million gift, one of Wolterstorff’s first actions when he took over was to hang Childe Hassam’s The Mill Pond over the mantel in his office. “The whole museum is de-installed, so the best paintings are here in the offices,” he says. “And that’s one of the best paintings in the museum. I feel a little sheepish to have it in my office, but if it weren’t in my office it would be in storage. Actually, that’s a lie. It was in one of my colleague’s offices down the hall. And I said, ‘I’m taking that one, with lots of apologies.’ ”
Bigger and better: The Bruce Museum is in the midst of a $45 million overhaul. Above is a rendering of the new science gallery, which will occupy the museum’s current main gallery spaces.
The Bruce Museum
One Museum Drive, Greenwich
Hours: Tue.-Sun. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. (Open Mondays Jan. 20 and Feb. 17)