Biggs Museum in downtown Dover Brooke Retkowski
Dover’s Biggs Museum of American Art has been home to hundreds of paintings, sculptures, furniture, and fine silver since 1993.
The museum’s stated focus is to both house the large personal collection of Sewell C. Biggs, who died in 2003, as well as satisfy local community tastes.
“Biggs was an avid art collector, particularly he was interested in collecting art from Delaware and the Delaware Valley,” said Charles Guerin, the director of the Biggs Museum. “About half of the collections you see in the galleries today is what he personally collected during his lifetime.”
Sewell Biggs collected artifacts that sparked his interested at a young age, Guerin said. He traveled throughout Delaware to collect marbles, Confederate money, and war artifacts.
Since Biggs’ death, the museum has continued to collect in his memory.
“The second part of the collection, we have been collecting and it still continues to focus on the Delaware Valley,” he said. “We have gone back in time and collected older things but we have also been collecting contemporary pieces from Delaware.”
Many of the museum’s paintings are works of the Peale family, Albert Biestadt, Gilbert Stuart, and Childe Hassam. Some of the sculptures the museum houses are created by Hiram Powers, and furniture was designed by the Javier family and William Savery.
The second and third floors of the museum hold permanent installations of Biggs’ collections. The main level includes special exhibitions.
“We do these exhibitions on the first floor to draw the (continuing) attention of the community,” he said. “Our hope is that on those visits, the visitors will then discover the top floors of the museum. We want them to begin to have an understanding and appreciation for our permanent collections.”
The museum features temporary traveling national exhibitions These exhibits usually remain for up to four months.
Ryan Grover, who has been curator of temporary collections at the Biggs for more than 15 years, said he loves how different collections and their history make him think.
“I used to be a framer for a picture gallery and had been putting on shows for artists in Portland, Ore.,” he said. “I thought that I should continue down that path and never looked back.”
Grover said he often decides on which traveling exhibits to get based on local artistic taste.
“There are a lot of exhibitions that we do that are a direct service to the community,” he said. “Fifteen years ago there were no photography competitions. There were a lot of photo groups, but there was not that many individuals who were out doing exhibitions. So I designed one.”
Grover said one of the museum’s goals is to be an institution that services the region’s artistic community.
“We wanted to give the public a bridge to connect them to Delaware’s artistic legacies,” he said. “We wanted to use that as a way to inform the public on what was being created in their own backyards.”