Originally Published: July 30, 2010 10 p.m.
PRESCOTT - Looking to increase its stature amongst national and international Western art museums, the Phippen Museum is poised to more than double its floor and gallery space.
"This will take the Phippen Museum to a much higher level," said Bill Gary, museum trustee and capital campaign chairman. "This will make us a destination museum for people all over the country."
Kim Villalpando, executive director of the museum, credits Gary, a Prescott resident for the past 52 years, for raising most of the $1.2 million needed to build the first phase of construction.
"He's the driving force behind getting the money," Villalpando said.
Two Prescott companies are designing and building the 10,000-square-foot, two-story museum addition: Otwell Associates Architects and Haley Construction.
"We expect to finish Phase I by March," said Bill Haley, vice president of Haley Construction and project manager.
Although work crews are building walls for the lower (4,000-square-foot) and upper (6,000-square-foot) levels, the upper level is the only one slated for opening until the museum can raise another $400,000 to finish the lower level.
When finished, the museum will boast multiple galleries, a permanent exhibition of Western artist George Phippen's work, an artifact gallery, an enclosed gift shop, a research library and a multipurpose room. A portion of the museum is dedicated to an Arizona Rancher and Cowboy Hall of Fame.
The museum, built in 1984, derives its name from George Phippen, who was the first president of the Cowboy Artists of America. Phippen died in 1966 at the age of 50.
In the early 1980s, the James Family Trust donated five acres of Deep Well Ranch land to the George Phippen Memorial Foundation for the original museum. The James Trust formed after Will James, who was a prolific author and painter of Western life, died at the age of 50 in 1942 on his Montana ranch.
Mr. and Mrs. Abe Hays, major art collectors from Paradise Valley, are donating some James paintings and 15 paintings by internationally acclaimed Western artist Maynard Dixon.
"The Will James Memorial exhibition will be the largest and finest collection of Will James anywhere in the world," Gary said.
The entrance to the new museum section is near the same location as the current entrance, with one major difference: Visitors pass through the doors and immediately enter an enclosed walk-in gallery where the current breezeway is located.
"We're moving the beams with all the brands (from the breezeway) and putting them in the artifact gallery," Villalpando said.
"After we got the Abe Hays collection, we realized we needed more room," Gary said in explaining the idea to build an addition.
Gary started searching for donations about the time "the economy hit the skids and I decided to hit the foundations." The Kemper & Ethel Marley Foundation alone donated $750,000.
Villalpando said that the museum would remain open throughout construction and the move into the new building.
"It's very, very exciting," Villalpando said. "I can't wait to move in."
"So many times people donate to things and they never see where their money goes," Gary said. "But here you can see the walls going up and active progress."
The Phippen Museum is located at 4701 N. Highway 89, a few miles north of Prescott. For more information about the museum and its business hours, call 778-1385 or visit www.phippenartmuseum.org.