Wednesday December 20, 2023 | by Jana Elsayed

The Barry Art Museum in Norfolk, Virginia, will double in size thanks to longtime friendship between art-collecting families

FILED UNDER: Announcements, Museums

Richard and Carolyn Barry, the founders of the Barry Art Museum at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia, are planning a major expansion, with the institution that bears their name doubling in size with the planned addition of the Waitzer Wing, named after their late art-collector mentors, philanthropists Richard and Leah Waitzer, who died in 2019 and 2021 respectively. The two couples not only shared a love of art, but the older pair were instrumental in inspiringthe Barrys to begin their collecting many years earlier. That the Weitzer collection would end up finding a home within the museum built to house much of the Barry collection is just the latest development in the intertwined histories of two art-collecting couples. 

After losing their parents, the Waitzer's three sons -- Brad, Eddie, and Scot were faced with what to do with their parents' huge home, which had been custom-built to house their extensive art collection. Every time Richard and Leah bought more glass they would build new additions to their home eventually creating a cathedral-like structure. The sons' only hint of how to handle the expansive art collection after their passing had been the direct suggestion from their ailing father shortly before he died, which was simply to call the Barrys.

Once their grief subsided and they had a chance to think of their next steps, the Waitzers' sons reached out to the Barrys, who immediately offered to give them any help and support that they could offer. The sons were so won over by the gesture that they started to think seriously if they should gift the collection to their late parents' best friends. As son Brad Waitzer framed it in an exchange with Glass: "The Barry Museum's expansion will meaningfully contribute to the vibrancy of the arts community in Hampton Roads and Old Dominion University's continuing evolution. It's appropriate that our parents' collection, thoughtfully assembled over 40 years, will remain within half a mile from where they both grew up, housed alongside the wonderful collection created by their good friends, the Barrys."

The museum building stands at the heart of the bustling college campus as a testament to artistry and innovation that will only be enhanced by the expansion of the collection and the building that houses it. Architecturally, big changes are in store, including adding a three-story wing that will include a new event space, a community gallery, and new facilities for art education. The Barry's executive director Charlotte Potter Kasic explained how the additional artwork will expand what visitors will see and learn. "Their [The Waitzers] collection dates back to French Nouveau, and the Barry Art Museum can now tell a story about what the American studio glass [movement] was even resisting and pushing against, and show the narrative more clearly," she told the Glass Quarterly Hot Sheet in a telephone interview.

Local architect Burrell Saunders took the helm in designing the new wing, harmonizing its aesthetic with the existing structure. This extension aimed grandly—to create an epicenter of creativity and learning. A versatile event venue, a community gallery, and an educational laboratory were envisioned to cater not only to the students, faculty, and staff but also to the wider community seeking enrichment.

The museum’s founders had foreseen such a need for expansion. Even with the original collection in place, space had always been a concern. Thus, the architects had constructed the edifice with foresight, leaving room for future growth. The idea of a new wing had always lingered as a possibility, waiting for the right moment to materialize. With the Waitzer collection, that moment arrived, and plans swiftly emerged, reaching the original architect.

The third floor remained a blank canvas, an expanse awaiting purposeful programming. A sprawling gymnasium with soaring ceilings held promise—a space for avant-garde creativity, where hanging art, performances, and projections could interplay. It was an opportunity to inspire the next generation of creators, a hub for forward-thinking and artistic exploration.

Adding to the anticipation was the prospect of a Black Box Theater Space, a haven for the creative process. A place where art unfolded, inviting spectators into the very heart of the artistic endeavor. The prospect of the theater held the promise of engagement, drawing people into the realm of creation itself.

Yet amidst this ambitious vision, the museum aimed to remain a haven for the student body. It sought to transform into more than just a venue for academic pursuits. Plans were set to create a student lounge, a sanctuary for relaxation and camaraderie. Here, amidst the hustle of college life, students would find a space for downtime, nurturing a sense of community.

After sunset, the museum will be able to transform, hosting lectures, classes, and a myriad of events. From student gatherings to community weddings and receptions, the space would evolve, adapting to diverse needs and fostering an environment that embraced learning, creativity, and shared experiences, according to executive director Kasic.

To learn more about the expansion, click here!

Glass: The UrbanGlass Quarterly, a glossy art magazine published four times a year by UrbanGlass has provided a critical context to the most important artwork being done in the medium of glass for more than 40 years.