Whistler Museum in Lowell to get upgrade

The Lowell Sun
By Grant Welker
September 18, 2012

LOWELL — The 189-year-old Whistler House Museum of Art is about to undergo an upgrade for a new heating and cooling system, new installation and windows and other touch-ups that will enable the museum to better show off its works while retaining its character.

With a preserved Federal and Greek-revival style, the three-story building can’t simply be given the usual modern addition. Officials from the museum, the city and contractors, including Richard Trethewey of the PBS home-repair show This Old House, met Monday morning to decide details of what units, pipes and vents would need to go where, while maintaining the historical integrity of the Worthen Street property as the top priority.

“There’s known to be ghosts in this house,” museum President Sara Bogosian said, joking that the spirits wouldn’t be happy with a job that didn’t blend seamlessly into the building.

The Whistler Museum, named after the painter James McNeill Whistler, who was born there in 1834, is paying for the renovations through membership funds, foundation contributions and a grant from the city as part of Lowell’s $5 million BetterBuildings Lowell energy-efficiency program for downtown buildings. The city’s contribution is $120,000, though the museum declined to give the total project cost.

The city chose to fund part of the Whistler project because it’s in the city’s historic district and the city wanted to showcase how energy conservation and historic preservation can be combined in a single project, said Tom Heslin, the BetterBuildings Lowell project manager. A new roof has already been put on the museum’s Parker Gallery building as part of the project, and the remainder is expected to start next week and be completed by December.

For an art museum, climate control is important, officials said. Paintings can be harmed if in too hot or too cold temperatures, and the museum can’t open windows because too much humidity and dust could be let in. New storm windows will be installed as part of the project, but they will be installed on the inside of the building to keep the same look of a building constructed in 1823. A third-story room now used for storage because it gets too hot in the summer will be available for use as a gallery.

Where to put the heating and cooling units is one of the top concerns. After debating various options, the museum and contractors settled on a location between the side of the building and the driveway, where a lattice fence could shield the units from view.

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