I’ve been to many great art museums in Pennsylvania, but I wasn’t sure of what to expect during my visit to the Allentown Art Museum in the Lehigh Valley. I didn’t know if I’d encounter a museum celebrating the works of local artisans or if it would focus on the best quality pieces of art that the museum could acquire from around the world. Much to my surprise, it was the latter.
The Allentown Art Museum of the Lehigh Valley was founded in 1934. It was located in the Hunsicker School building on 6th Street and featured 70 works of art by local Impressionists. Just two years later, the museum moved to a home in Allentown’s Cedar Park, where it served the public as a local art museum for more than 20 years.
In the early 1960s, the museum’s focus would change when it accepted a collection of 53 Renaissance and Baroque paintings and sculptures from Samuel Kress. This collection changed the museum from being a small, local art institution into a major regional art institution.
To accommodate the collection, the Allentown Museum of Art moved into an old church building near the heart of downtown Allentown. Today, after several expansions to the museum, it is still located in this prime location.
The Allentown Museum of Art of the Lehigh Valley is now home to a collection of 13,000 works of art ranging from the Middle Ages through modern day. Despite the name, the museum doesn’t focus on local art, and they only acquire local pieces that meet the museum’s high standards.
Entrance to the museum is through large, classical columns. While these are the remainders of the early 20th-century church that once occupied the site, they seem quite fitting for an art institution as well.
The Allentown Art Museum is comprised of nine galleries, each showcasing world-class art. The works on display in nearly every gallery are rotated every few months, ensuring something different for each visit. This is in addition to the temporary galleries which feature both traveling shows and additional displays from the museum’s vast collection.
The closest gallery to the entrance is the Kress Gallery, which features many of the European works donated by Samuel Kress. The pieces of art in this gallery date back as far as the 1300s. It’s amazing to look at something that old and think about how long it has survived. The gallery also features works from well-known painters, including one that was done by artists in Rembrandt’s studio.
Another interesting exhibit in the museum is the Frank Lloyd Wright Library. Once built into the second Frances W. Little House in Wayzata, Minnesota, the entire library was moved into the museum and reassembled to appear exactly as it did in the home. Whether you’ve visited one of Wright’s works or not, it is still very impressive to stand inside a beautiful room that he designed.
The remainder of the galleries feature the museum’s impressive collection of painting and sculptures from around the world. The museum contains items in their collection from Robert Motherwell, Keith Haring, and Pennsylvania resident Harry Bertoia. The works in these galleries span from American impressionist to Contemporary art, and a bit of everything in between.
The museum also offers several nice elements for children.
At the information desk, pick up a scavenger hunt sheet for children. This sheet will help guide them through the museum’s displays, and those that complete a sheet can return them for a prize.
The museum’s second floor is also home to the Crayola Learning Center. While there are official programs held here throughout the year, it is open outside of those programs for kids to enjoy basic art-related activities. This is a great opportunity for budding artists to enjoy the museum and interact with it.
While some might think that the Allentown Art Museum of the Lehigh Valley is simply a museum filled with local art, like the nearby Michener Art Museum, it is so much more than that. Their collection of great European and American works of art makes this an influential regional museum that’s one of the best things to do in Allentown, PA.
Note: My visit to the Allentown Art Museum was hosted by the site. However, the opinions expressed are my own.
Allentown Art Museum
Hours: Wednesday-Saturday: 11am-4pm
Cost: Adults: $12, Children: $10
Address: 31 North Fifth Street