CINCINNATI — The Taft Museum of Art wants to raise $10.7 million to preserve the 200-year-old building that is home to the work of the African American artist who painted "Landscape with Rainbow," the inaugural painting.
Vice President of Philanthropy Lindsey NeCamp said the money is needed to preserve the inside of the home, mostly through upgrades to the exterior.
"Eighty to 90 percent of the wood on the facade of the building is original to 1820," she said.
“The preservation of a 200-year-old historic house is impactful and very daunting. If you’re an old homeowner you certainly know,” she said.
That wood needs to be taken off, insulated and reconstructed so modern HVAC amenities can come in and better protect the home and its work from the elements.
NeCamp said the campaign is hoping to raise that money by spring of 2022 so they can get started on repairs and renovations, though she knows it's a big ask.
"COVID has definitely had an impact on the Taft Museum of Art and this campaign but what makes this so important is that this building has stood here for 200 years," she said. “It’s really important to ensure and preserve the arts and culture in our community into the next decade.”
The museum is home to the artwork of Robert S. Duncanson.
Duncanson's 1859 painting "Landscape with Rainbow" was selected by First Lady Jill Biden as President Joe Biden's inaugural painting, said Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri as he presented the painting to the Bidens on Wednesday.
Duncanson was a 19th-century landscape artist who was born free in New York.
He moved to Ohio as a young man and began his painting career in Cincinnati.
Duncanson had no formal art education so he studied European works on his own.
He gained notoriety and eventually caught the attention of Nicholas Longworth.
Longworth commissioned a series of eight murals for the entry of his mansion, the largest installment of pre-Civil War murals painted by an African American artist.
They still adorn the walls today in what is now the Taft Museum of Art.
NeCamp said the murals are one of the museum's biggest draws.
“Robert S. Duncanson was one of the first African American painters to gain international notoriety and so these are some of his earliest works,” she said. "They're displayed right by the front door so it was really a statement to have dignitaries come in and see work from an African American artist."
Before the Sinton-Taft family moved in, the work was covered with wallpaper.
It was rediscovered in 1933.
NeCamp said the wallpaper likely preserved the paintings for years but cracks are beginning to show.
"They’re painted on 200-year-old plaster,” she said.
From the beginning, they never had the best protection.
"The building itself was initially insulated with horsehair," NeCamp said.
It was a common practice at the time, but now that the building is home to priceless works of art, hundreds of years old, NeCamp said, it's preventing adequate preservation.
The Sinton-Tafts moved into the home in 1873.
President Taft's half-brother, Charles Phelps Taft, and his wife, Anna Sinton, were well-known philanthropists and avid art collectors.
"(Anna Sinton) very much appreciated the arts, was instrumental in making Cincinnati a little bit about what it was," NeCamp said.
NeCamp said the collection wasn't just for the family, but the Sinton-Tafts made a point to support art and its development throughout Cincinnati, eventually donating their home and its collection as well.
The home opened as a public museum in 1932.
Now NeCamp said the house is in need of a little support from the city.”
She said this piece of history has survived so far.
Now she hopes the city that built it can help it survive into the future.