When the community chipped in to open the Dayton Art Institute

As the new Dayton Art Institute opened its doors in 1930 the entire city celebrated.

Great fanfare went along with the dedication of the new museum that overlooked the Great Miami River and the city from its perch at Riverview and Forest Avenues.

“Art Week” was proclaimed in the city, and the Dayton Daily News printed a special seven-page section of stories and photographs in anticipation of the event.

“These dedication ceremonies of the new Art Institute building should constitute an epoch in the cultural advancement of Dayton,” said Mayor Allen C. McDonald.

“Thousands of our citizens who have had little conception of this great civic asset should be brought to realize the magnitude of this splendid gift to Dayton and be enabled to appreciate what it means to us in a community way.”

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The museum was the generous idea of Julia Shaw Carnell, who proposed it to the board of trustees. The original museum opened in 1919 in a house at the corner of Monument and St. Clair Streets.

Carnell donated $2 million for construction of the new museum with the condition the citizens help fund the cost of operations.

Excitement built throughout the community as newspaper stories painted a picture of the “beautiful new temple which is about to be dedicated to the arts.”

The exterior was built out of “buff colored Briar Hill sandstone” and the roof was covered in “American-made tile … woven into the most pleasing Italian design,” the newspaper detailed.

Foyer floors were done in “red Italian tile made in Florence,” the front steps were hewn from Rockport granite and gallery doors made in Italy were exact replicas of those in the Vecchio palace.



Descriptions of hand-carved marble details and an “enchanted” Chinese temple with a pool filled with fish tantalized the community.

Because the startup budget was dedicated to construction, the museum’s galleries were filled with donated art for the opening.

“To do honor to the dedication of the Dayton Art Institute, those in possession of rare and lovely things are generously sending them to the beautiful building on the hill…,” reported the newspaper.

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Robert Dunn Patterson donated a Thomas Moran landscape, Mrs. R.R. Dickey sent numerous eastern fans and a William Ritschell seascape was donated by John Halwood. They were among the artworks loaned for the dedication.

“Joy of the Waters,” a bronze statue gifted to the old museum by Carnell, was moved to the center of a stone fountain.

Hundreds of guests, “brilliantly gowned women and smartly attired escorts,” turned out to honor Carnell at the formal dedication.

“Into the handsome edifice, which genius has created as a palace to art, passed 800 admiring persons who came to worship at the shrine…” reported the Dayton Daily News.

Edward Zeuch, a famous organist who had just returned from Europe, performed on a “splendid Skinner organ” donated by Mr. and Mrs. Carnell, and Lorado Taft, a known sculptor from Chicago, was on hand to address the crowd.

During the evening Carnell formally presented the building to Robert Patterson, the president of the Dayton Art Institute.

“The opening of this magnificent and beautiful building, dedicated to the fine arts, marks an epoch in the history of Dayton,” Patterson said.

“Because of it we shall have, in the next decade, a new Dayton which shall be an enduring monument to the vision, the civic spirit, and the generosity of its donor, Mrs. Carnell.”

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