History of the Museum
The Warwick Museum of Art (WMOA) began as a Bicentennial project in 1974 by non-profit organizations around the City of Warwick. The Bicentennial celebration was spread over 12 months during 1976 to accommodate as many groups as possible; February was the month for non-profit groups to celebrate the nation's 200th anniversary.
For its biannual National Federation of Women's Club Community Improvement contest, the Warwick Junior Women's Club (now the Warwick Women's Club) chose to establish a museum for the city. Other non-profit organizations that wanted to be part of the bicentennial project joined them in this mission.
The theme "From the past, to the present, to the future" was adopted to create a sense of pride in the city, to better educate Warwick residents about their history, and to have a place where local art exhibitions and historic displays could be shown.
Many locations were considered but discarded because of opposition by nearby neighbors. Finally, Mayor Gene McCaffrey located a space at the Pontiac Mill complex. Members of the Museum board and supporters renovated the space for the February 29, 1976 opening. In addition, each member organization sponsored fundraising events like fashion shows, concerts, and a formal dance at the Aldrich Estate.
To promote the new museum and to give students an idea of what it would be like, a exhibit traveling to local schools.
WMOA's first director, Carol Blank, was paid through a federal grant and the first exhibit depicted the preparation of flax, demonstrations of spinning and weaving, and life-sized pictures of mill workers at work. The Junior's project came in fifth out of 10,000 clubs competing nationally and brought winning money to the Museum. The Bicentennial committee also gave the Museum a cash award.
WMOA's first president was Warwick Junior and Community Improvement chairman Joyce Almeida; Harry Knickle of the Jaycees and Julina Olney of the Warwick Historical Society were named vice presidents. Other groups represented were the Jaycee-ettes, the Rotary, the Warwick Teachers Union, the Kent County Visiting Nurses Association, the Red Cross, and the Warwick Chamber of Commerce.
Early exhibits were historical. A permanent collection did not exist, so exhibits were borrowed from other museums or personal collections. Over the years a wide range of exhibits, ranging from fine silver from the Smithsonian's collection, to an exhibit on professional quahogging in Narragansett Bay, were mounted at WMOA.
The local Boys Club moved out of the Kentish Artillery Armory building in the 1970's and when the last member of the Kentish Guard passed on, the Armory was deeded to the city. WMOA moved to the Armory in 1977 after renovation by board members and friends.
The Museum School became a central part of the Museum's outreach and is now a permanent program. After strong public interest in art exhibitions, the museum voted to focus more heavily in art, and changed the Museum's name first to the Warwick Art Museum. and finally, the Warwick Museum of Art.
History of the Kentish Armory
WMOA's current home, the Kentish Artillery Armory, was designed by the Providence firm William R. Walker and Son, the same architects who designed Warwick City Hall. The building is fronted by a block with projecting square corner towers and a battlemented parapet. The unique, red-brick building was erected in 1912 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Kentish Artillery Company traces its roots back to 1797 when it was first organized, as the Kentish Light Infantry, at the recommendation of George Washington. Warwick gave the Kentish Artillery permission to build its armory on the eastern portion of the town lot in 1854 and, more than a century later, its building was given to the City. The Greek Revival structure was destroyed by fire in 1911.
Records show that in 1804 the Kentish Artillery was given two Revolutionary War cannons. When the current Armory was built, two niches for cannons were included on either side of the front door. The Walker firm added a charge of $2.50 to their final invoice for "carting the cannon" to the new building, pointing to the fact that the guns were valuable and made of metal. The cannons now located in the niches are replicas because the originals disappeared in 1972 -- and the case of the missing cannons has never been solved.
Another oddity in the building is a long, narrow "shooting gallery" in the basement which is now used for museum storage.