The AAM welcomed a special guest back to the galleries recently. Christopher Hirsch, son of the Museum’s first full-time director, Richard T. Hirsch, stopped in to revisit and reminisce about his earliest experiences with art and with the staff of the Museum back in the 1960s.

Christopher Hirsch and wife, Janey, with AAM president Max Weintraub, 2021

“When I was a young child I used to spend endless hours touring the galleries,” Christopher recalled in his initial email outreach. “There was a museum carpenter, Andy, who would entertain me with projects such as building small wooden boxes which I still treasure sixty-plus years later. There was a young woman named Carol, the installation coordinator, who showed me great kindness and would give me behind-the-scenes insights. My favorite show was one of kinetic art and Pop culture.”

Richard Hirsch oversaw the arrival of the Kress Collection in Allentown in 1959-60 at the Museum’s then-new (and still current) location at 31 North Fifth Street, while his wife, Betty Hirsch, Christopher’s stepmother, served as deputy director of the AAM.

This spring, planning a post-lockdown getaway to Virginia Beach from their residence in coastal Maine, Christopher and his wife, Janey Barthelette, began talking about taking a detour to Allentown. An email from Christopher resulted in a quick and enthusiastic response–a meet-up at the Museum with AAM president Max Weintraub and vice president for development Jaqueline Jones was set for the afternoon of May 12, 2021.

Following hellos in Trexler Hall, the Hirsches were given a tour of the galleries and the memories came flooding back.

Richard and Betty Hirsch with Carol Wickkiser, 1959

“We had a wonderful visit to the Museum,” writes Christopher, now back home in Maine. “It felt like a reunion. Max and Jackie treated my wife and me as long absent family members. This feeling of reunion was magnified when we entered Kress Gallery. Viewing paintings that I had spent literally hours in front of as a child and adolescent was surprisingly emotional for me. These were childhood friends.

“Then, going into the two new shows, Sleep Tight! and Roots, pulled me to the here and now. The Museum is clearly not stuck in the past. Both shows bridge our history to the present. Art, like people, is forever growing.”

Indeed, the power of art often rests in the meaningful personal associations that we bring to it. Christopher’s recent visit was a wonderful reminder of the enduring connections people make with a museum’s permanent collection objects, as well as a moment to appreciate his father Richard’s early stewardship of the Kress Collection and the Allentown Art Museum. Thank you, Christopher, and we look forward to seeing you again soon!