Westerly Sun

WESTERLY  — Westerly will soon have something new dotting its already rich cultural landscape, something that’s sure to make a beautiful and lasting impression.

The Westerly Museum of American Impressionism — the vision of philanthropists and longtime art collectors Cynthia D. and Thomas P. Sculco — will be located on Watch Hill Road on the same spot once occupied by Apple Rehab Watch Hill, next to Babcock Cove and across from the Cooked Goose. It is expected to open in the fall of 2024. The Sculcos, both of whom graduated from Westerly High School with the class of 1961, said preserving the stretch of land along Route 1A where the museum will be located — and the section known as Ram Point, where they own a home and spend much of the year — is important to them both. When the owners of the former rehabilitation center decided to close the facility back in 2021, the Sculcos, who had a right of first refusal on the 2.26-acre Apple Rehab property, decided to purchase the parcel of land.

“Cynthia and I see it as sort of our life’s work to preserve this section along the river,” said Thomas Sculco, a noted surgeon, who, in addition to being surgeon-in-chief emeritus at New York’s Hospital for Special Surgery, is a professor of orthopedic surgery at Weill Cornell Medical College and founder of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Complex Joint Reconstruction Center. “There is so much natural beauty.””

And we just love Westerly,” said Cynthia, an adjunct associate professor of nursing at New York University’s Rory Meyers College of Nursing who grew up on High Street, just across from Wilcox Park. “There are so many things to get excited about … from the library to the Chorus of Westerly to the United and the bookstore and the plays.”

It makes Westerly a perfect place for the museum,” added Cynthia, a 1965 graduate of the University of Rhode Island’s nursing program. “It’s a good fit and we are very excited about it.”

The Sculcos said along with the museum being a cultural destination, they envision a place where schoolchildren, along with members of the local community, can visit to enjoy both the permanent collection and the rotating exhibitions.

The museum, they said last week in a conference call, will be dedicated to the research and exhibition of American Impressionism. It’s core permanent collection, they said, will include many of the more than 250 paintings the couple has collected over roughly the last four decades.

The Sculcos, who also live in New York City, where they are involved in a number of cultural organizations, said their love of American Impressionists began when they bought their first painting, “probably at a little gallery in New York,” and continued as they learned more about American Impressionist painters.

Many American painters living in the late 1800s and early 1900s traveled to Europe and studied with the French Impressionist painters, Thomas explained, then came home and “put an American spin” on their work.”We love them,” he said of the paintings that include works by Harriet Randall Lumis and members of the famous “Philadelphia Ten,” like Fern Coppedge and Lucille Howard.The Philadelphia Ten were a groundbreaking group, founded in 1917 as an all-women’s group of artists within a male-dominated field, the Sculcos said.

Thomas said they also learned quite a bit about American art from the late Philip Wharton, an expert in late 19th- and early 20th-century American Impressionism. Wharton, who lived in Charlestown, was associated first with the prestigious Vose Galleries in Boston and subsequently founded the Philip R. Wharton Fine Art Gallery.  The Sculcos’ collection includes paintings from the 1880s to 1920, many of them by New England and East Coast artists in places like Rockport and Gloucester, Mass., and Ogunquit, Maine.As far as the museum, the Sculcos said they are “just getting started.”

“Our main focus now is the construction,” said Cynthia. “We are in phase one.”The Sculcos said they started a foundation with their daughter, Sarah Jane Sculco Gibbons, have been working with an architectural firm and are actively seeking a museum director.”We’re very early in the process, and have a long way to go,” Thomas said, “but we’re very excited.”Initially, the Sculcos planned to save the original residence on the property, said Justin Hedde, the principal-in-charge at Centerbrook Architects & Planners, the Centerbrook, Conn., firm hired by the Sculcos to complete the museum. But the house had been renovated so many times and divided into so many offices, they had to change plans.Hedde said it “has been a delight working with Tom and Cynthia. … The Sculcos have a great mission for the museum.”Plans call to remove much of the asphalt parking lot and restore the surrounding property to more of a natural meadow with flowers and grasses to create a natural setting like those captured by the impressionist painters, he said.”It’s a challenge to convert a nursing home into a high-end museum,” Hedde said in a phone interview one afternoon last week about the project, which he called “fantastic” and “a generous project for Westerly.” Hedde, a Stonington High School graduate, said when the museum is complete, it will have a “quaint feel to it,” will connect the cultural thread between downtown Westerly and Watch Hill, and open up views of the Pawcatuck River.”There aren’t really that many opportunities to see the riverfront,” Hedde said, noting that the museum will include “quite a nice event space along the water” and a gallery, where, “when you look down the corridor, it will look like the Pawcatuck River is part of the exhibit.”The building itself, with its “renovated exterior, and walls enlivened by rhythmic vertical battens,” will shake off “the institutional feel as it settles into the riverside surroundings with nautical blue siding and soft gray metal roofs,” according to the stated plans.

The Sculcos said they are interviewing people for the inaugural director’s position, have narrowed the field and hope to hire someone soon so that person can be part of the final project and help plan the calendar and gallery installations.Jennifer and Andrew Nathan, owners of the popular Cooked Goose, just across Watch Hill Road from the proposed museum, said they are thrilled about the project.”What a gift to the community,” Andrew said one morning last week as he greeted his regular customers. “It’s a real gift to the community.”The Sculcos, who met in ninth grade, have deep roots in Rhode Island, Westerly in particular. Cynthia is the 13th great-granddaughter of Roger Williams. Thomas’s father, the late Alfred F. Sculco, a Westerly native and renowned trumpet player who attended the Julliard School of Music, played with a number of major swing-era orchestras and was one of the first to be inducted into the Westerly High School Music Hall of Fame. He is also the nephew of the late Rudolph “Rudy” Sculco, who for decades, ran the historic Wilcox Tavern in Charlestown with his wife, the late Eva (Smyrniotes) Sculco. While Rudy was known for his famous “Rudy’s Pot Roast,” Eva was known for her hats.”I can still see her in her lavender Easter hat,” Cynthia said, “at Easter Sunday luncheon.”

We were featured in April in The Westerly Sun – VIEW PDF