The Margaret Harwell Art Museum in Poplar Bluff, Missouri, owes its existence to the generosity of its namesake and benefactor, the late Margaret Harwell -- an amateur artist, businesswoman and civic leader. When Mrs. Harwell died in 1977, she left a part of her estate to the City of Poplar Bluff to establish a center for art classes and exhibits. In 1978, an Arts and Museum Advisory Board was formed to take on the task. In 1980, the city purchased the J.L. Dalton home, itself rich in local history and architecture, to house the museum. The Margaret Harwell Art Museum opened to the public in November 1981. Margaret (Morse) Harwell was born December 10, 1908, in Patton, Missouri, but moved to Poplar Bluff as a young child. After graduating from Poplar Bluff High School, she attended business school then started an insurance company with her father and was later joined in the business by her husband, Art. Margaret was an active member of the Altrusa Club and the Business and Professional Women organization, a charter member of the Ozark Foothill Council on the Arts and active in the Poplar Bluff Artists Guild, which brought various art exhibits to town and arranged for them to be displayed at local financial institutions. She also served on the Poplar Bluff Public Library Board of Trustees.
Margaret Harwell was extremely friendly and outgoing but modest about her accomplishments and her artistic abilities, according to friends. She never signed her paintings, she had said, because she didn't think they were good enough. Later stricken with cancer, she died at age 69, leaving as her legacy a vital cultural resource for Southeast Missouri
The Dalton home was built in 1883 by Thomas H. Moore and was originally a one-story building. Moore added a second story in 1890. James L. Dalton purchased the home in 1896 and made extensive changes, remodeling the facade and adding a columned portico, curved bay windows, scroll trim and an iron fence. Unique features of the interior include decorative wooden scrollwork above the windows and doorways matching exterior scrollwork, curved glass windows, high ceilings and a beautifully carved stairway with leaded glass panels on its landing.
Dalton came to Poplar Bluff in 1885 from Ripley County, Missouri. He was married to Clara Wright of Doniphan, Missouri. They had four children: Grover, Charles, Phoebe and Mary. Dalton became one of Poplar Bluff's pioneer merchants and in 1904 became the manufacturer of the country's first ten-key adding machine, two of which are in the MHAM collection. In 1914, Dalton moved his family and his Dalton Adding Machine Co. to Cincinnati, where a larger workforce could help his company expand. They retained the Poplar Bluff home as Grover stayed behind to manage their retail business, the Wright, Dalton, Bell and Anchor department store. Grover later entered politics and became state chairman of the Republican party. James Dalton died in 1926 and his company was sold to Remington-Rand. The home remained in the family until it was sold in 1980 by the Dalton heirs to the City of Poplar Bluff.
The original volunteer Arts and Museum Advisory Board members arranged exhibits, trained docents and managed museum business until a part-time director was hired in 1985. In 1989, the position became full time. A part-time educational assistant was added in 1993.
The City of Poplar Bluff contributes nearly half of the museum budget, with the rest coming from the museum's fund-raising organization, the Friends of the MHAM, and grants from the Missouri Arts Council. Donations or memorials are welcome and may be sent to Friends of MHAM, 421 N. Main St., Poplar Bluff, MO 63901.
MHAM has nearly 18,000 visitors each year. Its exhibitions change monthly. Its growing permanent collection includes "Parisian Trousseau for a Missouri Bride," the 1898-era clothing of Ann Trotter West. This exhibit was prepared by Southeast Missouri State University at Cape Girardeau guest curator Sally Irvine, whose efforts with our Victorian artifacts produced a highly researched, meticulously restored and beautifully displayed presentation with an enriching scholarly perspective.
MHAM's director,Steve Whitworth, can be reached at 573-686-8002 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The MHAM building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places
with the U.S. Department of the Interior.
©. Margaret Harwell Art Museum, City of Poplar Bluff, Missouri
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