Treasures at The Morse Museum
By Betsy Peters
In 1955, at their small museum in Winter Park, Florida, Hugh F. and Jeannette G. McKean organized the first significant exhibition of works by Louis Comfort Tiffany since the artist’s death.
The exhibition’s success set the museum—The Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art—on the course that in fewer than three decades would make it the leading repository of the art of Louis Comfort Tiffany in the world. In 1957, when Tiffany’s grand Long Island mansion, Laurelton Hall, burned, the McKeans saved all they could from the estate.
Louis Comfort Tiffany (1848–1933), the son of Charles Tiffany, the luxury-goods merchant who built Tiffany & Co. into an empire, is most famous for his creations in glass and yet his artistic vision left few mediums untouched. The McKeans continued to collect works by Tiffany and other artists of the era through five decades. Today the Morse, which was founded in 1942, attracts visitors from around the world.
Works in the Tiffany collection include his famed art glass, lamps, and windows, as well as his jewelry, pottery and paintings. Highlights include the chapel interior the artist designed for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago as well as surviving art and architectural objects from Laurelton Hall.
But the Morse is much more than a Tiffany museum. Its holdings also include American art pottery, late 19th- and early 20th-century American paintings, graphics, and decorative art. The McKeans in fact, were less interested in “masterpieces” per se than in objects that exemplified important aspects of American art.
Jeannette (1909–89) founded the Museum and named it for her grandfather, Chicago industrialist and Winter Park philanthropist Charles Hosmer Morse (1833–1921). Hugh (1908–95)—who was an artist, art professor, and for 18 years, president of Winter Park’s Rollins College—led the Museum for nearly half a century.
They established the Museum on these core values: a belief that art improves lives, a passion for education, and a respect for all artists and artistic contributions. The McKeans wanted to guide people to love art by providing access to it and a way to approach it. They believed that all art sincerely made deserves sincere consideration, and that all art enriches the lives of those who take an interest.
In 1976, they created the Charles Hosmer Morse Foundation, which with additional funding from the Elizabeth Morse Genius Foundation established by Jeannette in memory of her mother, supports the Museum without the need for public funds.
Thanks to the McKeans, it is possible to have an unequalled experience of Tiffany’s stated “quest of beauty” in the galleries of the Morse. More importantly, through all its exhibitions and programs, the Museum carries on the McKeans’ vision of unleashing for the benefit of the community the power of art to inspire and enlighten.
For more information about the Morse, call (407) 645-5311 or visit www.morsemuseum.org. #
Betsy Peters is the Director of Programs at The Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art.