There is life within art that stands the test of time. History, the study of former events and human affairs, has a way of not only connecting us to our past but showing us who we are as descendants of people who have shaped the world as we know it. The recent reopening of The Taft Museum of Art possessed all the wonders of the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries that has been celebrated at this national historical landmark for generations.
The pandemic put a halt to public gatherings, impacting every business in the city of Cincinnati in some way since March 2020. My family and I were elated to learn that The Taft, one of Cincinnati’s must-see attractions, had resumed operations. It was reassuring to learn that The Taft had opened following the Responsible RestartOhio’s guidelines, and in some instances are exceeding them! Additionally, The Taft is adhering to standards set by the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Upon visiting, you’ll notice hand sanitizer stations conveniently available and all patrons are required to be masked. Needless to say, management has placed the safety of its staff and guests at the forefront.
It was our first time at The Taft – we walked in with great anticipation of the culture to be absorbed. At the start of the tour played a band of two, filling the room with classical music which felt warm, charming, and set the tone for our increasing fascination. Immediately on display in the entryway are photos of our 27th U.S. President, William Howard Taft, and his beloved half-brother Charles Phelps Taft featured on the property, solidifying the historical significance of The Taft in American prominence. The museum’s friendly staff acted as tour guides leading us upstairs to experience the next level of wonder.
Down the first hall and into the first exhibition space lies a replica of The Taft’s structural design: Built to Last – The Taft Historic House at 200. It was a complete marvel to my family and I to know that we were standing on a landmark which has been in its original spot for 200 years this year! The replica models after The Taft following its official opening as a public museum in 1932. The floor plan included within this display highlights the renovations which were made from 1820 to 1910, by the Baum – Longworth – Sinton – Taft families. As you move along the hallway, you cannot help but find intrigue in the décor, window treatments, baseboards, and every little detail or creaking sound of the house. Some elements in their original state, others reimagined by interior decorators to bring “what was” back to life!
The Taft truly lives up to being one of the finest small arts museums in America. It’s extensive collection of European, Asian, and American artifacts is simply breathtaking. From jewelry, porcelains, furniture to sculptures, there is a vast amount of culture to lay your eyes upon … and attempt to decipher. It was rewarding to have The Taft’s knowledgeable staff every step of the way to provide insight for patrons regarding the precious items presented before them – really an unexpected and complimentary gesture! However, it was the murals for my family. Eight amazing landscape paintings (each 9 feet x 6.5 feet) handcrafted by African American artist Robert S. Duncanson, hired by then homeowner Nicholas Longworth, enlivens the walls nearest the front of the house. Well preserved by wallpaper which protected them from being desecrated, the artwork is brilliant. Telling a story that would otherwise go untold had not Duncanson’s paintbrush ever stroked the plaster beneath.
According to The Taft, “the murals are now recognized as the most significant pre–Civil War domestic murals in the United States and are one of the Taft Museum of Art’s largest artworks, second only to the house itself.” Considering the climate of our country, provided the recent events which have occurred following the death of George Floyd of Minnesota, my child’s coming into the knowledge of Mr. Duncanson was serendipitous. Taking the moment to gaze upon Duncanson’s contribution to American history provided a stillness, sweet peace, despite the business of the world outside The Taft’s walls. It was inspiring!
Tucked away in downtown Cincinnati is a treasure, The Taft Museum of Art is a place dedicated to the family, and worth the travel back in time! In fact, a journey back helps us all discern the journey ahead. There is power and hope in art – demonstrating some of the highest human capabilities. A visit to The Taft is a beautiful break from our “new normal.” The museum is fully prepared for our current state of affairs amid COVID-19 and has established vulnerable guest hours, to protect higher-risk patrons. There are many takeaways from this historical museum that you can only understand by being present in the house. In just an hour’s time you’ll find your trip creating the desire to learn more, and perhaps to study additionally on your own accord. Ultimately, Cincinnati-ans will forever love the nostalgia of it all. It makes the city feel tightly interwoven in the fabric of this country, as it is with significance!
Current operating hours are: CLOSED Monday and open Thursdays and Fridays, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Members and first responders are FREE; adults: $12 at the door, $10 online.; seniors: $10 at the door, $8 online.
Learn more and buy your tickets in advance for discounts on admission at taftmuseum.org.