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Merrick Free Art Gallery


Merrick Free Art Gallery

Merrick Gallery

Location Details

PHONE: 724-846-1130
ADDRESS: 5th Ave & 11th St.
New Brighton, PA 15066
HOURS: Regular Hours: Tuesdays - Saturdays 10:00AM-4:30PM, Sundays 1:00PM-4:00PM; Closed December 24-January 15; Summer Hours: Wednesdays-Saturdays 10:00AM-4:00PM, Alternating Sundays 1:00PM-4:00PM Closed All Holiday Weekends Summer Hours begin Memorial Day Weekend
COST: free


Edward Dempster Merrick was born of a certain time and circumstance. The time was the mid-1800s and the circumstance was a successful family business.

After serving in the Civil War and exploring the still-wild West, Dempster (as future generations affectionately called him) did what was expected. He returned home to New Brighton, and joined his brothers, Charles, Frederick, and Franklin, in running the Standard Horse Nail Company.

But, it was the unexpected that ultimately defined his life and legacy. “He wasn’t allowed to pursue art as a child,” says Merrick Art Gallery Director Cynthia Kundar. As he approached his 50th birthday, Dempster decided to make his dreams a reality.

Dempster began buying paintings, particularly those of the Hudson River School, and creating his own works. In 1880, he founded the Merrick Free Art Gallery and Public Library. For the next 30-plus years, the simple red brick building, a former railroad station, served as his home, his studio, and his muse. “He was considered to be very eccentric,” Kundar says.

The Gallery, complete with its collection of more than 200 paintings, stands today. However, Dempster’s own paintings are gone. Legend has it that after his death in 1911, his canvases were unceremoniously tossed into a bonfire — only the frames were spared. Despite the fact that Dempster’s work was never fully appreciated, he took the plight of the struggling artist much to heart. His instructions specified that the Gallery was to be kept open, free to the public, a safe haven for local artists. In addition, he stipulated that one trustee, always a blood relation, would watch over the facility. From 1959 to 2002, that individual was Robert Silas Merrick, Sr.

Robert also happened to head the Standard Horse Nail Company. Together, Robert and his wife, Eva Mae Merrick, saw the Gallery through difficult times. According to Eva Mae, the Gallery had fallen into a 50-year period of neglect. To revitalize Dempster’s dream, the two Merricks established a conservation program for the paintings, installed electricity, replaced the heating system, and hired a director.

Like its founder, the Gallery’s collection remains eclectic. And chances are that’s not going to change as another Merrick (Ted) begins his stint as trustee. Although no longer home to the library (it moved in 1984), the Gallery continues to house books, rocks and minerals, a permanent collection of 19th-century paintings, and a piano that Stephen Foster was said to have played when it graced the Merrick House Hotel during the 1850s.

The Gallery also hosts the Beaver Valley Artists Annual Show, takes in tour groups and school classes, and offers a beautiful backdrop for weddings and receptions. (Just ask Gretchen Merrick. She recently held her wedding reception at the family landmark.)

Dempster’s words will forever remain the Gallery’s foundation. “I think to paint a fine picture is one of the greatest achievements of man.”

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