Jamie Stiehm: Banneker-Douglass Museum Links New Gallery To Church





The Banneker-Douglass Museum in Annapolis is now closer to Church Circle, with its front door moved 10 paces to the left - bringing a visitor into a stark space where the old and new architecture of the museum meet.

Inside the Franklin Street entrance, gleaming black floor tiles and a modern light oak staircase make a seamless match with the tall right wall from the exterior of the 1890s brick building. All this sets the stage for a maritime mural of the City Dock circa 1870, the post-emancipation period, right in the middle of the story the museum is there to tell.

"You see the old [church] facade and at the same time view the new gallery space, showing you where we were and where we are now," said Jeffrey H. Greene, the facilities manager overseeing the project for the state.

With the mission of illuminating African-American history and culture in Maryland, the state's official repository of related archival material is in the final stages of a $5.5 million expansion that will double its size to 11,000 square feet, state officials said.

Now in the last phase of designing exhibits, the museum named for astronomer Benjamin Banneker and abolitionist Frederick Douglass - both Maryland natives - is due to reopen by the end of the year. It has been closed since May.

"This [project] has been a long time coming, five or six years," museum director Wendi Perry said. "But we held the integrity of this [church] building. ... It takes a lot to get it right."

As she spoke, Perry pointed to the polished stained-glass windows and brick hull of the historic Mount Moriah AME Church, which previously housed the 21-year-old museum. Burnishing the beauty of the 1894 church, once the cherished center of a bustling black community, was paramount to the museum's expansion onto what used to be an empty lot.

"The church is an artifact, too," Perry said. "It's our biggest artifact."

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