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Saint Mary's College president Brother Ronald Gallagher, Hearst Art Gallery director Carrie Brewster and OVERAA Construction foreman Walt Ross tour a building under construction on Thursday, Aug. 11, 2011, at Saint Mary's College of California in Moraga. The college has begun construction on expanding the Hearst Art Gallery. The new construction will enable the College to increase exhibition space by 50 percent. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Staff)

MORAGA -- As hammering and drilling sounds could be heard in the courtyard of the Hearst Art Gallery, inside the gallery was serene, its walls still adorned with artistic masterpieces.

After a long-awaited plan to create more room to house the gallery's collection of William Keith artwork as well as the art of other high-caliber artists, the Hearst Art Gallery staff, the Saint Mary's College community and the public will get twice as much room for world-class art right in their own neighborhood.

With the expansion, there's no need to make a trek across the Bay to view world-class art, said Carrie Brewster, the gallery's director. The gallery will get 50 percent more exhibition space as well as 50 percent more storage space, Brewster said.

"When you have a dream and see it come into fruition, it's wonderful," said Brewster, who was instrumental in the expansion's design. "I'm a frustrated architect and love designing new spaces."

Built in 1977, the Hearst Art Gallery hasn't expanded since then, even as the William Keith collection keeps growing, Brewster said.

"You learn how to be efficient with space," she said. "It's like putting a size-10 foot in a size-5 shoe. We knew we needed to grow."

Gallery staff worked closely with the college's art department to make the expansion of 2,000 square feet of current space a reality. Part of an art classroom will become large gallery space, and what was the covered walkway by the courtyard will become a new long gallery. Brewster said she did the basic design then showed it to the campus architect who reviewed it, made suggestions and concluded that Brewster's plan makes efficient use of space to display a greater number of the 4,500 works of art from Saint Mary's permanent collection in two new large galleries.

The gallery remains open during construction and the public can visit the current exhibition "Pam Glover: A Life in Art," which is on view until Sept. 11. The gallery's William Keith Room, which features works by California's 19th century master landscape painter, will be closed until construction is completed.

Construction, which began in late June, will continue until early October just in time for a new William Keith show, Brewster said.

"We haven't had a big show since 12 years ago," she said. "This will delight William Keith fans."

With the new space, the gallery can now host exhibits such as a collection of Stanley Truman's photography and a juried show featuring Saint Mary's students' artwork.

"Emerging artists in the Bay Area that are really good deserve a show," Brewster said. "Now, we'll be able to provide the space. One purpose of the gallery is to give students a wonderful sampling of the world's art doing their four years here."

The expansion will give the gallery a chance to continue to show high-quality shows, said Brother Ronald Gallagher, the college's president who happened to be visiting the construction site recently.

"I think the expansion would be a great benefit to the college community," he said. "We're thankful for the donors that made this possible."

As construction continues, gallery staff is still in fundraising mode to finance the expansion. An auction event at Clars Auction Gallery in Oakland aims to raise funds as well as help spread the word about the Hearst Gallery's expansion, Brewster said.

For Brewster, whose parents were both artists and who grew up viewing artistic masterpieces, the gallery expansion is a longtime vision finally fulfilled. Known for its lighting that casts an intimate glow on artwork and for its use of colorful paint on its walls that complements the theme of current shows, the gallery is now poised to attract a large number of visitors from all over the Bay Area and beyond, Brewster said.

"It should increase our audience and make us a wonderful asset, a hidden gem in the Bay Area," Brewster said. "We hope this keeps us more in the spotlight."