Museum of Art (University of Michigan) Records and Publications

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Museum of Art (University of Michigan) Records and Publications

The materials in this online repository form part of a larger University of Michigan Museum of Art record group held by the Bentley Historical Library. For a more complete index to the materials, please consult the following online finding aids:

Researchers may also be interested in the Museum of Art (University of Michigan) Web Archives.

For questions or more information, please contact the Bentley Historical Library's Division of Reference and Access Services

Established as a separate unit of the university in 1946, the University of Michigan Museum of Art serves as a research and teaching facility for the university and surrounding communities. This online collection includes audio recordings; additional materials are available at the Bentley Historical Library.

The University of Michigan Museum of Art (UMMA) houses the second largest art collection in the state of Michigan, offering a rich permanent collection supplemented by an active special exhibition program. In addition, the many and varying art collections assist in teaching at the university. The collections of Chinese and Japanese paintings and ceramics; Old Master and contemporary prints and drawings; and Whistler prints are particularly strong.

The museum was established in its present form in 1946. The University Regents declared in November 1945 that the Museum of Art and Archaeology be abolished and that two separate units (the Museum of Art and the Museum of Archaeology) take its place. At their January 1946 meeting, the Regents further stipulated that the Museum of Art be maintained as "a separate administrative unit for the purpose of collection, conservation, study and exhibition of works of art and the preparation of publications with respect thereunto." The university's art collections had their origins long before 1946, however. Early systematic collecting began in 1855 when Professor Henry S. Frieze purchased a number of art works, chiefly engravings and plaster casts, to illustrate his courses in classical art and archaeology. In 1862 Frieze was instrumental in acquiring the university's first significant original work of art, Randolph Rogers' Nydia, the Blind Flower Girl of Pompeii.

The collection grew sporadically in the following decades, in large part through gifts from individuals as well as from graduating classes. The Henry C. Lewis bequest came to the university in 1895 and contained more than four hundred paintings and other works of art. With a modest budget for acquisitions, the museum's first director, Jean Paul Slusser, maintained a focus on collecting modern painting, sculpture and graphics and was quite successful due to his aesthetic expertise, knowledge of the New York art market and connections with Ann Arbor art organizations. The collection was further supplemented by gifts, including the Carl F. Clarke bequest of French and American landscape paintings and the Margaret Watson Parker bequest in 1936 (transferred to the museum in 1954 and 1955) of more than 600 Asian and Western works including Japanese prints and paintings by James NcNeill Whistler. Dr. Walter R. Parker (Margaret's husband and professor of ophthalmology at the university) further bequeathed funds to house the collection and to support future acquisitions.

During the very early years, efforts were made to display the collections. In 1857-1858 they were housed in the North and South Colleges. Space was allocated in the no longer extant library (newly erected in 1883), but even with the additional space gained when the library was enlarged in 1898 the facility could not adequately accommodate the growing collections. In 1910 the collections were moved to Alumni Memorial Hall, sharing the building with the Fine Arts Department and the Alumni Association. The hall has undergone renovations on several occasions. In 1957-1958, a Unistrut system of internal scaffolding was designed by professor of architecture William Muschenheim and installed in the museum apse. This installation increased gallery space. The Unistrut installation was subsequently removed in the early 1970s. Remodeling in 1966-1967 created additional gallery space; modernized the museum's heating, cooling and lighting systems; and provided areas for storage and behind-the-scenes work. The Museum of Art became Alumni Memorial Hall's sole occupant at this time. In 2003, planning was begun for a major expansion designed to increase the building's capacity by 55,000 square feet, to be used for additional gallery space, an auditorium and classrooms, and for a complete renovation of the existing facility.

Important components of the UMMA's program were added as it continued to expand its exhibitions program. In the late 1950s director Charles Sawyer began presenting museum seminars which, by 1963, had developed into the Museum Practice Program. The program, continued through 1995, provided training for many budding professionals in the museum field and organized numerous successful exhibitions for the UMMA over the years. (The training of museum professionals was revived at the university in Fall 2003 when an interdisciplinary Museum Studies Program was created under the auspices of the Rackham School of Graduate Studies.) The Friends of the Museum of Art was founded in 1968. This group supports the UMMA's acquisitions and other programming. Under director Bret Waller, the Docent Program was established in 1975 to provide tours for school classes and other visitors.

Please note:

Copyright has been transferred to the Regents of the University of Michigan.

Access to digitized sound recordings may be limited to the reading room of the Bentley Historical Library, located on the Ann Arbor campus of the University of Michigan.

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