Entrance to the museum (2016)
|Location||1301 Mississippi Street|
The Spencer Museum of Art is an art museum located on the University of Kansas campus in Lawrence, Kansas. The museum houses collection that currently numbers nearly 36,000 artworks and artifacts in all media. The collection spans the history of European and American art from ancient to contemporary, and includes broad holdings of East Asian art. Areas of special strength include medieval art; European and American paintings, sculpture and prints; photography; Japanese Edo period painting and prints; 20th-century Chinese painting; and KU’s ethnographic collection, which includes about 10,000 Native American, African, Latin American and Australian works.
In 1917 Sallie Casey Thayer, a Kansas City art collector, offered her collection of nearly 7,500 art objects to the University of Kansas to form a museum "to encourage the study of fine arts in the Middle West." Her eclectic collection included paintings, sculpture, prints, drawings, furniture, rugs, textiles, metalwork, ceramics, glass, and other examples of decorative arts, primarily from Europe and Asia. Eventually the University of Kansas Museum of Art was established in 1928, based on this collection.
By the late 1960s the Museum had outgrown its quarters in Spooner Hall. Helen Foresman Spencer, another Kansas City collector and patron of the arts, made a gift of $4.6 million that funded construction of a new museum, overseen by Charles C. Eldredge, a former curator and director of the museum. The building housing the Helen Foresman Spencer Museum of Art, the Kress Foundation Department of Art History, and the Murphy Library of Art and Architecture opened in 1978. The neo-classical structure, built from Indiana limestone, was designed by Kansas City architect Robert E. Jenks, a 1926 graduate of KU.
In 2007, the Spencer Museum grew again when approximately 9,500 ethnographic collection objects from the former University of Kansas Museum of Anthropology were transferred to the Spencer Museum of Art. The collection includes a wide variety of cultural materials from all around the world, with a particular emphasis on American Indian materials. The collection is still housed in Spooner Hall and the storage space has been upgraded to include specially designed cabinets to house and protect the collection.
In 2016 the first phase of a major renovation project was completed by the architectural firm Pei Cobb Freed & Partners. The works covered 30,000 square feet of the building and, according to the architects, added features that:
"infuse the building with natural light, connecting art and nature with breathtaking views into historic Marvin Grove. A glass-enclosed entry and new windows on the east and west bring natural light into the galleries for the first time. A new staircase and elevator improve circulation, while balcony overlooks offer glimpses from one gallery into another. An expanded study center and teaching gallery accommodate temporary installations and up-close investigations of objects in the collection."
The museum has received grants from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to support interdisciplinary research, first $487,000 in 2016 to launch the program, and a second round of funding of $650,000 in 2019.
The Spencer Museum of Art sustains a diverse collection of art and works of cultural significance. It encourages interdisciplinary exploration at the intersections of art, ideas and experience. Among its collections are items from the estate of local literary icon William S. Burroughs, e.g., a Dreamachine fabricated by David Woodard. According to the Spencer Museum of Art's webpage, the museum strives to strengthen, support, and contribute to the academic research and teaching of the University of Kansas, and it is committed to serving communities of learners across Kansas and beyond.
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