The Spencer Museum of Art is located at the University of Kansas in Lawrence. The permanent collection includes over 45,000 works of art and objects of cultural significance, making the museum the most comprehensive in the state of Kansas. The collection at the museum began with a donation of over 7,500 works to the University of Kansas by Sallie Casey Thayer to encourage the study of the arts in the American Midwest.
Ms. Taylor’s collection was an eclectic mix of paintings, sculpture and decorative arts, mostly from Europe and Asia. Significant areas of focus include East Asian art, 20th century Chinese painting and Japanese Edo period prints and paintings. In 2007, the collection expanded significantly when the art museum acquired over 8,500 ethnographic objects from the University of Kansas Museum of Anthropology, mostly a collection of Native American objects.
Highlights of the collection include Japanese color woodblock prints, and ink and brush paintings and hanging scrolls. Asian art in the collection dates from the Neolithic era through the 21st century. The Native American Collection is extensive and includes over 3,000 objects from the 1895 collection of the University’s naturalist, Lewis Lindsay Dyche, to contemporary works by Native artist Chris Pappan. Items in the American collection include landscape painting by Georgia O’Keeffe and Winslow Homer as well as regional Kansas City artists. The contemporary collection is strong in sculpture and moving image media, with significant holdings of Kansas-based artists, such as Wendell Castle and Ann Hamilton. A collection of over 90 Haitian paintings was acquired in 1970 as well as the collection of art critic Gene Swenson, which focuses on 1960’s New York. 17 works donated by the Samuel H. Kress Foundation in 1959 include Renaissance panel paintings and other European works of significance from the 19th and 20th centuries.
History: The museum was founded in 1928 at the University of Kansas’ Spooner Hall with the collection of Ms. Sallie Casey Thayer. By the 1960’s, the collection had outgrown the facility, requiring a building of its own. In 1976, Kansas City collector and arts patron, Mrs. Helen Foresman Spencer donated $4.6 million to the University for the construction of a new museum. The new building, a neo-classical design built with Indiana Limestone was designed by Robert E. Jenks, a 1962 graduate of Kansas University. It opened in 1978 and houses Ms. Spencer’s collection as well as the University’s library of art and architecture and the Department of Art History. In 2015, the galleries closed to the public for Phase I of a major renovation project. The $8 million renovation transformed over 30,000 square feet of lobby and meeting space, classroom space, and storage for works on paper. Over 100,000 visitors view the collection at the Spencer Museum of Art annually. The museum is accredited by the American Alliance of Museums.
Ongoing Programs and Education: As the art museum of the University of Kansas, the collection provides university students with objects of study and research. Programs have expanded beyond the university and include K through 12 class visits, as well as a partnership with the Lawrence Public Schools System to bring arts education to the classroom. The 50-year partnership incorporates English learning, STEM education and local history alongside an arts-based curriculum. The new Goddard Study Center allows students and the public to closely examine works of art under the guidance of museum staff. During Walk-ins Welcome Fridays, no appointment is needed and visitors may drop in to view and of the works on paper from the museum’s collection.
An Artists in Residence Program brings diverse contemporary artists to campus to engage with the museum’s permanent collection as well as the students. 2016 artists included Park Jaeyoung, a Korean artist who uses science fiction themes, as well as Sahej Rahal, an Indian artist working found objects to create sculptures resembling terracotta clay.
Ongoing programs include Art Cart, an activity station where visitors of all ages can make crafts inspired by the current exhibits. Slow Art Sundays ask guests to contemplate just a single work of art each Sunday. Museum staff is on hand to answer questions.
Past and Future Exhibits: Future exhibitions include Big Botany: Conversations with the Plant World. The exhibit, which runs March through July 2018, will combine works from the museum’s collection along with loaned items to explore man’s relationship with the plant world. The exhibit will be accompanied by a detailed publication as well as a range of educational programming.
1301 Mississippi St Lawrence, KS 66045, website, Phone: 785-864-4710
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