The University of Michigan, an encyclopedic survey ... Wilfred B. Shaw, editor.
University of Michigan.
Page  293


Following its establishment as an independent unit in 1946 under the Directorship of Professor Jean Paul Slusser, the Museum of Art embarked on an active program of exhibitions and acquisitions to supplement and focus for more specific instructional purposes the collections which had been accumulated by the University under various auspices since the middle of the nineteenth century. In the following decade, Professor Slusser and Helen B. Hall, who had been appointed as Curator of the Collections, initiated, with very modest annual appropriations, acquisitions of prints and drawings, painting and sculpture, with a primary emphasis on the arts of the twentieth century. These acquisitions provided a pattern for the future development of the collections. They were greatly enriched and their growth accelerated by the bequests of Margaret Watson Parker and Dr. Walter R. Parker which provided a foundation for the collections of Oriental Art and a nucleus of works representing European and American art of the latter half of the nineteenth century. The exhibitions during this period included two major exhibitions of Oriental Art and selections from important regional collections: Mr. and Mrs. Harry F. Winston of Birmingham and Mr. and Mrs. Laurence A. Fleischman of Detroit.

From the time of initial establishment, it became increasingly apparent that the quarters occupied by the Museum of Art in Alumni Memorial Hall were completely inadequate to encourage continuing growth of its collections and expansion of services to the University community. Since the use of the building was then shared with four other autonomous and unrelated units, the problem of administration and security, and of storage, work, and office space placed an intolerable burden on all its occupants. With the appointment in 1957 of Charles H. Sawyer, formerly Director of the Worcester Art Museum, and Director of the Division of the Arts at Yale University, as Director, the first steps to alleviate these physical handicaps were taken. Alterations in the first floor area provided additional exhibition space, and the galleries on the second floor were substantially altered and refurbished. Finally, a decade later, with the move of the Development Council and the Alumni Association to new quarters in the Michigan Union and of the Alumni Cataloging office and the Addressograph operations to other locations, the entire Page  294building became available for the purposes of the Museum of Art. The University administration authorized the expenditure of matching funds to supplement those provided in the bequests of Dr. and Mrs. Parker, and in 1966 major alterations were begun for the housing of their collections in Alumni Memorial Hall. For the first time, the Museum had efficient and well-integrated exhibition and work space, providing a new division for the development of its role in the University and in the Ann Arbor community.

Beginning in 1958, the Regents also approved an annual special appropriation for acquisitions of works of art, which permitted a substantial acceleration in the growth of the collections. This was one of the first instances in which research funds were designated by a University for such purposes, and it established a pattern which was subsequently followed by other major universities in the Midwest in developing their art collections. Building on the foundation which Professor Slusser had established, the collections were expanded to include examples of western art from the middle ages to the present day; limitations in objects available in the art market impelled primary concentration on the arts of the sixteenth, seventeenth, eighteenth, and early nineteenth centuries. Gradually, from a few major examples of painting and sculpture, the collections have been diversified to include examples of prints, drawings, and more recently, of decorative art. Concurrently there has been a steady increase in the size and scope of the collections of Oriental Art, with particular emphasis on the arts of China and Japan. In the development of these collections four memorial collections played a major role. The James Marshall Plumer collections, founded in honor of the late professor of Oriental Art, provided important additions to the Oriental collections acquired through the Parker bequests. A bequest from Florence Stol of Warren, Vermont, in honor of Robert Frost and Paul Osborn, added substantially to the representation of Post-Impressionist graphic art. A nucleus for a collection of European decorative arts was provided in the selections from the distinguished collection of the late Paul L. Grigaut, Associate Director of the Museum.

With a primary emphasis on the quality of the individual work of art, considerable emphasis was placed on the development of the collections for instructional and research purposes. Also, there has been a continuing effort to extend the usefulness of the collections and the accompanying exhibitions to other humanistic disciplines and beyond the boundaries of the University Page  295community. In that context, a collection of European architectural and ornament drawings, chiefly of seventeenth and eighteenth century, and other related drawings of the period, will be useful in adding depth and perspective to the study of all the arts of this period. In quite a different frame of reference, acquisitions of contemporary drawings and of graphic art have supplemented the still limited representation of different modes of expression in painting, sculpture, and mixed media characteristic of all the arts in the third quarter of this century. A combination of historical and contemporary critical perspective, a catholic and eclectic taste, and a willingness to venture beyond the traditional boundaries of media and market place are requirements to make an art museum a useful and vital teaching instrument in the broader framework of the University.

Concurrently with the growth of the permanent collections, the Museum of Art initiated, in cooperation with members of the associated faculties, a series of major exhibitions. Among these are: Mexican Art: Pre-Columbian to Modern Times (1958-59); Persian Art Before and After the Mongol Conquest (1959); A Generation of Draughtsmen (1962); Italy Through Dutch Eyes: Dutch Seventeenth-Century Landscape Artists in Italy (1964); French Watercolors 1760-1860 (1965); Allesandro Magnasco (1967); The Painting of Tao-Chi (1967); Sasanian Silver (1967); Michigan Alumni Art Collections (1967); Manet and Spain: Prints and Drawings (1969); The World of Voltaire (1969); The Cult of Krishna (1970); and Durer's Cities: Nuremberg and Venice (1971). These exhibitions have been accompanied by illustrated and documented catalogues. The Museum of Art also published a Handbook of its collections (1962), and in 1965-66 began a new series of the Bulletin of the University of Michigan Museum of Art, since published annually with articles on objects in the collection and a list of recent acquisitions. The late Professor Grigaut served as Editor of Publications, with Helen B. Hall as Associate Editor; Miss Hall succeeded Professor Grigaut, and upon her retirement in December 1970, Robert A. Yassin became Editor.

In addition to these publications a fully illustrated and documented catalogue of the collections of Architectural and Ornament Drawings was edited by Dr. Richard Wunder, formerly Director of the Cooper-Hewitt Museum, New York. Currently, Mrs. Mary C. Taylor, Curator of Drawings and Prints at the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, is preparing a catalogue of the collection of approximately one hundred European drawings, chiefly of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, which have been acquired by gift Page  296and purchase from the collection formed in the late 1920s by the late Mr. and Mrs. Edward T. Sonnenschein of Chicago. Mrs. Taylor has been engaged in research on this collection over a ten-year period while pursuing graduate study in the history of art at The University of Michigan.

Aided by grants from the Samuel H. Kress Foundations, the University Museum of Art has also sponsored during the past decade research in paint media jointly with the Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore, and has collaborated with the Department of Chemistry in research in establishing the age of metals with the use of neutron activation analysis. Through membership in the Intermuseum Conservation Association, the Museum has also cooperated with other regional museums in dealing with the mounting problems of conservation of works of art and, recently, in the development of a program for the training of art conservators.

Over a period of fifteen years, and beginning with the establishment of two graduate seminars in museum practice in the Department of History of Art, the Director of the Museum and the Museum staff have participated actively in a program for the training of personnel for positions in museums of art, archaeology, and history. In 1963, the Regents authorized the establishment of the degree Master of Museum Practice and the program was placed under the supervision of a committee appointed by the Dean and the Executive Committee of the Rackham School of Graduate Studies. Initially, funding was provided by a modest annual grant from the Graduate School, with matching funds from the Museum of Art. The Toledo Museum of Art and the Henry Ford Museum have assumed responsibility for the related internships which are an integral part of the program. In the spring of 1971, the University received grants from the Arts and the Humanities Foundations, providing support for six students enrolled in the program. Continuing its close affiliation with related programs in the History of Art and in American Culture and other area studies, the program has sought to prepare candidates primarily for curatorial, educational, and administrative positions in museums. While still small and restricted in enrollment, the museum training program has grown over the years, and an impressive number of its graduates now occupy positions of responsibility in museums throughout the country.

In 1969, the President authorized the formation of an Association of Friends of the University of Michigan Museum of Art and appointed a Council of thirty-five members to plan, in association with the Executive Committee of the Museum, the course of its development. The primary Page  297objective agreed upon was to provide additional funds for the growth of the Museum collections and the development of its community-oriented activities. In the fall of 1971, approximately seven hundred members were enrolled and the members had sponsored a series of events to encourage increasing community participation. During the initial years, Mrs. Sara Germain, who had been Administrative Assistant for the University Sesquicentennial Year Committee, served as Executive Secretary of the Friends; her successor, Mrs. Alison F. Hays, has also served as coordinator of the Museum's community activities.

Professor Jean Paul Slusser served as Director of the Museum of Art from the time of its establishment until his retirement in 1956. His successor, Professor Charles H. Sawyer, was Director from January 1957 until July 1972. During the 1961-62 year, Dr. Charles Chetham served as Assistant Director, resigning to become Director of the Smith College Museum of Art. His successor, Samuel Sachs II, was in office through the 1963-64 year when he accepted appointment as Chief Curator of the Minneapolis Institute of Art. Professor Paul L. Grigaut was appointed Associate Director in May 1965, and continued until his death in March 1969. Robert A. Yassin, who was Assistant to the Director in 1965-66 and, subsequently Assistant for two years to the Director of the Yale University Art Gallery, was appointed Assistant Director in July 1970.

Helen B. Hall served as Curator of the Collections from the time of the formation of the museum until her retirement in December 1970. Mrs. Nesta R. Spink, who had served as Assistant Curator since 1968, was appointed Acting Curator in January 1971. John Holmes was appointed Assistant Curator for Design in July 1970. Mrs. Elain S. Timin was the first Registrar of the Museum of Art, serving from 1959 until 1963; her successor, Mrs. Miriam R. Levin, continued in office through June 1967. Mrs. Jeanne Chilman Klovdahl, who had completed her internship at the Toledo Museum during the previous year, was Registrar until July 1971, when Mrs. Carol C. Clark assumed the position. In addition to this small nucleus of professional staff and those serving in clerical and technical positions, the Museum of Art has had the services of a considerable group of graduate assistants who have worked in the Museum over a period of years in preparation for museum careers.