The Museum Archives houses the documentary history of the museum. Much of this history consists of the written word. However, it also includes documentary evidence in the form of images. Pictures provide unique information that cannot be found in other types of documents. They are created to serve a number of purposes including augmenting the written record. In some instances, however, the only evidence of an historical event is photographic. Much can be deduced from images of people, places, and events. These are but a few examples of images that convey stories of the museum over time.
The museum's front yard is the Fine Arts Garden, designed by the firm of legendary landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted. For a number of years the lagoon was home to a pair of nesting swans named Philip and Elizabeth. The swan family was a favorite of museum visitors and were looked after with great care by the staff and residents of the University Circle area. For their own protection they wintered on a farm in Mentor. Occasionally the lagoon froze over before the swans could be transferred, necessitating their rescue.
The museum's second director, William Milliken, was a well known connoisseur in the art world. Thomas Munro, curator of education, was also a nationally recognized innovator in arts education. Their public portraits show men of taste and distinction. People who knew them saw men who were fun loving and not afraid to let their hair down. Milliken was a very emotional man who was known to cry in order to sway the board of trustees to his point of view regarding acquisitions.
It was with great excitement that the museum prepared for the 1933 exhibition of works by James McNeill Whistler. The highlight of the show was his "Portrait of the Artist's Mother, Arrangement in Gray and Black" which came to us from the Louvre. This picture was considered so important a police escort was arranged. A local art critic was invited along for the ride and described the scene:
"It was proud I was Wednesday night, or rather Thursday morning, when I formed part of the procession that escorted Whistler's Mother from the express train to the museum of art. She is such a meek, kindly, old lady as you see her there in gallery VIII, but it took two police squad cars, eight motorcycle police and three museum cars to chaperone her safely to her present home.. It was a grand spectacle as we sailed majestically out St. Clair Avenue to East 40th, across to Euclid Avenue and finally into port at the superintendent's entrance of the museum. First came a squad car with a lovely siren that led the baying of the hounds. Next came the big American Express Company's truck in which rode Whistler's famous portrait of his mother, standing on her head we discovered later. Poor lady! On either side of her were ranged the eight motorcycle cops, each equipped with a thoroughly effective siren. Back of the truck was the second squad car full of police officers. Finally came the car of director William M. Milliken, with myself and I.T. Frary serving as rear guards. What a ride!...We didn't bother speed limits, but how we did crash lights…Twelve of them we counted, and we sailed full speed ahead with sirens braying..."
From the outset our first director, Frederick Whiting, insisted that the museum be an educational institution. The education department was established two years before the museum opened in 1916, offering programs in the public schools. Opening day saw the director escorting his son and his classmates through the armor court. Children have been in the museum ever since. CMA was the first art museum to allow children to draw in the galleries.
Over time the manner in which the galleries have been styled has varied according to taste and changes in professional understanding of how art is best exhibited. The inaugural exhibition featured paintings hung in salon style, that is, close together and from the wainscoting nearly to the ceiling. Today art is arranged with much more space surrounding each piece to enhance the experience of individual works.
The galleries of the 1916 building were originally designed to be simple, plain rooms in which the artwork would take center stage. The one exception to this plan was gallery number six, known as the Holden Gallery which was designed specifically to lure a collection of Italian paintings from museum benefactress Mrs. Liberty Holden. Ornately styled, the gallery cost an exorbitant amount for the time but served its purpose as seen here with the Holden collection on exhibit. Museum renovations beginning in 1956 have altered the room which now houses American art.
The annual May Show, a juried exhibition, featured works by local artists which were offered for sale. For many years the creation of duplicates was encouraged as a means of supporting these local artists and providing relatively inexpensive works to the public. May Show objects can be found today in many area homes. Because non prize winning entries were not photographed individually, gallery views are often the only evidence that a piece was exhibited in the show. Artists were required to retrieve rejected works or risk the museum disposing of them.
As you can see from the few examples in this Collection in Focus, the archives houses photographs that tell stories and illustrate the lighter-side of the museum and its staff, in addition to providing visual documentary evidence of museum history.