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25 Years of Collecting

April 19, 2018
lithograph of dress made of paper with letters on it
Leslie Dill (American, b. 1950), Hummingbird Dress, 2014, color lithograph with mixed media, 22-3/8 x 22-1/4 inches, W. Sherman and Dorothy A. Burns Revocable Trust Purchase, 2014.20

The UW Art Museum celebrates 25 years at its award-winning location with a special exhibition.

By Nicole M. Crawford 

Forty-five years ago, a University of Wyoming visitor asking directions to the Art Museum would have been sent to Professor James M. Boyle in the Art Building just north of Old Main. Then, the “art museum” consisted of a bulletin board where he would display the works of local artists. In 1968, when the Art Department moved into Wyoming Hall, two small rooms were converted into gallery space. At this time, there was no permanent collection, no budget, no donors and no support organization. By 1972, the new Fine Arts Building with an official museum space was completed. Over the next 20 years, the collection began to grow from a few Depression-era Works Progress Administration paintings and prints to a significant collection of 19th and 20th century European art.

The university then recognized that the museum had outgrown its location in the basement of the Fine Arts Building, and so in 1990, it celebrated the groundbreaking of the Centennial Complex that houses the American Heritage Center and UW Art Museum. With the Wyoming landscape as inspiration, renowned architect Antoine Predock created an award-winning design in 1993. September 2018 marks the 25th anniversary of the Art Museum in its current location, which was once on the edge of campus but is now bordered with a new Visual Arts Building, the recently opened High Bay Research Facility and athletics facilities across the street.

In honor of this anniversary, the Art Museum will showcase highlights from the collection acquired over the last 25 years. Today, the collection is composed of more than 8,000 paintings, drawings, prints, sculpture, photography, multimedia and objects from a variety of cultures and time periods. Expanding from the original collection of 19th and 20th century European art, the strongest area of the collection is now 19th and 20th century American art. However, the Art Museum has significant holdings in photography—from the early explorer photographers to innovative and unique contemporary photographic techniques—and a wide range of contemporary artists working in a variety of media that show audiences current trends in the art world. The Art Museum also began acquiring special collections to broaden an understanding of diverse perspectives, viewpoints and cultures that include the largest single-artist netsuke collection in the United States, which are highly detailed miniature sculptures originating in 17th century Japan; ukiyo-e Japanese wood block prints that date from 1603–1867; traditional Papua New Guinea objects; Persian and Indian miniature paintings from the 17th to 19th centuries; 20th century Haitian paintings; American Indian objects primarily from the American Southwest; 20th century objects from Easter Island (Rapa Nui); and small bronzes from the 13th to 1st century BCE from the Eurasian steppes that represent the earliest works in the collection. All are highlighted in the exhibition 25 Years of Collecting: The UW Art Museum Collection on view through Dec. 15.

Art Museum collections are the basis for exhibitions, statewide outreach, faculty and student curriculum, class visits and the Pat Guthrie Teaching Gallery, and the museum continues to grow the collection through gifts from generous donors and purchases with endowment funds designated for collections.

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