Examining the museum's history provides context for reflection and dialogue.

Tracing our history highlights our architectural evolution, collection growth, and programmatic expansion.

1793

Williams College is granted an official charter by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

1840–1900s

1846–1847

Lawrence Hall, the college’s first library and one of the earliest buildings on campus, is built.  The two-story octagonal brick structure is named for the merchant-manufacturer and self-made millionaire, Amos Lawrence, who contributed the funds for its construction.

1851

Williams receives its first major gift—three ninth-century BC Assyrian stone reliefs from the Palace of Ashurnasirpal II at Ninevah.

Assyrian, Winged Guardian Spirit and Assyrian, Guardian Spirit

Assyrian, Winged Guardian Spirit, c. 880 BC. Gypsum, 83 x 39 3/4 x 3 in. Gift of Sir Henry Layard through Dwight W. Marsh, Class of 1842, 1851.1
Assyrian, Guardian Spirit, c. 880 BC. Gypsum, 92 x 38 1/2 x 3 in. Gift of Sir Henry Layard through Dwight W. Marsh, Class of 1842, 1851.2

1858

The Williams Art Association is formed with a mission to seek the donation of works of art, curricular support for art and aesthetics, and exhibition space. The group collects reproductive engravings of old master paintings and offers a number of exhibitions around campus.

1887

Eliza Peter Field memorializes her husband John W. Field by donating their large art collection to the museum, as well as funds to build wings east and west of the octagon to house the collection.

1897–1898

The first art history course entitled, “History of Art—A study of the forms and history of the arts of design, especially as expressed in architecture and ornament,” is listed in the course catalogue.

1920–1940s

1923

Stetson Library opens, paving the way for Lawrence Hall to become an art museum.

Stetson Hall from 1923

Stetson Hall from 1923.

1926–1927

Karl E. Weston 1896, the college’s Amos Lawrence Professor of Art, establishes the Lawrence Art Museum. The museum opens on April 19, 1927. A wing is added in the rear for instruction, bringing together art and curricula in a new approach to art in the classroom.

1938

Another expansion adds two galleries on the second floor and one on the first floor. Funds were donated by Edwin Howland Blashfield’s widow and sister.

Drawings showing 1937 expansions adding three gallery spaces.

Drawings showing 1937 expansions adding three gallery spaces.

1944

During World War II, Lawrence Art Museum stores a significant part of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston’s collection.

1947

Cole Porter, notable songwriter and composer, gifts seven works to the museum, among which is Grant Wood’s Death on the Ridge Road.

Grant Wood (American, 1892–1942) Death on Ridge Road

Grant Wood (American, 1892–1942) Death on Ridge Road, 1935. Oil on masonite, 32 1/8 x 39 1/16 x 1 5/16 in. Gift of Cole Porter, 47.1.3

1948

S. Lane Faison, Jr., ’29 is appointed director of the museum. During his twenty-eight year tenure, the art history curriculum and museum collection expand significantly.

S. Lane Faison, Jr., Class of 1929

S. Lane Faison, Jr., Class of 1929

1960–1980s

1962

The Lawrence Art Museum changes its name to the Williams College Museum of Art (WCMA).

1972

A Master’s Program in the History of Art is jointly established by Williams College and the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute.

1976

Planning begins for museum expansion. Architect Charles Moore designs a four-story addition in a Postmodernist style. The expansion, completed in 1986, included new classrooms, more offices and storage, and a climate control system.

1977

Lawrence H. Bloedel ’23, bequeaths a large portion of his collection to the museum including Edward Hopper’s Morning in a City.

Edward Hopper (American, 1882–1967) Morning in a City, 1944. Oil on canvas, 44 5/16 x 59 13/16 in. Bequest of Lawrence H. Bloedel, Class of 1923, 77.9.7

Edward Hopper (American, 1882–1967) Morning in a City, 1944. Oil on canvas, 44 5/16 x 59 13/16 in. Bequest of Lawrence H. Bloedel, Class of 1923, 77.9.7

1980

Thomas Krens ’69, Williams professor of studio art (undergraduate) and of art history (in the college’s graduate program), becomes director of the museum.

Major initiatives and exhibitions under Krens’ tenure include—the continuation of the Artist in Residence series begun in the late seventies by Lane Faison, with projects by artists including Helen Frankenthaler, Robert Morris, and Jim Dine; the WALLWORKS series, which occasioned the first Sol LeWitt wall drawing at WCMA; The Restoration of Thomas Hart Benton The America Today Murals; and Radical Painting: Contemporary Monochrome Paintings.

1981

Scholars begin work on a Maurice and Charles Prendergast catalogue raisonne. Mrs. Eugénie Prendergast subsequently donates 400 works and the brothers’ archives to the museum. Nine years later, the Prendergast catalogue raisonne is completed and published.

Maurice Brazil Prendergast (American, 1858–1924) Festa Del Redentore

Maurice Brazil Prendergast (American, 1858–1924) Festa Del Redentore, c. 1899. Watercolor and pencil on paper, 11 x 17 in. Williams College Museum of Art, Gift of Mrs. Charles Prendergast, 91.18.5

1988

Sol LeWitt Wall Drawing #559 is installed in the museum atrium.

Sol LeWitt, Wall Drawing #559, Installed in WCMA atrium 1988.

Sol LeWitt, Wall Drawing #559, Installed in WCMA atrium 1988.

1989

Linda Shearer, formerly the curator of contemporary art at Museum of Modern Art, becomes the director of the museum. Over her fifteen-year directorship, the museum increases the interdisciplinary and curricular use of its holdings and continues it commitment to contemporary art and the art of world cultures.

Major exhibitions under Shearer’s tenure include—the Labeltalk series; annual Day Without Art AIDS; David Hammons Yardbird SuiteIntrojection: Tony Oursler mid career survey, 1976–1999; Carrie Mae Weems: The Hampton Project; Prelude to a Nightmare: Art, Politics and Hitler’s Early Years in Vienna 1906–1913; Kara Walker: Narratives of a Negress; and she brought American Dreams: American Art to 1950 to the Williams College Museum of Art.

In an effort to bridge the rapid interdisciplinary growth on campus and facilitate curricular engagement with the museum, the Mellon Academic Program, a now-longstanding program with the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, begins.

2000–2010s

2001

To celebrate its 75th anniversary, the museum commissions Eyes (Nine Elements) by Louise Bourgeois, a permanent outdoor sculpture.

Louise Bourgeois (American, 1911–2010) Eyes (Nine Elements)

Louise Bourgeois (American, 1911–2010) Eyes (Nine Elements), 2001. Granite, bronze, and electric light. Commissioned on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the museum with funds from the Museum Fellows, friends, and museum endowments. Wachenheim Family Courtyard given by Edgar Wachenheim III, Class of 1959, and Chris Wachenheim, Class of 1994, M.2001.14

The second Sol LeWitt wall drawing, #959, is installed in the museum atrium.

Sol LeWitt, Wall Drawing #959, Installed in WCMA atrium 2001.

Sol LeWitt, Wall Drawing #959, Installed in WCMA atrium 2001.

2004

Converted from a public exhibition space, the Rose Study Gallery is constructed as a museum classroom where professors can teach with art objects not on display in the galleries.

Class in 2009 in Rose Study Gallery.

Class in 2009 in Rose Study Gallery.

2005

Lisa G. Corrin, former deputy director of art and the Jon and Mary Shirley Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Seattle Art Museum, becomes director of the museum.

Major exhibitions under Corrin’s tenure include—Moving Pictures: American Art and Early Film, 1880–1910; Drawing on Hopper: Gregory Crewdson/Edward Hopper; Making It New: The Art and Style of Sara and Gerald Murphy; Inigo Manglano-Ovalle: Juggernaut; Drowned in a Glass of Water: An Installation by Pepón Osorio, 69 Union St., North Adams; and Reflections on a Museum, a major rethinking and reinstallation of WCMA’s collection.

2009

With support from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, a new position, the Mellon Curatorial Fellow for Diversity in the Arts, is established to expand both curatorial reach and campus engagement.

Installation shot from African Americans and the American Scene, 1929–1945, curated by Dalila Scruggs, the first Mellon Curatorial Fellow for Diversity in the Arts.

Installation shot from African Americans and the American Scene, 1929–1945, curated by Dalila Scruggs, the first Mellon Curatorial Fellow for Diversity in the Arts.

2010

Allan W. Fulkerson ’54 establishes the Fulkerson Fund for Leadership in the Arts, which seeks to recognize, support, and engage future art leaders through innovative programming and awards.

The Class of 1961 establishes a fund to expand the public art on campus. Williams is now the permanent home of a commissioned sculpture by contemporary artist Jenny Holzer, in honor of Williams alumnus and professor J. Hodge Markgraf ’52, and a kinetic sculpture by George Rickey, given by the Class of 1961.

2011

The Institute of Museum and Library Services awards the museum a grant for a three-year project (2011–2014) which includes digitizing the entire Prendergast collection of fine art and archives and integrating the archives into the permanent collection.

Eric Shannon, Digital Imaging Assistant, preparing objects for cataloguing and digitization.

Eric Shannon, Digital Imaging Assistant, preparing objects for cataloguing and digitization.

2012

Christina Olsen, former Director of Education and Public Programs at the Portland Art Museum in Oregon, becomes director of the museum.

Since Olsen’s arrival, notable exhibitions and programs include—Sol LeWitt: The Well-Tempered GridMonika Baer; Franz West; Warhol: By the Book; Publication Studio: Williamstown; Material Friction: Americana and American ArtObject Lab“Not Theories but Revelations:” The Art and Science of Abbott Handerson Thayer; Ghana Think Tank; and Accession Number.

The WALLS (Williams Art Loan for Living Spaces) collection of ninety works is curated by a committee of faculty, staff, and students. Designed for students to pick and take home a work of art to live with for a semester, this collection seeks to expand the museum’s walls and cede institutional control to the larger student community.

2014

WCMA’s bold vision for the future is presented in a new strategic plan—Spark-Think-Make: Transforming the Museum.

2015

Notable computer programmer and philanthropist, Peter Norton gifts the museum over sixty-five contemporary works spanning the period of the early 1990s to mid-2000s from many artists not previously represented in the collection.

Cary Leibowitz (American, b. 1963) Your smarter than me.

Cary Leibowitz (American, b. 1963) Your smarter than me. I don’t care…, 1994. Latex on wood. Gift of Peter Norton, M.2015.17.24

The third Sol LeWitt wall drawing, #1089, is installed in the museum atrium in collaboration with Gabriel Hurier, a master draughtsman from the LeWitt Estate, professor of art history Charles W. Haxthausen, and a team of Williams students.

2016

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation awards the museum a half-a-million dollar, three-year grant to expand the museum’s online collection as a platform for experimentation, teaching, and research. With this grant, the museum will inspire new ideas and practices in how campus museums in particular leverage their digital collections.

Present

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