The Muscarelle Museum of Art was a gift to the College of William & Mary from alumni and friends. In the 1970s, a visitor remarked to then-President Thomas A. Graves, Jr. that there was a Georgia O'Keeffe painting hanging, unprotected, on a wall on campus. This led President Graves to wonder what other treasures were scattered across campus. To find out, he enlisted the aid of Miles Chappell of the Art History department to conduct a survey to determine what artworks the College owned.
The museum's major benefactors were Joseph L. Muscarelle (W&M '27) and his wife Margaret, who generously supported the formation of a museum and whose family has continued their support throughout the years.
The Museum opened in 1983 with Glenn Lowry (later director at MOMA in New York) as the first Director, and underwent a major building construction and remodeling project in 1987, which resulted in a facility twice the original size. The Muscarelle Museum of Art was accredited by the American Association of Museums in 1988 and received subsequent accreditation in 2000. The museum was the first university/college museum of art in the Commonwealth of Virginia to be accredited by the AAM. Its mission is to provide a rich cultural resource for the College and to pursue an active role in the overall cultural life of the region through collections; outreach and educational programs; research and study; and the presentation of exhibitions and works of art.
The Board of Visitors authorized the preparation of working drawings for the museum in 1981 after Joseph L. Muscarelle (Class of 1927) and his wife Margaret P. Muscarelle gave the College of William & Mary a gift of $600,000. The Board of Visitors decided to name the museum "The Joseph and Margaret Muscarelle Museum of Art" in honor of their donation. The museum was designed by Abbott Associates of Williamsburg. The groundbreaking ceremony was held on November 6, 1981 and was scheduled to be completed by September 1982. The museum was dedicated on October 21, 1983 and opened to the public the following day, on October 22.
The color wall, "Sun Sonata," was a featured part of the museum's exterior at this time. The glass side wall is a series of colored solar water tubes designed by Gene Davis in 1987 entitled "Sun Sonata".
Phase II construction of an 11,000 square foot addition began in late fall of 1984. The groundbreaking ceremonies for this phase were held on November 2, 1984, with construction scheduled to begin in early 1985. However, construction did not begin on Phase II until March 1986 and was scheduled to cost approximately $1,146,000 to complete.
The College of William & Mary received its first gift of art in 1732, a portrait of the scientist Robert Boyle. Early advocates for the preservation and cataloguing of the College's art treasures included Earl Gregg Swem and Thomas Thorne. Later, in the 1970s, Miles Chappell and a number of art history students conducted a large survey to determine what artworks The College owned. The survey revealed that over nearly 300 years, The College of William & Mary had amassed a sizeable collection of art and established the need for a museum to preserve and protect them.
Today, the permanent collection has grown to over 5,000 objects from a wide variety of cultures and historical eras. The collection is particularly strong in seventeenth and eighteenth century English and American portraits. The museum also maintains a survey of European and American prints and drawings from the sixteenth through the twentieth centuries, Japanese prints, African art, Asian ceramics, and a remarkable collection of German Expressionist works on paper.
The Muscarelle Museum of Art also manages the President's Collection of Art, a collection of over 500 works of art by William & Mary students and faculty displayed around the College campus.
Material in the Special Collections Research Center
- University Archives Buildings File (2007), Muscarelle Museum, Earl Gregg Swem Library, The College of William & Mary.
- About the Muscarelle accessed 10 February 2016.