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Office of the Director Records, Paul Gardner Records

 Record Group
Identifier: RG-01-01

Scope and Contents Note

The material in this record group includes: correspondence and photographs of objects offered for purchase; records of gifts, loans and purchases of art; vouchers and shipping records; records of library gifts and purchases; records of repairs and restorations of objects; admission reports; cashier and sales desk reports; tour records; press releases and publicity lists; newspaper clippings; lecture series records; correspondence dealing with Friends of Art purchases 1934-51; Gallery furnishing and installation records; records of the Museum's opening events; applications for positions; staff records and reports (including payroll); insurance records; and correspondence dealing with the Museum's local activities and its involvement in the greater world of art and art institutions.


  • 1932-1953


Restrictions on Access

Trustee minutes in box 3, folder 72, are restricted. Only internal researchers may view.

Open to researchers. Appointments are necessary for the use of manuscript and archival collections.

Conditions Governing Use Note

Notification of intent to publish, quote, or cite archival materials is required. Contact the archives via

Biographical / Historical Note

In February 1932, the University Trustees, J.C. Nichols, Herbert V. Jones and Arthur M. Hyde, hired Paul Gardner (1894-1972) to oversee the interior finishing and outfitting of the new William Rockhill Nelson Gallery of Art and the Atkins Museum of Fine Arts. He was given the title of Assistant to the University Trustees and was later appointed the first Director of the Museum on August 13, 1933, the position he occupied from September 1, 1933 until May 1, 1953. During World War II, Ethylne Jackson, Gardner's assistant, managed the Museum as Acting Director while Gardner served in the American Army in Italy (November 1942-January 1946).

Paul Gardner's training and experience made him especially well-suited for the task of directing the installation of the galleries and the staging of the opening events of the new museum. He had studied architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and earned a master's degree in European history from George Washington University. When he was given the invitation to come to Kansas City, he was a doctoral student at Harvard's Fogg Museum working on a dissertation on the history of European museums. The Trustee's European Advisor, Harold Woodbury Parsons, recommended Gardner highly and he was described by Paul Sachs, with whom he was studying at the Fogg, as having "an unusual visual memory, great taste, and an immense capacity for work".

Gardner worked closely with Trustees J.C. Nichols and Herbert V. Jones. A small staff was hired to set up the Museum for its December 1933 opening. In the spring of 1933, George Herrick, a labor foreman for the Nichols Company, was brought in to run the heating plant and unpack art works. Clarence Simpson, who had been an engineer and superintendent of building construction during the final phase, was brought on staff to work with Herrick and the following year assumed responsibility for management of the heating plant and building maintenance. Herrick became fully occupied with object handling and storage. In the summer of 1933 Richard B. Freeman and Philip C. Beam were hired to assist Gardner in setting up the Museum. Bob Lockhard was brought on to help George Herrick with installation. Ethylne Jackson was hired in August as administrative assistant to Paul Gardner. Lindsay Hughes and Frankie Askew were brought in September to assist in readying the galleries. Otto Wittmann, Jr. joined the staff as registrar. In October, William W. MacLean, former superintendent of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, was brought to Kansas City and given the position of Superintendent, bringing to the Nelson his many years of museum experience.

Prior to the opening of the Museum, art advisors had been retained by the Trustees. Harold Woodbury Parsons (1893-1967) had been hired as European Art advisor on 1 April 1930. He had served as general advisor to the Trustees until Langdon Warner (1881-1955) was appointed Asian art advisor in January 1932. Warner's protege, Laurence Sickman (1906-1988), assisted in the formation of the Asian collection and became the Museum's first Curator or Oriental Art in July of 1935. Parsons guided the formation of the collection of Western Art. Charles O. Cornelius was hired as advisor on American decorative art for one year in February 1933. The Museum did not appoint a Curator of European Art until 1954, the year after Paul Gardner's retirement. Gardner began the weekly Wednesday evening lecture series in January 1934, one month after the Museum's opening. In August Frances O'Donnell was appointed the first Director of Education, the post she held for five years. With Gardner she created the Gallery's junior education program of classes and tours for school children and established the docent program in conjunction with the Kansas City Junior League.

In December 1934 the Friends of Art was formed to purchase contemporary art for the Museum. Fred C. Vincent was elected president, Mrs. Logan Clendenning, first vice-president, Mrs. David M. Lighton, second vice-president, Mrs. Frank I. Ridge, secretary, and Mrs. Morton T. Jones, treasurer. Records of their purchases are included in the Director's Office files of Paul Gardner.

During World War II, the Museum was administered by Ethlyne Jackson, Acting Director; Lindsay Hughes, Acting Curator of Oriental Art; and Louise Nelson and Mary Louise Clifton, successive Directors of Education. Paul Gardner, who had left for military service in November 1942, returned in January 1946. Ethlyne Jackson left the Museum in June to marry the art dealer, Germain Seligmann, and move to New York City. Lindsay Hughes married Frank Cooper and moved to New York in November. In September, Helen Ladd was appointed the new Assistant to the Director and the Museum's first Librarian.

On August 27, 1949 Herbert V. Jones died. His death was followed six months later, on February 15, 1950, by the death of J.C. Nichols. With the deaths of these Trustees and the retirement of Paul Gardner on May 1, 1953, the founders' era ended.


6 Linear Feet (In 6 record center cartons.)

Language of Materials




These files are comprised of records and correspondence generated by the Director's Office of The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art (formerly called The William Rockhill Nelson Gallery of Art and the Atkins Museum of Fine Arts) during the tenure of Paul Gardner (1932-53), the first Director of the Museum. The Director's Office was occupied by Ethylne Jackson who was Acting Director from November 1942 until January 1946 while Gardner served in the American Armed Forces during World War II.


The Director's Office files of Paul Gardner, 1932-53, are divided into three series: Dealers; Museums; and General Correspondence.

Immediate Source of Acquisition Note

The records were brought to the Museum's Archives in December 1992 from the Spencer Library where they had been stored.

Accruals Note

Additions to the collection are not anticipated.

Related Materials Note

William Rockhill Nelson Trust Office Records, RG 80/05; William Rockhill Nelson Trust Office Records, J.C. Nichols Files, RG 80/10; William Rockhill Nelson Trust Office Records, RG 80/15; Paul Gardner Papers, MSS 02; Jane Rosenthal Scrapbook, MSS 006.

Finding Aid of the Office of the Director Records, Paul Gardner Records, RG 01/01
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art Archives Repository

4525 Oak St.
Kansas City MO 64111 United States