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Office of the Director Records, Laurence Sickman Records

 Record Group
Identifier: RG-01-02

Scope and Contents Note

Records generated by the Director's Office of the William Rockhill Nelson Gallery of Art and the Atkins Museum of Fine Arts (now the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art) during the tenure of Laurence Sickman (1953-1977), the second director of the museum. The materials primarily include correspondence with trustees, donors, art dealers, members of the public, and other museum professionals relating to museum administration, activities, collections, community relations, exhibitions, and acquisitions, and the greater world of art and art institutions. Subject files include correspondence, reports, printed materials, and other materials that deal with topics similar to the correspondence series described above, as well as museum expansion and galleries, publicity, the Friends of Art, gifts and bequests, objects offered, and Sickman’s participation in the Association of Art Museum Directors and other professional groups, among other subjects. Exhibition files document selected shows during his tenure, with the bulk related to the Exhibition of Archaeological Finds of the People's Republic of China held at the Nelson-Atkins in 1975. Files from the museum’s 50th anniversary in 1983 comprise correspondence, publicity, planning documents, ephemera, and other documents. Finally, some of Sickman’s personal files primarily include correspondence; there is often overlap with his professional correspondents and pursuits. Also found intermittently are records reflecting his tenures as Curator of Oriental Art (1935-1978), Assistant Director (1946-1953), and Director Emeritus (1977-1988).


  • Creation: 1935-1985


Restrictions on Access

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

Laurence Chalfant Stevens Sickman was born in Denver, CO, on August 27, 1906 to May Ridding (Fuller) and David Vance Sickman. He attended Colorado State Preparatory School in Boulder and was enrolled from 1925 until 1928 at the University of Colorado before being awarded a scholarship to attend Harvard University by the Rocky Mountain Harvard Club. Sickman attended Harvard from 1928 until 1930. He received an A.B., cum laude, from Harvard in 1930 and was awarded a Harvard-Yenching Fellowship for study in Peiping. He remained in China until February 1935.

Sickman had been a protégé of Langdon Warner, a noted professor of Asian art, while at Harvard. In 1930, Warner was appointed advisor in Asian art to the University Trustees of the William Rockhill Nelson Trust who were in the process of acquiring art to be housed in the yet to be constructed William Rockhill Nelson Gallery of Art and Mary Atkins Museum of Fine Art. Warner contacted Laurence Sickman prior to his arrival in China on a buying expedition for the Trust to solicit his assistance in making purchases. In a letter dated May 1931 from Langdon Warner to J.C. Nichols (one of the trustees), Warner states in reference to Mr. Sickman: "His taste and judgment are as good as mine and he speaks Chinese better than I. After a year or two more training I shall suggest his name to the Director of the K.C. Museum as prime timber for an Oriental Curator."

In 1934, the University Trustees offered Sickman a position as the Curator of Oriental Art. He assumed those duties in June 1935. During the period 1935-41, he was engaged in a variety of activities for the Museum including lectures, speaking engagements, and the myriad of duties and responsibilities connected with the large collection of Asian art. He also taught several summer seminars at Harvard.

With the advent of World War II, Sickman offered his services to the U.S. Army Air Force (USAAF) in 1942 and was commissioned a first lieutenant that same year, was promoted to Captain in 1943 and finally attained the rank of Major in 1945 before being discharged in 1946. While in the USAAF he was trained in combat intelligence and served a variety of posts before being assigned to the 14th Air Force in China. His primary responsibility there was to process all intelligence related to tactical and strategic objectives and to supervise the collection and dissemination of intelligence on enemy anti-aircraft defenses. At the end of the war he was assigned to General MacArthur's headquarters in Tokyo where he had some responsibility for surveying monuments, sites and collections of cultural value in Korea and China.

After his return to the Museum in 1946, Sickman was appointed Vice-Director. In 1953, with the retirement of Paul Gardner, his long years of service, and reputation as a scholar, were rewarded with appointment as the Museum's second Director. In addition to his duties as Director, Sickman continued his scholarly activities publishing, with A.C. Soper, the book that would become a classic in the field of Chinese art, The Art and Architecture of China.

In 1973 he was awarded the fifth Charles Lang Freer Medal by the Freer Gallery of Art, Smithsonian Institution, for "Distinguished contributions to the knowledge and understanding of Oriental civilizations as reflected in the arts." He also received several honorary degrees and other accolades and remained active as a lecturer, teacher and consultant. He retired in 1978. Sickman sereved as Director Emeritus and he continued his scholarly pursuits until his death on May 7, 1988.


27.45 Linear Feet (In 25 record center cartons and 1 half legal document case.)

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 Laurence Sickman (1953-1977), the second Director of the Museum. Also found intermittently are records reflecting his tenures as Curator of Oriental Art (later the Department of Asian Art) between 1935-1978, Assistant Director between 1946-1953, and Director Emeritus between 1977-1988.


The Director's Office files of Laurence C.S. Sickman, 1935-1985, are divided into six series: Chronological Files, Correspondence, Subject Files, Exhibition Files, Fiftieth Anniversary Files and Laurence Sickman Personal Files. Note that some subject files dating from Laurence Sickman directorship may also be found in the director’s records of Marc Wilson, RG 01/04.

Immediate Source of Acquisition Note


Acrruals Note

Additions to the collection are not anticipated.

Related Materials Note

Laurence Sickman Papers (MSS 001); Department of Asian Art Records (RG 20); Director Emeritus Records (RG 91); Office of the Director Records, Paul Gardner Records (RG 01/01); Office of the Director Records, Ralph Coe Records (RG 01/03); Office of the Director Records, Marc Wilson Records (RG 01/04).

Office of the Director Records, Laurence Sickman Records
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