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James Roth Papers

Identifier: MSS-011

Scope and Contents Note

The James Roth Papers, dated 1928-1978, consists primarily of correspondence, technical records, newspaper clippings, and photographic material related to conservation and restoration projects performed at both the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art and for private collectors and other institutions such as the City Art Museum, St. Louis (present day Saint Louis Museum of Art), Princeton University, the Toledo Museum of Art, and the Joslyn Art Museum. The correspondence documents Roth’s heavy involvement with conservation organizations as well as his friendships with conservation colleagues at other institutions.


  • Creation: 1928-1978

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

Born in California, Missouri, on May 11, 1910, James Buford Roth came to Kansas City in the late 1920s to enroll in the Fine Arts Department of the Kansas City Art Institute (KCAI). Roth was hired along with many other KCAI students to work as guards at the newly opened Nelson Gallery of Art in 1933. Here he met Marcel Rougeron who was at the museum to work on some objects in the collection, and Roth quickly grew fascinated with the field of conservation, studying everything he could on the topic. In 1938, Roth received a Carnegie grant and spent the summer studying at Harvard University – the only school to offer instruction in restoration in the United States at the time. He returned to the museum to establish the Restoration and Conservation department, which he managed for over 40 years.

Aside from receiving commissions as a painter, many other museums and private collectors hired Roth to work on the restoration of their works by artists such as Titian, Vincent Van Gogh, George Caleb Bingham, Fransico Goya, Claude Monet, and Paul Gauguin. His clients included the City Art Museum, St. Louis (present day Saint Louis Museum of Art), the Toledo Museum of Art, Princeton University and Nelson Rockefeller. In 1953, Roth received world-wide recognition for his work on what was believed to be a 12th-century Chinese wall panel which was given to the Nelson-Atkins. Upon inspection of one damaged corner, Roth noticed a spot of blue paint showing through the layers of mud and rice husks in the panel and developed a method which successfully separated these layers, exposing an additional rare 10th-century painting beneath while preserving both works which we now know to be Two Bodhisattvas Burning Ritual Incense (50-64/A) and Guanyin Bodhisattva (50-64/B). After this, Roth was continuously sought after to give lectures at meetings and seminars and spent six weeks as a Visiting Professor at N.Y.U. in their Conservation Department.

In 1973, Roth retired from his long-time role at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art and moved to the Lake of the Ozarks where he continued to sketch and paint. He died in 1990 at the age of 80.


2.13 Linear Feet (In 1 record center carton, 3 clamshell boxes, and 1 flat box.)

Language of Materials



The James Roth Papers, dated 1928-1978, consists primarily of correspondence, photographs, clippings, and technical reports related to conservation and restoration projects performed as conservator at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art and as a free-lance conservator.


This collection is broken down into four series: Series I. Correspondence, 1954-1973; Series II. Printed Materials, 1928-1978; Series III. Conservation and Restoration Job Files, 1950-1970s; and Series IV. Photographic Materials, approximately 1950-1970s.

Immediate Source of Acquisition Note

Gift of Helen Roth, 1994; accession number associated with this collection is 1994-15.

Accruals Note

Additions to the collection are not anticipated.

Related Materials Note

Office of Director Records, Paul Gardner Records (RG 01/01), Series III (specifically “Staff: James Roth, 1943-1951”); Vertical File (“Roth, James"); Ephemera Collection (RG 70), Series II (specifically “Archives Photograph Collection, 1901-2012); Mary Louise (Clifton) Wormer Papers (MSS 008), (specifically “James ‘Jimmy’ Roth, Helen Roth, Dick, 1945 or 1946”).

Finding Aid for the James Roth Papers, MSS 011
Prepared by Christain Hartman
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