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Department of Photography Records

 Record Group
Identifier: RG-13


  • Creation: 1980-2000


Conditions Governing Use Note

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

Biographical / Historical Note

More of an historical artifact than an object of art, the first photograph to come to the museum in 1934; it was a mid-19th century daguerreotype portrait of William Rockhill Nelson as a boy. The first photographic artworks did not enter the collections until the late 1950s. However, photographic exhibitions were held at the museum from very early on – the first being an exhibition of photographs by commercial and art photographer, Fritz Henle. In the 1940s, local photography talents were highlighted with works showcased in the annual Kansas City Camera Club exhibitions held at the museum, and after the war, the museum held many war-related photography exhibitions such as Our Navy in Action (1943) and Wings Over the Central Pacific (1945).

In 1957, the museum made its first photography purchase, a collection of 60 photographs by the well-known American modernist photographer, Edward Weston. The museum’s director, Laurence Sickman, ultimately made the selection with some assistance from fellow curators. The procurement was made possible by Mr. and Mrs. Milton McGreevy through the Westport Fund, and at the time, proved to be a radical move as many American museums were not yet adding these types of photographic works to their collections. As a follow up to this groundbreaking purchase, the museum also acquired a group of 175 photos of Pablo Picasso taken by Life photographer and Kansas City native, David Douglas Duncan. They were exhibited the following year in 1958. However, aside from a few notable gifts that were given over the subsequent years, the museum did not make any additional photography purchases until the mid-1970s. George McKenna, previously the museum’s registrar and the keeper of the museum’s prints and drawings collection, was named the Curator of Prints and Photography in 1982. He retired in 1996.

In December of 2005, through a combination gift and purchase, the museum obtained the renowned Hallmark Photographic Collection, which was composed of more than 6,500 works by 900 artists. This acquisition immediately distinguished the Nelson-Atkins as one of the world’s premier museums for photography. The following January, Keith Davis, Hallmark’s photography curator, came to the museum with the collection and became the first curator for the newly-established, independent Photography Department.


10 Linear Feet (In 10 record center cartons.)

Language of Materials



This is an unprocessed collection. A general overview of each box's contents is provided in its associated scope and contents note.

Immediate Source of Acquisition Note


Accruals Note

Additions to the collection are anticipated.

Finding Aid of the Department of Photography Records, RG 13
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