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Department of American Art Records

 Record Group
Identifier: RG-07

Scope and Contents Note

These records contain materials such as correspondence, memos, research files, dealer records, and financial records as well as materials which document the planning of exhibitions and their related catalogs. A large part of the collection documents the Marsden Hartley, George Catlin, and Bingham to Benton exhibitions with the bulk of the collection falling between 1981-2009.


  • Creation: 1907-2009
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1981-2009

Restrictions on Access

Since this collection is unprocessed, requested records must be reviewed before they can be viewed by researchers; allow a minimum of one week for review.

Conditions Governing Use Note

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

Biographical / Historical Note

As the William Rockhill Nelson trustees began to acquire art in 1930 in preparation for opening the museum, they arranged with Harold Woodbury Parsons to act as their art advisor and agent for American art, along with European and ancient art. And although museum trustee J.C. Nichols emphasized the museum’s devotion to American art in his opening speech for the Nelson-Atkins in 1933, it was many years before the museum had a director, department, or curator on staff who focused on American art. When the museum opened in 1933, some eighteenth and nineteenth-century American paintings were displayed, while the museum’s first director, Paul Gardner, organized five American period rooms in the galleries. Aside from these preliminary endeavors, the department's collection grew primarily by gift until 1976, when R. Crosby Kemper presented the museum with $1 million specifically to enhance the museum’s American Art collection.

The museum’s Senior Curator, Ross E. Taggart (1953-1983), was the first tasked with managing the museum’s American art collection, although it fell in with his many other duties. In the early 1980s, Samuel Sosland and his family endowed a curatorship for American art, and in April of 1983, Jay Gates – the assistant director of the museum – was formally named as the first Samuel Sosland Curator of American Art. According to the museum’s annual reports, this was also the first time that the museum officially had a Department of American Art. Gates’s term was short-lived as he resigned in December of that same year to become the Director of the Spencer Museum at the University of Kansas. Following his resignation, Henry Adams stepped in as the new Samuel Sosland Curator of American Art the next year. Using the funds that Kemper had bestowed upon the museum, Adams was able to procure many new American works for the museum’s collection – specifically between 1986-1987 when Adams stated that no other museum, nationally or internationally, had acquired as many great American works as the Nelson-Atkins. Some pieces obtained under Adams’s tenure included Thomas Hart Benton’s Persephone and John Singer Sargent’s Mrs. Cecil Wade, as well as other works by Charles Wilson Peale and George Ault. Additionally, Adams worked with curators from four other museums to start organizing the widely-successful consortium exhibition Made in America: Ten Centuries of American Art, which took about six years to develop and showcased American art “existing across a broad span of time." It included 160 works from the participating museums' collections and covered the duration of ten centuries in American history.

In January of 1990, the museum saw the reinstallation of the American galleries which included the Benton Corridor and the Kemper Rotunda, and in June of the same year, Margi Conrads was appointed Assistant Curator of American Art. When Adams resigned from his role in 1993, Conrads was named acting curator, eventually becoming the Samuel Sosland Curator of American Art in July of 1994. As curator of the department, Conrads organized the exhibition Across Continents and Cultures: The Art and Life of Henry Ossawa Tanner and successfully carried out what began under Adams with the realized exhibition of Made in America: Ten Centuries of American Art in 1996. In 1997, the museum saw another reinstallation of the American galleries and then in 2009, the Sarah and Landon Rowland American Art Galleries reopened to the public after a complete redesign.

In July of 2013, Conrads left the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art for a position as Deputy Director of Art and Research at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art. Upon her departure, Stephanie Fox Knappe was promoted to Associate Curator and assumed responsibilities for managing the American department; she was promoted to Samuel Sosland Curator, American Art in October 2013.


25.5 Linear Feet (In 23 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 Acquistion Note

Transfer; accession numbers associated with this collection are 1994-16, 1999-09, 2000-10, 2001-05, 2002-14, 2003-04, 2003-09, 2004-01, 2006-02, 2006-05, 2006-06, 2006-08, 2007-03, 2009-19, and 2010-19.

Accruals Note

Additions to the collection are anticipated.

Related Materials Note

Office of Director Records, Paul Gardner Records (RG 01/01); Office of Director Records, Laurence Sickman Records (RG 01/02); Office of Director Records, Ted Coe Records (RG 01/03);Office of Director Records, Marc Wilson Records (RG 01/04); Andrew Wyeth: Autobiography Exhibition Records (RG 24/25); Made in America: Ten Centuries of American Art Exhibtion Records (RG 24/35); Albert Bloch: The American Blue Rider Exhibition Records (24/40); Inventing the Modern World Exhibition Records (24/60); William Rockhill Nelson Trust Office Records (80/05 and 80/15); William Rockhill Nelson Trust Office Records, J.C. Nichols Files (80/10); Ellen Goheen Files (RG 95); Senior Curator Records (RG 98).

Finding Aid of the Department of American Art Records, RG 07
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