Tuesday, January 28, 2014

art education at the nelson-atkins art museum


Kansas City's Nelson-Atkins Art Museum
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art is an art museum in Kansas City, Missouri, known for its neo-classical architecture and extensive collection of Asian art. The museum was built on the grounds of Oak Hall, the home of Kansas City Star publisher William Rockhill Nelson. When he died in 1915, his will provided that upon the deaths of his wife and daughter, the proceeds of his entire estate would go to purchasing artwork for public enjoyment. This bequest was augmented by additional funds from the estates of Nelson's daughter, son-in-law and attorney.
   In 1911, former schoolteacher Mary Atkins (widow of real estate speculator James Burris Atkins) bequeathed $300,000 to establish an art museum. Through the management of the estate, this amount grew to $700,000 by 1927. Original plans called for two art museums based on the separate bequests (with the Atkins Museum to be located in Penn Valley Park). However, trustees of the two estates decided to combine the two bequests along with smaller bequests from others to make a single major art institution.
   The building was designed by prominent Kansas City architects Wight and Wight, who also designed the approaches to the Liberty Memorial and the Kansas governor's mansion, Cedar Crest. Ground was broken in July 1930, and the museum opened December 11, 1933. The building's classical Beaux-Arts architecture style was modeled on the Cleveland Museum of Art Thomas Wight, the brother who did most of the design work for the building said:
"We are building the museum on classic principles because they have been proved by the centuries. A distinctly American principle appropriate for such a building may be developed, but, so far, everything of that kind is experimental. One doesn’t experiment with two-and-a-half million dollars."
   When the original building opened its final cost was $2.75 million. The dimensions of the six-story structure were 390 feet (120 m) long by 175 feet (53 m) wide making it larger than the Cleveland Museum of Art.
   The museum, which was locally referred to as the Nelson Art Gallery or simply the Nelson Gallery, was actually two museums until 1983 when it was formally named the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. Previously the east wing was called the Atkins Museum of Fine Arts, while the west wing and lobby was called the William Rockhill Nelson Gallery of Art.
   On the exterior of the building Charles Keck created 23 limestone panels depicting the march of civilization from east to west including wagon trains heading west from Westport Landing. Grill work in the doors depict oak leaf motifs in memory of Oak Hall. A recreation of the Oak Hall library containing the original wood paneling, floors, rugs, furniture, pictures and books, is on an upper floor. The south facade of the museum is an iconic structure in Kansas City that looms over a series of terraces onto Brush Creek.
   About the same time as the construction of the museum, Howard Vanderslice donated 8 acres to the west of the museum, across Oak Street, for the Kansas City Art Institute, which moved from the Deardorf Building at 11th and Main streets in downtown Kansas City.
   As William Nelson, the major contributor, donated money rather than a personal art collection, the curators were able to assemble a collection from scratch. At the height of the Great Depression, the worldwide art market was flooded with pieces for sale, but there were very few buyers. As such, the museum's buyers found a vast market open to them. The acquisitions grew quickly and within a short time, the Nelson-Atkins had one of the largest art collections in the country.
   One-third of the building on the first and second floors of the west wing were left unfinished when the building opened to allow for future expansion. Part was completed in 1941 to house Chinese painting and the remainder of the building was completed after World War II.
   Annually, from 1954 through 2000, the Jewel Ball, Kansas City's debutante ball, took place every June in the main hall to benefit both the museum and the Kansas City Symphony. The ball was moved temporarily to accommodate the expansion project at the museum and returned in 2008.
   In 1993, the museum began to consider the first expansion plans since the completion of the unfinished areas in the 1940s. Plans called for a 55 percent increase in space and were finalized in 1999.
   Architect Steven Holl won an international competition in 1999 for the design of the addition. Holl's concept was to build five glass towers to the east of the original building which he calls lenses. The lenses they top a 165,000-square-foot underground building known as the Bloch Building. It is named for H&R Block co-founder Henry W. Bloch. The Bloch building houses the museum's contemporary, African, photography, and special exhibitions galleries as well a new cafe, the museum's reference library, and the Isamu Noguchi Sculpture Court (visit his museum). The addition cost approximately $95 million and opened June 9, 2007. It was part of $200 million in renovations to the museum that included the Ford Learning Center which is home to classes, workshops, and resources for students and educators and opened in fall of 2005.
      In the competition to design the addition, all the entrants except Holl proposed creating a modern addition on the north side of the museum which would have drastically altered or obscured the north facade which served as the main entrance to the museum. However Holl proposed placing the addition on the east side perpendicular to the main building. Holl's lenses now march down the east perimeter of the grounds.
   Admission to the Museum is free every day and visitors may use any of seven entrances to access building. The main visitor's desk is in the Bloch Building. On the north side of the museum, A reflecting pool now occupies part of the J.C. Nichols Plaza on the north facade and contains 34 occuli to provide natural light into the parking garage below. The casting of The Thinker which occupied this space prior to the renovations has been relocated south of the museum.

Modern new additions to the museum
    The collections consist of artworks from Africa, America, China, Europe, Japan, and South Asia. Art educators may sign up for the museum's free newsletter and visit the research library located at Ford Learning Center. Current exhibitions are posted online and articles exploring the collection in depth may be accessed through the Nelson-Atkins blog.
   The museum's grounds are home to the Kansas City Sculpture Park. The park consists of 22 acres designed by Dan Kiley and Jaquelin Robertson. Among the thirty sculptures on display in the park are important works created by the late Henry Spencer Moore.
    I will include lesson plans below that I have specifically written for those teachers who wish to utilize both the collections at the Nelson-Atkins Art Museum and the web database generated by the museum's staff.