The history of the Wichita Art Museum began with the bequest of Louise Caldwell Murdock and the subsequent establishment of the Roland P. Murdock Collection. Mrs. Murdock’s Will, written in 1915, specified that the income from her estate, following the death of her closest relatives, should be used for the purchase of art for the City of Wichita – a collection to be known as the Roland P. Murdock Collection in memory of her husband.

When the Museum opened its doors in 1935, the art that area residents anxiously lined up to see was borrowed from other Museums. It was in 1939 that the first painting in the Roland P. Murdock Collection was purchased and displayed. Mrs. Murdock’s friend and business associate, Mrs. Elizabeth Stubblefield Navas, continued selecting works of American art for the Murdock Collection until the final one was purchased in 1962.

As the Museum grew, so did community interest and support. In 1960, the Wichita Art Museum Members, Inc. was established. Through this non-profit membership organization, interested citizens could contribute funds and service toward the development of new programs. The City approved funds for the construction of additions to the original building to provide space for storage, expanded exhibition programs, educational programs and membership activities. Thus, in 1963, two wings, a lobby, and a new façade were added to the original building. The newly acquired space stimulated more individual gifts and, in 1964, the Wichita Art Museum Members Foundation, Inc. was established for the specific purpose of raising funds for acquisitions.

In the 1970's, the City Commission voted to construct a totally new facility in order to update the building’s temperature control system and provide enough gallery space to feature a comprehensive exhibition of current holdings. Designed by the internationally renowned Edward Larrabee Barnes, the exterior of the Barnes building, which is still standing today, features a sculpture deck on the riverfront side. From this sculpture deck, one can look out upon the park and the city skyline.

At the start of the new millennium, the City joined forces with the community to complete a $10.5 million expansion project that added another 34,000 square feet to the Museum, bringing the total square footage to 115,000. The new addition, finished in June 2003, provided another 6,500 square feet of exhibition space, a new restaurant, gift shop, research library, and much needed art services area. Also as part of the renovation, the Wichita Art Museum acquired two dramatic and large-scale works by Seattle glass artist Dale Chihuly. Inspired by the intricate patterns of traditional Persian glass, the Wichita Art Museum Persian Seaform Ceiling provides a stunning first impression at the Museum’s entrance. It was the first Persian ceiling created by Chihuly that can be viewed from both above and below. Hanging in the S. Jim and Darla Farha Great Hall is the Wichita Art Museum Confetti Chandelier, also by Chihuly. Both permanent installations are examples of the Museum’s focus on the development of its collection of decorative arts. Today, the Museum’s permanent collection consists of nearly 7,000 works of art.

Contributed by Anonymous
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