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WICHITA FALLS MUSEUM AND ART CENTER

WICHITA FALLS MUSEUM AND ART CENTER. The Wichita Falls Museum and Art Center, an art, science, and regional history museum, is located on the banks of Sikes Lake near the Midwestern State University campus in Wichita Falls. The present organization succeeded two earlier efforts to establish a museum on the campus of Midwestern University. In the 1940s the Wichita Falls Museum Association acquired the earliest collection, which was displaced when student enrollment at the college increased after World War II; the art was returned to donors by the museum society, which subsequently disbanded. A second museum operated under the auspices of the board of the museum administration of Midwestern State University; several hundred items from that collection and remaining funds of over $3,000 were donated to the present museum. In 1965 the local Junior League members, led by Mrs. Rosagene Wilson, Mrs. Beverly Bolin, and Mrs. Rosemary Medders, obtained a charter of incorporation and tax exempt status and raised $470,357. The Eureka Life Insurance Company donated 2.2 acres of land on Eureka Circle, and a facility designed by architects Pardue, Reed, and Dice was erected on the site. The 16,500-square-foot facility contained three galleries, a planetarium, three classrooms, offices, and storage space. The Wichita Falls Museum and Art Center opened to the public on April 1, 1967. Inaugural exhibits included oil paintings and bronzes by Frederic Remington and Charles M. Russell in the art gallery; Wichita Indian artifacts in the history gallery; indigenous fossils, rocks, and minerals in the science gallery; and a show on "Back Yard Astronomy" in the planetarium. The museum is overseen by a board of trustees and an advisory board on particular projects. The founding director, Bruce Greene, Jr., was succeeded by Jack Porter, Frederick Schmid, Ronald Gleason, Larry Francell, Michael Duty, and Peter LaPaglia, and Lin Owen. The staff comprises both full-time and part-time employees. The Museum Guild, established in 1967, provides volunteer support and coordinates annual fund-raising efforts such as the popular "Spring Fling."

Initially the museum collected a miscellany of historical and scientific artifacts, from the flagpole that topped the old Kemp Hotel to the city's old fire alarm system. In 1971 the museum began to develop a historical survey of American art through prints. Henry T. Hopkins, then director of the San Francisco Museum of Art, served as consultant in the initial acquisitions. By 1991 the museum had accrued over 755 art works, ranging from a 1677 print by John Foster, America's first printmaker, to works by contemporary artists Jasper Johns, Jackson Pollock, and Leonard Baskin. Works by masters such as Rembrandt Peale, Asher Durand, Winslow Homer, Mary Cassatt, and John Sloan are also in the collection. The museum's print collection is supplemented by an archive of over 3,000 photographs and negatives, most of which relate to the history of North Texas. The Wichita Falls Museum and Art Center coordinates an active exhibition program. Traveling art exhibitions change every six weeks; historical and scientific exhibitions change every three to six months. Archeological Treasures of Ancient Egypt (1983), John Sloan: a Printmaker (1987), and Dinosaur Round-up (1990), an exhibition of eleven robotic dinosaurs that attracted 55,000 visitors to the museum, exemplify the exhibitions of historical, artistic, and scientific interest that have traveled to the museum. The Wichita Falls Museum and Art Center has organized several art exhibitions with catalogues, including an exhibition of works by the Dallas printmaker Juergan Strunck (1974), and Works on Paper from the CIBA-GEIGY Collection (1976), which featured works by Adolph Gottlieb, Romare Bearden, Anne Ryan, Burgoyne Diller, and other New York artists. The Bible, Keystone of Culture II: An Exhibit of Books from the Collection of Charles and Elizabeth Prothro (1968) and Wichita Falls, a Century of Photographs (1982), both of which were accompanied by catalogues, are among the historical exhibitions organized by the museum. Between October 1991 and October 1992 the museum housed an exhibit commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of Sheppard Air Force Base. Each summer it sponsors a quilt show. Permanent science exhibitions include a hands-on discovery room and an interactive science gallery that opened in September 1991.

The museum sponsors an education program, which includes a preschool designed to provide experimentation with museum resources, lecture series, and docent tours for adults and children. The museum's library and planetarium also provide educational opportunities for the community. The museum suffered a setback on April 10, 1979, when a tornado destroyed 40 percent of the facility and damaged some of the art collection and books. The board of trustees launched a successful drive to raise rebuilding expenses, and the facility was expanded. In 1983 the Wichita Falls Museum and Art Center Trust Fund and a permanent endowment fund were established for the museum. The museum receives some support from the City of Wichita Falls and the Wichita Falls Independent School District. The Wichita Falls Museum and Art Center is accredited by the American Association of Museums and is a member of the National Association of Museum Education, the Texas Association of Museums, the Association of Youth Museums, the Northeast Texas Museum Association, the Mountain Plains Museum Association, and the Museum Store Association. An average of 45,000 people attend the museum every year.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Richard Pearce-Moses, Photographic Collections in Texas: A Union Guide (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1987). Earllyn Sadler and Lita H. Watson, Wichita Falls Museum and Art Center: A History (MS, Wichita Falls Museum and Art Center, 1984). Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.

Kendall Curlee

Citation

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Kendall Curlee, "WICHITA FALLS MUSEUM AND ART CENTER," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/klwgh), accessed September 16, 2014. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.