Founded in 1961 by siblings Amon G. Carter Jr. and Ruth Carter Stevenson, the Amon Carter Museum of American Art (the Carter) was named for their late father, Amon G. Carter Sr., founder and publisher of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and for many years prominent in the development of Fort Worth and West Texas. Carter’s will provided for the creation of a museum for his art collection that would be free to the public. It was first named the Amon Carter Museum of Western Art in reference to Carter’s distinguished collection of art by Frederic Remington and Charles M. Russell, the two best-known western American artists of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The collection has since expanded to include a broad range of American art with masterwork examples of painting, sculpture, and works on paper from the late eighteenth century to the present, including works by renowned artists such as Ruth Asawa, Alexander Calder, Frederic Church, Stuart Davis, Robert Duncanson, Thomas Eakins, Georgia O’Keeffe, Jacob Lawrence, Louise Nevelson, John Singer Sargent, and Grant Wood, among many others. The Carter has been actively acquiring photographs since well before the medium’s rise in popularity, and today it houses one of the country’s foremost repositories of American photography—a collection of 45,000 exhibition-quality photographic prints and 250,000 photographic objects.
The founding director, Mitchell A. Wilder, developed the museum’s identity around the concept of “westering America,” a phrase borrowed from historian Bernard DeVoto that referred to the great nineteenth-century movement of people westward across the continent. The museum subsequently became a leading research institution in this nascent area of study. In 1967, Wilder announced the board of trustees’ decision to begin broadly collecting American art from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, which would allow the museum to place art of the American West in a larger context. “Westering” would be interpreted in terms of the art produced in a series of frontiers emanating from the east coast. The museum dropped “of Western Art” from its name in 1977 and added “of American Art” in 2010.
The museum’s photography collection began in 1961 with a portrait of Charles M. Russell by Dorothea Lange and has since burgeoned to more than one-half million photographic items dating from early to contemporary work and representing all aspects, movements, and technical processes related to the medium’s history in the United States. The museum is home to several significant photographic artist archives, including those of Erwin E. Smith, Laura Gilpin, Eliot Porter, Clara Sipprell, Karl Struss, Nell Dorr, Helen Post, and Carlotta Corpron.
A 150,000-item research library, originating from Amon G. Carter’s personal library of material on the American West, and an archive featuring a growing collection of artist archives, including the business records of the Roman Bronze Works, a prolific New York art bronze foundry, are available to any researcher. In 2003, the library became an affiliated research center of the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, housing a large collection of microfilm representing about fifteen million original documents from the AAA collection. Since 1996, the library has been a member of the Cultural District Library Consortium, a family of libraries in the Cultural District that partners with the Texas Christian University library to offer a shared digital catalog. In 2020, a new study room opened off the library reading room, providing a place for researchers to study art objects as well as serving as the headquarters of the Gentling Study Center, an initiative to support scholarship related to Scott and Stuart Gentling, two of Fort Worth’s well-known, deceased artists.
Situated on a hill west of downtown Fort Worth with a sweeping view of the skyline, the museum’s classically-inspired portico opens onto a large plaza anchored on the east end by three large bronze sculptures, Upright Motives Nos. 1, 2, and 7, by the English sculptor Henry Moore. The building, designed by Philip Johnson, is constructed of buff-colored Texas shellstone. The museum opened a major addition to the original 1961 building in 2001, also designed by Philip Johnson, that replaced two earlier expansions made in 1964 and 1977, and created 90,000 square feet for gallery space, offices, library and archives, storage (including cool and cold photography vaults), and conservation laboratory for photography and works on paper. This addition, sheathed in gridded Najran brown granite, recedes in a triangular shape behind the original building and is crowned by a distinctive “vaulted lantern” skylight. In 2019, a renovation brought improved galleries with better layouts, state-of-the-art lighting, and hardwood floors to the upper galleries. At the same time, the museum expanded its cold and cool photography storage vaults and completed a renovation to the main entrance, which provided improved accessibility.
The museum is governed by a thirteen-member board of trustees currently chaired by Amon G. Carter’s granddaughter, Karen Johnson Hixon. Ruth Carter Stevenson, Amon G. Carter’s daughter, served as president of the board from the museum’s opening until her death in 2013. Following Mitchell A. Wilder, Jan Keene Muhlert became the museum’s second director in 1980. Subsequent directors include Rick Stewart (1995–2006), Ron Tyler (2006–2011), and Andrew J. Walker (2011–).
The museum is part of the Fort Worth Cultural District that includes the Kimbell Art Museum, the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History, the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame, Casa Mañana Theater, the Will Rogers Memorial Center, where the annual Southwestern Exposition and Livestock Show is held, and Dickies Arena.