The Amon Carter Museum, in Fort Worth, was founded in 1961 under the terms of the will of the late Amon G. Carter, founder and publisher of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and for many years prominent in the development of Fort Worth and West Texas. Carter asked that the museum be an "artistic enterprise" that would be free and open to the public, particularly stimulating the "artistic imagination of young people." In addition to his large and distinguished collection of pictures and sculpture by Frederic Remington and Charles M. Russell, the two best-known western American artists of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the museum houses the state's preeminent collection of American art, which has grown from the original 400 paintings, watercolors, prints, and sculpture to more than 6,400 works of arts (not including the large photographic collection).
The founding director, Mitchell A. Wilder, established a program of exhibitions, publications, and public programs based on the concept of "westering America," a phrase borrowed from historian Bernard DeVoto that referred to the great nineteenth-century movement of the people westward across the continent. As a result, the museum became the leading research organization in the field, developing pioneering exhibitions and publications on many western artists and topics.
One of the first institutions devoted to showing western art, the museum was originally called the Amon Carter Museum of Western Art, but in 1967 Wilder announced that the board of trustees had broadened its collecting policy to include American art of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, thereby placing the works associated with the American West in the larger context of American art. This was an innovative departure from the practice of many museums of western art, which chose to view that genre apart from American and European cultures. Subsequently, the museum added many fine examples of both American and western American paintings, sculpture, prints, and photographs, to its collection. The museum dropped “of Western Art” from its name in 1977 and added “of American Art” in 2010. 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–). A reference library specializing in American and western American art and history is housed in the museum and may be visited by appointment during regular hours. The library also contains a significant collection of newspapers on microfilm as well as 7,500 rolls of microfilm from the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
The museum began to develop an important collection of photographs in its second decade and now houses more than one-half million photographs and photographic negatives, including the photographic estates of Erwin E. Smith, Laura Gilpin, Eliot Porter, Clara Sipprell, Karl Struss, Nell Dorr, Helen Post, and Carlotta Corpron. A catalogue of the photographic collection was published in 1993.
Situated on a hill in west Fort Worth, the museum faces east and opens onto a large plaza containing Texas shrubs and trees and three large bronze sculptures, Upright Motives Nos. 1, 2, and 7, by the English sculptor Henry Moore. The building, designed by Philip Johnson of New York, is constructed of buff-colored Texas shellstone. An office annex was added in 1964, and a major addition that more than doubled the size of the building was completed in 1977. It included library, office, storage, and work space. As its fortieth anniversary approached, the museum underwent another addition, also designed by Philip Johnson, that added nearly 50,000 square feet for gallery space, offices, storage, and a conservation laboratory for works on paper. The museum is governed by a board of trustees chaired by Carter's daughter, Ruth Carter Stevenson. It receives most of its funding from the Amon G. Carter Foundation of Fort Worth, which the senior Carter established in 1945. 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, and the Will Rogers Coliseum, where the annual Southwestern Exposition and Livestock Show and Rodeo are held.