The extensive collections from the Americas, Africa and Oceania now housed at the Spencer Museum of Art represent a long history of diverse collecting traditions. Beginning with the Inuit materials collected by the University of Kansas Naturalist Lewis Lindsay Dyche during his field studies in Greenland in 1895, the University began assembling collections that represent the unique cultural and artistic expressions of people from around the world.
These collections represent different collecting strategies as they have been assembled by scholars, travelers and benefactors through the years. Sallie Casey Thayer contributed important North American pieces to this collection including well maintained examples of Plains Indian clothing, cradleboards, and Navajo rugs. Subsequent additions included a significant donation of Pueblo pottery by James Allen in 1898 including early figurative pieces from Cochiti Pueblo, African Collections donated by Claude and William Brown in 1915 and a significant collection from the Northwest Coast assembled by George Washington Reed during the early 1900’s.
Over the years additions to the collection have included ethnological collections assembled through fieldwork conducted by anthropologists at the University of Kansas and contemporary works by indigenous artists from around the world donated by generous patrons of the arts. The Menninger Foundation and Karl Menninger estate alone have donated more than 500 pieces from around the world, including significant early works of Pueblo pottery.
The Spencer Museum of Art became the stewards of this collection after its transfer from the Anthropological Research and Cultural Collections in 2007. Spencer Museum staff continues to work diligently to catalogue and research these collections, their origins, and their multi-faceted meanings in an effort to make them available to researchers, visitors and members of descendant communities who have an interest in learning more about these wonderful objects of significance and wonder.