The Architectural Collection documents the construction history of the DAM campus from its first building project through the present.
Click here to view the evolution of the Delaware Art Museum from an aerial perspective.
In 1931, the Wilmington Society of the Fine Arts, the DAM’s founding organization, received the donation of a plot of land about 350 by 250 feet on the Park Drive (now called Kentmere Parkway) for a museum site that would become its permanent home.
The original museum building was designed by Samuel Homsey and G. Morris Whiteside, Associate Architects. Designs for the building were developed to include an entrance lobby; a central gallery for changing exhibits to be called the Louisa d’Andelot duPont Copeland Gallery; on the left, the Samuel and Mary R. Bancroft Gallery with a smaller room and back library to house the Bancroft collection; on the right, the Howard Pyle Gallery and library for the Pyle collection; a small room with kitchen, offices (for three full-time employees), and children’s gallery; and on the lower floor several small working and gallery storage rooms (for a permanent collection of 600 works). The Delaware Art Center opened to the public in 1938.
Delaware Art Center building during construction, 1937-1938
The year 1954 brought the exciting news of a gift of $300,000 from a trust fund set up under the will of H. Fletcher Brown. The gift was for the purpose of building a wing, “adjacent to and connected with” the present Art Center building, to provide adequate space for the rapidly expanding Educational Program. Ground was broken for the addition to the Art Center building on July 22, 1955 with Victorine & Samuel Homsey as architects. The H. Fletcher Brown wing officially opened on October 7, 1956, with Governor J. Caleb Boggs of Delaware, Mayor August R. Walz of Wilmington, museum officials, and about four hundred members and friends attending.
Plan showing location of new wing
The educational wing was designed to provide eight studios on two floors, with wide corridors suitable for display of student work and exhibitions on teaching methods. A new multi-purpose gallery ajoined the classrooms with the original building. The Pyle paintings were hung in this new room, releasing the former Howard Pyle gallery for additional badly needed space for changing exhibitions. A large shipping room was provided below the new gallery, accessible both to the galleries and the new wing, and the former art classrooms became available as storage space. In order to include all this, an appropriation of $40,000 from accumulated income in the Samuel and Mary R. Bancroft Memorial Fund was necessary to help complete the new wing.
North and south elevations of H. Fletcher Brown wing, 1956
Storage facilities for the permanent collection were installed in 1965 with the aid of a grant from the Copeland-Andelot Foundation.
In 1968 the Art Center changed furnaces from oil to gas heat to minimize dirt and film problems. Facing an urgent need to air condition the galleries, architects Samuel & Victorine Homsey prepared preliminary plans to refurbish and rearrange gallery and library space and to install air conditioning. The Building Renovation Fund raised its goal of $1,200,000 to cover the cost of the renovation program and for additional endowment to provide income to pay for increased operating costs. One of the major areas involved in the building renovation program was the area in the basement, which was being converted into a research library.
In 1970 the Art Center changed its name to “Delaware Art Museum.”
The Museum closed for nearly a year in 1971 while air conditioning and a humidity control system were installed, most of the galleries carpeted, walls recovered, and newly lighted. The Museum reopened to the public on June 10, 1971.
A wheelchair ramp designed by Victorine & Samuel Homsey leading to the front door of the Museum was constructed using funds from a challenge grant from the Junior League of Wilmington in 1974.
With the mid 1980s came the formative stages of a $6.5 million Capital Campaign and the blueprint stages of expansion and renovation. January 1987 was targeted for the completion of the project and March of the same year for the formal Grand Opening. The plan was to construct a 20,000 square foot wing – including increased gallery space, a 175-seat auditorium for Museum and community use, a volunteer lounge and workspace, meeting rooms, and improved public areas. Also added were research stations for scholars, additional space for storage and the preparation of exhibitions, and coordinated work areas for professional staff. Total useable gallery space was expanded from 5,300 square feet to 12,300 square feet.
Proposed floor plan for renovation and construction of new wing, 1987
The Museum reopened on March 29, 1987. The Museum Store, Art Sales & Rental Gallery, Information Desk and newly named Helen Farr Sloan Library were housed in the new Pamela and Lammot duPont Copeland Wing.
Views of the Museum building with 1987 wing