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history of the collection

Edmund Henry Wuerpel
Beyond the Marsh
circa 1920
Oil on canvas
23 in. x 19 in.
Arkansas Arts Center Foundation Collection:
Gift of the artist, 1928

The  Arkansas Arts Center is the preeminent arts institution in the State of Arkansas. Established in 1960 as an expansion of the 1937 Museum of Fine Arts and expanded again in 1975, 1982, 1989 and 2000, it houses an extraordinary drawing collection, giving it an international reputation for excellence.

That collection combines a systematic representation of Old Master works with a larger group of 20th-century and contemporary drawings. The drawing collection is also known for its recognition of emerging artists. In addition, the AAC collection includes paintings and works of art that provide a broader exposure to the arts for a statewide and regional audience, for students, and for other visitors.  Among the other areas of collecting for which the institution is known are its contemporary crafts, encompassing clay, fiber, glass, metal, and wood, and Impressionist and early modern paintings and drawings.

The Arkansas Arts Center began its focus on collecting Drawings with the purchase in 1971 of drawings by Willem de Kooning, Morris Graves, and Andrew Wyeth. From this inspired beginning the AAC now has over 5,300 drawings. Museums have collected drawings for centuries, but drawing as a standalone art form dates from the late 1960s. Almost all artists make drawings so there is a universal connection to artists; drawings are typically more affordable than paintings; drawings are generally easier to store; and drawings often reveal the journey of the artist through his struggle and experimentation often leaving the evidence on the page so we feel an intimacy with the artist and the creative process.  Along the way the AAC has also collected Contemporary Objects in craft media: ceramic, wood, fiber, glass, and metal. The AAC collection has over 1,000 contemporary objects. These two collections work beautifully together. The three-dimensional objects warm up the galleries and lead to a better understanding of the surfaces and abstract elements of the drawings.

The Drawing collection now includes the Figure, Abstraction, Landscape, Narrative, Surrealism, Minority Artists, Women Artists, Self Taught Artists, Drawings by Sculptors, Drawings by Object Makers, and more recently Post Minimalism, and Conceptual Art. The collection is primarily 20th Century & Contemporary  but also includes about 125 Old Master Drawings – the earliest, a German silverpoint and ink drawing dated circa 1465.

Special Collections of drawings includes 133 works on paper by French Neo-Impressionist Paul Signac received as a gift from James T. Dyke - the largest collection of Signac drawings and watercolors outside of France. ; 150 Post Minimalist drawings by various artists from the Wynn and Sally Kramarsky Collection in New York; 1,300 ink drawings by Peter Takal; 79 drawings by New York painter Will Barnet; 34 watercolors & drawings by Arthur Dove; 116 watercolors by Robert Andrew Parker done in 1970-71 to illustrate the WWII poems of British poet Keith Douglas for an anti-war experimental film titled “How to Kill;” and about 100 drawings and objects received as gifts through the joint initiative of the Trustees of the Dorothy and Herbert Vogel Collection and the National Gallery of Art.


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