History of the Arts and Design

In 1867, the University of Kansas was composed of six faculty members including one music professor. The first art studio class was taught just two years later. The Department of Music was established in 1884 with the Department of Art (painting and art education) being established one year later. The combined School of Music and Art formed in 1885 and was renamed the School of Fine Arts in 1894. By 1915 courses in the Department of Art included Drawing and Painting, Design, and Pottery.

The Department of Design began in 1921 with courses in Poster Design, Textiles, Metalwork, Bookbinding, Ceramics, and Weaving. The Bachelor of Fine Arts degree program began in 1929 with programs in Design, Public School Art, and Drawing & Painting and required 120 credit hours. Industrial Design was added in 1941, interior design in 1946, jewelry and silversmithing, art history, and the Masters of Fine Arts program in 1948.

Until 1962 Art History and the University’s art collection were located administratively in the School of Fine Arts. The History of Art Department was has been housed in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences since 1962.

The Kress Department of Art History is located within the building of the Spencer Museum of Art, west of the Kansas Memorial Union. The collection of the art museum was first housed in Spooner Hall, the location of the first KU library. In 1926 the art collection was named the Spooner-Thayer Museum of Art, housing collections that were a 1917 gift of Sallie Casey Thayer in memory of her late husband, Kansas City department-store magnate William B. Thayer of Emery, Bird, Thayer. These collections included ceramics, glassware, textiles and Asian paintings. In 1978, the artwork was moved to the new Spencer Museum of Art building.

Reorganization of the Arts and Design in 2009 The Arts and Design areas of study were reorganized in 2009 after months of investigation and consideration by the Provost’s office. The five professional design practice programs (Environmental Design, Illustration & Animation, Industrial Design, Photo Media, and Visual Communication Design) became the Department of Design, administratively located in the School of Architecture & Design.

The School of Music and School of the Arts, (Departments of Visual Art, Theatre, Film and Media Studies, and Dance) which is administratively housed within the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, were also formed as a result of the reorganization. The Department of Visual Art includes Visual Arts Education, Ceramics, Metalsmithing/Jewelry, Textiles/Fibers, Drawing and Painting, Printmaking, Sculpture, and Expanded Media.


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