Held at: Drexel University: Archives and Special Collections [Contact Us]W. W. Hagerty Library, 3300 Market Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104
This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the Drexel University: Archives and Special Collections. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.
Overview and metadata sections
The Drexel Museum was established in 1892 in order to augment the cultural education of the Institute’s students. Originally housed in the east side of the Main Building’s ground floor, the Museum displayed various art objects and artifacts specially purchased by President MacAlister with funds from Anthony J. Drexel. Also among the Museum’s varied collection of fine and decorative arts were numerous Drexel family portraits, including those painted by Francis Martin Drexel. Objects were also received from George W. Childs, Lieutenant Allan G. Paul, Dr. Edward H. Williams, and others. Particularly noteworthy gifts included the six mummies donated by Colonel Anthony J. Drexel, and the Rittenhouse clock given to the Museum by Mrs. George W. Childs in 1896. Upon Anthony Drexel’s death in 1893, the Museum was bequeathed much of his personal collection of paintings. In 1901, the Museum would again increase substantially in size when it inherited the 19th century painting collection of John D. Lankenau, Anthony Drexel’s brother-in-law. As the first floor galleries became overcrowded, the Museum was moved to the third floor, and a Picture Gallery was formed to display the paintings of the Anthony J. Drexel and John D. Lankenau bequests. Despite the enlargement of storage and exhibition space, overcrowding remained an issue and deaccessioning began under President Hollis Godfrey in 1915. Over a decade later, in 1932, President Kolbe headed an effort to more thoroughly inventory and catalogue the objects and improve their display. Facilitating this was the Advisory Art Committee, formed in 1933-1934, which included President Kolbe (ex officio), Trustee E.P. Simon, Samuel Yellin, Nicola D’Ascenzo, and newly appointed curator Dorothy Grafly.
Dorothy Grafly, curator until 1945, did much to promote Anthony Drexel’s vision of the Museum as a dynamic educational tool. The daughter of sculptor and former Drexel instructor Charles Grafly, Dorothy Grafly was a highly respected in the art community in her own right as an art critic and editor. A 1913 graduate of Wellesley College, Grafly was frequently published up until the 1960s. Among her first projects as Drexel curator was to modernize the Museum and Picture Gallery, by simplifying their displays. She sought to promote the arts through drafting an arts program, scheduling lecturing, and planning special exhibitions. Grafly was furthermore active in outreach to other cultural institutions and programs, including the Philadelphia Museum of Art, The Museum of Modern Art, and the Works Project Administration (W.P.A.). Her dedication to the arts and to Drexel itself did not stop there. In 1942 she devised and instructed the course “Art for Engineers”, which effectively combined Drexel’s tradition of both the arts and industry. Under Grafly's tenure, in the early 1940s, a number of valuable objects were placed on auction under the direction of the Trustees. This decision was met with so much outcry, that Grafly, A.J. Drexel Paul and others travelled to New York in order to select items for return.
As of 2011, the Museum is formally known as the Drexel Collection. It includes the Anthony J. Drexel Picture Gallery, which is still located on the third floor of the Main Building and was restored in 2002. Visitors to the building may also view objects in glass display cases in the Rincliffe Gallery on the third floor corridor. Collections can also be viewed at the Peck Center Gallery.
This collection contains information on the activities of the Drexel Museum and Picture Gallery as well as past and present collections. The records, which include photographs and facsimiles of museum objects, date from 1797 until 1984; the bulk of records date from 1937 until 1941, corresponding with Dorothy Grafly’s tenure as curator. The collection was discovered in a partially processed state, which has made its original order difficult to ascertain. However, notes suggest that the curators’ correspondence and notes were kept in chronological order, wand thus this arrangement has been preserved. The collection has been arranged into three series: I. Curator correspondence and notes, II. Catalogues, inventories and reproductions, and III. Collection reports and publications.
The curator correspondence and notes series provides an in-depth look of the responsibilities and activities of the curator. The records in this series span nearly a century, from 1895 to 1984. However, the majority of the records contained in this series originated between 1937 and 1941, and belonged to Dorothy Grafly, Drexel Museum curator from 1934 until 1945. The chronological order that these records were discovered in has been retained. As the series title suggests, the bulk of the records are letters written and received by Ms. Grafly and her assistant, Rita Moak. Represented are numerous subjects, which notably include the Works Projects Administration (W.P.A.), the Drexel art program, various exhibitions, and conservation efforts. Interspersed with the correspondence are notes, inventories, drafts for articles, newspaper clippings, and meeting minutes for the Advisory Art Committee.
The catalogues, inventories, and reproductions series is predominantly focused on the objects that the Museum has formerly and presently houses. Despite primarily dating to the 1930s, the records of this collection date from 1797 until 1984. Few collection catalogues are included in the series. Rather, the majority are auction catalogues detailing the sale of Drexel-owned objects, which most notably include the contents of the Wooten estate (1949), and the original manuscripts for Edgar Allan Poe’s Murders in the Rue Morgue and Charles Dickens’ Our Mutual Friend (1944). The series also contains a number of hand- and typewritten inventories. Many of these inventories are undated, however it appears that they date to the mid to late 1930s. Finally, included in the series are various reproductions and facsimiles of museum objects. Of interest are the facsimiles of various letters/autographs, including letters from Ralph Waldo Emerson to George W. Childs, and a letter from Abraham Lincoln to an unknown recipient.
The final series, collection reports and publications, generally pertains to the museum as a whole. Dating between 1879 and 1984, the series includes newsclippings, student papers and official reports pertaining to the Museum and its collections. Also included is the budget for the 75th anniversary celebrations.
Overall, the materials in the collection are in fair condition. However, much of the records of the curator correspondence and notes series are on highly acidic paper. Therefore, a number of these records are rather fragile and require a great deal of care.
- Disque, Robert C.
- Drexel, Anthony J, (Anthony Joseph), 1826-1893
- Grafly, Dorothy
- Kolbe, Parke R.
- MacAlister, James, 1840-1913
- Matheson, Kenneth G.
- Paul, A.J., (Anthony Joseph Drexel)
- Paul, James W., Jr.
- Rea, George P.
- Drexel University: Archives and Special Collections
- Finding Aid Author
- Finding aid prepared by Phoebe Kowalewski
- Finding Aid Date