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Speed Art Museum records

Identifier: 2011_020-UA

The collection documents the activities of the J. B. Speed Art Museum from the initial organization of the institution in 1925 as a memorial project to the professional, departmentalized institution of 2011. The collection represents board member, staff, volunteer, art collector, artist, and visitor engagement with the museum. It documents staff and board efforts to alter the organization over time, as represented in board and committee meeting minutes, press releases and clippings, collection development plans, long-range plans, grant applications, construction and renovation project files, architectural plans, mission statements, policies, disability accommodations, new media development plans, and photographs. Grant and accreditation applications provide insight into how staff conceived of the needs, roles, and history of the museum. Job descriptions, goal reports, correspondence, committee meeting minutes and agendas, schedules, and planners provide insight into the activities of individual staff and collective departments. The collection also documents the relationship of the museum with other arts institutions, the University of Louisville, and the broader Louisville community, as evident in correspondence, visitor and audience studies, press releases and clippings, legal documents, collaboration plans, and photographs.

The collection also includes special collections from the Speed Library. Topics of note include Louisville public memory of Abraham Lincoln, the American Civil War, and slavery as evident in Speed family materials on Lincoln, the commission and unveiling of a Lincoln statue in 1911, Lincoln exhibitions, public distress at the selling of a Lincoln photograph in 1993, and the planning of Freedom Park from 2003 to 2004.

Languages: English, French, Flemish, Dutch, Italian, German, Shorthand


  • 1911-2007


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is available to researchers.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright for some materials has been transferred to the University of Louisville; please consult a reference archivist for more information.


130 linear feet

Biographical / Historical

The Speed Art Museum, originally known as the J.B. Speed Memorial Museum, is Kentucky’s oldest and largest art museum. Designed by Louisville architect Arthur Loomis, the museum opened its doors on January 15, 1927 with an exhibition sponsored by the Louisville Art Association. Nearly 2,000 visitors were on hand to view works by more than 100 American and European painters. The museum was incorporated as a privately endowed institution, and its board of governors was established in 1927. Mrs. Speed served as the first president and director of the museum.

In 1941, Dr. Preston Pope Satterwhite gave the museum his collection of 15th- and 16th-century French and Italian Decorative Arts tapestries and furniture. And, in 1942 Hattie Bishop Speed died and Catherine Grey, a member of the museum’s first Board of Governors and a friend of Mrs. Speed, became the museum’s acting director.

In 1945, Dr. Preston Satterwhite donated the English Renaissance room, which was moved in its entirety from Devonshire, England. This necessitated an expansion of the museum, which was provided for in Dr. Satterwhite’s will. The first of three additions to the original building, the expansion was completed in 1954 and bears his name. In the same year, Dr. Frederick Weygold donated a valuable collection of North American Indian artifacts to the museum.

Paul S. Harris becomes the museum’s first professional director in 1946. During his tenure, acquisitions to the collection are made mostly in the areas of decorative arts and furniture.

Franklin Page, formerly the curator of contemporary art at the Detroit Institute of Arts, became the Speed’s director in 1962. During Mr. Page’s tenure, the museum collection expanded, and the North and South Additions are built. In 1977, the Speed celebrated its 50th anniversary with the acquisition of Rembrandt’s Portrait of a Woman. Mr. Page and the Board of Governors lead the campaign to raise the $1.5 million necessary to purchase the work, one of the museum’s most significant acquisitions at the time.

An additional wing, designed by Robert Geddes of Princeton, New Jersey, opened in 1983.

In 1986, Peter Morrin, formerly the curator of 20th-century art at the High Museum in Atlanta, became director. Mr. Morrin continued the enrichment of the collection and initiated an outreach program to involve local communities.

In 1996, the museum closed for a significant renovation and received a bequest of more than $50 million from Alice Speed Stoll, granddaughter of James Breckinridge Speed. The bequest marked one of the largest given to any art museum and brought the Speed’s endowment to among the top 25 in the United States. Mrs. Stoll’s bequest secured the museum’s future and allowed for several significant acquisitions including Jacob van Ruisdael’s Landscape with a Half Timbered House and a Blasted Tree (1653) and Paul Cezanne’s Two Apples on a Table (c 1895-1900).

In 1997, The Speed reopens and excites the region with traveling exhibitions and new acquisitions. It also receives a bequest from the estate of longtime Board of Governors member General Dillman A. Rash, who leaves the museum works by Marc Chagall, Jean Dubuffet, Paul Klee, Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso and Maurice Utrillo.

Dr. Charles L. Venable, formerly the Deputy Director for Collections and Programs at the Cleveland Museum of Art, is named Director of the Speed Art Museum in 2005. And in 2012 the museum closed its doors to start a $50-million expansion and renovation.

The Speed welcomed new Director Ghislain d’Humières, in 2013 who assumes his role after serving as Director and Chief Curator of the University of Oklahoma’s Fred Jones Jr. Art Museum. During construction, Local Speed opened in Louisville’s NuLu district to serve as the Speed’s satellite space for programming and exhibitions during the museum’s three-year expansion.

An additional gift allowed the museum to complete its entire master plan during the three-year expansion. This plan included a South Building that houses a state-of-the-art cinema capable of screening 16mm, 35mm and digital films. The Speed Art Museum reopened to the public on March 12, 2016.

Stephen Reily, longtime civic and business leader and supporter of the Museum became interim Director on April, 2017 and then named Director in January, 2018 by the Board of Trustees.

Physical Location

UARC 101-1-1 thru 102-5-7 (89 RC; 23 MSS; 10 1/2 MSS; 6 flats)

Processing Information

The records are arranged in eleven series according to the unit that generated or collected the files. The series of photographs and financial records are an exception as the original department of creation are not evident. Series are arranged at the folder level by record type and chronology. Returned donor files, such as gift records and correspondence, to Speed Museum. Removed and shredded completed Internal Revenue Service documents and cancelled checks. Recycled information files on other museums and organizations. Files originally in binders and photoalbums have been disbound and foldered. Files originally in reverse chronological order have been refilled front-to-back in chronological order.


Speed Art Museum Records
In Progress
Hannah O'Daniel, Brianna Jacobi, Heather Fox, Jennifer Oberhausen; Autumn Logan
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid is in English.

Repository Details

Part of the University of Louisville Archives and Special Collections Repository

Ekstrom Library, Lower Level Room 17
Louisville KY 40292
502 852-6752