The Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art (JCSM) at Auburn University (AU) is the only university art museum in Alabama. Opened on October 3, 2003, the museum contains six exhibition galleries within 40,000 square feet of interior space. In addition to the galleries, JCSM contains a 127-seat auditorium, café, and gift shop. The 10-acre museum grounds include a large lake and a walking path and several outdoor sculptures.
The origins of the museum date to 1948, when Frank Applebee, then head of the AU Art Department, purchased the Advancing American Art Collection, which had been commissioned in 1946 by the federal government as a way to promote American art and artists abroad. This collection would form the foundation of the museum's holdings. In 1992, Auburn University attained a large collection of John James Audubon prints from philanthropist Susan Phillips. Two years later, Phillips and her brother Allen Phillips donated $1 million for the construction of galleries dedicated to the continuous exhibition of selections from The Louise Hauss and David Brent Miller Audubon Collection. In early 1998, Albert Smith, a 1947 graduate of Auburn University, committed $3 million to the project as a gift to his wife, Jule Collins Smith, in honor of their 50th wedding anniversary. After Smith's announcement of the gift, the Auburn University Board of Trustees passed a resolution declaring that the museum be named The Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art.
In 2000, Michael De Marsche was appointed as the first director of the museum, and the university created a program to extend museum membership to the community and established an advisory board. In 2000, the design process for the museum building was initiated, as funding for the project continued to increase. By 2001, the original 1996 construction budget was raised from $3.5 million to $13 million by a resolution passed by the Auburn University Board of Trustees. In December 2001, Conner Brothers Construction was award the contract to construct the facility. By 2009, the museum had several hundred members at multiple levels, and a 16-person staff headed by latest director Marilyn Laufer. During the summer of 2009, admission became free to the general public thanks to the generosity of the JCSM Business Partners.
The museum's permanent holdings represent diverse periods and cultures. The Advancing American Art Collection includes works by such major twentieth-century American artists as Georgia O'Keeffe, Jacob Lawrence, and Ben Shahn. The Louise Hauss and David Brent Miller Audubon Collection contains 114 prints by nineteenth-century naturalist and artist John James Audubon. The Bill L. Harbert Collection of European Art contains works by such renowned figures as Marc Chagall, Salvador Dalí, Henri Matisse, Joan Miró, Pablo Picasso, and Pierre-Auguste Renoir. The museum also has a large holding of Tibetan bronze sculptures and Irish Belleek porcelain. The main lobby of the museum is home to a large three-tiered glass "chandelier" created for the space by renowned Seattle artist Dale Chihuly. The reflecting pool at the museum's entrance features a sculpture by Auburn University graduate Jean Woodham.
In addition to its permanent collections, the museum hosts many traveling exhibitions. In the fall of 2005, JCSM presented The Quilts of Gee's Bend, an exhibition of 70 quilts produced by the quilting community of Gee's Bend, in Wilcox County. In the summer of 2006, JCSM Director Marilyn Laufer curated the exhibit The Spirit of the Modern: Drawings and Graphics by former Auburn professor Maltby Sykes, on loan from the Georgia Museum of Art. The exhibition featured more than 50 works displaying Sykes's technical experimentation in printmaking.
In 2007, JCSM organized the exhibition Roger Brown: Southern Exposure, guest curated by Sidney Lawrence, formerly of the Smithsonian's Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C. The exhibition displayed the works of Alabama native and Chicago Imagist painter Roger Brown. And in 2009, the museum hosted an exhibition of recent works by Dothan artist Dale Kennington.
JCSM offers lectures, film series, and educational programs for adults and children relating to exhibitions and cultural issues. Events at the facility include an annual May Day festival, Third Thursday: Late Night once monthly, Saturday Art Club, and a Birthday Celebration in October for JCSM.
901 South College Street
Auburn, AL 36849
Published September 4, 2009
Last updated October 8, 2014