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Encyclopedia Dubuque


"Encyclopedia Dubuque is the online authority for all things Dubuque, written by the people who know the city best.”
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Affiliated with the Local History Network of the State Historical Society of Iowa, and the Iowa Museum Association.


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DUBUQUE MUSEUM OF ART. The current Dubuque Museum of Art began in 1874 as the DUBUQUE ART ASSOCIATION, the oldest cultural agency in Iowa. The Association, originally located in the LORIMIER HOUSE at the corner of 8th and Main, was organized by a progressive group of community leaders who opened Association membership to the public and collected subscriber’s fees to purchase art. The Association’s visibility was increased by holding public art exhibitions of the purchased art in a variety of locations throughout the city. A fine arts gallery was opened in March, 1886; forty-two artists and amateurs were represented; 10 cents admission was charged. Through admission charged at these events additional purchases were made for the Association’s collection.

The public library was established in 1859 and moved to its location on 11th Street in 1902. Lacking funding, the Art Association which had operated in cooperation with the library, disbanded and donated fifteen pieces of art to the library. The arts group reorganized in 1910 through the efforts of Kate Keith VAN DUZEE and Dr. E. R. Lewis. Meetings and exhibitions were held at the library. A listing of the Association’s founding subscribers has not survived, however the following individuals helped shape its growth in the early to mid 20th century: Kate Keith VANN DUZEE, Louise Herron HALLIBURTON, Adrian Dornbush, Dorothy ROSSITER, and Grant WOOD.

In 1923 Mary Lull, the widow of a Dubuque physician, gave $5,000 to the library to spend on acquiring art. One of the first important acquisitions was a complete portfolio of native American pictures by nationally recognized Wisconsin photographer Edward Curtis. In 1927, $350 from the Lull Art Fund was used to purchase Grant Wood's painting "Appraisal." "Victorian Survival" was purchased shortly afterwards for $800.

In 1956, the Dubuque Art Association left the library. In the 1970s the association moved into the BARN (THE) (Slattery Center) until 1975 when it relocated to the OLD JAIL. The Association leased the building from Dubuque County for $10 annually. (1)

The Dubuque Art Association established the Dubuque Museum of Art in 1987 and Jean Hunter, the first full-time director was hired. In 1988 in its first capital campaign, the museum hosted a 50-year retrospective of Dubuque artist Frank LICCIARDI. The campaign took in one-half million dollars which was used to renovate the Old Jail building.

By the 1990s, the board of the museum realized that the Old Jail could not be climate-controlled to the standards of the American Association of Museums. To purchase a new building, in 1997 the Association asked the Dubuque County Board of Supervisors to reimburse the Association $794,000 used to renovate the Old Jail. (2)

On February 16, 1998 the Museum purchased the former STATESMAN BANK, a building which had received an award from the American Institute of Architects, and hired Minnesota architect Joan Sorano to direct the renovation. (3) In April the board of trustees of the museum decided to reconsider its proposal to the board of supervisors. It was felt that, in the long run, the use of the Old Jail for office space would lead to the loss of a "unique cultural asset" to the community. (4)

The relocation to the bank building and the renovation was financed through the Woodward Foundation and Bob and Barbara Woodward, local banks, and loans from the City of Dubuque. The relocation was looked upon as a major step toward accreditation of the museum by the American Association of Art Museums. The new building had environmental controls and an elevator, both required for accreditation. (5)

At the same time, the public library chose to loan Grant Wood's "Appraisal" and "Victorian Survival" to the museum on a long-term basis. The Dubuque Museum of Art was fortunate to have a significant collection of early paintings by Iowa Regionalist Grant Wood, as well as a complete set of his lithographs, a set of decorative doors, and the Grant Wood oil paintings-- "Appraisal" and "Victorian Survival", on long term loan from the CARNEGIE-STOUT PUBLIC LIBRARY. The Curtis collection was purchased from the library around 2008 for $500,000 by the Dubuque Cultural Preservation Committee, a group of local business and civic people. That kept the collection in Dubuque after an offer of $1 million had be made from Texas. The Museum also has the complete collection of Illinois artist/illustrator Arthur Geisert’s etchings completed for his series of children’s books.

Around 2009, the Museum’s staff included four full-time and three part-time employees; its Board of Trustees included nineteen individuals living in Dubuque or in a twenty mile regional area. Accredited by the American Association of Museums in 2005, the Museum sought to be responsive to artists within the region as well as to the general community through a variety of temporary exhibitions on a year-round schedule, gallery tours, outreach programs, and a variety of educational student classes and parent/child initiatives.

In 2015 Dubuque became one of the smallest communities in the United States to have two affiliates of the Smithsonian Institution--the NATIONAL MISSISSIPPI RIVER MUSEUM AND AQUARIUM and the Dubuque Museum of Art. Earning the distinction meant that both organizations were open to displaying some of the Smithsonian's vast collections. (6)

In July 2016 it was announced that the Museum of Art was purchasing the long-vacant building that formerly housed KDTH. (7)



1. Reber, Craig. "Museum of Art to Move," Telegraph Herald, February 17, 1998, p. 3A. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=aEyKTaVlRPYC&dat=19980217&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

2. Ibid.

3. Ibid.

4. Reber, Craig. "Museum Withdraws Request; old Jail to Remain Cultural," Telegraph Herald, April 21, 1998, p. 3A. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=aEyKTaVlRPYC&dat=19980421&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

5. Ibid.

6. "2nd Smithsonian Pact a Boon for Dubuque," Telegraph Herald, January 15, 2016, p. 4A

7. "Dubuque Museum of Art Buys Former KDTH Building," Telegraph Herald, July 7, 2016, p. 3A

Ritts, Edwin Jr. Director: Dubuque Museum of Art

Voight, Sandye. "Art Museum Traces Its Roots to 1874." 175 Years, Volume III, Telegraph Herald, Sept. 15, 2008, p. 144