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Encyclopedia Dubuque


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Booklet authored by the Rev. W. G. Kessler. It was published by the Columbia Museum and Institute of Art.

COLUMBIA MUSEUM OF HISTORY, ART AND SCIENCE. Unparalleled collection of art in Dubuque assembled under the direction of Archbishop Francis J. L. BECKMAN. The museum began as a collection of Indian artifacts gathered by William G. Kessler, a young priest at COLUMBIA ACADEMY. With the encouragement of Beckman, the collection, named the Columbia Museum of History, Art, and Science in 1936, expanded to occupy the lower floor of the Science Hall. Museum officials declared in 1937 that the collection was organized on a national basis "as a national shrine to the Catholic pioneers of America."

The exhibits of the museum were arranged into four general divisions. The first, Educational, had the following sections: ethnological exhibits including many Native American artifacts; relics of the various wars; relics of early American social life; and old and rare papers, letters, books and coins. The second division, Applied and Natural Sciences, had as section: biological containing Midwestern plant and insect life; and geological with a collection of rocks, minerals and fossils. The third division, Invention, included a replica of the McCormick reaper. The fourth division, Religious Antiquity, held relics of the early Dubuque prelates and priests. The largest division was Art. This included paintings by Rembrandt, Rubens, Valasquez, Whistler and Van Dyck.

In 1938 it was claimed that the collections were worth a minimum of $1,500,000. There were over 170,000 exhibits by 1940. The museum was open daily the 9:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. and Wednesday evenings from 7:00 p.m. until 9:00 p.m. Admission was free.

Financial support for the museum came through the MIDWEST ANTIQUARIAN ASSOCIATION. Among members of this group was Eleanor Roosevelt who accepted an honorary membership in May of 1937. Other groups which actively supported the museum were the Catholic Daughters of America and the Catholic Women Foresters. Publicity for the museum was the responsibility of its quarterly, "The Midwest Antiquarian."

The museum promoted a service policy which included several features. The first was the supplying of study club materials to groups interested in history, art and science. Monographs on the divisions of these fields were prepared by specialists who donated their time. A lecture service on a national basis was the second feature of the museum's service plan. A series of illustrated lectures with slides showing many of the most interesting and valued exhibits of the museum was the third feature. In 1937 the fourth point, movies on cultural subjects were being planned. The fifth point of the service plan was a series of traveling exhibits.

The museum, like the Association, was renamed and became known as the Columbia Museum and Institute of Art.

The end of the museum began with debts incurred by Archbishop Beckman. Many works of art were returned to him for use as collateral against interest-bearing notes that had been issued in his name. When financial irregularities in the archdiocese were discovered, pieces of the collection were offered for sale to priests and institutions of the archdiocese. An estimated one hundred thousand dollars was raised. New purchases of art were refused, and the museum was closed.



Gallagher, Mary Kevin B.V.M. Seed/Harvest: A History of the Archdiocese of Dubuque. Dubuque, Iowa: Archdiocese of Dubuque Press, 1987

"Museum Information," Telegraph Herald, Sept. 26, 1937, p. 7