Margaret Perkins-McGuiness
Spencer Museum of Art

Spencer Museum of Art, architects unveil plans for major renovation

Thu, 05/29/2014

LAWRENCE — Architects from internationally renowned design firm Pei Cobb Freed & Partners will unveil their design Thursday evening for the first phase of major renovation and expansion of the Spencer Museum of Art at the University of Kansas. The firm, which was founded by celebrated architect I.M. Pei, has designed more than 20 museums, including the Grand Louvre in Paris.

Phase I, scheduled to begin this fall, will encompass an extensive renovation of more than 15,000 square feet of the Spencer’s interior spaces. The proposed design will feature:
• an expansion of the lobby and visitor orientation spaces
• expansion and renovation of the museum’s storage and study spaces for its world-class collection of works on paper
• a new teaching and learning gallery 
• a central staircase and elevator
• floor-to-ceiling windows looking west toward the historic Marvin Grove, introducing natural light into the galleries. 

“Phase I of the Spencer’s expansion project will transform the experience of the Spencer museum. From the new and inviting entrance to a suite of study spaces designed for lively exchanges with art — every detail expresses our core educational mission,” said Saralyn Reece Hardy, museum director.

Features of the Phase I renovation
This renovation project will thoroughly transform the museum’s primary gathering spaces, nearly tripling the size of the lobby and visitor orientation spaces and reintroducing elements of the much-beloved bookshop, which closed in 2011 due to space concerns. 

The Spencer’s Central Court and adjacent galleries will be infused with natural light and allow visitors the opportunity to connect to nature through the introduction of two stories of full floor-to-ceiling windows looking west toward the historic Marvin Grove and Campanile. The designs further enriches the visitor experience by introducing a central staircase and elevator corridor, allowing guests a continuous art- and light-filled journey throughout the museum’s galleries. The current building design requires visitors to leave the gallery spaces to traverse between floors. 

Advancing the museum’s mission to strengthen and support academic teaching and research at KU, Phase I introduces a new versatile “teaching and learning gallery” that will not only allow short-term exhibitions and object rotations developed in collaboration with KU faculty, but also include interactive open storage elements, allowing students and the public to explore the museum’s collections and learn more about behind-the-scenes museum practices. 

With the support of a major gift from an anonymous benefactor, the renovation project will include the creation of the Stephen H. Goddard Study Room for Works on Paper, named for longtime curator and associate director Steve Goddard. The Goddard Study Room will provide increased access for students, researchers, curators and collections staff by introducing a newly expanded and technologically mediated space for first-hand research and teaching using the museum’s celebrated collection of more than 20,000 works on paper. 

Further enhancing storage and access to the collection is a complete revamp of the storage and collection facilities for works on paper, doubling the size of storage, improving access and environmental conditions for this important and fragile collection and providing much-needed space for a number of significant recent collection acquisitions. 


History of the project

In 2010, the museum selected renowned architectural firm Pei Cobb Freed & Partners, formerly I. M. Pei & Partners, to produce a phased master planning document for the renovation and expansion of the museum. The initial concept for Phase I renovations was introduced in 2013. 

Since its founding in 1955, Pei Cobb Freed & Partners has designed 20 museums, among them the Grand Louvre, Paris; Musée d'art Modern, Luxembourg; the East Building of the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; and the Charles Shipman Payson Building, Portland Museum of Art, Portland, Maine. Lead designers Yvonne Szeto and Bruce White, who recently designed the Federal Reserve Building in Kansas City, Missouri, were inspired by the opportunity to allow art to be enjoyed in the context of nature, given the proximity of the Spencer to historic Marvin Grove on the KU Campus. 

“The design that Szeto and White have created will distinguish the KU campus with elegant beauty that honors the Spencer's rich history and opens to the many possibilities that lie ahead,” Hardy said. 

Sabatini & Associates, of Lawrence, was selected as associate architect for the project. 


The Spencer Museum of Art, with KU Endowment, has launched a $5 million campaign to support Phase I; to date, nearly $4 million has been raised through the generosity of more than 35 individuals, foundations, and corporations. Fundraising is ongoing. 

The gifts count toward Far Above: The Campaign for Kansas, the university’s $1.2 billion comprehensive fundraising campaign. Far Above seeks support to educate future leaders, advance medicine, accelerate discovery and drive economic growth to seize the opportunities of the future.

The campaign is managed by KU Endowment, the independent, nonprofit organization serving as the official fundraising and fund-management organization for KU. Founded in 1891, KU Endowment was the first foundation of its kind at a U.S. public university. The University of Kansas Hospital is a partner in philanthropy with KU Endowment.


About the Spencer Museum of Art
Widely regarded as one of the top university art museums in the nation, the Spencer draws upon its rich history and world-class collection of 38,500 objects to advance teaching, learning and research at KU. Established in 1928 as the first university art museum west of the Mississippi, the Spencer’s tradition of excellence has recently been affirmed by a significant grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to increase collaborations across all academic areas of campus, as well as awards for exhibitions and scholarship from the Samuel H. Kress Foundation and the Henry Luce Foundation. 

The founding gift that created an art museum at the university came in 1917 when Sallie Casey Thayer of Kansas City offered her collection of nearly 7,500 art objects. Beginning in 1926, the Thayer collection was housed in Spooner Hall, a Neo-Romanesque building located near the Spencer on the Lawrence campus’ central boulevard. By the late 1960s, the museum had outgrown its quarters in Spooner Hall. Helen Foresman Spencer, another Kansas City collector and patron of the arts, made a gift of $4.6 million that funded construction of the current museum. This building opened in 1978 and incorporates the Helen Foresman Spencer Museum of Art, the Kress Foundation Department of Art History and the Murphy Library of Art and Architecture, which remain a part of the museum today. The current museumis structure, built in 1978 of Indiana limestone, was designed by Kansas City architect Robert E. Jenks.

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Wanna Skype? Chancellor gets creative to surprise Truman winner. See it here:
Rock Chalk! Junior Ashlie Koehn named KU's 18th Truman Scholar
Ashlie Koehn, a University of Kansas junior from Burns studying in Kyrgyzstan, interrupted helping her host family prepare dinner to make a Skype call on Monday evening.

RT @kulibraries : Check out this news feature & then check out his book with us: #KULibraries #KUWorks…
Wanna Skype? Chancellor gets creative to surprise Truman winner From KU News Service: Ashlie Koehn, a University of Kansas junior from Burns studying in Kyrgyzstan, interrupted helping her host family prepare dinner to make a Skype call on Monday evening. To her surprise, Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little was on the other end of the call letting Koehn know she had been named a 2015 Harry S. Truman Scholar. Koehn is the 18th KU student to be named a Truman Scholar and the only 2015 recipient from the state of Kansas. Earlier this month, she was also named a 2015 Udall Scholar. And in spite of a distance of more than 10,800 kilometers and 11 time zones, Koehn’s thrill from hearing the news from the chancellor came through loud and clear. “Ashlie’s experience at KU epitomizes a quality undergraduate experience. She challenged herself in her coursework, exposed herself to different research opportunities, studied abroad in Germany, Switzerland and Kyrgyzstan, and participated in both student government and community service projects,” Gray-Little said. “This is quite a year for Ashlie. Her hard work is a wonderful reflection on her and also a great reflection on the university, and we all congratulate her.” Each new Truman Scholar receives up to $30,000 for graduate study. Scholars also receive priority admission and supplemental financial aid at some premier graduate institutions, leadership training, career and graduate school counseling, and special internship opportunities within the federal government. Koehn, a member of KU’s nationally recognized University Honors Program, is majoring in environmental studies, economics and international studies. Her goal after earning her KU degree is to pursue a master’s degree in economics at either the London School of Economics or the University of Reading, with a focus on the economics of climate change. In 2014, she received KU’s Newman Civic Engagement Award for her work establishing the Coalition against Slavery and Trafficking. Her involvement with the issue was sparked by Hannah Britton, associate professor of political science and women, gender, and sexuality studies, who hosted national conference on contemporary slavery at KU three years ago. “Ashlie and I met several times to think about what KU students could contribute to the issue of slavery and human trafficking, and the result was her founding of KU CAST,” Britton said. “After a year as president, Ashlie successfully handed the organization over to the next student leader. She demonstrated her strong leadership qualities by setting a unique goal and then pursuing it with her sense of passion, engagement and dedication. No matter the country or context, her leadership strength is evident in her coursework, her public service and her work experiences.” The University Honors Program works with a campus committee to select KU’s nominees for the Truman Scholarship and supports them during the application process. Anne Wallen, assistant director of national fellowships and scholarships, noted it was an amazing ruse to pull off the surprise. Originally, the call was set up to be between Wallen and Koehn. “I was totally not prepared to be greeted by Chancellor Gray-Little, but it was an amazing surprise for sure,” Koehn said. “As a first-generation student, it took time to learn the collegiate system, but my parents taught me to be resourceful and independent from a young age and KU and the Kansas Air National Guard have provided me with the opportunities to drive me into the future, both at graduate school and in my career. I plan to use the Truman Scholarship to pursue a career as an environmental economist helping to shape future trade agreements and leverage action on important international environmental issues, particularly concerning climate change.” Koehn also had a surprise of her own for the chancellor — the meal she was helping to prepare was not exactly typical Kansas dinner fare. On the menu with her host family in Kyrgyzstan on Monday was a traditional Kyrgyz meal called Beshbarmak, or “five fingers,” because you eat it with your hands. The dish is made of horse and sheep and was being prepared as a birthday celebration for Koehn’s host mom. Chancellor Gray-Little, as she signed off from Skype, made sure to encourage Koehn to enjoy her Beshbarmak. Koehn is the daughter of Rodney and Carolyn Koehn of Burns. She graduated from Fredric Remington High School in Moundridge. She is an active member of the Kansas Air National Guard and currently on leave while studying abroad in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. She is a member of the KU Global Scholars Program and a past member of the Student Senate. In addition to being named a 2015 Truman and Udall scholar, she was named a 2014 Boren Scholar and Gilman Scholar and in 2013 was named the Kansas Air National Guard Airman of the Year.

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