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Hampton University Museum


 Representing cultures and people from around the world.


Hampton University Museum, Hampton Virginia, 2011. Image courtesy of http://www.aaheritageva.org.

Hampton University Museum was built in 1868, the same time the university was established. The museum has been shaped by the very interesting history of what has been a historically Black American college.  In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s the university was involved in a multitude of student programs, which influenced the museum’s collection. The large number of American Indian and African American students pushed the museum to develop a substantial collection of indigenous art. The museum collected so much art, almost two-thousand pieces, that is now the “nation’s oldest African American Museum,” and also one of the oldest museums in Virginia.

            The museum’s permanent collection is diverse but places a special emphasis on its African American art by showcasing paintings such as Henry O. Tanner’s The Banjo Lesson (1893). The museum also has holdings in contemporary art from artists such as Sonya Clark and James Phillips in addition to Asian art, university archives and a recently acquired collection of historic agricultural tools.

Henry O. Tanner, Banjo Lesson (1893). Image courtesy of canvasreplicas.com.

Hampton University Museum employs nine full-time museum professionals and provides opportunities for education to people of all ages. It offers classes for children in elementary school that are based on their school curriculum and allows them to investigate the essential elements of artworks. “The Curiosity Room” is a facility open to children in preschool with programs specially designed to give them hands-on experience making art while encouraging respect for different art forms at a young age. The museum leads programs for students in middle school that expose them to the collection in a way that provides a historical perspective. Additionally, the museum also publishes The International Review of African American Art quarterly.

            The Museum itself is located in the Huntington Building, which was the college’s former library. The architecture is a style traditional of the founding year 1868, incorporating influences from classical Greek and Roman buildings. Walking up to the front of the museum feels much like walking up to a library, keeping with the original and scholarly intention of the building. Inside are beautifully restored hardwood floors and old wood molding that communicate the feeling of a historical presence.

            The institutions website is modern and easy to navigate. There are features that help an unfamiliar visitor better plan their trip. Through the use of captivating images that engage the viewer’s curiosity, the website is successfully able to reinforce the institutions’ strengths and overall mission of “representing cultures and people from around the world.”

Shannon McGill & Sabrina McGill 

Hampton University Museum