The Milwaukee Art Museum today announced plans to move its art library, archives and related programs to the historic Judge Jason Downer mansion, 1201 N. Prospect Ave., in close proximity to the museum. The library’s extensive holdings include nearly 27,000 volumes; 60,000 art catalogues, journals and magazines; and the Brooks Stevens and other institutional archives dating back to 1888.
"This is a wonderful addition to the Milwaukee Art Museum and the community. The new location will allow for greater library and archive access, as well as potential partnerships with area schools, colleges and professional organizations," said Don Layden, president of the Milwaukee Art Museum’s board of trustees. "We couldn’t have found a better match, pairing this notable historic building with the Museum’s extraordinary historic archives."
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the three-story Judge Jason Downer mansion was designed by architect Edward Townsend Mix and built in 1874.
2016 marks the 100th anniversary of the Milwaukee Art Museum library’s founding. The archives are entirely one-of-a-kind in the region and contain information on the Museum’s 130-year history dating back to the Layton Art Gallery and regional patron collecting which extends beyond Milwaukee, throughout the Midwest, to the East Coast, Europe and beyond.
"The quality of holdings in our library archives has been a best kept secret," said Museum librarian/archivist Heather Winter. "Collecting and collector history is at the forefront of museum research and publishing and has become one of the most popular subjects for lectures and symposia around the world."
"The move to the Downer mansion brings the Milwaukee Art Museum in step with the activities of art research libraries like the Frick and the Guggenheim," said Layden.
The Downer mansion will more than double the Museum’s library space and will include reading rooms, study spaces and a lecture space. In preparation for this transition, the Museum library and archives closed in July and will reopen as the newly named Milwaukee Art Museum Research Center in Spring 2017.
(NOTE: Downer also built a spite house next door in 1880 and you can read that story here.)