Associated Organizations

Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art


The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art was funded by two donors who believed that Kansas City needed access to great art in order to enhance the cultural life of the city. William Rockhill Nelson, founder and editor of the _Kansas City Star _newspaper and real estate investor, and Mary McAfee Atkins, a widowed former school teacher and real estate investor, both left provisions in their wills to fund an art museum. With these combined legacies the trustees began to both plan the construction of the museum and begin to acquire the museum’s collection with the assistance of advisors in 1930.

Paul Gardner was hired as the museum’s first staff member and was responsible for supervising completion of the  building, installing the collection, and creating a program of activities for the new museum. On December 11, 1933 The William Rockhill Nelson Gallery of Art and the Mark Atkins Museum of Fine Art opened its doors. Over 100,000 visitors flocked to the museum in its first month to see collections from around the world as well as an opening exhibition of American Painting Since 1900. The star of this exhibition was _Portrait of The Artist's Mother _by James A. McNeill Whistler which was loaned by the Louvre.

Throughout the museum’s history it has brought the world to Kansas City through works in its permanent collection and featured exhibitions. It has also served as a hub of creativity and culture for the community with a history of engaging visitors with educational programming.

Select Sources

Tara Laver, "Ready for Art: The 1933 Opening of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art," Google Arts & Culture, accessed March 24, 2021,

Michael Churchman and Scott. Erbes, High Ideals and Aspirations : the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, 1933-1993 (Kansas City: Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, 1993).

Handbook of the William Rockhill Nelson Gallery of Art (Kansas City: The Joseph D. Havens Co., 1933),


Amanda Harlan, Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art

Record Published

Published on September 20, 2021

Kansas City, Missouri
Known As
Nelson Art Gallery
William Rockhill Nelson Gallery of Art and the Mary Atkins Museum of Fine Arts
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