In 1888 the Classical Museum of the University of Kansas Department of Ancient Languages and Literatures was dedicated at the June 5th Commencement. Plaster casts purchased from the Caproni Brothers Cast Company in Boston (the Hermes & Dionysos, the Satyr by Praxiteles, the Apollo Belvedere, the Nike of Samothrace, most or all of the Parthenon material, and the Dancing Faun) and from the D. Brucciani Cast Company of London (the Venus de Milo and probably the "Germanicus") formed the nucleus of the collection; these were placed on exhibit on the second floor of Old Fraser Hall in what was to become the Department of Classics. Largely through the efforts of Alexander Martin Wilcox, Professor of Greek (1865 to 1915), the Collection grew and is therefore named in his honor. Professor Wilcox's goal in establishing the Classical Museum was to put Kansans in touch with Greek and Roman arts in an era when travel to the museums of Europe was a luxury for the wealthy, the quality of photographs and slides was poor, and original works of ancient art were not yet available in the area-the Nelson Gallery in Kansas City was not to open until 1933 -- Wilcox himself had been one of the original members of the American School of Classical Studies, Athens, in 1882 or 1883.
After Old Fraser Hall was closed in 1965, the Wilcox collection was put into storage at various locales on and off campus. The collection was reinstalled in Lippincott Hall in 1985-6 under the guidance of Professors Betty Banks and Paul Rehak (a one-year visiting professor while Banks was on sabbatical). But in the intervening 20 years the casts had suffered considerable damage. Many pieces were lost and those that survived were restored, first by Ahmad-Raee, a graduate of the KU master's program in sculpture and by Dennis Duermeier, a Lawrence painter, and then in 2001-4 by students in Paul Rehak and John Younger's ancient art classes.
The present exhibit is housed in the Mary Amelia Grant Gallery, Associate Professor of Classics and longtime Curator and benefactress of the Collection.
The original collection in 1888 consisted of casts (the Aphrodite of Melos, the reclining Dionysos from the Parthenon's east pediment, Hegeso and Orpheus reliefs, busts of Roman emperors, the Dying Gaul, and the Primaporta Augustus [the last two damaged beyond repair while in storage]) and a host of models, maps, charts, and illustrations. A humbler part of the collection was a long oak table that has survived and was duplicated in 2007 to provide seminar space.
Soon more casts were added: the Hermes of Praxiteles in 1895, the Apollo Belvedere, the Discus Thrower, a small and large Faun, and Sophocles and Demosthenes - these survived; the Laocoon, several Muses, a Diana, and more busts did not. The last major cast to be added to the collection was a small-scale version of the Victory of Samothrace contributed by the French Department in 1940.
Amongst this collection Professor Wilcox gave lectures on ancient art and Greek culture. And he kept acquiring: Greek vases purchased on trips abroad, Gilliéron reproductions of objects from the Mycenae Shaft Graves (many have not survived), folio volumes on Greek and Roman art (like Brunn-Bruckmann's Denkmäler Griechischer und Römischer Sculptur, and Furtwängler-Reichold's Griechische Vasenmelerei [now in the KU library system]). and on the recent excavations (Fouilles des Dèlphes, Olympia Forschungsberichte). Wilcox retired in 1915, but he still taught occasionally until his death in 1929, when the collection he had amassed was named after him as "a perpetual memorial."
In 1907 there was a chance to augment the Greek collection with some material from Italy. A disastrous eruption of Mt. Etna caused the Italian government to put on sale some antiquities for the benefit of the homeless. Through an agent, Professor R. V. D. Magoffin of New York University, the Wilcox purchased about two hundred items for less than a dollar apiece: terracotta ex votives, bronze and ivory items, terracotta lamps, vases, funeral inscriptions (9 of which are published in the American Journal of Archaeology April issue, 1955), fragments of Roman wall painting, and a large assortment of Roman architectural marbles many of which came from the imperial palaces on the Palatine in Rome. These last are almost unique in the US; only Johns Hopkins has a similar set. Magoffin scoured Rome for these items, had marble cutters polish the architectural pieces, and even recruited divers to recover two large amphora off the coast of Ostia.
From 1929 to 1943, Professor Sterling was curator of the Wilcox. He weathered the depression years, and set about refinishing the now dingy casts -- a difficult job before the invention of latex paint. After his death, Professor Mary A. Grant took over the collection (1944-1960), putting on display the Roman objects that had been kept in storage for lack of space and bringing the old records up to date. After her retirement, two archaeologists, Stephen Glass and Ned Nabers, curated the collection until Nabers moved to Vanderbilt in 1966. Almost all the collection was moved out of Old Fraser in 1965, prior to the building's demolition. Diantha "Dee" Haviland then served as curator of the collection from September 1966 until 1 July 1970, when Elizabeth "Betty" Banks took over.
In these early years, there had been additions made to the Wilcox Collection. There have been several bequests of ancient coins. Professor Lind, during his stay in Italy in 1954, bought some painted and Bucchero vases and lamps (mostly from Cerveteri) from a priest, Father Don Antonio Carucci, who was attached to the Vatican. The Alice Rohe collection of Roman and Etruscan antiquities, given by the terms of her will to the Museum of Art, was passed over to the Wilcox in 1958. Single gifts were also acquired over the years: some Roman "tear bottles," papyrus fragments, a Pentelic marble fragment from the Athens Acropolis, a cuneiform clay tablet (eventually donated to the Spencer Research Library), a terracotta cupid and Tanagra figurine, plaster copies of Greek coins and gems from the British Museum, a Greek inscription found during excavations for a new oil refinery near Monte Testaccio in Rome, and a fifth century red-figure Athenian kylix by the Sabouroff painter. The latest major acquisitions before the collection went into storage, included Roman coins and the purchase of a marble Syrian-Roman funerary stele of the first century B.C.
Originally planned to be in storage for only three years, the Wilcox languished for 20 in several unsuitable locations both on and off campus. Due to the energies of Professor Banks, new quarters were outfitted in Lippincott Hall and the Wilcox was moved there, in almost its entirety, over the academic year 1985-6. The plaster casts were the most to suffer during their confinement in storage and several had become too friable to save. Lost were the Prima Porta Augustus, the Dying Gaul, several Parthenon frieze slabs, and busts of Plato and Socrates. Banks curated the collection until her retirement in 2001 when Professor Paul Rehak was hired and made curator. Under his short term, most of the casts of the Parthenon frieze were brought out of storage and restored by his students.
After Rehak's untimely death in 2004, Professor John Younger, hired in 2002, was made curator. Because Rehak had had a long and influential career in the art and archaeology of Greece and Rome before coming to KU, friends, desiring to honor his memory, contributed to the Wilcox. A major purchase was the pelike by the Tyszkiewicz Painter.
In 2008, the Department of Classics moved from the second floor to its new quarters on the ground floor of Wescoe Hall. Remodeling of the ground floor included, at each end of the space, two large, angled glass cases and a smaller third case. Into the large cases went the plaster cast of Demosthenes at one end and Sophocles at the other, along with minor casts. And in the third case went some reproductions of Greek and Italic vases.
The Department of Classics and Phil Stinson, the new curator of the Wilcox Museum, are considering proposals for remodeling the Museum to function more as a classroom -- just as it did in its beginning.