The American Art Department originated in 1973 with the impetus of America's up-coming Bicentennial and the Museum's Centennial celebrations. The Curator was Darrel Sewell with Beatrice B. Garvan as Assistant Curator. In 1974 David Hanks was also appointed as Curator along with Dorinda Evans as Visiting Curator and Lu D. Bartlett as Assistant Curator. Beatrice Garvan was appointed Associate Curator and Dorinda Evans became the Visiting Curator for the Bicentennial Exhibition in 1975. By 1976 Lu D. Bartlett had left. Kathryn Plummer was appointed the Pennsylvania German Exhibition Coordinator in 1982. At that time (no later than June 1984), the department formally instituted an office for American decorative arts, including objects and architecture. Beatrice Garvan was appointed its curator. Darrel Sewell continued in his curatorial capacity,overseeing the Museum's collection of American paintings and sculpture dating from the 1600s to 1900. In 2002, Sewell became an emeritus member of the staff, and Kathleen A. Foster joined the Museum as Curator of American Art.
Another significant development in the Museum's promotion of American art awareness and scholarship occurred at this time. In the fall of 2002, the Museum received an endowment from Robert L. McNeil, Jr., which allowed for the establishment of The Center of American Art. Its purpose has been to promote the study of this country's artistic and cultural heritage, with particular emphasis on the contributions from the Philadelphia area. To achieve this ambitious agenda, the Center sponsors symposia, lectures, fellowships, publications and research.
Records of the American Decorative Arts Department are maintained as a separate record group in the Archives.