Skip to main content

Evan H. Turner Records

 Collection
Identifier: TUR

Scope and Contents

The Evan H. Turner Records document Turner’s tenure as Director of the Philadelphia Museum of Art (PMA). From 1964 to 1978, Turner led the Museum through a series of striking changes, including controversial exhibitions, the creation of new museum departments, and the long term closing of the museum for renovation. A mix of correspondence, inter-office memoranda, reports, minutes and other records document Turner’s contributions to these endeavors, as well as his supervisory role in exhibition and event planning, and the daily operations of the museum. The collection also documents Turner’s work with a number of professional organizations, his efforts to help the city of Philadelphia to plan the Bicentennial celebrations, and his professorship at the University of Pennsylvania.

The collection is divided into four series: “Official correspondence and subject files” “Special projects” “Professional affiliations” and “Unofficial subject files and correspondence.”

Please see series level notes and folder lists for more information.

Dates

  • 1964-1978

Creator

Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for research use.

Conditions Governing Use

The Evan Turner Records are the physical property of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Archives. The Museum holds literary rights only for material created by Museum personnel or given to the Museum with such rights specifically assigned. For all other material, literary rights, including copyright, belong to the authors or their legal heirs and assigns. Researchers are responsible for obtaining permission from rights holders for publication and for other purposes where stated.

Biographical / Historical

Evan H. Turner was an art historian, scholar, and Director of the Philadelphia Museum of Art (PMA) from 1964 to 1978. He led the Museum during a period of significant growth and transformation. He created new art departments for American and 20th Century Art, and the innovative Department of Urban Outreach (DUO) to promote art across the city of Philadelphia. These progressive activities were matched by a groundbreaking exhibition in 1973, the Marcel Duchamp retrospective, which drew upon significant scholarship and assembled virtually the entire oeuvre of one of the most important artists represented in the Museum. In 1975, Turner led the museum in a major construction project to install a new climate control system in the building, and in 1976, he helped plan the United States’ Bicentennial and the PMA’s Centennial celebrations.

Turner was born in 1927 in Orono, Maine. He attended Harvard University, where he received his BA (1949), MA (1950) and PhD (1954) in art history. From 1950 to 1951, he managed the Fogg Museum’s docent program, and from 1951 to 1952, completed a Harvard teaching fellowship. From 1953 to 1956, Turner worked as a lecturer and research assistant at the Frick Collection in New York City. He was appointed general curator at the Wadsworth Athenaeum in 1955, where he remained until 1959, when he was hired as the Director of the Montreal Museum of Art. He stayed there until 1964, when he was brought on as director of the PMA.

Turner’s tenure at the PMA was very productive. He established departments in 20th century and American Art, and the Alfred Stieglitz Center for Photography. Under his leadership, yearly donations to the museum increased to $500,000 and membership grew to 18,000. Turner was also committed to expanding the museum’s patronage. To this end, he created the Department of Urban Outreach (DUO). The DUO brought art into the neighborhoods, especially through its mural painting program, and from 1971 to 1977, two affiliated institutions were coordinated by DUO, the Fleisher Art Memorial in South Philadelphia and the Thomas Eakins House in the Fairmount neighborhood.

In 1975, Turner embarked on a major city construction project to install climate control throughout the museum’s main building. This project required removal of works of art from galleries and temporarily closing the museum to the public. After the project’s completion, Turner led the museum in a series of events to celebrate the country’s Bicentennial and the museum’s Centennial, including a reception in honor of HRH Queen Elizabeth of England and the landmark exhibition, "Three Centuries of American Art."

1977 saw the arrival by bequest of the Carl Otto von Kienbusch Collection, one of the finest arms and armor collections in the United States. That year, unexpectedly, Turner tendered his resignation, stating in his letter of resignation, "I have come to feel increasingly that there are very real advantages to change in the direction of a distinguished art museum such as ours… I am proud to have had a part in the Museum’s preparations for its Centennial celebrations, but it is proper that someone else should undertake the challenges of the directorship and bring different energies to bear as the museum faces its second century."

From Philadelphia, Turner went on to be director of North Carolina's Ackland Art Museum, and from 1982 to 1993, he was the Director of the Cleveland Museum of Art. Turner was a leader nationally in the world of art museums. Throughout his career, he held various leadership roles within several professional and arts and culture organizations including, Federal Council on the Arts, Center for Museum Education, National Endowment for the Arts, National Endowment for the Humanities, Association of Art Museum Directors, American Association of Museums, American Federation of Arts, and International Advisory Committee on Fine Arts. While in Philadelphia, he was affiliated with the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance, Fairmount Park Art Association, Old Philadelphia Development Corporation, Philadelphia 1976 Bicentennial Corporation, and the Institute of Contemporary Art. He also taught at the University of Pennsylvania.

Extent

146 linear feet

Language of Materials

English

Abstract

Evan H. Turner was an art historian, scholar, and Director of the Philadelphia Museum of Art (PMA) from 1964 to 1978. A mix of correspondence, inter-office memoranda, reports, minutes and other records document Turner’s role in the museum’s growth and transformation during that time, as well as exhibition and event planning, and the daily operations of the museum. The collection also reflects Turner’s work with professional organizations, his efforts to help the city of Philadelphia to plan the 1976 Bicentennial celebrations, and his professorship at the University of Pennsylvania.

Arrangement

Due to the nature of Turner’s record keeping system, there is considerable overlap of content and inconsistencies in filing practices throughout the entire collection. Researchers are therefore advised to consult the folder list for each series and sub-series when seeking information on specific people, events and/or subjects. In addition, it is suggested that researchers search for topics under several headings within and across series. For example, depending on the year, reports written by Turner for regular Board of Trustees meetings are sometimes filed under “B” for Board of Trustees, “T” for Trustees’ meetings or “D” for Director’s reports. Another good example are files relating to the Philadelphia Inquirer , which are sometimes filed under “P” for Philadelphia Inquirer , and other times under “I” for Inquirer.

Custodial History

Transferred from the Director’s Office.

Processing Information

Finding aid prepared by Christiana Dobrzynski Grippe, Jenna Marrone, Holly Mengel and Courtney Smerz in 2011. The processing of this collection was made possible through generous funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, administered through the Council on Library and Information Resources’ “Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives” Project. This collection was minimally processed in 2011, as part of an experimental project conducted under the auspices of the Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collections Libraries to help eliminate processing backlog in Philadelphia repositories.

Creator

Title
Guide to the Evan H. Turner Records
Author
Finding aid prepared by Christiana Dobrzynski Grippe, Jenna Marrone, Holly Mengel and Courtney Smerz.
Date
2011 September 9
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Undetermined
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note
English
Sponsor
The processing of this collection was made possible through generous funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, administered through the Council on Library and Information Resources’ “Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives” Project.

Repository Details

Part of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Library and Archives Repository

Contact:
Philadelphia Museum of Art
PO Box 7646
Philadelphia PA 19101-7646 United States