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Fiske Kimball Records

Identifier: FKR
In the three decades he served as director, Fiske Kimball worked tirelessly to complete the Museum's construction begun in 1919 and to fill the new building with encyclopedic collections of American and international art, architecture and decorative arts. These records document Kimball's devotion to the Museum and its staff and his boundless energy to guide his institution through an economic depression, the resulting federal relief programs, a world war, a cold war, and an awakening to the art being created in response to these world-changing events of the 20th century.

While the records consist primarily of correspondence, there is a substantial amount of photographs, mostly of objects, rooms and architectural elements offered for purchase. Also included are numerous newspaper clippings, ephemera, and notes, as well as floor plans and installation drawings, legal documents, reports, minutes, press releases and several publications, including government regulations and statutes. Original cross-references, usually preprinted forms on yellow or blue paper, have also been retained even though many no longer represent accurate referrals. Much of the paperwork generated by Kimball consists of his handwritten drafts and final versions. According to the finding aid prepared when the records were first processed in 1981, the records are a "composite" of files because for a number of years Kimball's records served as the "Museum's central file in which staff records were assembled periodically." Although this implied co-mingling blurs provenance, all the papers, regardless of generating office, make Kimball's involvement in every aspect of the Museum's operation apparent.

Kimball's correspondents were numerous, representing all aspects of the art world, from international dealers and auction houses, scholars, artists, educators, and other major art museums to professional organizations and journals, government officials, manufacturers, and endowment organizations. To cultivate a substantial donor base, Kimball wrote frequently to many of Philadelphia's oldest and wealthiest families, such as the Elkins, Lea, Lorimer, McFadden, McIlhenny, Powel and Widener families, and to some of the country's most prominent private collectors, such as Chester Dale, Walter and Louise Arensberg, Edward G. Robinson, and Thomas B. Clarke. Kimball also wrote regularly to the Museum's corporate officers and various committee chairs and the Fairmount Park Commissioners, who oversaw the City's financial connection with the Museum. From this correspondence emerges the development of many of the Museum's policies and procedures affecting operations, funding, staffing, and collection development. For many staff members, both administrative and curatorial, there is significant documentation throughout most of the nine series that comprise these records. For several key personnel, there is documentation of Kimball's recruitment efforts, and for many, especially during the depression years, there are countless letters of recommendation Kimball wrote in an attempt to place those whose jobs were lost through budget cuts.

Kimball's office hours had no limits since it appears that he would continue working on Museum matters while home at Lemon Hill, the colonial house in Fairmount Park provided to him and Marie during his directorship. Because most of those papers, usually notated with an "LH" by Kimball, pertain to his other interests of research, writing and consulting, particularly in architectural matters, they have remained as originally processed as part of the Fiske Kimball Papers (FKP). Some of this correspondence, however, does relate to items processed in the records. Therefore, the correspondence series in FKP, also filed alphabetically by author, may need to be consulted.

These records also reveal some of the underlying social and cultural issues that informed many of Kimball's actions and goals. For example, in a 1936 letter Kimball shows an awareness of the psychological impact of the depression, noting the "wretched situation of our men," who were minimally compensated and given no days off, and the need to give "decent treatment" to these employees because "there is much smouldering feeling [sic] of injustice." During World War II, Kimball collected information about bomb shelters and atomic attacks and exchanged correspondence with other institutions regarding the safe keeping of artwork. Another war repercussion becomes evident through a "Notice of Sale" issued in 1944 by the Alien Property Custodian inviting bids on "certain property formerly owned by certain foreign nationals." In a 1950 letter to Her Serene Highness of Liechtenstein, Kimball cuts to the heart of the cold war menace and offers the Museum as a site of safe keeping for the royal collection since "nothing can prevent the Russians, in case of war, from making the 'promenade d'Europe,' and taking anything they wish back ... as they did the contents of the Dresden Museum." Such subtle commentaries add a depth to the records, placing the Museum's activities within a larger social context.


Files pertaining to the acquisition of Walter and Louise Arensberg's collection of modern and pre-Columbian art are available in digital format. This digital collection is derived from correspondence and notes documenting Kimball's untiring efforts to bring the art collection to the Museum. The papers also chronicle the development of a sincere friendship between the Arensbergs and Kimball and his wife Marie. Letters from all four are included, and almost a decade's worth of coast-to-coast writing and traveling are represented. Also included are color images of sketches made by Kimball of proposed galleries for the Arensberg's collection. All images for this digital collection are located in the "Art collection" subseries of the "Objects and related topics" series.


  • 1908-1955, undated (bulk 1925-1954)


Language of Materials


Access Restrictions

The collection is open for research. Because of its fragile condition, the following item may only be consulted with permission of the Archivist: floor plan with annotations re PMA Gothic installations (in "Objects and related topics" series, "European decorative arts and arms and armor" subseries, "Rooms and architectural elements" sub-subseries, "England. Gothic installations at PMA, incl. Abergavenny, Wales" file).

Box 1001 is stored with our Special Format Records: Architectural Drawings.

Use Restrictions

The Fiske Kimball 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.


94.5 linear feet


From 1925 to 1955, Fiske Kimball served as director of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, steering the institution from what he described as "a minor provincial position to become one of the leading museums of Americirca" The Fiske Kimball Records document Kimball's efforts in achieving this transformation in collaboration with the Museum's officers, staff, and the Fairmount Park Commission, and with the assistance of private benefactors and City funding. Comprised primarily of correspondence, these records also include ephemera, clippings, notes, legal documents, reports, minutes, press releases, publications, floor plans, installation drawings, and photographs, mostly of objects, rooms and architectural elements offered for purchase. Kimball's correspondents include preeminent leaders of art museums, universities, auction houses and professional affiliations, as well as government representatives, private collectors, scholars, and artists. Kimball's often successful courting of potential donors of objects and contributors of funds is well represented, as well as his efforts to secure labor funded by the Works Progress Administration. In addition to the refinement and expansion of the Museum's holdings, the development of various departments and offices is also documented, and to a lesser extent other related facilities.

Historical Note

As a scholar, author, architect and museum director, Fiske Kimball had an insatiable desire to broaden his knowledge of the arts and, in turn, to educate and excite others in those pursuits. The son of an educator, Sidney Fiske Kimball was born in the Boston suburb of Newton, Massachusetts in 1888. Following his graduation from the Lawrence Scientific School of Harvard in 1909, Kimball found his true academic calling when he entered the university's Architectural School. As the recipient of the Sheldon Fellowship, Kimball traveled to Europe to study architecture and in 1912 graduated from Harvard with a master's degree in the same field. By this time, Kimball began what would become a long and prolific career as a researcher and author. In the spring of 1912, he was invited to edit a book on the history of architecture as part of a series of histories of art to be published by Harper. Over the next ten years, Kimball supported his research efforts by teaching architecture and the fine arts at the universities of Illinois, Michigan, and Virginia. At the University of Virginia, he was a professor and head of the department of architecture and fine arts, and he also served from 1921 to 1923 as the university's supervising architect. During these same years Kimball married Marie Goebel of Urbana, Illinois (1913), earned his Ph.D. in 1915 from the University of Michigan and began lecturing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York while still teaching in Virginia. In 1923, Kimball left Virginia to establish the Institute of Fine Arts at New York University, and was appointed the university's architect the following year. Over the next thirty years, Kimball published many books and articles and served on various editorial boards and numerous committees related to professional organizations and government agencies. He was involved in several historical restoration projects, the most notable being Thomas Jefferson's Monticello. Assisted by his wife Marie, Kimball pursued his scholarly interest in Jefferson which kept the couple connected to the Charlottesville area well after Kimball left the University of Virginia. In fact, they built a home nearby at Shack Mountain.

In 1925 Kimball accepted the position as director of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. As the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin noted at the time of his death, "few have ever made a greater contribution to Philadelphia's culture." When Kimball assumed his directorship, the Museum still operated in Memorial Hall, a Centennial Exhibition structure, and its collection focused on American-made objects with an emphasis on textiles and the industrial arts. Construction of the new building was underway. During his tenure, Kimball oversaw the completion of the building's exterior and a significant expansion of its interior, most of which was accomplished with WPA-sponsored labor. As summarized in a 1955 issue of the Museum's Bulletin, a museum, as conceived by Kimball, should "express the world's artistic culture in all mediums, merging architecture, painting, sculpture and the decorative arts." To that end, Kimball filled the newly built Museum with several period rooms and architectural elements from Europe and Asia, and the collections he brought in were significant in representing art through the ages. With the Foulc collection came important Medieval and Renaissance sculpture, furnishings and artifacts. The Crozier collection brought Oriental art, and the Arensberg and Gallatin collections gave the Museum a significant holding in 20th century art.

To care for these collections, Kimball worked to develop a professional staff of men and women, some of whom went on to assume head positions at other major museums in the United States and in Europe. To all personnel, Kimball passed on his devotion to the Museum and a sense of fairness. As recalled in a Museum Bulletin, Kimball "was preeminent in his relationship with his staff...[giving] credit where credit was inspiring force." As evidenced in his records, Kimball often animated his correspondence with a "Bully!" to signify his approval of a particular action or recommendation. Such commanding enthusiasm complemented his physical appearance of six-foot-one and "of ample girth." Yet Kimball's most notable feature, according to PMA curator Carl Zigrosser, was his "cannonball head." From it "emanated persuasive ideas and an undeviating purpose. He was a titan of directed energy...[which] came from his sense of dedication to the Museum." Kimball's contribution to the Museum was publicly acknowledged when he was named the 1950 recipient of the prestigious Philadelphia Award.

In the end, according to his biographers George and Mary Roberts, Kimball's boundless energy and frenetic work habits apparently overwhelmed him, and in January 1955 he resigned as director of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. On March 2, Kimball's wife Marie, to whom he was very devoted, died. Five months later, while traveling in Europe, Fiske Kimball suffered a heart attack and stroke. He died on August 14 in Munich.

Asked to write an autobiographical sketch, Kimball best summarized his work and legacy. In collaboration with the Museum's presidents, an able staff, and with the support of the City and private benefactors, Fiske Kimball saw the institution "emerge from a minor provincial position to become one of the leading museums of America, now not unworthy of comparison with those of Europe."

Works Consulted

  1. An Exhibition Celebrating the 25th Anniversary of the Fiske Kimball Fine Arts Library, September 1995-July 1996. University of Virginia (Charlottesville, VA). 23 January 2003. Fiske Kimball: Master of the Diverse Arts.
  2. Edited by Frederick Doveton Nichols. (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1959). Kane, Mary GivensA Bibliography of the Works of Fiske Kimball.
  3. Bulletin (Pennsylvania Museum of Art) (October 1925):2-3. "The New Director: Fiske Kimball, Ph.D."
  4. Fine Arts Library, Harvard College Library, Harvard University (Cambridge, MA). 23 January 2003. Papers of Sidney Fiske Kimball, 1918-1952.
  5. Bulletin (Philadelphia Museum of Art) (Summer 1955):51-67. "Review of the Year Presented at the Annual Meeting: June 13, 1955."
  6. (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott, 1959). Roberts, George, 1900- and Mary RobertsTriumph on Fairmount: Fiske Kimball and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.


The Fiske Kimball Records now consist of nine series. The original processing consisted of five series. In this revised arrangement, the "General correspondence and related material" series comprises almost half the record collection. The "Officers and other overseers" series consists of the files pertaining to the Fairmount Park Commissioners and the Museum's corporate officers and committee chairs. These files make up approximately one-quarter of the collection. Both the "Administrative issues" and "Curatorial issues" series are subdivided by personnel and subject folders. The education department, library and registrar are documented in the "Service departments" series, and the Museum's fundraising efforts, public outreach and public relations programs are processed as the "Development and public relations" series. The second largest series, "Objects and related topics," includes the widest variety of materials and most of the record collection's photographs. The "WPA and other relief programs" series primarily documents projects carried out at the Museum during the 1930s. The smallest series, "PMA-related facilities," consists of a scattering of material relating to the Fairmount Park Houses and other sites operated by the Museum.

Throughout this finding aid and within folder titles, the abbreviation PMA refers to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and any of its earlier institutional names. The Museum Bulletin refers to the publication put out by the Museum under several titles reflecting its earlier institutional names.

The original "Subject File" series was comprised primarily of general correspondence, filed for the most part alphabetically by correspondent. Approximately one-quarter of those files have been transferred to four new series in an attempt to present the material in a more contextual arrangement that defines the various aspects of the operation, administration and personnel of the Museum, specifically documenting the officers and other overseers, administrative and curatorial staff and topics, and related facilities. The "Development and public relations" series was created to better categorize the fund raising subseries transferred from the original "Service Divisions" series, along with approximately 30 "Subject File" folders, which now comprise a new subseries entitled "Public programs and services." The revised "Service departments" series now includes a small subseries to document the registrar. Those files also were transferred from the "Subject File" series. Additional "Subject File" folders were transferred to the original "Education" and "Library" subseries, as well as the "WPA" and "Objects" series.

All dated material is arranged within folders in descending chronological order, with latest dated material placed on top. This order conforms to the chronology method attempted during the earlier processing.


October 26, 1978, to Series "General correspondence and related material," Subseries "1945-1946," File "Philadelphia Award. Board of Trustees. Kimball as proposed candidate." Note reads: This was given by Mrs. Xavier von Erdberg (Joan Prentice) who was a friend of Caroline Bache who proposed Kimball. Joan von Erdberg compiled the biographical material. Jean Lee sat next to Kimball at the dinner.

Alternative Format Available

Microfilm of certain materials, 1934-1942, in "WPA and other relief programs" series is available in the Library.

Related Material

Philadelphia Museum of Art, Archives. Fiske Kimball Papers.

Philadelphia Museum of Art. Please consult the Archivist regarding Kimball correspondence and other material located in various departmental offices. Curatorial files and object related research.

Philadelphia Museum of Art, Archives. Buildings Department Records.

Philadelphia Museum of Art, Archives. Special Format Records: Architectural Drawings.

Philadelphia Museum of Art, Archives. Arensberg Archives.

Philadelphia Museum of Art, Archives. Board of Trustees Records.

Philadelphia Museum of Art, Archives. Costume and Textiles Department Records.

Philadelphia Museum of Art, Archives. Decorative Arts Department Records.

Philadelphia Museum of Art, Archives. Education Division Records.

Philadelphia Museum of Art, Archives. Far Eastern Art Department Records.

Philadelphia Museum of Art, Archives. Francis Bacon Foundation Records.

Philadelphia Museum of Art, Archives. George Grey Barnard Papers.

Philadelphia Museum of Art, Archives. Henri Gabriel Marceau Curatorial Records.

Philadelphia Museum of Art, Archives. Henri Gabriel Marceau Director Records.

Philadelphia Museum of Art, Archives. J. Stogdell Stokes Records.

Philadelphia Museum of Art, Archives. Julius Zieget Records.

Philadelphia Museum of Art, Archives. Medieval Art Department Records.

Philadelphia Museum of Art, Archives. Painting and Sculpture Department Records.

Philadelphia Museum of Art, Archives. Prints Department Records.

Philadelphia Museum of Art, Archives. Public Relations Department Records.

Philadelphia Museum of Art, Archives. R. Sturgis Ingersoll Records.

Philadelphia Museum of Art, Archives. Library Records.

Fine Arts Library, Harvard College Library, Harvard University. Papers of Sidney Fiske Kimball (MS1).

The Cloisters Library and Archives, Metropolitan Museum of Art. The George Grey Barnard Papers.

Separated Material

Intro. by Fiske Kimball. Narberth, PA: The Grasberger Galleries, 1933. Moved to Fiske Kimball Papers (FKP). White, Theo. B. "A Portfolio of Seven Lithographs of the Colonial Mansions in Fairmount Park."

Processing Information

These materials were arranged and described by Bertha Adams, Adrianna Del Collo, Courtney Smerz, and Kelly McCabe. Funded by a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.


Guide to the Fiske Kimball Records
Finding aid prepared by Bertha Adams, Adrianna Del Collo, Courtney Smerz, and Kelly McCabe.
Language of description
Funded by a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
Edition statement

Revision Statements

  • 9/30/2003: Kat Stefko: Updated authorized names
  • 8/17/2004: Kat Stefko: Added description of digital collection.
  • 8/30/2004: Kat Stefko: Corrected METS stylesheets.
  • 9/20/2004: Kat Stefko: Updated links from "mellon-archives" to "archives.'
  • 4/13/2006: Susie Anderson: Contains new citation format
  • 4/21/2006: Bertha Adams: New URL
  • 6/7/2007: Bertha Adams: June 7, 2007. A few box numbers have been revised
  • 7/6/2012: Bertha Adams: test

Repository Details

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

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