Throwback Thursday – KCAC Forum Winter 1998

KCAC Forum Magazine Winter 1998

by Richard Scherubel

I live just up the river from Kansas City in St. Joseph, MO. Our town is justly proud of its many fine old homes and other historic buildings. One of the finest mansions has become our own art museum, the Albrecht-Kemper Museum of Art. People who have lived here longer than I persist in pronouncing Albrecht as “ALL-BRITE.” I have never heard a completely believable story about that, but it seems to have something to do with not wanting to sound German during the World War Years. Now there seems to be a movement to restore the correct pronunciation (“ALL BRECKT”).

The home that houses our museum was built in 1933 for William Albrecht, who founded the Western Tablet and Stationery Company, maker of the Big Chief Tablet. The original Indian head, which appears on old Big Chief tablets, is carved over the mantle of the fireplace on the lower level of the house. Much of the original wood work and paneling are in place,

In 1965, descendants of Albrecht gave the Colonial/Georgian style mansion at 2818 Frederick Avenue to the St. Joseph Art League, a ladies’ art study group. The Art League had already begun developing an art collection in 1913 with the purchase of A Venetian Balcony by William Merritt Chase. On May 6, 1966, Wayne Thiebaud was invited to show his work at the inaugural exhibition.

The permanent collection has continued to grow over the years. It now includes one of the best Midwestern collections of American art from the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. Included are portraits by George Caleb Bingham Rembrandt Peale, Gilbert Stuart, Mary Cassatt and Fairfield Porter. There are also landscapes by George Inness, Martin J. Heade, Fitz Hugh Lane and Wolf Kahn, as well as other works by George Catlin, Thomas Hart Benton, Wayne Thiebaud, Janet Fish, Robert Stackhouse, Jacob Lawrence, Debbie Butterfield, and Red Grooms, to name just a few.

Beginning in 1990, plans were developed to expand the house with major new gallery, storage, library and auditorium spaces. The building project was made possible in part by the generosity of long-time fiends Mary Boder and R. Crosby Kemper. The Duncan Architects firm has successfully wedded the modern, 21,000 square-foot addition to the original building.

Of course, not all of the extensive permanent collection can be displayed at once. A major portion of the large, new, open-space gallery is reserved for temporary and traveling exhibitions. Recent exhibitions included

  • William Christenberry: Retrospective, 1994
  • Lorna Simpson: Wigs, 1995
  • Native American Baskets: The Hartman Collection, 1996
  • A Study in Contrast: Prints of Warhol and Oldenburg, 1996
  • William Wegman: Paintings, Photographs Drawings and Video, 1996 (originated at the Albrecht-Kemper Museum, now on tour)
  • and its current show, William T. Wiley: 60 Works for 60 Years

William Wiley was present at the Museum’s winter open house to inaugurate the exhibition of prints, including some created in the summer of 1997 that have not been exhibited before.

Much of the credit for the strong exhibition schedule belongs to Mark Spencer, director of the Museum since 1994. Before accepting his current position, Spencer served as curator of the art collection of Yellow Freight System in Overland Park, KS. His resume shows an impressive history of curating, directing, teaching and publishing.

In addition to collecting and showcasing works of art the Albrecht-Kemper offers art classes for children and adults, as well as gallery talks, film series and performances. The Bradley Art Reference Library contains 2,500 volumes, plus periodicals. There is also a quality gift shop located near the museum entrance.

Membership in the museum has mushroomed with the completion of the new building addition. Many of the new members are artists who look forward to showing their work in the unjuried “Members Exhibition” held each February. I know I do.

There are many good reasons to visit historic St. Joseph. The Albrecht-Kemper Museum of Art is certainly one of the top attractions, and belongs on everyone’s must see list.


The Albrecht-Kemper Museum of Art is located at 2818 Frederick Boulevard, west of I-29 and East of Noyes Boulevard, in St. Joseph. The Museum is open 10 AM to 4 PM Tuesday through Saturday, and 1 to 4 PM Sunday. It is closed Mondays, New Year’s Day, Easter, July 4 Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. Admission for adults 18 and over is $3; under 18 and students with valid ID, $1 under 12 and members are admitted free. All guests are admitted free on Sundays. Group rates are available. For more information, call the museum information desk at (816) 233-7003