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Museums and Collections

As soon as it was established in 1908, the University of Alberta began receiving gifts of historical, artistic, or scientific value. Dr John A. Allan, the first professor of geology, planned a museum of teaching specimens and began serious collecting upon his appointment in 1912. In time, custody of the collections in fine and applied arts, as well as of archaeological and anthropological specimens presented to the University became part of his responsibility. Each department had custody and maintenance of any gifts it received. Record keeping was erratic and storage conditions substandard.

Dr Ernest Sydney "Frank" Keeping, of the Department of Mathematics, initiated exhibitions of art works during the 1940s. In most cases, these were travelling exhibits. From 1947 to 1949, Dr Keeping was officially Curator of Art Exhibits. Henry George Glyde succeeded him as Chair of the Department of Art. The subsequent Chairs of the Department of Art also served as Curator of the Art Gallery and Museum. There was still no central art gallery or museum or registry on campus.

In 1964, the Fine Arts Gallery (not connected with University Collections until 1968) held an exhibit in one of the houses acquired in the University's expansion into North Garneau. The gallery was renamed "University Art Gallery and Museum" in 1968 and, in 1970, it moved to Ring House 1, home of former University President Henry Marshall Tory.

The Department of Art ceased funding the Gallery and Museum in 1974. Until the appointment of Helen Collinson (1934–98) as Director and Curator in 1977, special funding kept the unit operating. Collinson, who began her career in 1970 as a curatorial research assistant in the University's Department of Art and Design, continued as Director and Curator of the Ring House Gallery and Curator of the University of Alberta Art and Artefact Collection in the Department of Museums and Collections Services from 1977 until her retirement in 1996. As Curator, Collinson was instrumental in organizing and developing the collection into an accessible and important resource. She made significant acquisitions of large-scale, public works, enhancing the campus and bringing an international scope to the collection. Under her direction, the Ring House Gallery gained an international reputation for innovative and comprehensive programming. The print collection grew from her tireless efforts, and she developed the first Print and Drawing Study Room to house these remarkable works.

In 1977, the University Collections Centre was established. The University took custody of all art and museum materials made, received, or collected by any department or officer of the University for the purposes of teaching, research, reference, or exhibition. The Centre provided exhibit assistance, registration services, preservation services, and some storage capacity. Policies on acquisitions, budget, and liaison were reviewed by the University Collections Committee.

Between 1986 to 1990, the University Archives and University Collections were amalgamated. In 1990, the Archives was placed under the authority of the University Librarian. Meanwhile, University Collections became Museum and Collections Services, reporting to the Vice-President (Student and Academic Services). The major policy and acquisitions committees continued in their duties. The Friends of the University of Alberta Museums was established to assist in fundraising and liaison with the community. The Friends is a not-for-profit society dedicated to raising awareness of the University of Alberta Museums. The Friends conducts fundraising, provides volunteer support, publishes an award-winning newsletter, and sponsors a range of programs that provide community access to the University of Alberta Museums.

Since 1995, Museums and Collections Services has formed part of Learning Systems Enterprises (LSE). It is under the direction of Janine Andrews, Executive Director, LSE.

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