The institution now known as the Art Museum of Greater Lafayette was founded as the Lafayette Art Association on April 14, 1909. After a “general awakening of art interests all over (the) country and state” some of Lafayette residents saw a chance to “stimulate and encourage interest in art and to give annual exhibitions, and also to establish and maintain permanent collections of works of art.” Twenty-five citizens, led by Laura Ann Fry, including members of the Art Club came together in at the Lafayette High School at Sixth and Columbia, to found the organization. Superior Court Judge, Henry Vinton chaired the meeting and was elected President. Laura Ann Fry was elected Vice President. In less than a month's time the Association gained 386 members, each paying $1.00 in annual dues. Judge Vinton and Ms. Fry continued to lead the organization through 1924.
Laura Ann Fry was a native of White County and was a practicing potter formerly associated with Rookwood Pottery of Cincinnati, until she moved to Lafayette to teach as a Professor in the Industrial Arts Department at Purdue University in 1896. In 1906 she was appointed head of the department; the first woman to be so named.
In 1982, the organization received accreditation by the American Alliance of Museums, and changed the name to the Greater Lafayette Museum of Art. In 2000, the name of the organization became the Art Museum of Greater Lafayette, to bring "Art" to the forfront.
The Early Years
TheLafayette Art Association began collecting works of art and held its first exhibition in 1911. The early pieces collected by the museum were often purchased directly from the artist, and include:
- The Cruise of the Ellida by F. Luis Mora 1911, $600
- Winter in the Ravine by T.C. Steele 1912, $350
- Entrance to the Casbah by Henry Ossawa Tanner 1914, $400
- Snow Covered Banks by Clifton Wheeler 1915, a gift from the children of Ford School
- The Lariat Maker by Eanger Irving Couse 1916
- The Red Parasol by Frederick Milton Grant 1917
Over the years the collection has expanded as a result of purchases and donations. The Permanent Collection now boasts more than 1,400 works of art. The Art Museum of Greater Lafayette has been accredited by the American Alliance of Museums since 1982, and strictly adheres to the organization's policies and best practices for museums.
As the permanent collection continued to grow under the guidance of Judge Henry Vinton and founding member Laura Anne Fry, the Association utilized members’ homes, local schools, the YMCA, the Tippecanoe County Courthouse, the Fowler Hotel, The Elks Home and Purdue University for meetings, exhibitions, and to store works in the new collection. In 1928 David Linn Ross, founder of Ross Gear and Tooling Co., offered the second floor of his building at 628 Main Street rent free to both the Lafayette Art Association and the Tippecanoe Historical Society. This site would provide much needed gallery space for the ever expanding Lafayette Art Association. The Association remained there until 1960.
After thirty-two years in the Ross building the Association outgrew their space. A new building was built on a piece of land purchased from the grounds of the Moses Fowler House in 1959. The new building was designed by Walter Scholer Sr. and Lloyd Moser of Scholer Corporation and dedicated in 1960, as the Lafayette Art Center. On March 10, 1980 the North Wing was opened adding an elevator and 1,000 square feet of gallery space on the second floor. This wing was dedicated in honor of Mr. and Mrs. Louis A. Weil, Jr., who made the lead gift in order to provide space for a classroom and permanent collection galleries. Two years later, after accreditation from the American Alliance of Museums, the Lafayette Art Association was re-incorporated as the Greater Lafayette Museum of Art. The Mickey K. Shook Community Service Wing was added in 1988, to provide a community room, gallery and office space as a memorial to board member, Mickey K. Shook. A capital campaign was led by Robert Whitsel and James Shook Sr. to secure the funding. In 2015 the wing was remodeled with a grant from North Central Health Services.
The board of directors commissioned Dorthy Gillespie to create a large public sculpture titled "Launched Ribbon" which was placed near the Ninth Street entrance in 1984. In 2007, the museum gifted the sculpture to the City of Lafayette and after restoration, it was installed in a pocket park at the intersection of Main and Kossuth Streets in 2010. with funding from a North Central Health Services grant, Louisville artist Dave Caudill was selected from a competition to create a sculptural canopy over the Ninth Street handicapped entrance. "Wabash Waves" was dedicated in October 2007.
A major gift by siblings David Fan, Hung Fan, Vicky Fan Black and Frances Fan Macdonald funded remodeling of the studio classroom space on the first floor in honor of their mother. The Manya Fan Art Education Center was dedicated in October 2012.