Hampton University Museum
museum in Hampton, Virginia, USA



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Arty Fact

Hampton University Museum
museum in Hampton, Virginia, USA
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14 Frissell Ave
Hampton, Virginia
United States

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Samuel G. Armstrong, Hawaiian-born general for the Union and leader of the 8th and 9th regiments of the United States Colored Troops during the Civil War, founded the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute in 1868 in the wake of the Emancipation. 

Although free, a whole generation of black people was left without skills and training that would give them a stake in the market. The Institute was built to allow black students to receive further education to become teachers in their own right, while acquiring additional trade skills in exchange for manual labor. Within its campus lay the Curiosity Room, also built in the same year, which was built to demonstrate to students what the finished products of their education would look like.  Imagine what the ones who wanted to be surgeons, doctors, and butchers saw. 

The first articles to be exhibited in the space were textiles from Armstrong’s place of birth: Hawaii. When Hampton University established its first African American Studies program in the 1870s, African works were added to the collection, bolstered by William Sheppard’s visit to the Kuba Kingdom from the 1890s to the 1910s. Sheppard, an alumnus of Hampton, was the first African American to collect art from what is now known today as the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  Several hundred items were added to the collection.  The museum acquired more pieces from a surge of Native American admissions from 1878 to 1923, as well as a donation from an American who tutored in Japan in 1918, and a donation of Philippine works four years before that.  Today the museum contains the largest collection of ethnic artworks in the South, with over 9000 works from across the globe.

Another crowning jewel of the Hampton Museum lies in its African American collection, which alone sports 1500 artworks.  Henry Ossawa Tanner’s most acclaimed work, The Banjo Lesson, has laid here since its acquisition in 1894.  In 1967, the Harmon Foundation donated its bulk of work from the Harlem Rennaisance, bolstered by Countee Cullen’s poetic work donated by his widow.  The largest collections of the works of John Biggers, Elizabeth Catlett, Jacob Lawrence, Richmond Barthe, and Samella Lewis live in the Hampton’s halls.

In a realm that often shows works from around the world but is headed by whites, it is a refreshing sight to have a person of color, especially a female one, keeping an eye on the world’s treasures: Dr. Vanessa Thaxton-Ward has acted as curator for the museum since 2016.




  1. “Collections : Hampton University Museum.” n.d. Hampton University Museum. Hampton University Museum. Accessed July 31, 2019.
  2. Hammond, Jane. 2019. “Explore 150 Years of Hampton University History in New Exhibit.” July 28, 2019.
  3. “Samuel Chapman Armstrong.” n.d. Hampton University. Accessed July 31, 2019.

Comments (1)


It is a wonderful museum. Thanks for reminding me that I am due for a visit!