The Allentown Art Museum was established through a grassroots effort led by the teacher, painter, and critic Walter Emerson Baum (1886-1956). Founded and incorporated during the Great Depression (1934 and 1939, respectively), the Museum served the local community for twenty years in a city-owned Federal-style house, primarily exhibiting the works of area artists.
In 1960 and 1961, a gift of 53 Renaissance and Baroque paintings and sculptures from Samuel H. Kress (a native of nearby Cherryville, Pennsylvania) brought the Museum to a new level. The Kress gift stimulated community visionaries and Museum friends to purchase and refurbish a building suitable to house the new collection. The Museum stands on that location today.
In 1975, an expansion to the building was completed to enhance the Museum's programs and collecting plans. At the time, the Museum installed a room designed by Frank Lloyd Wright as part of its permanent collection.
The collection, still largely defined by European paintings in 1975, expanded with a large collection of textiles and another gift of works on paper. The 1978 acquisition of Gilbert Stuart's beguiling portrait of Ann Penn Allen, granddaughter of the founder of Allentown, set the benchmark for the qualitative standards of the collection. The Museum's goal, to develop an American collection parallel to the quality of the European collection, is one that the Museum is well on its way to achieving.
In 2010-2011 the Museum underwent renovation to include approximately ten thousand more square feet of gallery, storage, and public space. Another twenty-five thousand square feet of existing facility was also refurbished.
Today, the Allentown Art Museum of the Lehigh Valley embraces the broadest possible audiences, offering tremendous variety and quality in our collections and exhibitions, educational and popular programs, and a busy calendar of public events. We serve more than one hundred thousand participants annually, of whom more than fourteen thousand are children in school programs.
The Museum's collection of more than seventeen thousand works of art offers our community the opportunity to experience nearly two thousand years of cultural heritage in an accessible and visitor-friendly environment.
Walter Baum in his studio
Founders' Gallery (later Kress Gallery) during the Arms and Armour opening in the 1960s.
Museum on Fifth Street before the 1975 expansion
The Museum after the 1975 expansion
The Museum's Frank Lloyd Wright Library is open to the public (photo by Matt Ward)
The Museum today (photo by Chris Post)