From the beginning of the museum's history, the Carter Foundation and the Carter family intended this to be a vibrant institution. Not only would the collection grow, but the mission would evolve as well. Instead of serving only as a Remington and Russell repository, the museum would expand to encompass works by other artists who depicted the American West. Within a few years this vision was modified to include American art as a whole, for the museum’s first director, Mitchell A. Wilder, believed that the history of American art could be interpreted as the history of artists working on successive frontiers. As a result, the holdings grew in fascinating ways. Wilder and the museum’s trustees realized at the outset that it was nearly impossible to assemble a comprehensive collection of America art at such a late date, so they opted for quality over quantity. One trustee, RenÃ© d’Harnoncourt, explained that the desired works should represent “stepping stones” in the history of American art, major pieces that not only revealed the high points of an artist’s career but that also summarized the essential elements of a broader artistic style. Acquisitions were not limited to paintings and sculptures. Watercolors, drawings, prints, photographs, and books have been added yearly and now the number of objects in our collection number well over a quarter-million works of art. The photography collection itself has grown to become one of the nation’s most important collections.
Dorothea Lange (1895–1965), Charles M. Russell's hand, gelatin silver print, ca. 1924-1926.
This is the first photograph acquired for the museum’s collection