Joab R. Mulvane, 1837-1929, came to Kansas in 1876 and distinguished himself as one of the most successful Kansan's of his generation. The breadth of his interests has shaped Kansas and beyond especially in shipping logistics given the strategic advantage of Kansas as a single point distribution hub for North America. He was president of at least nine railroads and presided over the Chicago, Kansas and Western Railway Company, as its President, when it built over 900 miles of rail lines for the Santa Fe. In 1922 Mulvane pledged a gift to build the Mulvane Art Museum and the building opened to the public in 1924. In 1946, through the encouragement of Alexander Tillotson, Director of the Washburn Art Department, the Topeka Junior League sprearheaded the formation of a group now known as the Friends of the Mulvane Art Museum.
Accredited by the American Association of Museums in 1988, the Mulvane Art Museum, one of the oldest art museums west of the Mississippi, houses a collection of approximately 4,000 objects from around the world including paintings, prints, drawings, sculptures, photographs and decorative art. While international in scope, the Museum's collection focuses on the works of artists from Kansas and the Mountain Plains region of the United States. In addition to exhibiting works from the collection the Museum also presents changing exhibitions featuring artists from around the world.
Following a tornado in 1966 that destroyed most of the buildings on campus, the present art complex was built. Due to the nature of the Mulvane Trust, the building's native limestone exterior was unchanged; however the severely damaged interior was gutted and connected to the new Garvey Fine Arts Center which also houses the Art History, Music and Theater Departments. A Women’s Board was organized in 1968 to generate more interest in the Museum, provide volunteers to staff the Mulvane Store and raise funds for acquisitions and programs. In 1981 the Mulvane Art Center’s name was changed to the Mulvane Art Museum. The Mulvane Art Museum underwent another renovation project, completed in 2006, that increased exhibition space to 5,000 sq. ft., provided secure storage for the collection and art preparation areas, and significantly enlarged the art education program with the creation of the Judith Lennox Sabatini ArtLab, a 1,500 sq. ft. hands-on art experience center and the renovation of four education classrooms.
The Museum's visual art education program provides extensive community outreach to children at after school sites, public and private school classrooms and preschool centers throughout the region. In-house art classes, public lectures, family events and community educational experiences for people of all ages and abilities are also offered. Over 50,000 people visit the Museum and take part in our exhibit and education programs each year.
The Mulvane Art Museum is supported by Washburn University, the Friends of the Mulvane Art Museum, Inc., and through gifts from corporations, foundations and individuals. Museum and ArtLab hours are Tuesday 10-7, Wednesday-Friday 10-5, Saturday 1-4. Admission is free and open to the public.