The Archivist’s Nook: Collecting the Sacred and Secular – The Museum at Catholic University

Christ Pantokrator Enthroned by Thomas Xenakis (1997)
Christ Pantokrator Enthroned by Thomas Xenakis (1997)

As mentioned in a previous blog entry, the Museum Collection at CUA is the oldest part of the American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives. The first donations date to before CUA opened in 1889. Items were displayed in Caldwell Hall until 1905, and thereafter, until 1976, parts of the collection were either displayed in McMahon Hall, Mullen Library, or in storage. Since then the collection has been stored in Curley Hall, and more recently parts in Aquinas Hall or with items being used in campus exhibitions, often the May Gallery in Mullen, or loaned to secure campus offices to be displayed and enjoyed as office decoration.

CUA continues to accept a small number of artifacts as part of its manuscript collections along with paintings, sculptures, and other objects from individual donors. In 1976, responsibility for the museum was taken up by the American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives (then known as the Department of Archives and Manuscripts), though it was not until 1994 that a project to establish a comprehensive and descriptive catalog of the entire museum collection was undertaken.  The museum collection today includes art works and artifacts representing different periods and genres, totaling about 5,000 pieces.

Death's Dead by Salvador Dalí (1968)
Death’s Dead by Salvador Dalí (1968)

The collection includes archaeological artifacts from the Ancient Near East and the Classical and pre-Columbian world; implements, pottery, etc. from indigenous peoples of the Americas, Africa, Polynesia, and the Philippines.; items relating to the founding and the history of CUA; Catholic devotional and liturgical objects from Europe and America (see photo image of ‘Christ Pantokrator Enthroned’ by Thomas Xenakis, 1997, above); paintings dating from the 16th century; large carved statues and terra cotta works from China, Japan, France, and Italy in the late Medieval to early Modern period; carved ivories, statues, shrines, diptychs, and triptychs from Europe; Asian objects d’art, such as vases, urns, and plates; a coin collection from the Classical world, Ancient Near East, and Europe (see page from 2011 Archives Newsletter); Asian and European furniture ; and modern works by artists such as Salvador Dali (see photo image of ‘Death’s Dead’ part of ‘L’Illusioniste,’ 1968, left).

Two digital exhibits highlight the Museum:

‘Turning Towards a New Century’

‘The Joy of Collecting’

For general queries, including access or borrowing items, please contact Shane MacDonald at or 202-319-5065. Please note that we do not do appraisals of non CUA Museum materials.

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