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History of the Building

three historic images of thomas welton stanford the man and two of the gallery

Image credit: Stanford Family Photographs (PC0001). Stanford University. Libraries. Dept. of Special Collections & University Archives. 

About Thomas Welton Stanford

Thomas Welton Stanford, following the trail of the forty-niners to California, made his original fortune as a storekeeper in El Dorado County. His glowing reports of western prosperity in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada lured several of his brothers to follow suit, including Leland Stanford. Though Thomas W. Stanford continued his western trek, moving on to achieve great wealth in Australia, he remained a committed benefactor to Stanford University. His contributions to the University in its early days helped establish programs in the arts and sciences, and research into Victorian spiritualism, which included popular attempts to communicate with the deceased.

About the Art Gallery building

Constructed in 1917 with Thomas W. Stanford’s donation of $80,000, the Thomas Welton Stanford Art Gallery was the first building to anchor a planned library quadrangle just east of the University’s center. The Stanford Art Gallery was built to house a collection of the donor’s paintings and to create a strong cultural presence close to the main quadrangle. The Gallery distinguishes itself in style from both the Green Library and the original Richardsonian quadrangle: it is more overtly Medieval than Spanish Colonial Revival in design, and features elaborate detailing in the moldings and columns.

Noted printmaker Pedro de Lemos served as the first Curator of the new Art Gallery and as Director of the Stanford Museum until his retirement in 1945. Lorenz Eitner, Chair of the Department of Art & Art History and Director of the Stanford Museum, presented rotating exhibitions in the Gallery as an adjunct space to the Museum. This function took on increased importance after the Museum was seriously damaged in the Loma Prieta earthquake. The Gallery became the sole venue for exhibitions under Museum Director Thomas Seligman, until the renovated and expanded Museum, renamed the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Center for Visual Arts at Stanford, opened a decade later in 1999.

In 2000, renovations of the Stanford Art Gallery repaired moderate structural damages the exterior arcade suffered in the 1989 earthquake and seismically strengthened the entire structure, bringing it up to current building codes while restoring or reproducing period fixtures such as the arcade lighting globes and interior laylights. In 2016, the sandstone exterior of the building was cleaned and minor repairs were completed, and a new ADA-accessible ramp is planned to improve access to the building.

Now administered and curated by the Department of Art & Art History, the Gallery functions as a dynamic teaching and learning resource for faculty, students and guest artists where best practices for exhibition and curatorial development, experimentation, and innovation take place.