History of the Collections

Following an initiative taken in 1991 by the then Vice-Chancellor Sir Michael Thompson and the Registrar David Holmes, a survey was made of the miscellaneous groups of pictures, sculpture, artefacts, and ceremonial objects that were to be found in and around the University.

Sue Armitage led the survey, working with the photographer Ron Swift, and the unexpected new knowledge they gained galvanised the University into appointing a part time curator to begin the task of cataloguing, organising and assessing these newly identified collections, and any others which might later emerge.

In the subsequent seventeen years the University Collections (renamed in 2008 the University Research and Cultural Collections) has developed through the incorporation of the Danford Collection of West African Art and Artefacts, the Institute of Archaeology and Antiquity Museum, the Historic Physics Instruments, the Medical Collection, as well as the Fine Art Collection (including outdoor sculpture), the University Ceremonial Silver Collection and the University Portraits. 

Since the mid-1990s a programme of redisplay has continued in line with historical precedent. When the University moved to Edgbaston in 1900 the new buildings incorporated eight separate museums attached to departments to aid teaching, and this practice was used as a model for the 1990s. The Danford and Archaeology Collections were the first to be given museum-quality display cases in their departments, thus drawing collections and teaching tightly together so that staff and students would be constantly aware of the presence in their departments of their historic objects, and of their teaching value.

The University’s art collections grew from the 1960s through the dedication of a small number of determined academics including Professors Janusz Kolbuszewski and Anthony Lewis, Angus Skene and Kenneth Garlick. Together they laid the foundations of the collections with commissions and acquisitions of work by artists including William Gear, Barbara Hepworth and Peter Lanyon. Their example encouraged the University to continue to foster the art collections from the 1990s, adding works by Sonia Lawson RA, Julian Meredith, Nicholas Pope, John Walker, Austin Wright and others. Perhaps the most generous recent gift was the sets of prints and the bequest of plasters by Sir Eduardo Paolozzi RA.