Hampton University Museum

Historical Significance

The Hampton University Museum is a unique institution with a history rich in "firsts". Established in 1868, it represents a vision of the University's founder and first president, General Samuel Chapman Armstrong, who believed that a good education influenced "the head, the hand, and the heart."

The Museum is the oldest African American museum in the United States and one of the oldest museums in the state of Virginia. Its holdings feature over 9,000 objects including traditional African, Native American, Asian & Pacific Island art, fine arts, and objects relating to the history of the University. Of particular interest is the fine arts collection, which contains some 1,500 works including paintings, works on paper, and sculpture. Within this group is the largest existing collection of works in any museum by African American artists Jacob Lawrence, John Biggers, Elizabeth Catlettt, and Samella Lewis. The Museum's holdings in art of the Harlem Renaissance period, much of which came from a Harmon Foundation gift in 1967, are among the finest in the nation.

The Museum also has a significant collection of works by 19th century painter Henry Ossawa Tanner, the first African American artist to achieve international acclaim. In fact, Hampton University's Museum was the first institution to begin collecting African American art with the acquisition of Tanner'sThe Banjo Lesson in 1894. Today, this painting is one of the most popular in the collection. 

Physical Description

The Hampton University Museum is situated in the heart of the historic Hampton University campus. The Museum, located in the Huntington Building (formerly the University Library), is a striking Beaux-Arts style structure named in honor of shipyard magnate and Hampton benefactor Collis P. Huntington. The interior offers expansive spaces framed by beautiful brick archways and graced by rich, carved wood trim. Among the building's most striking features is the grand, marble floored entryway, crowned by a 22-foot wide dome complete with oculus. The structure contains approximately 34,300 square feet, including 12,000 square feet of gallery space.

Geographical and Contact Information

11 Frissell Ave.
Hampton, Virginia
Phone: 757-727-5308
Fax: 757-727-5170