Skip to main content

Records of Virginia Arts Organizations (SC-03)

 Item — Box: SC-03 Box 1
Identifier: SC-03

Scope and Content Note

The collection’s inclusive dates are 1888-1942, with the bulk of the material dating from 1931 and 1938. The collection is comprised of exhibition catalogs, correspondence, invitations, tickets, newsletters, bulletins and other ephemeral material.


  • 1888-1942



The collection is open for research.


The collection is subject to all copyright laws. Transmission or reproduction of materials protected by copyright, beyond that allowed by fair use, requires the researcher to obtain permission of copyright holders.

Historical Note

On May 8, 1786, the Academy of Sciences and Fine Arts of the United States of America was founded in Richmond, Virginia, the first institution of its kind formed in the States. The establishment of the Academy was the result of a zealous young French soldier and scholar, the Chevalier Alexander Marie Quesnay de Beaurepaire, who landed in Portsmouth, Virginia in early March 1777. Quesnay lobbied for over ten years to see his Academy built and was finally rewarded on June 24, 1786 when the cornerstone for a gallery, museum, theater and school was laid at Academy Square by Richmond’s Masonic Lodge No. 13. After the completion of the building later that year, and the opening of the Academy strictly for theatrical purposes on October 10, the Academy quickly started experiencing financial problems. Within months of the opening, Quesnay quietly slipped out of the country to return to France on a quest to secure further funding, and he spent the next two and a half years trying to enlist the support of members of Paris’ learned societies. With the fall of the Bastille in July 1789 however, Quesnay was called upon to serve as a commander in the Parisian militia, surviving the revolution, but never to return to his Academy or even to America’s shores. The Academy continued to serve as a center for drama until the building was destroyed by a catastrophic fire on January 23, 1798.

After one hundred and thirty years elapsed, it was Quesnay’s Academy that many noted Richmond artists sought to revive in the early 1930s, when the Academy was resurrected in Richmond. Decades earlier, members of another Richmond art organization, the Art Club of Richmond, directed their attention towards this task and created an Academy Committee within the Club to promote interest in its revival. In the spring of 1917, the Committee began a fund-raising effort by selling subscriptions for a sum invested in Liberty Bonds, to be paid towards an Academy Fund. The continuing war effort stalled the project however and the Art Club passed out of existence. In 1919, the Virginia League of Fine Arts and Handicrafts was organized by Adele Clark and Nora Houston, and one of its main objectives was to restore the Academy, a movement which didn’t gain real strength until 1924-1925, but finally resulted in the chartering of the Richmond Academy of Arts in 1930 “to resume and promote the cultural activities and purposes of the Academy of Sciences and Fine Arts of the United States of America.” While all the while remaining true to the goals of fostering and preserving the artistic culture of Richmond, the new Academy was re-chartered in 1936 as the Academy of Sciences and Fine Arts, although it was known by both names until its charter was revoked and the organization went out of business in 1948, largely due to the Academy’s failure to gain enough support to build an adequate facility, and its purpose was eventually subsumed into the mission of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.

Source: The Academy of Sciences and Fine Arts of the United States of American: Being an Outline of the History of the Academy of Sciences and Fine Arts

Source: “Poet, Patriot and Pedagogue,” by John G. Roberts, Arts in Virginia, Winter 1966


0.5 Linear Feet (1 box, 12 folders; 113 items)

Language of Materials



The collection documents the rich history of Richmond’s artistic culture and community in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Drawing upon the legacy of the first Academy of Fine Arts in the United States, founded in Richmond in 1786, the Richmond Academy of Arts was revived in 1930, and records created throughout the organization’s history comprise the majority of the collection. The Academy provided the most cohesive and active arts organization in Richmond before the founding of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. Even after the museum’s opening in 1936, the relationship between the Academy and the museum is notable; from the correspondence between Thomas C. Colt, the museum’s first Director, and two Presidents of the Academy, to the creation of Richmond’s first “Salon des Refuses,” and to the repeated overlapping of artist and patron names within the organizations.


The collection is organized into five series, and items are arranged chronologically within each series. Items with no date are placed at the end of a series.
Series 1
Early Arts Organizations, 1888-1928
Series 2
Richmond Academy of Arts/Academy of Sciences and Fine Arts, 1917-1942
Series 3
Correspondence, 1931-1942
Series 4
Sallie Leigh Cole, Correspondence and Notes, 1931-1932, undated
Series 5
"Southern States Art League Newsletter," 1941-1942


The collection is comprised of archival materials found in the VMFA Library’s holdings. The collection was accessioned into the VMFA Archives’ collection in August 2004.

Related Materials: VMFA Library - Book

  • The Academy of Sciences and Fine Arts of the United States of America: Being an Outline of the History of the Academy of Sciences and Fine Arts of the U.S.A. Established at Richmond, Virginia on May 8th, in the year 1786, 1931

Related Material: VMFA Library - Catalogs

  • Richmond, Virginia, in Old Prints 1737-1887, 1932
  • The Twenty-Seventh Annual Exhibition of the Southern States Art League, 1947

Related Materials: VMFA Library - Vertical Files

  • Exhibition File: 27th Annual Exhibition of the Southern States Art League, 1947
  • Subject File: Art Organizations and Foundations: Virginia: Private: Richmond Academy of Sciences and Fine Arts (2 folders)

Related Materials: Library of Virginia

  • Julia Sully Papers (Coll. No. 26567)
  • Statuts & reglemens de l’Academie des Sciences & Beaux Arts des Etats-Unis de l’Amerique, etablie a Richemond, capitale de la Virginie, 1786 (Coll No. 23617)

Related Materials: University of Virginia

  • Edmund S. Campbell Papers (Coll. No. 3505)

Related Materials: Virginia Commonwealth University

  • Adele Goodman Clark Papers (Coll. No. M9)

Related Materials: Virginia Historical Society

  • Adele Clark Papers (Coll. No. Mss1 C5472 a FA2)

Processing Note

The collection was initially processed in August 2004. A large accretion was processed in November 2005. During processing, original newspaper clippings were photocopied, with identifiers transferred, and incorporated into the vertical files in the Library collection.
Finding Aids to Special Collections in the VMFA Archives | Records of Virginia Arts Organizations
Special Collection 03 (SC-03)
Courtney Yevich Tkacz, VMFA Archivist
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the Archives Repository

Margaret R. and Robert M. Freeman Library
200 N. Arthur Ashe Boulevard
Richmond VA 23220-4007 United States