Colonial Williamsburg owns, conserves and displays thousands of American artifacts that illuminate our nation’s founding era. The Foundation stewards a remarkable assortment of collections, including 72,000 antiques and works of art, 15,000 architectural objects and 60,000,000 archaeological artifacts. These collections feature some of the best examples of American and British fine, decorative and mechanical art, as well as folk art and numismatics, offering a wide selection of rich resources for scholars and casual learners alike.
The Foundation curates new acquisitions on a regular basis. Support for the Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg helps us to showcase these artifacts in Museum exhibitions as well as throughout the Historic Area, where they provide visitors with a tangible link to America’s earliest years.
The stories brought to life in Colonial Williamsburg’s Historic Area are grounded in research and reflect our commitment to the honest portrayal of our nation’s history. Talented interpreters, an unrivaled setting and engaging programs come together for an unforgettable experience that would not be possible without access to objects from the past—objects that teach us about the people who lived in colonial Virginia and made ours a story worth telling. As soon as the Rev. Dr. W.A.R. Goodwin and John D. Rockefeller Jr. launched the restoration of Virginia’s colonial capital in 1926, archaeologists began to uncover artifacts left behind by some of the town’s earliest residents. These findings were catalogued and conserved, and before long the Foundation possessed a collection worthy of display—one that could teach audiences not only about the people who lived in Williamsburg but also about the remarkable time in which they lived.
Over the years Colonial Williamsburg established itself as a leading steward of the American story, and the collections began to diversify. Generations of archaeologists discovered new objects while curators acquired art and antiques from throughout the country—and the world.
Today the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum and the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum, together known as the Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg, house archaeological artifacts, architectural remains, folk art and decorative art. Each item illuminates the American identity and the global influences that have shaped it over centuries. In addition to the acquisitions of our curators, the Foundation continues to excavate sites throughout the Historic Area. Our team of archaeologists engages the public throughout the process, teaching guests about the methods underlying their discoveries and the artifacts they have uncovered. Through the meticulous work of our archaeologists, conservators and curators, Colonial Williamsburg paints a remarkably nuanced picture of 18th-century life.
As non-renewable cultural resources, Colonial Williamsburg’s collections represent a sacred trust. The Foundation’s unshakeable commitment to maintaining and showcasing hundreds of thousands of items according to the highest professional standards drives our work. By hiring experts at the top of their field; acquiring items relevant to our core mission; and presenting them in ways that engage scholars, students and lifelong learners of all ages, we succeed in our mission: to feed the human spirit by sharing America’s enduring story.
To keep our promise to future generations, we continually evaluate our collections, exhibitions and programs to ensure that guests deepen their understanding of American history and citizenship with each visit. In the years to come, we will modernize our facilities to meet and exceed these standards, curate new exhibitions that encourage guests to return time and again, and invest in the talented individuals who make all of this work possible.
In 2017 the Museums reached a new milestone. As we celebrated the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum’s 60th anniversary, we also broke ground on an expansion project that will allow us to showcase even more of the artifacts in our care. The Museums expansion project will add 65,000 square feet to the complex and increase gallery space by 22%.
The expansion commenced with a groundbreaking ceremony in early 2017. This project will require ongoing support to maintain the new building and help us display artifacts in relevant and engaging ways. While increased exhibition space and new environmental systems are highlights of the project, accessibility is one of its primary goals. Today guests access the Museums through the reconstructed Public Hospital on Francis Street, traversing two long flights of stairs and a tunnel before viewing the collections. The new building will feature a grand, street-level lobby and concourse on Nassau Street, much nearer to the parking lot than the current entrance. We look forward to the grand opening of the expanded and renovated Art Museums in April 2020.
In 2018 we opened three new exhibitions—Upholstery CSI: Reading the Evidence, Folk Art Underfoot: American Hooked Rugs and Navajo Weavings: Tradition and Trade—featuring pieces never before seen by the public.
The Foundation has several new exhibitions for 2019, including Farms and Faith: The Art of Edward Hicks, American Folk Pottery and The Arts of Great Britain.
We have six exciting exhibitions planned for 2020. We cannot begin preparing the pieces and planning their display until the full amount for each project has been raised. Costs for new exhibitions vary, but they range from $42,000 to $75,000.
In 2017 the Foundation obtained the most comprehensive collection of early Virginia maps outside of the Library of Congress. This magnificent acquisition will allow us to illustrate the changing landscape of colonial America. Endowing the Curator of Maps and Prints through a pooled fund guarantees that the new map collection will be maintained and displayed for the benefit of guests and scholars alike. The total cost of endowing the position is $1,500,000. As of December 2018 we have raised more than $1,000,000.
Expansion and renovation of the Art Museums is well under way, funded entirely by donors. The two-story structure is fully framed and under roof, interior partitions are nearly complete and installation of mechanical systems is underway. All substantial construction is slated to be completed in September 2019 with a grand reopening scheduled for April 2020.