Terra Museum

Terra Museum

The Terra Museum of American Art in Chicago, Illinois founded by Daniel J. Terra (1911–1996), closed on October 31, 2004 after 24 years of operation. Charged by the Terra Foundation for the Arts, now known as the Terra Foundation for American Art, with exhibiting and interpreting original works of American art, the museum opened to the public in 1980. During its tenure, the museum presented more than 200 exhibitions on American art and provided related programs and events for schoolchildren, teachers, families, general adult audiences, and scholars.

Originally located in north-suburban Evanston, Illinois, the museum relocated in 1987 to 664 North Michigan Avenue in Chicago. This site is now being redeveloped as a condo/hotel tower for the Ritz-Carlton.


The Terra Foundation for American Art was established in 1978 by businessman and art collector Daniel J. Terra (1911–1996), who believed that the art of the United States is a dynamic and powerful expression of the nation’s identity. The governing mission of the nascent foundation was to promote a greater understanding and appreciation of the country’s rich artistic and cultural heritage through the acquisition, preservation, exhibition, interpretation, research, and scholarship of works of American art. This goal was first put into practice with Daniel Terra’s own growing American art collection and the museum in which he planned to house it.

With great determination, Daniel Terra continued to shape the foundation and its museum. In 1980, with a collection of approximately fifty paintings, a small governing board of directors, and a handful of employees, the foundation opened the Terra Museum of American Art. Located outside of Chicago in Evanston, Illinois, the museum both displayed the foundation’s collection and held special exhibitions of American art. Two years later, in recognition of his unflagging effort in promoting American art and culture, among other contributions, Daniel Terra was appointed Ambassador-at-Large for Cultural Affairs—a position created specifically for him by President Reagan.

Ambassador Terra’s plans to bring American art to broad audiences were ambitious. The collection of fifty canvases grew to encompass hundreds of paintings and works on paper. In 1987, the Terra Museum of American Art moved from suburban Evanston to a busy stretch of Michigan Avenue in downtown Chicago, and in 1992 the foundation expanded its reach to Europe, opening the Musée d’Art Américain Giverny in France. Ambassador Terra had a longstanding interest in the work of artists associated with the Norman village of Giverny, the site of a popular international artists colony beginning in the late-nineteenth century and home to celebrated French painter Claude Monet. The Musée d’Art Américain Giverny, which is open spring through fall, first exhibited paintings from the Terra collection by American artists who sojourned in France. Soon, however, exhibition and education programs encompassed a wider range of American artists and topics, most with a transatlantic focus.

By the time of his death in 1996, Ambassador Terra had created a board of directors dedicated to interpreting and fulfilling the foundation’s mission and provided a generous endowment. In addition to supporting the exhibition and education programs of two museums, the Terra Foundation has fostered scholarship on American art by underwriting scholarly symposia and publications, and by awarding dissertation fellowships, research assistantships, and other education grants. Many of these awards have been offered in partnership with institutions such as the College Art Association, the American Council of Learned Societies, and the Institut National d’Histoire de l’Art. Since 2001, the foundation has administered the Terra Summer Residency program, in Giverny, which affords scholars and artists the opportunity to work within a community of interdisciplinary and cross-cultural exchange.

The Terra Foundation for American Art has continued to grow, building on its past successes and pursuing its mission in new ways. In 2003, after conducting a comprehensive two-year study to plan the foundation’s future mission and goals, the board of directors of the Terra Foundation for American Art decided to expand the reach of the foundation and to close the Terra Museum in Chicago at the end of October 2004. The museum’s high level of operation and many achievements stand as benchmarks for the foundation as it redirects its assets and strengthens its role as a leading advocate for American art.

Chicago continues to be the headquarters of the Terra Foundation for American Art, which is dedicated to making the city a vital center for American art. Toward that goal, the foundation has lent approximately fifty paintings to the Art Institute of Chicago for a dynamic, combined installation of American art that opened to the public in April 2005. The exciting Terra-Art Institute collaboration also includes a loan to the museum of close to 350 of the foundation’s works on paper, which will be available for study at the Art Institute’s Department of Prints and Drawings.

The foundation also continues to focus on international initiatives, building on the programs of its museum in France and partnerships with other European institutions to encourage the exploration of American art through an international lens. Signaling its belief in the power of art to both distinguish cultures and to unite them, the foundation grants international loans of art from its collection and sponsors fellowships, symposia, and exhibitions for audiences overseas.

The Terra Foundation recognizes the importance of experiencing original works of art and actively collects paintings, sculptures, works on paper, and other objects representing the fullest achievement in American art from the colonial period through 1945. The foundation also continues to share its collection with the public, and selections can be seen at the Musée d’Art Américain Giverny, the Art Institute of Chicago, and at other arts institutions for temporary exhibitions.

The year 2005 marked the official inauguration of the foundation’s expanded grant program, which is designed to engage individuals around the globe in an enriched and enriching dialogue on American art through exhibitions, education projects, and academic and public programs. The foundation will be supporting and collaborating on innovative projects that are ambitious in scope, outreach, and impact as it builds on its past to create a future for the exploration, understanding, and enjoyment of the visual arts of the United States.

About Daniel J. Terra

Daniel J. Terra (1911–1996) was an energetic blend of scientist, businessman, and art lover. A first-generation American, Terra earned a chemical engineering degree from Pennsylvania State University in 1931, and founded Lawter Chemicals in Chicago in 1940. The success of his global enterprise enabled him to pursue his cultural interests, assembling an art collection and participating in several Chicago arts institutions.

Daniel Terra’s art collection was first exhibited in 1977, at the Palmer Museum of Art, on the campus of his alma mater. The exhibition sparked Terra’s interest in bringing American art to a broad audience, and in 1978 he founded the Terra Foundation for American Art. Helping to fulfill the foundation’s goal of fostering greater appreciation of American art, in 1980, under Daniel Terra's guidance, the foundation opened the Terra Museum of American Art in Evanston, Illinois; in 1987, in order to make the museum accessible to more people, the museum was moved to downtown Chicago; in 1992, a second Terra institution was founded, the Musée d’Art Américain Giverny, in France, bringing American art to international audiences.

For his unflagging efforts in support of American art and culture, as well as for other contributions, Daniel Terra was appointed Ambassador–at–Large for Cultural Affairs—a position created specifically for him by President Reagan and one that he held from 1982 to 1988. Ambassador Terra’s enthusiasm for promoting American art never waned. President Reagan once lauded him for "doing more for American art than any other man in the history of the country."

By the time of his death in 1996, Ambassador Terra had put into place a dedicated board of directors and a generous endowment for the foundation. Today, the Terra Foundation for American Art carries forward the vision of Ambassador Terra, building on his tireless efforts to bring American art to ever-widening audiences.

Legal Proceedings

The Terra Museum made history before it closed due to the attempt by Judith Terra (the founder's widow & 2nd wife) and several board members to relocate the museum to Washington, D.C., viewed by many (including the founder's son) as an attempt to boost her social standing in the nations capital. [http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/lips/2005/lips0819.html] [http://www.indivisible.org/newsClip_MJS.htm]

The [http://www.state.il.us/court/Opinions/AppellateCourt/2004/1stDistrict/May/Html/1013152.htm lawsuit] was finally settled in 2004 with the foundation required to stay in the state of Illinois [http://foundationcenter.org/pnd/news/story.jhtml?id=85600010] for 50 years. The Terra Foundation for American Art's collection can be viewed on the Terra website, which also contains information on the location of certain works of art on view in Chicago, other locations in the United States, and abroad.

There are approximately 40 Terra works on view in the American Galleries at the Art Institute of Chicago.

External links

* [http://www.terraamericanart.org/ Terra Foundation Website]
* [http://www.artic.edu/aic/index.php Art Institute of Chicago]

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