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New Beginnings

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The new era that began with founding director Ellen Quillin's retirement in 1960 reflected the evolving nature of community museums. Before new plans could be made however, old projects had to be completed. Quillin had worked closely with Richard and Gertrude Friedrich to design an addition that would increase the museum's space by sixty percent and redesign its public face. Visitors arriving at the Friedrich Addition's dedication in November 1960, were greeted by Charles Umlauf's imposing sculptures, "Mother and Child" and "Father and Son."

Until Ellen Quillin's replacement could be found, two acting directors filled the void left by her retirement, one of them Charles Long, her long-time assistant. Dr. Charles Burns, formerly of New York's Museum of Natural History, began his tenure as the Witte's second director on March 1, 1962. Burns' first task was to finish Quillin's remaining projects including the McFarlin Jewel Room, dedicated in November 1961, and the Piper Wing, opened in February 1962. In the McFarlin Room, visitors marveled at a stunning, 49-carat canary diamond until its tragic theft in 1968.

Dr. Burns also renovated exhibits and opened galleries to house the museum's collections of minerals and gems and Asian, Far Eastern, and Philippine objects. Above all, Burns was committed to raising the Witte's status as a regional museum, and initiated work on an exhibit called the "Lone Star Hall of Wildlife and Ecology."

The Witte participated in HemisFair '68 by organizing a popular exhibit that traced the history of transportation, and it remained after the Fair as a satellite facility known as the Witte Confluence Museum (later the Museum of Transportation, operated until 1987). When Burns left San Antonio in February 1970 to become director of the San Diego Natural History Museum, trustees hired former De Young Museum director, Jack McGregor, to conduct a study of the Witte. McGregor was subsequently hired as the museum's new director and used his extensive knowledge of art and decorative arts to set the San Antonio Museum Association on an ambitious course. He modernized the Witte's operations, establishing development and education outreach programs for the first time. In a major change, the San Antonio Art League, one of the museum's founding institutions, left the Witte to become a fully independent organization.

McGregor drew on the Witte's vast collection and the knowledge of its longtime curator, Cecilia Steinfeldt, to organize the acclaimed "Early Texas Furniture and Decorative Arts" exhibit highlighting 19th century artists and craftsmen. He was equally comfortable presenting the groundbreaking exhibit, "Texas Tough," that showcased the state's finest contemporary artists.

When McGregor arrived in San Antonio and was searching for a place to live, he discovered a dilapidated complex on the San Antonio River near downtown that had once housed the old Lone Star Brewery. He quickly decided that the buildings were well suited to an innovative art museum. McGregor captured the imagination of trustees and donors, and almost 10 years later, on March 1, 1981, the Association opened its third facility, the San Antonio Museum of Art. While it was still under construction in the 1970s, the Witte maintained an ambitious schedule of exhibits and programs. The museum's 50th anniversary was celebrated with "San Antonio Is," a look back to the town's rich and diverse past.

Visitors also enjoyed the jewel-like creations of Carl Faberge and artistic treasures from England's Chatsworth. By the time Jack McGregor left the Witte in 1979, remaining as a consultant on the still unfinished Museum of Art, he had created a substantial legacy. With the opening of the Museum of Art, San Antonio Museum Association turned its attention once more to the Witte, and Mark Lane, former director of the Anniston Museum of Natural History, was hired in 1982 to direct the museum. Lane drew on the Witte's archaeological, natural history and historical collections to organize multi-faceted exhibits that encouraged visitor participation. The Witte began its still popular legacy of hands-on activities, gallery theater performances and lectures and special events that carry out exhibit themes. Children and adults alike flocked to see a new generation of exhibits featuring the likes of dinosaurs and sea monsters. The Witte also assembled its own collections in traveling exhibits that were shared with national audiences, such as the acclaimed Thundering Hooves, as well as bringing to South Texas the much anticipated exhibit, American Originals: Treasures from the National Archives, which will be on display during the summer of 2003.

The Museum Association maintained its dual facilities under the direction of Helmuth Naumer, succeeded by E. Laurence Chalmers. However, as the Museum of Art became an established institution and the two museums developed distinct audiences, it was clear that they would eventually separate. The Association that had grown from Ellen Quillin's dream, fostering two strong museums, now made plans for its own dissolution. With careful planning and attention to the museums' missions and audiences, the Association divided its assets, operations, staff and most importantly, its collections, and in 1993, the Witte Museum began the next chapter of its long history as a fully independent institution.

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