About The Swope
The Sheldon Swope Art Museum collects, preserves and shares American art to engage a diverse audience.
THE SWOPE ART MUSEUM is known for its extraordinary collection of nearly 2,500 works of American art including paintings, sculptures, and works on paper from the 19th century to the present. Changing exhibitions from the permanent collection include selections from American Scene Painting of the 1930s and 1940s, 19th century American art, early 20th century modernism, Indiana art, and Post-World War II figurative and abstract art.
The major strength of the collection is American Scene Painting of the 1930s and 1940s, with work by artists such as Thomas Hart Benton, Charles Burchfield, John Steuart Curry, Edward Hopper, Reginald Marsh, and Grant Wood.
19th century American art movements are represented through works by artists as diverse in style as William Merritt Chase, George Inness, Frederick MacMonnies, Mary Fairchild MacMonnies, and Tompkins Harrison Matteson.
20th century American art includes work by George Bellows, Arthur B. Davies, Manierre Dawson, Jack Levine, George Luks, and Fairfield Porter.
The Swope collection also has great depth in historic Indiana art, including work by Hoosier Group artists J. Ottis Adams, William Forsyth, Otto Stark, and Theodore C. Steele; Brown County, Indiana Impressionists like C. Curry Bohm, Carl C. Graf, and Genevieve Goth Grath; and Terre Haute natives John Rogers Cox, James Farrington Gookins, Janet Scudder, Caroline Peddle Ball, and Gilbert Wilson.
Post-World War II and more contemporary artists in the collection include Mark di Suvero, Robert Indiana, Paul Jenkins, Robert Motherwell, and Andy Warhol.
THE SWOPE ART MUSEUM has many people to thank for its existence, but none more than Terre Haute jeweler Sheldon Swope. Through a bequest, Swope laid the foundations on which the museum was built. What follows here is a small tribute to his memory.
Born in Attica, Indiana on November 3, 1843 to James Asbury Swope and Jane Hull Patterson, Michael Sheldon Swope lived on a farm near Evansville until the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861. Six months shy of his eighteenth birthday, Swope enlisted as a Private in Company I of the 14th Indiana Volunteers. The Gallant Fourteenth, as they came to be known, was the first regiment to leave Indiana for the war.
Swope served for four years in the regiment. During that time he saw the battles of Gettysburg, Antietam, and the Shenandoah Valley Campaign. Then, upon returning from the war, Swope entered the jewelry business as apprentice under his half-brother, James Swope, in Dayton, Ohio. It was in this trade that he made his fortune.
In 1867, Swope came to Terre Haute and took a job with S. P. Freeman, a local jeweler. He soon became a partner. Later, Swope bought Freeman’s portion of the firm and hired Charles T. Nehf as partner. Together, they made Swope-Nehf Jewelry Indiana’s largest jewelry store.
Swope was a shrewd businessman. He retained interest in the jewelry firm even after his retirement, and was a respected diamond merchant. He traveled considerably and was considered one of the best read men in the city of Terre Haute. However, Swope was not an art collector himself, and it is unclear why he was motivated to take such interest in opening a gallery. What is clear is that he planned for the gallery long before his death on July 9th, 1929. His will, bequeathing all but a small portion of his estate to the founding of the art gallery, was written in 1903 and remained unchanged.
During his later years, Swope lived in Florida, fishing at Punta Gorda, enjoying Daytona Beach, and occasionally returning North to hunt. Swope never married, and at the time of his death, his estate was liquidated and allowed to accumulate interest for a period ten years. In addition, his will directed that works of art be purchased, accumulated and “…displayed publicly and free of charge to all residents of Terre Haute and Vigo County, Indiana, forever.”
On September 26, 1939, the first board of managers was appointed by Judge John W. Gerdink, and planning began for the new gallery and the collection of artworks to be housed there. The second floor of the downtown Swope Block, a 1901 Italian Renaissance style commercial building that was part of the Swope estate, was gutted and rebuilt as a state-of-the-art exhibition space in a streamlined Art Deco style.
In March of 1942, The Sheldon Swope Art Gallery formally opened its doors to the public with nationwide attention. Its founding collection, assembled by the Museum’s first director, John Rogers Cox, contained new works by artists such as Grant Wood, Thomas Hart Benton, Charles Burchfield, Zoltan Sepeshy and Edward Hopper, and it remains the feature for which the Swope is best known nationally and internationally.
Office & Publications Manager
Director of Education
Asst. Dir. for Development
Swope Staff may be reached at the Swope’s main number at (812) 238-1676.
Board of Managers
Kathy Brentlinger, President
Brad Balch, Secretary
Murray Pate, Treasurer
Board of Advisors
Rachel Mullinnix, President
Donald Richards, Vice President
Eleanor Jones, Secretary
Wieke Weijden Benjamin
Christy Brinkman-Robertson, Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology Representative
Janet Brosmer, Vigo County School Corporation Representative
Greta Davis Creamer
Millie Arp Hamilton
Sumalayo Jackson, Indiana State University Representative
Pat McIntyre, Alliance of the Swope Representative
Vittoria Meyer Bloodworth
Donald R. Richards
Mayor Brandon Sakbun,
Prior to contacting the museum, please consult the following list of frequently asked questions, where you might find an answer more quickly.
Can a curator or another staff member identify or appraise a work of art that I own?
The museum does not appraise, evaluate, or authenticate works of art. To find an appraiser, please contact the following organizations:
I am a scholar/researcher, how do I make an appointment to see a work of art in the collection that is not on view?
Thank you for considering the Swope Art Museum as a resource for your research project. We ask that you fill out our research request form; our registrar will get back to you as soon as possible.
Research Request Form
May I reproduce a work in the museum’s collection?
Unauthorized commercial publication or exploitation of images with the Swope Art Museum copyright is specifically prohibited. If you wish to utilize images for commercial use, publication, or any purpose other than “fair use,” as defined by copyright laws, it is necessary to receive prior written permission from the Museum. Please see our Image Request Form and Fee Schedule.
How should I care for my own collection?
The American Institute for Conservation of Historic & Artistic Works provides a listing of professional conservators. Conservation Online maintains links to numerous websites providing information about caring for art and artifact collections.