History of the Museum:
1948 – Frank Applebee, Chair of the School of Art and Architecture, arranged for the purchase of 36 paintings for $1,072 from a government auction. This formed the core of what was hoped to be a Museum collection.
These paintings offer an extraordinary representation of the American art scene with works by such artists as Ralston Crawford, Ben Shahn, Georgia O'Keeffe, John Marin, Jacob Lawrence, Arthur Dove and Romare Bearden. Though funding for the museum was not forthcoming there were those who held fast to the idea.
1992 - The art museum project was given new life when philanthropist Susan Phillips of Brewton, Alabama agreed to donate to Auburn a large collection of John James Audubon prints. The collection had been amassed by Phillips' grandfather and continued to grow through the efforts of her grandmother, Louise Hauss Miller.
1994 - Ms. Phillips and her brother Allen Phillips authorized the Louise Hauss Miller Foundation to grant Auburn an additional $1 million to create an endowment for the care of the Audubon collection. In addition, the construction of galleries dedicated to the continuous exhibition of selections from The Louise Hauss and David Brent Miller Audubon Collection was endowed.
The Phillips' gifts were vitally important to the growth of the museum project. The university now possessed not only two distinctive art collections of unquestionable quality but had funding specifically earmarked for the construction of gallery space.
1997 - The movement to construct a museum building on Auburn's campus was gaining momentum. Dr. Charles D. Hudson '50 of the Fuller E. Callaway Foundation donated $500,000 toward the museum's construction. Paul Rudolph, Auburn alumnus ’48, was approached to design the new museum, but his untimely death due to cancer led the newly formed committee to interview and appoint Gresham, Smith, and Partners from Nashville, TN and Birmingham, AL.
1998 – (February) Houston businessman Albert Smith, a 1947 mechanical engineering graduate, commits $3 million toward the construction of the museum building. A native of Montgomery, Alabama, Mr. Smith made the gift to honor his wife, Jule and to commemorate the Smiths' 50th wedding anniversary. During the announcement of the gift, the Auburn University Board of Trustees passed a resolution declaring that the museum be named The Jule Collins Smith Museum of Art.
1998 – (July) The AU Board of Trustees determined the site of the museum to be the intersection of College Street and Woodfield Drive. This site encompasses nearly 20 acres and would serve as the gateway to Auburn University.
Through the cooperation of the Alabama Agricultural Experiment Station and the AU College of Agriculture, the museum shares the site with The Cullars Rotation, the oldest soil fertility experiment in the South. An important part of the museum grounds, it stands as a constant reminder of Auburn's land-grant mission.
2000 - Dr. Michael De Marsche was appointed the founding Director of The Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art at Auburn University. Under his leadership, a program to extend museum membership to the community was established and a museum Advisory Board was created. Throughout 2000, the design process for the museum building proceeded, as funding for the project continued to grow.
2001 - In December of 2001, the local firm of Conner Brothers Construction was awarded the contract to construct the building of The Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art at Auburn University.
Among those contributors are longtime arts enthusiast, 1958 Auburn textile engineering alum, and former CEO of Russell Corporation Dwight Carlisle, who played a significant role in the formation of the Museum. Elected the museum Advisory Board's first President, Carlisle created important endowments which support the administration of the museum during the years leading to its opening.
2003 – On October 3, the Jule Collins Smith Museum opens its doors to the public, under the leadership of interim directors, Joseph Ansell and Anthony Carey.