Norfolk Society of Arts
When the Norfolk Society of Arts (NSA) was established in 1917, an institution like the Chrysler Museum was simply a dream. Born from the Irene Leache Foundation, an organization established in honor of a teacher devoted to bringing the arts to Norfolk, the NSA was founded “to stimulate and further the interest in art in Norfolk and to establish an art museum.” Nearly sixteen years later, that dream was realized.
The NSA took its first major step toward bringing a museum to Norfolk in 1923 by creating The Museum Building Fund. By 1926, NSA member Florence Sloane was leading the efforts to garner financial support. Florence and her husband, William, were textile mill owners and art connoisseurs from New York. Today, their former home is now the Hermitage Museum and Gardens.
Over the years, the NSA pursued funding and city support and successfully lobbied Norfolk officials to fill in unclaimed land at Smith Creek, the current site of the Chrysler Museum.
During an art exhibition in Norfolk in 1927, the NSA secured the future museum’s first collection objects, Harriet Frismuth’s Play Days and Lillies, Lanterns, and Sunshine, a painting by Helen Turner. Turner had previously painted a portrait of Florence and later joined the Museum’s board. When World War I halted construction of the Museum, the Sloane’s offered to store the art in a building they owned just blocks away from where the Chrysler Museum stands today.
In 1933, the Chrysler Museum opened as the Norfolk Museum of Arts and Sciences. Florence Sloane served as the first museum director, a volunteered position, she held for twelve years. William Sloane was the first chairman of the Board of Trustees.
In 1969, members of the NSA started running the Museum Shop and continued to do so for more than two decades.
Over the years, the NSA has remained committed to the Chrysler’s mission of bringing art and people together. The group has funded tours for Norfolk Public Schools students, underwritten collection catalogs, supported the Jean Outland Chrysler Library, and played a pivotal role in outfitting the Chrysler’s Kaufman Theater with an induction-loop system to improve the experience for visitors who wear hearing aids.
The NSA’s free lecture series was established in the 1950s and continues to bring notable curators, historians, architects, journalists, professors, and others to the Chrysler. In 2017, the NSA marked their 100th anniversary with a generous gift to the Chrysler, Jacob Caleb Ward’s Natural Bridge. The American artwork by the Hudson River School artist was long held in private hands and allows the Chrysler to tell a more complete story about the history of landscape painting in America.