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Robert B. Harshe
Birth Date: 
Birth Place: 
Salisbury, Missouri
Death Date: 
Death Place: 
An influential museum director, arts educator, painter and etcher, Robert B. Harshe served as director of the Art Institute of Chicago for seventeen years, where he led the expansion of the Institute’s collections, endowment, buildings and school. Born in Salisbury, Missouri in 1879, Harshe attended local schools and graduated from the University of Missouri in 1899. Wishing to pursue a career as an artist, he studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Teachers College of Columbia University under Arthur Wesley Dow (1857-1922), the Art Students’ League of New York, the Colarossi Academy in Paris and London’s Central School of Arts and Crafts. Harshe next entered academia, teaching at a school in Columbus, Georgia in 1902-3 before serving as a fine arts instructor at the University of Missouri until his appointment as an assistant professor in the Graphic Art Department at Stanford University in 1908. He took a leave of absence in 1911 to serve as Special Fine and Applied Arts Commissioner for San Francisco’s Panama-Pacific International Exposition. In that position he helped to plan for the fine arts exhibition at the PPIE in 1915 and solicited loans from museums and private collectors around America. After John E. D. Trask (1871-1926) was appointed Chief of the Department of Fine Arts of the PPIE in late 1912, he recommended that Harshe be appointed Assistant Chief, which was done in 1913 after Harshe finished teaching the spring semester at Stanford. He served as the secretary for the International Jury of Awards as well. Further, thirteen of his prints were exhibited at the PPIE in the Palace of Fine Arts. In 1915 Harshe was appointed as Superintendent of Fine, Applied and Manual Art Education for the Palace of Education of the PPIE. After the Exposition closed, Harshe became the director of the Oakland Public Museum in January 1916, where he expanded the Museum’s mission to include an art gallery. Later in 1916 he moved to Pittsburgh to be the Assistant Director in the Department of Fine Arts of the Carnegie Institute. The Art Institute of Chicago hired him as Assistant Director in 1920 and made him Director in 1921. He served in that capacity and as Curator of Painting until his untimely death. He was Secretary and Treasurer of the Association of Art Museum Directors from 1917 until 1922 and was President of the Association from 1927 until 1935. In 1932 he served on the Executive Committee for the Olympic Games International Fine Arts Competition. Harshe received honorary degrees from Northwestern and Yale Universities and the University of Nebraska. He was made a member of the French Legion of Honor in 1925 and made an officer in 1937. He organized two notable “Century of Progress” exhibitions at the Art Institute in 1933 and 1934. The success of those exhibitions led to his appointment as Advisory Director of the Texas Centennial Exposition in Dallas in 1936, for which he organized a large art exhibition. Harshe died of a heart attack in his Chicago home in 1938 at the age of 58. (TNB 2/2015) Selected bibliography: Robert B. Harshe Memorial Number, Bulletin of the Art Institute of Chicago, vol. 32, no. 4 (April-May, 1938).