The history of the International Museum of Art begins in 1925, when Kate Moore Brown, president of the Women’s Department of the El Paso Chamber of Commerce, purchased display cases for a collection of items (books, pottery, tapestries, etc.) which had been donated to the city of El Paso under the condition that they be displayed to the public. Mrs. Brown and her colleagues continued to grow a collection of various objects and were even granted an official charter as a museum in 1930, but they had no place to house their collections.
The International Museum
This all changed when Mrs. Iva Turney deeded her home to the city of El Paso in 1940. The city subsequently leased the building to the group of museum aficionados, who called themselves the El Paso International Museum, for $1.00 per year. Sensing a need not only for a museum, but a center for women’s contributions to the war effort, the International Museum shared its space with Bundles for Britain, an organization which sewed clothing for Allied soldiers and raised money for the war effort. After the United States’ entry into WWII, the group changed its name to Bundles for America. The group occupied the first floor of the Turney home from 1941-1945, while the International Museum began to set up upstairs.
The International Museum officially opened to the public in 1947, but at this time, the Museum had no specific scope. Collections varied from mineral samples to clothing and pottery. This all changed when Mayor Raymond Telles, Museum President Dan Ponder, and Contractor R.E. McKee learned that Samuel Kress was considering El Paso as a recipient of his multi-million dollar Kress Collection of fine art.
The El Paso Museum of Art
In order to secure this valuable collection, the El Paso International Museum, a private organization, became the El Paso Museum of Art, a public museum. To provide room for the Kress Collection, the city remodeled the Turney home and added two large wings in 1960. The Kress Collection was hung in May 1961.
The El Paso Museum of Art continued in the Turney home until 1998 when the Museum moved into its current location in the remodeled Greyhound building downtown. The city’s original plan was to turn the Turney mansion into administrative offices.
International Association for the Visual Arts
The El Paso Art Museum Association, the group of volunteers who oversaw operations and funded purchases for the El Paso Museum of Art, proposed that the building remain a museum under its operation, separate from the city’s art museum, but still open to all. The city of El Paso agreed to lease the building to the El Paso Art Museum Association, which changed its name to the International Association for the Visual Arts.
Initially, the Turney home stood empty. The El Paso Museum of Art had moved all of its collections to its new location. The International Association for the Visual Arts, under the leadership of George McBride, Burton Patterson, Katherine “Kitty” Kistenmacher, Tony Conde, Deane Miller, and others quickly filled the giant building with art and artifacts from all over the world.