Alumnus to leave legacy with Spencer Museum of Art and Department of Art History

As a child growing up in Norton County, Kansas, Randall Griffey discovered his love of art in the colorful world of comic books.

“The landscape of my childhood was — and remains — an expanse of dusty Kansas fields scattered with ruins dating little over a century,” said Griffey. “The comic books I loved came from a place called New York City. At the time, I didn’t know where this place was, but I knew it wasn’t close.”

The city that once seemed so far away is now Griffey’s new home. In September, he moved to New York to become associate curator of modern American art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Previously, he worked at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art and the Mead Art Museum at Amherst College.

Griffey earned two degrees in art history from KU — a master’s in 1994, and a doctorate in 1999. As a KU doctoral student, he interned at the Spencer Museum of Art, and he completed a one-year Smithsonian Institution fellowship to study at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C.

In appreciation of the Spencer Museum of Art and his KU education, Griffey has made estate plans to leave $500,000 for the university. His gift will provide $250,000 for acquisitions for the Spencer. It also will provide $250,000 to create an endowed fund in the Department of Art History named for KU’s Hall Distinguished Professor of American Art and Culture, Charles C. Eldredge; this fund will provide support for graduate students in art history.

“School provides a series of minor revelations, and these, ideally, add up to more than the sum of their individual parts,” said Griffey. “I had one of these small, but meaningful revelations in a graduate seminar on American art of the 1930s with Charlie Eldredge.”

Eldredge traveled with his students across Kansas to study Depression-era post office murals and folk art.

“During that trip, on a typically bright, blustery spring day, it occurred to me: Kansas has culture, and it has its own history, which is part of the larger national story,” said Griffey, who, as a result of that course, refocused his area of study from European art to American art.

“It sounds simplistic, even corny, to hear myself say that now,” said Griffey, “but, at the time, it gave me a stronger sense of identity as an aspiring art historian and gave me greater hope that I might have something meaningful to say in that capacity, if I were to attain it.”

Randall Griffey