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Milliken, William M.

    Full Name: Milliken, William M.

    Other Names:

    • William Mathewson Milliken

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 1889

    Date Died: 1978

    Place Born: Stamford, Fairfield, CT, USA

    Place Died: Cleveland, Cuyahoga, OH, USA

    Home Country/ies: United States

    Subject Area(s): Medieval (European)


    Medievalist, director of the Cleveland Museum of Art, 1930-1958. Milliken was the son of Thomas Kennedy Milliken and Mary Spedding Mathewson (Milliken) (1858-1932). His father was a New York linen importer and manufacturer. The younger Milliken entered Princeton in 1907 as part of the class of 1911, but illness delayed his graduation. Summers were spent traveling in Europe where he became familiar with the Gothic churches and art museums. After graduation, Milliken was offered but declined an offer to work at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY, cataloging objects. Instead, he attempted to work in the family textile business. However, when it became clear he would not be successful, he accepted the unpaid position at the Met. After six months, he was appointed to the Department of Decorative Arts, whose curator, Wilhelm Rheinhold Otto Valentiner, had returned to Germany during World War I. During this time, the Met hosted the loaned collection of magnificent medieval object collection of Board president J. P. Morgan (1837-1913). Milliken had a first-hand opportunity to study these pieces (the show remained until 1916). That year, 1916, the Morgan pieces became part of the Metropolitan and Milliken was promoted to Assistant Curator. With the United States entry into the War the following year, Milliken enlisted serving as a ground officer in the 282nd Air Squadron in England. After discharge in 1918, Milliken found his former job had been eliminated, but he found a position similar position as Curator of Decorative Arts at the Cleveland Museum of Art, 1919, perhaps advising them on medieval purchases before his hire. He published his first article for the museum the same year as his employment, “French Gothic Sculpture in the Museum,” in the Bulletin of the Cleveland Museum of Art. Milliken’s first major acquisition for the museum was the 1922 small ivory plaques. He has so impressed board president and wealthy collector Jeptha Homer Wade II (1857-1926), that Wade purchased them personally and made them a gift to the museum. The following year Milliken purchased the Spitzer Cross enamel and the Stroganoff ivory in 1925, all with the assistance of Wade. After Wade’s death, Milliken purchase the nine spectacular Guelph Treasure pieces (one was later exchanged in a purchase deal for the Gertrudis Altar). Milliken was appointed director of the Museum in 1930, but retained his position as curator of Decorative Arts. He set about to make the Museum one of the major art centers in the nation and one particularly attuned to the public. Milliken hired the innovative art education curator, Thomas Munro the same year. During the Depression, Milliken headed the Public Works of Art Project for the mid-west (“Region 9”), part of the federally funded WPA. He instituted the “May Show,” an annual exhibition of local design arts which connected Cleveland industry and commerce with the Museum. In the 1940s, Milliken was awarded an Honorary M.A., Princeton University in 1942 and Doctor of Fine Arts at Yale University in 1946. He retired as director in 1958 and was succeeded by Sherman E. Lee. In retirement, Milliken organized the “Masterpieces of Art” exhibition for the Seattle World’s Fair of 1962. He was Regents Professor at the University of California, Berkeley, in 1963. Milliken planned to publish a book “Stories Behind the Museum Collection,” a 254-page history of the Cleveland Museum, which he wrote around 1970 but never issued. He wrote two autobiographies, one in 1975 and a second in 1977. After his death in 1978, a William Mathewson Milliken Scholarship Fund was established at the Cleveland Institute of Art. His papers are held by the Western Reserve Historical Society and the Cleveland Museum of Art. Milliken represents the genre of American art museum director who achieved prominence solely through personal experience. With neither a degree in art nor any graduate degree, though from a privileged background and conversant in four languages, Milliken developed a connoisseur’s eye for objects in the medieval area through buying trips and training while working on the job.

    Selected Bibliography

    [bibliography:] Toth, Georgina G. “William Mathewson Milliken: a Selected Bibliography.” Bulletin of the Cleveland Museum of Art 61 (December 1974): 384-91; [Milliken wrote many introductions to catalogs as director; works of original authorship include:] “A Byzantine Ivory in the Morgan Collection.” Art in America 10 (1922): 197-202; “Art of the Goldsmith.” Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 6, no. 4, June, 1948): 311-322; “Two sculptures of St. Margaret by Antonello Gagini.” Gazette des beaux arts (April, 1943): 209-218; Pages from Medieval and Renaissance Illuminated Manuscripts from the Xth to the early XVIth Centuries: an Exhibition. Berkeley : University of California, 1963; Unfamiliar Venice. Cleveland, OH: Press of Case Western Reserve University, 1967. [auction catalog of private collection:] Catalogue of the Milliken Collection of Small South German and Austrian Baroque Wood Carvings. London: Sotheby & Co., 1974.


    Wittke, Carl Frederick. The First Fifty Years: the Cleveland Museum of Art, 1916-1966. Cleveland: John Huntington Art and Polytechnic Trust, Cleveland Museum of Art/Press of Western Reserve University, 1966, pp. 91, 98-99ff.; Milliken, William M. A Time Remembered: A Cleveland Memoir. Cleveland: Western Reserve Historical Society, 1975; Milliken, William. Born Under the Sign of Libra: An Autobiography. Western Reserve Historical Society, 1977; Barrie, Dennis ; interviewer. “William Milliken interviews, 1974 Dec. 27-1976 Mar. 13.” Archives of American Art; Marling, Karal Ann. “William M. Milliken and Federal Art Patronage of the Depression Decade.” Bulletin of the Cleveland Museum of Art 61 no. 10 (December 1974): 360-370; Bruhn, Heaterh McCune. “William M. Milliken and Medieval Art.” in, Smith, Elizabeth Bradford, ed. Medieval Art in America: Patterns of Collecting, 1800-1940. University Park, PA: Palmer Museum of Art, the Pennsylvania State University, 1996, pp. 195-198; [obituary:] Lee, Sherman E. Bulletin of the Cleveland Museum of Art 65 (April 1978): 110; Hawley, Henry. “Directorship of William M. Milliken.” in, Turner, Evan H. Object Lessons: Cleveland Creates an Art Museum. Cleveland: Cleveland Museum of Art, 1991.


    "Milliken, William M.." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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