The purpose of the University Museum is to collect, preserve, study, exhibit, and interpret artifacts and works of traditional art which illustrate the cultures, heritages and histories of African, Native American, Oceanic and Asian peoples, as well as the works of contemporary African American, African and American Indian artists and three-dimensional objects which relate to the history and significance of Hampton University.
The Museum is composed of the world’s first collection of African American fine art, which began with the 1894 acquisition of two paintings by Henry O. Tanner.
One of these paintings, The Banjo Lesson, is acknowledged as the most admired work by an African American artist.Hampton was the recipient of a gift of hundreds of artworks from the Harmon Foundation in 1967, which includes representation of most of the important artists from the Harlem Renaissance into the early 1960s.
The museum also houses the Countee and Ida Cullen Art Collection; a group of 29 works of art acquired from the widow of the famed Harlem Renaissance poet.
Among the most outstanding holdings are works by three important figures connected to the visual arts at Hampton: John T. Biggers, Elizabeth Catlett, and Samella S. Lewis.
In addition to the African American Fine Art Collection, the Museum features African, Native American, and the Hampton History Galleries as permanent exhibitions.