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College of Arts & Sciences
McKissick Museum


McKissick Museum's collections in material culture, natural science, decorative and fine arts support its mission of documentation and education relating to the cultural heritage and natural environment of South Carolina and the Southeast.

History of the Collections

The beginnings of the Museum's rich and diverse holdings date to 1823 when the University purchased the extensive mineral collection of naturalist Thomas Cooper. Throughout the 19th and early 20th century different departments on campus continued to add significant objects in cultural history and natural sciences to these collections. As the only repository for cultural artifacts in the capital city, the University of South Carolina also became the home for many items associated with the history of the region and state.

By the 20th century, the scope of the collections had broadened to include material culture, folk art, and fine and decorative arts.  In 1976, the University established McKissick Museum to interpret and preserve these objects.   Since its establishment, the Museum has placed a strong emphasis on researching and interpreting its collections.  This research results in temporary exhibitions and catalogs such as I Made This Jar... The Life and Works of the Enslaved African-American Potter Dave, which represented pioneering research on the Edgefield potter and traveling exhibitions such as Grass Roots: African Origins of an American Art, which was developed from McKissick's prior exhibition and catalog, Row Upon Row: Sea Grass Baskets of the South Carolina Lowcountry

McKissick’s permanent collections encompass the broad range of artifacts the represent our mission to tell the story of Southern life.  For example, the museum’s emphasis on collecting and researching southern traditional crafts and traditions prompted the establishment of the Folklife Resource Center in 1985, with objects made by the NEA Folk Heritage Award winners and South Carolina’s Jean Laney Harris Folk Heritage Award winners.  The Natural Science collections which started with Thomas Cooper now include the J. Harry Howard gemstone collection as well as mineral specimens such as those collected by Lawrence L. Smith and Burnham Colburn and the world-renowned Richard B. Dominick Butterfly and Moth Collection. The fine art collection includes works by past and present University of South Carolina art department faculty as well as regional artists such as Eldridge Bagley and Jonathan Green.  The material culture collections include quilts and other household textiles, art glass, alkaline-glazed stoneware, Catawba pottery, and the Charles T. (Bud) Ferillo, Jr. Collection of  political memorabilia.  Finally, we are the proud home of objects relating to the history of the University of South Carolina from student life to academics to athletics. 


Please visit the exhibitions page for information on our permanent installations, Natural Curiosity and the McKissick Museum: Invitation to Explore.

Learn about and view the original Catalog of the Collection of Minerals in the College of South Carolina online through USC Digital Collections.

Follow the activities of the natural science cataloging team on the Mining McKissick blog.

For more information on McKissick's collections, contact Mark Smith, Curator for Exhibition and Collection Management or 803.777.7801.