Biographical / Historical
William Henry Holmes (1846-1933) was a curator, museum director, artist, scientific illustrator, archaeologist, geologist, and anthropologist. He served in various positions in the Smithsonian Institution, and finally as director of the Smithsonian's National Gallery of Art (now the Smithsonian American Art Museum) from 1920-1932.
Holmes was born in Harrison County, Ohio in 1846. In 1870, he graduated from McNeely Normal School in Ohio and, after a short time of teaching at that school, moved to Washington, D.C. in 1871 to study art under Theodore Kaufmann. Thanks to his artistic skills, he was soon hired by Smithsonian paleontologist Francis B. Meek to do scientific drawings. In 1872, Holmes joined the geological survey of Ferdinand Vandeveer Hayden, as an artist and topographer of the survey of Yellowstone National Park and surrounding area, and other regions in the west. In 1879, Holmes went to work for the newly founded U.S. Geological Survey. There he worked as a geologist and chief of scientific illustration. In addition to art and geology, his interests and expertise expanded into archaeology and anthropology.
Holmes worked as chief curator at the Field Columbian Museum (now the Field Museum of Natural History) in Chicago before returning to the Smithsonian in 1897, where he served as curator of anthropology and chief of the Bureau of American Ethnology. In 1910, he became chairman of the Division of Anthropology. In 1920, Holmes became director of the Smithsonian Institution's National Gallery of Art (now the Smithsonian American Art Museum), a position he held until 1932. William Henry Holmes died one year later.