Student Life

The James and Gladys Kemp Lisanby Museum: A Hidden Treasure


By Molly Robinson

If you’ve every wandered downstairs in Festival, you may have noticed that there is a little nook next to the entrance near Potomac Hall that houses The James and Gladys Kemp Lisanby Museum. Although the space is relatively new, it is a hidden jewel on JMU’s campus, providing the space for three themed exhibits per semester.

The Lisanby Museum is a part of the Madison Art Collection (MAC), an overarching art collection across JMU’s campus, which stores 30,000 to 40,000 art pieces. During the month of March 2013, President Jonathan Alger suggested that the Lisanby Museum would showcase James Madison—the fourth United States president whom the school is named after and where its history as an institution begins.

The JMU president’s office and the MAC combined effort in creating a display on behalf of James Madison. The pieces presented in the exhibit were taken by the MAC’s anthology and from the historic home of James Madison—the Montpelier Foundation. It is meant to outline the life of James Madison as secretary of state and as president. The exhibit includes land grants, a watercolor painting of Montpelier by Anne Marie Thornton created as a gift for Dolley and James Madison, Dolley Madison’s biography of James Madison, and paintings James Madison had personally commissioned for his own home.

The Lisanby Museum was made possible by donations of Charles Alvin Lisanby, an Emmy Winning production designer, whose sister-in-law Gladys is JMU alumni. It features iPads with iBooks displaying characteristics and background features of most every item on display. A glass case on the left wall of the museum serves as an exhibit for art professors who wish their students to view pieces closely on their own time. The museum also holds tables and chairs for students to do work and is coffee friendly. It also serves as an outlet for honors Art Students to complete their theses by creating their own exhibit.

Employee of MAC, Maggie Riggs, an Art History major with a concentration in Museum Studies notes that the Lisanby Museum “…allows students to learn at their own pace and use the information they want…this museum is about being the face of future museums.”

Check out the Lisanby Museum on Facebook at
or on twitter at

On April 1st, the Lisanby Museum will feature “The Folk as Minstrel: John L. Heatwole and his role in shaping Shenandoah Valley folk culture” exhibit. Pop into this small museum and receive brief relief from end-of-the-semester stress.

Published: Thursday, March 28, 2013

Last Updated: Friday, April 6, 2018

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