The Museum’s Mission
The American Textile History Museum, now closed, told America’s story through the art, history, and science of textiles.
Caroline Stevens Rogers, a member of a venerable textile industry family and a handweaver and dyer in her own right, founded the Merrimack Valley Textile Museum in North Andover, Massachusetts in 1960. Since its founding, the American Textile History Museum (ATHM) has expanded its mission, changed its name, and relocated to its present home in historic Lowell., Massachusetts. It has been accredited by the American Association of Museums since 1973.
During its first thirty years, the Museum documented the woolen, cotton, flax and silk industries in New England and beyond through its collections of pre-industrial tools, powered industrial era machinery, flat textiles and the rich collections of its Osborne Library.
The Museum supported research and publication, hosted conferences, presented exhibitions and public programming. It also developed a model program with the public schools of neighboring Lawrence, Massachusetts. In 1977, the Textile Conservation Center was established as a department of the Museum.
By the mid 1980s, under the directorship of Tom Leavitt, the Museum set out to expand its public dimension via exhibitions and expanded museum educational programming for schools and the general public. It also sought to bring its extensive collections into a single, unified curatorial and storage facility.
In 1992, the Museum purchased the Kitson Building in Lowell and began a fundraising campaign, to support the renovations to this historic building. Led by Director Paul Rivard, the building was renovated , the core exhibition Textiles in America was designed and installed and the Museum opened to the public in April, 1997. Under Rivard’s guidance the Museum expanded its educational services to include the Lowell Public Schools, and initiated the special changing exhibitions program.
Under the leadership of Michael J. Smith, who was the Museum’s President/CEO from 2000 through 2005, the Museum formulated its current mission statement; greatly expanded its educational programs, began programs for scouts, opened the Textile Learning Center for families, and spearheaded innovative special exhibitions. Also during Mr. Smith’s tenure, the Chace Foundation awarded the Museum with a substantial grant to access portions of the Museum’s collections on the internet, and the American Textile Hall of Fame, a program honoring individuals, corporations and organization from the world of textiles, was initiated.
An organizational restructuring of the Museum began in 2006. James S. Coleman was named interim Executive Director in January to help meet the challenge of funding the Museum’s operations and to formulate a plan to take the Museum forward. The Textile Conservation Center closed as a department of the Museum later that month and in April the Museum successfully negotiated an agreement to sell part of its Dutton Street building for conversion into mixed-use space including residential lofts, and the home of The Sun, the region’s daily newspaper.
The Chace Catalogue came on-line in June 2006, enabling visitors to the Museum’s website to gain access to key portions of its curatorial and storage facilities through the technology of a virtual museum. In July of 2006, Mr. Coleman accepted the permanent position of President/CEO. Over the next two and a half years, Mr. Coleman and the ATHM team worked to renovate the Textiles in America core exhibition to bring it into the 21st century.
The “Campaign for the American Textile History Museum” was launched in 2006, with a goal to raise $1.5 million to fund the Museum’s renovation, $1 million for its endowment, and $1.4 million for operating costs. As part of that campaign, the Museum launched a $1 million challenge to grow its endowment and ensure the preservation of its collections, which was matched dollar for dollar by Deborah S. Pulliam, a noted textile artist, historian and writer from Maine. Sadly, Ms. Pulliam passed away only a day after the endowment goal was met in May 2007. A Museum endowment has been established in her name, and a knitting display in the renovated exhibit named in her honor. The ambitious $3.9 million “Campaign for the American Textile History Museum” goal was reached in August 2008.
The renovated exhibit, Textile Revolution, opened in June 2009, when the Museum announced its affiliation with the Smithsonian Institution at this time. In 2010, the Museum celebrated its 50th anniversary.
In November 2011, Jonathan Stevens assumed the role of President and CEO. Mr. Stevens, the son of textile entrepreneur Edward Stevens, is the former CEO of Ames Textile Corporation in Lowell and served previously as a Trustee and Treasurer of the Museum. On March 15, 2012 Jonathan Stevens was named the new President and CEO of the American Textile History Museum.
On September 11, 2015, Todd Smith assumed the role of Interim Executive Director upon the departure of Jonathan Stevens. Smith is a former ATHM Advisor who also serves as Director of Institutional Advancement.
On November 3, 2015, the ATHM Board of Trustees voted to undergo a dramatic transformation for ATHM, seeking strategic partnerships and major fundraising to preserve and protect ATHM’s core collection and enable the Museum to fulfill its mission for generations to come. The Museum’s exhibits and galleries temporarily closed to the public in early 2016 to enable the Museum to focus on the transformation.
On May 24, 2016, despite its best efforts to identify a viable and sustainable future for the American Textile History Museum, the ATHM Board of Trustees voted to seek approval from the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office and Supreme Judicial Court to dissolve the Museum’s 501(c)(3) and permanently close its doors.
“This was an extremely difficult decision for all involved and certainly not the outcome we had hoped and worked for,” said ATHM Board Chair Matthew Coggins. “However, the Board recognizes that serious operational challenges, financial shortfalls, and other circumstances make it impossible to ethically and responsibly dedicate further financial assets to attempt to keep our doors open.”