Although drawing was taught at Kenyon as early as 1835, instruction in the visual arts did not enter the curriculum on a regular basis until the 1890's. In 1896 the Professor of Greek, Barker Newhall (Ph.D. Johns Hopkins), introduced a course in Greek Archaeology and Art history.
This course was soon expanded to an Art History survey, including Modern Art. Newhall repeated it regularly until his retirement, when it was continued by Professor Robert Radford (Ph.D. Johns Hopkins). These early courses were taught with heavy glass lantern slides and black and white photographs, the collection of which was expanded considerably by the1930 gift the Carnegie Corporation of a larger collection of mounted photographs. Upon Radford's retirement (c.1935), Norris Rahming, a painter, was hired in order to continue the art course and to broaden the scope of instruction. By the 1940's under the art-friendly administration of President Gordon Keith Chalmers, a second instructor in studio art had been added, and art history courses were being taught by a third member of the of the faculty. During the period 1900-1960 a good selection of art books and periodicals was added to the library, and the Ryerson Lectures in Art were endowed, illustrating the College's commitment to art.
In 1965 Joseph Slate (B.F.A. Yale University) was hired and the history of the present Department of Art began. Among the courses introduced by Slate was the Josef Albers color course which became extremely popular. As the revival of the Art Department coincided with a dramatic expansion of the College, additional instructors in Art History and Sculpture were soon added. The first art majors began to graduate in 1968. By 1973 the department had grown to five studio artists (two painters, a sculptor, a printmaker, and a photographer) and two art historians. Despite the addition of specific media to the studio curriculum, instruction remained rooted in fundamentals of expression through drawing and color. Art History soon adopted a curriculum graded in three levels, attempting comprehensive coverage of world art history as staff qualifications permitted. In 1985 a third art historian was added to teach Modern European and American Art. In 1998, the art history program added an object-based component to its curriculum, with the inclusion of a Museum Studies seminar taught by the Director of the Olin Art Gallery. In the fall of 2001, a fourth art historian with a specialization in Renaissance and Baroque Art and Architecture was added to the art history faculty and a new Visual Resources Curator was hired.
During the period 1965-1995 the department has changed locations several times inhabiting buildings such as Ascension Hall (1972-1974), Bailey House (1974-1976), Biology Building (1976-1985), back to Bailey House (1985-2011) and then to our new home in Gund Gallery (2011-present) . When the Olin Library opened in 1986, the Slide Library placed in close configuration with the principal art history lecture room, the Gallery, and the Library Special Collections (housing the permanent Kenyon Art Collection).