The Frazier History Museum, previously known as the Frazier Historical Arms Museum and the Frazier International History Museum, is a history museum located on Museum Row in the Bourbon District of downtown Louisville, Kentucky. An affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution, the Frazier Museum documents and reinterprets stories from Kentucky, United States, and world history using exhibitions, artifacts, and live daily interpretations by a staff of costumed actors known as âteaching artists.â
Originally known for its voluminous collection of historic arms, the Frazier has since rebranded itself and adopted a focus on the state of Kentucky and its relationship with the world throughout history. The museum is home to one of the largest collections of toy soldiers and historic miniatures on permanent public display in the world, The Stewart Collection. Subjects of permanent exhibitions at the museum include historic arms, toy soldiers, bourbon whiskey, and the Lewis and Clark Expedition.
Beginning in August 2018, the museum will also function as the official starting point of the Kentucky Bourbon TrailÂ® tours, a project launched in 1999 by the Kentucky Distillers' Association to promote bourbon tourism in the state.
Frazier Museum | Louisville Life | KET - A lot has changed in the 10 years since the Frazier History Museum opened. For one thing its name: what started as the Frazier Historical Arms Museum has ...
Owsley Brown Frazier, a wealthy businessman and philanthropist in Louisville, was a history buff and an avid collector of historic arms. In 2000, the year he stepped down as Vice-Chairman of Brown-Forman, Frazier gave a presentation to the Kentucky Historical Society called âThe Art of the Weaponâ which spawned the idea for a museum. In 2002, a website was launched announcing the âOwsley Brown Frazier Historical Arms Museum,â an institution whose stated mission was âto acclaim the artistry, craftsmanship, and technological innovation of weapons and their makers.â
In February 2003, Frazier signed a formal agreement entering into a partnership with the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds, also known as the United Kingdom's National Museum of Arms and Armour, an ancient institution of the Tower of London that was originally founded to manufacture armor for the Kings of England. The agreement outlined plans for the Frazier to borrow and display arms and armament on loan from the Royal Armouries. It was the first time that a British national museum had engaged in an ongoing collaboration with any organization beyond its shores.
Construction on the museum started in 2002 and ended in 2004. The project was funded by a $32 million donation from Frazier.
2004 â" 2011
The Frazier Historical Arms Museum opened to the public on May 22, 2004.
Its initial collection consisted of objects from the personal collection of Owsley Brown Frazier, dating from 1492 to World War I, and approximately 350 objects borrowed from the Royal Armouries, dating from 1066 to the 1960s. Included were antique guns, swords, arrows, and other historic arms and armor from Flanders, France, Germany, Italy, and the United Kingdom, as well as life-size tableaux of mannequins and horse figures depicting battle scenes from European history.
In 2006, the museum was renamed the Frazier International History Museum, a nod to the multinational origins of its collection. In the late 2000s, the museum's focus began shifting away from war and weaponry and toward more general topics of state, national, and global history. The permanent collection was de-emphasized as the museum moved toward larger, temporary exhibitions. The last remaining objects on loan from the Royal Armouries were returned in January 2015.
2011 â" 2017
In 2011, the museum was renamed the Frazier History Museum. Its founder and chief benefactor Owsley Brown Frazier died in the following year.
In 2012, a bronze sculpture of a Japanese warrior riding horseback into battle by Douwe Blumberg entitled Way of Horse and Bow was gifted to the Frazier by actor William Shatner and his wife Elizabeth.
In 2017, the museum hosted The Hunger Games: The Exhibition, a special exhibition about the dystopian film franchise starring Jennifer Lawrence. A Louisville native, Lawrence, partnered with the Frazier to help promote the exhibition.
2017 â" Present
In September 2017, the museum announced its new slogan: âWhere the world meets Kentucky.â
Lonely Planet, in naming Kentucky Bourbon Country as one of the top 10 U.S. destinations to visit in 2018, cited the Frazier Museum as a main attraction.
In March 2018, the Frazier sold the first 250 bottles of Final Reserve: James Thompson and Brother Bourbon, a whiskey whose 45 years in the barrel made it the most mature bourbon ever bottled.
In August 2018, the Frazier is scheduled to open a Kentucky Bourbon TrailÂ® Welcome Center on the first floor of the museum, making the Frazier the official starting point of the Kentucky Bourbon TrailÂ® tours.
Hours of operation are Monday through Saturday, 9 a.m. â" 5 p.m., and Sunday, noon â" 5 p.m. The museum is closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, and Christmas.
The museum rents out its atrium, loft, rooftop garden, champagne parlor, and boardroom for private events.
It is a non-profit organization funded by private donations.
Located on Museum Row in the Bourbon District of downtown Louisville, the museum occupies a late 19th century, Chicago-style commercial structure of 100,000 square feet originally called the âDoerhoefer Building.â
A small item published in the March 23, 1897 issue of The Courier-Journal announced that John Doerhoefer, the âwealthy tobacco man,â would build âfour handsome business houses at Ninth and Main Streetsâ on the site of the old 9th Street tobacco warehouse. The article further stated that Mr. Doerhoefer had engaged the architectural firm of D. X. Murphy and Bros. to draw the plans. The building was to be of brick, stone, and iron with a tower at the corner.
Established in 1898 and built of cast iron and yellow-buff brick, the building spans four typical Main Street fronts and rounds the corner of 9th Street with an oriel that was once topped with a cornice roof. Each faÃ§ade is separated by pilasters with simple ornamentation. Machine-made festoons decorate the horizontal bandcourse which divides each major section between the second and third floors. Windows on the fourth floor are separated by brick pilasters, with stone capitals, which continue into arches of radiating bricks with some trim. Much of the original stone ornamentation is missing.
In 2012, a $700,000 renovation project, funded through grants and public contributions, expanded the museum's exhibit space from 2,700 to 7,500 square feet. The Frazier also purchased 821 W. Main St., a nearby, four-story building of 18,000 square feet.
In 2017, renovations began on both the interior and exterior of the building. These include a new vestibule and lobby, new entryways from both Main Street and Washington Street, and a rooftop garden and park designed by landscape artist John Carloftis.
Objects in the museum's permanent collection are kept in storage in the basement when not on display. Offices and workspaces for security personnel and employees of the collections and exhibits departments are located in the basement.
Starting in August 2018, the Frazier will have entryways on both Main Street and Washington Street. The new and expanded vestibule and lobby will house the admissions desk and the Kentucky Bourbon TrailÂ® Welcome Center, which will feature a concierge desk for the Kentucky Bourbon TrailÂ® tours.
The First Floor Great Hall, a large atrium with a sweeping terrazzo staircase, occupies the center of the building. Mounted along its perimeter are low-slung cases featuring highlights from The Stewart Collection organized by theme: âIntroduction,â âLocal Connection,â âEvents as They Happened,â âEvolution of Toy Soldiers,â âNot Just Toy Soldiers,â and âWhy Napoleonic?â
The North Wing (1 North) houses large, temporary exhibitions, as well as the Brown-Forman Theater, a 120-seat auditorium used for live daily interpretations of historical events. Alcoves of the Great Hall, 1 East and 1 West, are used for smaller, temporary exhibits.
1 South will soon house both the Museum Store and the Kentucky Bourbon TrailÂ® Welcome Center, both of which offer free admission to the general public. It also contains the Marshall Charitable Foundation Education Center, a classroom where visiting students learn history through hands-on activities.
2 South contains the Charles W. Stewart Historic Miniatures Gallery, which houses the hundreds of sets of toy soldiers and historic miniatures from The Stewart Collection that are on public display, and Civil War. Low-slung cases around the floor's perimeter include âRevolutionary War,â âCivil War,â and âWorld War II.â
2 West is a champagne parlor with a bar, Victorian furniture, and Southern Exposition. The second floor mezzanine houses The Founder's Gallery. 2 North is reserved for temporary exhibitions.
3 South houses The Spirit of Kentucky exhibition. 3 North houses The Lewis and Clark Experience.
4 North contains a boardroom and offices for the museum staff. 4 South contains the Loft, an expansive, New York-style loft with a wooden dance floor, dimmable track lighting, and brick walls lined with 25 windows with plantation shutters.
The Rooftop Garden features seasonal blooming flowers and looks out across the Ohio River.
The permanent collection features a wide array of historically significant arms and artifacts of war of American, American Indian, Asian, and European origin, most of which were donated to the museum by its founder. Other objects include appliances, books, clothes, documents, dolls, helmets, jewelry, miniatures, monuments, musical instruments, paintings, photographs, statues, suits of armor, textiles, tools, toy soldiers, and uniforms.
Notable arms include Buffalo Bill's sporting rifle, early model Colt guns, George Armstrong Custer's ivory-coated pistols, George Washington's hunting rifle, a German crossbow, Geronimo's bow and quiver of arrows, Jesse James's revolver, Josiah Bartlett's saber and scabbard, a Netherlandish snap matchlock target rifle, a Remington cane gun, and a half-stock percussion rifle made by Meshek âMoseâ Moxley, a gunsmith who had escaped slavery via the Underground Railroad. Theodore Roosevelt's âBig Stick,â a 1909 Holland & Holland, Ltd. Royal Grade Double Rifle, also belongs to the museum's permanent collection.
Military accessories and equipment include a battle helmet modified for the Gioco del Ponte games in Medieval Italy, beaded apparel designed for Cheyenne, Lakota Sioux, or Shoshone Indians employed as scouts by the U.S. Army; a Japanese jingasa, SchÃ¼tzenfest targets, suits of Samurai armor, and trench warfare helmets from France, Germany, Prussia, and the United States circa World War I.
Rare artifacts and documents include the arrest warrant issued for Mary Todd Lincoln, who was declared âinsaneâ in 1875 and institutionalized; the Boone family bible, a Civil War casket wagon, a first edition copy of Uncle Tom's Cabin, and an oil painting of Geronimo by Elbridge Ayer Burbank, the only artist for whom the Apache resistance leader ever sat.
A marble grave marker commemorates the U.S. 7th Cavalry Regiment soldiers who died at the Battle of Little Bighorn.
Artifacts in Civil War include the First National Confederate Flag, which was likely carried into the Battle of Seven Pines, and the war's oldest remaining monument, which is a stone marker honoring soldiers of the U.S. 32nd Indiana Volunteer Regiment who died at the Battle of Rowlett's Station.
A champagne parlor in 2 West doubles as an event space and exhibit about the Southern Exposition, an annual, civic convention in Louisville modeled after the World's Fair which ran from 1883 â" when President Chester A. Arthur presided over the inaugural opening ceremony â" to 1887.
The Founder's Gallery
This exhibition commemorates Owsley Brown Frazier, the museum's founder, with a cast of historically significant arms and implements of warfare drawn from the permanent collection.
The Spirit of Kentucky
A visual guide to the history, craft, and culture of bourbon whiskey, the signature product of Kentucky, this exhibition looks at the particular blend of geographical and geological features in Kentucky that promote corn-farming and bourbon-making; the culture of camaraderie that exists among industry executives and distillers; and the legacy of bourbon in mixology, advertising, and popular culture.
The Stewart Gallery
According to Old Toy Soldier magazine, The Stewart Historic Miniatures Collection constitutes âone of the finest collections of rare historic toy soldiers on permanent public display in the world today.â It contains over 25,000 figurines, vehicles, and accessories, some 10,000 of which are currently on display, and represents about 130 different makers, including Courtenay, Heinrichsen, Heyde, Lucotte, MÃ¤rklin, Mignot, M.I.M., Vertunni, and W. Britain.
Dioramas in the collection depict battles and other scenes from the Punic Wars, Germanic Wars, Crusades, Frankokratia, Hundred Years War, Mongol Yoke, Anglo-Scottish Wars, American Indian Wars, American Revolutionary War, French Revolutionary Wars, Napoleonic Wars, Mexican-American War, American Civil War, Franco-Prussian War, Montenegrin-Ottoman War, Anglo-Zulu War, Mahdist War, Anglo-Egyptian War, Spanish-American War, Second Boer War, Russo-Japanese War, World War I, and World War II.
Magnificent Mona Bismarck
This retrospective on Mona Bismarck, a midcentury socialite named Best-Dressed Woman in the World in 1933, features garments, hats, shoes, and jewelry designed by couturiers and jewelers CristÃ³bal Balenciaga, Elsa Schiaparelli, Emilio Pucci, Fulco di Verdura, Hubert de Givenchy, Madeleine Vionnet, and Roger Vivier. Original artworks, photographs, and portraits of Mona by Cecil Beaton, Edward Steichen, Horst P. Horst, Jerome Zerbe, and Savely Sorine, many of which are excerpted from Vogue, are also on display.
The Lewis and Clark Experience
This immersive exhibition simulates the Lewis and Clark Expedition, a journey undertaken by the U.S. Army's Corps of Discovery from 1804 to 1806 with the mission of gathering scientific and commercial information about the flora, fauna, and geography of the territory within and northwest of the newly-acquired Louisiana Purchase. On October 15, 1803, Lewis joined Clark at the Falls of the Ohio in Clarksville, Indiana, directly across from what is now the site of the Frazier Museum. The explorers spent two weeks in the area, during which time they recruited nine young men to accompany them on their journey.
Notable past exhibitions
- British Royal Armouries USA, May 22, 2004 â" January 19, 2015. With over 300 European artifacts borrowed from the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds dating from 1066 to the 1960s, this exhibition featured antique guns, arrows, swords, muskets, and other historic arms and armor from Flanders, France, Germany, Italy, and the United Kingdom, as well as life-size tableaux of mannequins and horse figures depicting battle scenes from European history.
- Water Works, October 23, 2010 â" May 1, 2011. This history of the Louisville Water Company tracked the city's evolution from âGraveyard of the West,â a nickname it earned in the 1800s when its sewage-contaminated wells spread cholera and typhoid, to winning âBest Tasting Tap Water in Americaâ in 2008.
- Da Vinci: The Genius, May 14 â" September 18, 2011. Featuring a glider, helicopter, machine gun, model of the âideal city,â movie camera, parachute, SCUBA gear, tank, and other full-scale machines reproduced from his personal notebooks, this traveling exhibition celebrated Leonardo da Vinci.
- Samurai, May 12 â" September 30, 2012. An exploration of the arts and philosophy of the military nobility of medieval and early modern Japan, this exhibition included armor, arms, artworks, religious icons, textiles, and other artifacts of Samurai culture from a period spanning 1,500 years.
- Diana: A Celebration, September 15, 2012 â" January 13, 2013. This retrospective on the life and humanitarian work of Diana, Princess of Wales, featured more than 150 of her belongings, including her royal wedding gown, 28 designer dresses, jewels, rare home movies, and personal mementos.
- Spirits of the Passage: The Story of the Transatlantic Slave Trade, February 2 â" June 16, 2013. Produced in partnership with the Mel Fisher Maritime Heritage Museum, this exhibition displayed nearly 150 artifacts salvaged from the Henrietta Marie, an English slave ship that sank off the coast of Florida in 1700.
- Mythic Creatures, May 11 â" September 15, 2013. Featuring pre-historic fossils, textiles, paintings, stone carvings, wooden sculptures, and other cultural artifacts, this exhibition on cryptozoology looked at the origins of Bigfoot, dragons, kraken, mermaids, Pegasus, phoenixes, unicorns, and other mythic creatures.
- Spirits of the Bluegrass: Prohibition and Kentucky, October 29, 2015 â" January 9, 2018. Featuring two full bars and a lighted stage, this exhibition explored the unintended consequences of Prohibition by tracing the rise of the temperance movement, bootleggers, speakeasies, and flappers during the 1920s and '30s.
- Kentucky by Design: The Decorative Arts and American Culture, August 4, 2016 â" February 12, 2017. Featuring over 85 original and facsimile watercolor renderings of artworks and objects sourced in Kentucky, including architecture, furniture, ceramics, instruments, textiles, clothing, glassware, and metal works, this exhibition celebrated Kentucky's contribution to the Federal Art Project's Index of American Design, a pictorial survey of the decorative arts of the United States.
- The Hunger Games: The Exhibition, April 1 â" September 10, 2017. This exhibition explored The Hunger Games dystopian film franchise with set recreations and original maps, props, and costumes, including the Girl on Fire dress, the Mockingjay pin, and Katniss's bow.
- Kentucky Bourbon Trail
- List of attractions and events in the Louisville metropolitan area
- List of museums in Kentucky
- Official website