The Frank H. McClung Museum of Natural History and Culture was made possible by a bequest from the wills of Judge and Mrs. John M. Green. The wills provided that the museum, to be named for Mrs. Green’s father, would be used for “display, preservation and study of paintings, works of art, objects of natural history, historical objects, and other uses and purposes as generally appertain to museums.” Mrs. Green also left to UT a valuable collection of pieces of art and historical objects to be displayed in the museum. The name of the museum was changed to Frank H. McClung Museum of Natural History and Culture by the board of trustees in March 2013.
UT expended $89,000 of the bequest to purchase the Hudson home and 2.3 acre lot on Circle Park from Lucie D. Hudson and her daughter, Lucinda, as the site of the museum. Approximately $550,000 remained for constructing and equipping the museum. Barber and McMurry was the architectural firm for the project.
The formal dedication of the museum was June 1, 1963, but the initial display in the museum’s art gallery opened November 10, 1961. The initial exhibit consisted of paintings from the Mead “Picture of the Year.” The museum provided art history offices, anthropology offices, an anthropology laboratory, an exhibition hall, and an art history and anthropology lecture auditorium. The art history offices and exhibition function relocated to the Art/Architecture Building upon its completion. The museum was first accredited by the American Association of Museums in 1972.
In 1858 Frank H. McClung was a founding partner, with James Cowan, Perez Dickinson, and Charles J. McClung, of the Knoxville mercantile firm Cowan, McClung & Company. During the Civil War, McClung moved to Virginia and participated on the Confederate side. Following the War, he received a pardon from Andrew Johnson, as required for certain special classes of participants. The university has the pardon and its acknowledgement by Secretary of State Seward.
The sculpture in the lobby is The Vine by Harriet Whitney Frishmuth. The sculpture was willed to UT in 1958 by Frederick T. Bonham, a 1909 UT Law School student. His will left the statue and $10,000 for its installation to UT, and stipulated that The Vine be placed in a “water setting in the central lobby of a museum.” The will provided that if the statue were not erected within five years, that the $10,000 be given to the School of Journalism and the sculpture be sold, with the proceeds used for journalism scholarships. The statue originally stood in the formal gardens at Walhall, Bonham’s estate in Riverside, Connecticut. After the death of his wife, Bonham sold most of the estate, and the statue was stored in an old barn at the Valeria home in Oscauwanna, New York. After Bonham’s death, the statue was transferred to a warehouse until UT could comply with the provisions of the will. It was installed in 1961 when the McClung Museum was completed. The museum became a Smithsonian Affiliate Museum in 2001.