Making the leap from pharmacist to museum director might seem unusual, but for Arthur B. Carr (1872–1956) it was an extension of his lifelong interest in archaeology and natural history. Tapped to be the first full-time curator of The Children’s Museum’s (he later changed the title to director) when he was 55 years old, Carr came to the job after having owned a neighborhood drugstore north of downtown Indianapolis.
Carr the Collector
While he earned a living as a pharmacist, Carr’s passion was Native American relics, an interest he shared with his father while growing up in southern Indiana. By the time he opened his drugstore Carr had one of the finest collections in the state and he put many of the items on display in the front window and in cases throughout his shop. But by the time the museum came calling in 1926, Carr had sold his store and was working only part-time as a pharmacist. He had the time and the knowledge to devote to organizing a museum.
Like any dedicated collector, Carr was acquisitive. Under his direction the museum’s collection grew substantially, though haphazardly. He rarely turned down any donation, which led to a jumble of objects piling up over the years. But he also attended auctions and haunted demolition sites looking for significant additions to the museum’s collections—or barring that, things he could reuse somewhere in the former Carey house, which was the museum’s home for most of his tenure.
Carr the Director
Coping constantly with a shortage of funds, Carr did everything he could himself—painting walls, cleaning rain gutters, tinkering with cantankerous furnaces—to avoid spending a penny more than he had to. During his tenure the museum gained a reputation as a first-rate museum despite having too little money and too few people to do all that needed to be done. He made the best of less-than-ideal circumstances.
On his watch The Children’s Museum moved from a good idea to being one of the city’s most popular attractions for children, teachers, and families. Upon his retirement in 1942, he was designated the museum’s director emeritus; he was also named one of 15 board members of the William T. Hornaday Foundation, an organization dedicated to helping establish children’s museums around the country. In 1944 he became director of the foundation.
At his death in 1956 his former assistant and successor Grace Golden said, “He was so completely devoted to the children’s museum concept that he gave far beyond what was required of him in hours and devoted service.”