The arts of America have been an important component of the Museum’s holdings since the early days, with major examples of decorative arts and sculpture having been acquired steadily since the institution’s founding in 1876. The American paintings collection was born shortly thereafter, with the 1893 bequest of Mrs. William P. Wilstach. Among the first purchases made with the fund she established were works by J.A.M. Whistler, George Inness, and Henry Ossawa Tanner--whose painting The Annunciation was the first by an African American artist to enter a public collection in the United States when it came to the Museum in 1899.The department continued to grow in the early decades of the 20th century, with the extraordinary Thomas Eakins Collection--given by the artist's widow, Susan Macdowell Eakins, and their friend Mary Adeline Williams in 1929 and 1930. This gift formed the nucleus of the largest collection of the artist's work in existence. Important paintings, portraits, sculpture, furniture, silver, and decorative objects continued to enter the collection throughout the decades. It wasn’t until the mid-1970s, however, when preparations began for both the nation’s Bicentennial and the Museum’s own Centennial, that an official department concentrating on American achievement in art was established. Darrel Sewell was the new department's first curator, with Beatrice Garvan following shortly thereafter on the decorative arts end. In 1981, the Women's Committee of the Museum began to contribute funds from the proceeds of their annual craft show for the purchase of contemporary crafts, which would bring the historically strong decorative arts collection up to the present day. Today, the collection continues to grow rapidly and is recognized as one of the finest public holdings of American art in existence.