Wight & Wight was led by two brothers, Thomas Wight (1874-1949) and William Wight (1882-1947). Thomas Wight took charge of the designs for the Nelson-Atkins, although William played a role as well. Both brothers had received training in the most well-known architectural firm in the country, McKim, Mead and White. Thomas also had studied in Italy and Greece and was exposed almost exclusively to classically inspired design.
To become familiar with the work of Wight & Wight, the trustees for the Museum could look at other tasteful buildings in the area, including the First National Bank at 14 W. 10th St. and the Kansas City Life Insurance Company at 3520 Broadway. Both structures are symmetrical, classical buildings with massive columns, heavy entablatures and flat roofs.
Thomas Wight’s exterior design for the Nelson-Atkins reflects his training in the Beaux-Arts style, led at the time by McKim, Mead and White. Named after the influential Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, Beaux-Arts buildings were usually monumental public buildings with formal exteriors inspired by Greek, Roman, and Italian Renaissance architecture.Wight said at the time, “We are building the museum on classic principles because they have been proved by the centuries. A distinctly American principle appropriate for such a building may be developed, but, so far, everything of that kind is experimental. One doesn’t experiment with 2 l/2 million dollars.”