Although the fine arts department purchased it first drawings in 1916, the museum acquired relatively few drawings until the 1950s. Major acquisitions were added in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s through gifts and purchase, particularly in the area of European and American art.

Additional drawing collections came from the widow of the Renaissance scholar Ulrich Middeldorf (1987), the estate of Arnold Marks (1991), Bernhard and Cola Heiden Collection (2000), and a recent gift of twenty-four Italian master drawings from the Columbus, Indiana, businessman Anthony J. Moravec (2010).

One of the larger holdings by a single artist is the collection of 89 preparatory drawings by Thomas Hart Benton’s for his 1933 Indiana Murals.