The interest of Oberlin College's faculty and students in art dates
almost from the founding of the college. Oberlin's first art class
was "a course in linear drawing for young ladies in the Junior Class
of the Preparatory College" offered in 1836 (Laurine Bongiorno,
"The Fine Arts in Oberlin, 1836-1918," AMAM Bulletin, Spring
1958, p. 101). Despite this early interest in art, Oberlin did not
develop a significant collection until the death of Clevelander
Charles Olney in 1904. Olney, a public school teacher, founder of
the New York Teachers Association, and Vice President of the Cleveland
School of Art, died in 1904 and bequeathed his paintings, ivories,
and bronzes to the college because of "Oberlin's highest ideals
in human character." The collection was stored in Cleveland for
a year, and then moved to the third floor of Carnegie Library, with
Warner Gymnasium and Rice Hall providing additional exhibit space.
Olney's "heterogeneous accumulation of paintings, objets d'art,
and curios" came without restrictions; therefore, only the better
works were kept. The remainder was sold over a period of several
decades, "the funds so obtained being used to purchase objects of
superior quality to which the name of Olney is attached." (Bongiorno,
Within a decade, Olney's bequest was followed by two other major
acquisitions. In 1912, Charles L. Freer of Detroit personally selected
100 Japanese and Chinese works of art from his private collection
and gave them to Oberlin. Charles Martin Hall's 1915 bequest included
a large collection of oriental rugs and fine porcelain. With those
three major gifts and bequests, the makeshift storage and exhibition
space at the college proved inadequate and the need for an art museum
became increasingly apparent. This need was finally met when the
Dudley Peter Allen Memorial Art Museum was dedicated on June 12,
1917. Dr. Dudley Peter and Elizabeth Severance Allen were the principal
benefactors behind the new museum, which was designed by renowned
architect Cass Gilbert. Dr. Allen worked with Gilbert on the plans
until his death in 1915; his widow saw the project to completion.
In addition to the building, Allen's will included a $100,000 endowment
for the Adelia A. Field Johnston Professorship in Fine Arts.
The role of the new Art Museum at Oberlin College was three-fold:
it provided adequate exhibition space, a library of books and slides
for the students and faculty of the Fine Arts Department, and classroom
and studio space. While the museum served, in effect, as a "laboratory"
for the art department, it also provided adult education and instruction
of children for the communities of Oberlin and Lorain County.
Both the Museum and the Art Department grew rapidly in programming
and enrollment in the decade following the opening of the new building.
By the mid 1930's, they were cramped for storage and exhibit space,
classrooms, and studios. Elizabeth Severance Allen had married Francis
Fleury Prentiss, but continued the support for the museum that she
and Dr. Allen had begun. In 1937, Mrs. Prentiss gave $100,000 for
an addition to the Museum. The new wing was designed by Clarence
Ward, Director of the Art Museum and Chairman of the Art Department.
It housed painting, printmaking, and silk-screen studios, a lecture
hall, two classrooms, and administrative offices.
The expansion of the Art Museum was seen by Curator Hazel B. King
as an appropriate time to follow the example of other major college
and university museums (Harvard, Smith, Mt. Holyoke, and Wellesley)
by establishing a voluntary society known as the Oberlin Friends
of Art. In 1938, the organization had 50 members; by 1964 that number
had grown to 700, and as of 1989, membership stood at 475. Revenue
from member dues was used to purchase works of art selected and
approved in meetings of the membership. The first purchase was Dancers,
a drawing by Edgar Degas; subsequent purchases have included works
by such major artists as Durer, Gorky, and De Kooning. An exhibition
of paintings from college and university art museums and galleries
celebrated both the dedication of the new wing and the founding
of the Friends of Art.
Until the early 1940's, the Art Museum had depended upon relatively
small gifts and bequests of individual donors and the Friends of
Art for adding new works to the collection and supporting exhibits.
In 1940, however, R. T. Miller, Jr., '91, gave $25,000 for the purchase
of works of art. He continued making annual gifts for purchases
until his death in 1958. By 1958, Miller's gifts to Oberlin totaled
nearly $1 million, about half of which went to the Allen Art Museum.
In January 1944, Elizabeth Severance Allen Prentiss died, leaving
a trust fund of more than $434,000 to the Allen Art Museum.
Mr. Miller's gifts and Mrs. Prentiss's bequest enabled the Art
Museum to begin systematically selecting and purchasing works of
art from its own funds for the first time. According to Wolfgang
Stechow, Professor of Art, an acquisitions policy was developed
at about that time:
In accordance with the specific set-up of our art department,
it was decided to consider the needs of practical as well as historical
art instruction and to offer our students as complete a survey
of the art production of the past and the present as possible,
with respect to task, technique, epoch, and country . . . .[Only]
characteristic and well-preserved works of really good masters
should be allowed to enter the collection." ("Oberlin
Art Collection Grows in Importance," Alumni Magazine, January
1944, p. 9).
A Committee on the Purchase and Sale of Art Objects was established
within the Prudential Committee in 1940 to implement the acquisitions
policy and to oversee expenditure of Mr. Miller's gifts, as well
as other gifts and endowments that subsequently became available.
During the period from 1940 to the mid 1970's, the Allen Art Museum
emerged as one of the finest college art museums in the country.
Among the many special programs offered by or associated with the
museum, two in particular stand out for their uniqueness. In 1940,
art librarian and instructor Ellen Johnson developed an "art rental"
program in the belief that living with art is an essential means
of developing critical judgment. The program allowed students and
townspeople to rent works of art each semester for a nominal fee.
At first, the rental collection contained only reproductions. The
collection now consists of more than 300 original works of art,
including works by Picasso, Matisse, and Chagall. In 1952, the Intermuseum
Conservation Association (ICA) was founded as the nation's first
cooperative art conservation laboratory. Although the ICA has, since
its inception, been housed on the campus of Oberlin College, the
ICA has never been owned or operated by the college. An independent
alliance of eighteen museums in seven states, of which Oberlin is
a founding member, the ICA provides conservation services and historical
and technical information to its members.
Allen Memorial Art Museum has traditionally taken an active role
in promoting contemporary art. In 1951, the museum initiated a biennial
exhibition entitled "Young Americans" to showcase major contemporary
American artists. In 1982, the Ruth Coates Roush Fund for Contemporary
Art was established by the Buckeye Trust and has been used primarily
to underwrite the biennial "Young Americans" show, produce related
publications, and purchase works of art for the museum from that
show. The Buckeye Trust was established through the estate of Ruth
Coates Roush, a fine arts major in the Class of 1934 who anonymously
gave large amounts of money to the Art Museum from 1965 until her
death in 1979.
By the early 1970's, the Allen Art Museum was once again badly
in need of space and a fundraising drive was underway for the construction
of a new wing. In 1975, a benefit auction in honor of Ellen Johnson
was held at Castelli and Sonabend Galleries in New York City. The
exhibit/auction, organized by museum director Richard Spear, raised
enough money to break ground on the new addition. Ruth Roush and
her husband Galen, co-founder of Roadway Express, then gave $1.7
million toward the construction project, along with 113 works of
contemporary art, including Oldenburg's "Giant Three-way Plug."
The new wing, designed by Robert Venturi, was dedicated on January
14, 1977. It increased the museum's exhibit space by fifty percent,
adding the Ruth Coates Roush Gallery for the display of modern art
and the Clarence V. Ward Art Library.
When M. Kirby Talley, Jr., was appointed director of the Allen
Art Museum in 1984, he was the first full-time director. (In the
early decades of the Art Museum, the director also served on the
faculty of the Art Department.) Talley remained at Oberlin for less
than a year. He was succeeded by William J. Chiego in August 1985.
As director, Chiego had overall responsibility for planning and
implementing exhibits, developing educational programs, recommending
purchases to the Collections Committee, meeting with potential donors,
developing close ties with other cultural organizations in the region,
and soliciting grant support for museum programming. Under Chiego,
the Museum staff was expanded, and included a chief curator, curator
of modern art, curator of education, registrar, preparator, special
events coordinator, museum security supervisor, an administrative
assistant, two graduate interns, and a varying number of student
During the first four years of Chiego's tenure (1985-89), museum
attendance grew on average 20% to 30% annually. Grant support from
the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Endowment
for the Arts, and other agencies increased considerably. A docent
program was initiated in 1985-86 allowing volunteers to participate
in a three-hour training session and devote from three to fifteen
hours per month to conducting tours, greeting visitors, and participating
in discussions with art specialists and faculty members.
In 1987, two committees were established which marked the beginning
of a new period in the administration of the Allen Art Museum. The
Collections Committee was formed to replace the Committee on the
Purchase and Sale of Art Objects which had existed, at least in
name, since 1940. Committee members are invited to serve by the
president on the recommendation of the museum director, with a trustee
and the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences serving ex officio.
Other members are curators and art museum professionals from outside
the college with specialties in a variety of fields. The Collections
Committee role is to review and comment on proposed art purchases
and collection management policies. In addition to the Collections
Committee, a Visiting Committee composed of "distinguished men and
women from the world of visual art" acts in an advisory capacity
to the museum director and the president on matters of policy and
long-range planning (Annual Report of the President, 1986-87).
In 1991 William J. Chiego resigned as Director of the Allen Memorial
Art Museum. He was succeeded by Anne Moore as acting director. Moore
was named Director in May 1992, becoming the first woman to hold
the Director's post.
| Clarence Ward
|| 1917-49; Acting 1952-53
| Charles Percy Parkhurst
| John Spencer
|| Acting 1962-63; 1963-71
| Richard Spear
|| Acting 1971; 1972-83
| Chloe H. Young
|| Acting 1977-78, 1980
| William Olander
|| Acting, 1983-84
| M. Kirby Talley, Jr.
| Kimberlie Gumz Fixx
|| Acting 1985
| William J. Chiego
| Anne Moore
|| 1992-1995 (acting)
| Anne Moore
|| 1995-1996 (effective June 5) - resignation
effective December 31, 1996
| Marjorie E. Wieseman
|| 1997-October 1998 (acting)
| Sharon Patton
|| October 1998 - Feb. 7, 2003
||Feb. 1, 2003 - June 30, 2004 (acting)
||July 1, 2004 -
| Hazel Barker King
| Chloe Hamilton Young
|| Acting 1952-54; 1954-84
| Patricia Anne Rose
|| Acting 1959
| Elizabeth Shepard
|| Acting 1983-84
| Larry Feinberg