Oberlin Blogs

How I Acquired a 15th Century German Manuscript

September 15, 2019

Ruth Bieber-Stanley ’21

Art rental is a treasured Oberlin tradition. Each semester, hundreds of determined Obies huddle in the courtyard of the Allen Memorial Art Museum at times of the day where humans don’t normally emerge, all to secure beautiful pieces of art for just 5 dollars each. While I knew about art rental before arriving at Oberlin (through, among others, this post, which comes from a favorite past blogger of mine and also describes the house I currently live in!), I didn’t ever participate before this semester, partly because the logistics of it were confusing and elusive, and partly because I didn’t find friends to do it with.

Art rental is astronomically more fun if you do it with at least one other person, and this year my friend Monica from Tank asked me if I wanted to join her! I hadn’t planned to get any art, and my room was already sufficiently decorated, but I figured why not? Art rental is truly an Oberlin bucket list item, and I was thrilled to be able to participate!

This year, the schedule of art rental was actually posted, making the event a lot more accessible and clear, which is partly why I decided to do it. My journey began on Friday morning, when I woke up at 6:15 AM for a 7 AM yoga class in the main gym on campus and stumbled down the stairs, encountering a Tank tasty things maker in the kitchen, whipping up a batch of cinnamon buns. I rushed out the door and biked quickly to the Allen courtyard, which was already filled with Obies waiting to write their names on the list.

The especially motivated among us get there as early as 5:30 AM, which is a brilliant strategy if you can manage to roll out of bed that early. A Tank friend got there then and managed to leave art rental with BOTH a Toulouse-Lautrec and a Miró. I arrived at 7:50, which was a rookie mistake, because the line was already quite long. Luckily, I asked a friend to write my name down for me because I didn’t want to be late for yoga, and he kindly obliged me. I was about 75th in a line of over 300 people, a location I was totally satisfied with.

allen sunrise
Sunrise in the Allen courtyard (picture creds: Sophie Aaron)

Once your name is on the art rental list, there are a number of check-in points throughout the night. You can send a proxy once, and miss one check-in, but if you miss more than one, you lose your place on the list altogether.  The check-ins were at 7 PM, 10 PM, and midnight. There was an optional 3 AM check-in, which most people don’t go to, but there’s also a costume contest at that check-in where you have the opportunity to skip to the front of the line.

Someone in Tank went as van Gogh’s Starry Night (i.e. the painting itself), complete with a cardboard cutout of van Gogh, which is currently propped up in the hallway. After a dinner of delicious vegan calzones in Harkness (a co-op many of my friends are in), I biked over to the Allen with Monica for the first check-in, which was successful. I went back to Tank to look over the list of the available pieces so I would have some ideas about what I might want to pick out.

Before the 10 PM check-in, I went to the first contra dance of the year in Hales Gym, a social dance event with live music. I love contra because it’s open to the broader community, and people of all ages and genders come. In one night you could find yourself dancing with an 8-year-old child, a grandfather, and a fellow skirt-wearing Obie. I left contra very sweaty (where is my autumnal weather???), and proceeded to become even more damp when I biked in the rain to the next check-in, where everyone filed into an empty gallery space since it was unreasonably wet outside. Between the 10 PM and midnight check-ins, I joined a few friends in their room for the first installment of what will become a weekly Avatar the Last Airbender watch party.

I biked sleepily to the Allen for the last check-in of the night, where I met up with Monica, who had become decked out in multicolored glow sticks since last I’d seen her. It was still wet, but no longer raining, and the giant full moon (on Friday the 13th!) was intermittently visible through the shifting cloud cover. I went back to Tank and was in bed by 1 AM.  Even though it was a long night for me, it was a lot of fun, and a great reminder that my Oberlin experience is really what I make of it, and that there is something here for everyone!

Allen courtyard filled with Obies for the 7 PM check-in


Any event with lots of Obies = so many bikes! Monica and I locked ours together


Van Gogh
Van Gogh painting from costume contest in the hallway of Tank


The next morning, after my 7 AM alarm crudely woke me, I stumbled downstairs again, hastily made myself some tea, which I poured haphazardly into a mason jar, grabbed two apples from the walk-in fridge, and speed-walked to the courtyard for the final check-in and art selection! Monica arrived and had brought vegan cookie dough, which we snacked on as we waited in line. It was really lovely to get to the Allen early. The sky was pink on the edges, it was cool, and the courtyard began to fill with very sleepy Obies, who all looked very cozy. There was something so special about the line. At a school where people can be concerned with their image and expressing their individuality, it was so refreshing to see so many Obies there, being so disarmed and sleepy and not caring about anything except the art. 

Once the line began, things really started getting exciting. People were admitted in groups of five and got a certain amount of time to select up to two pieces, which are all lined up on the floor of the upper floor of the museum. Standing at the door is so much fun, because as you wait you can see people exit, holding their art with pure jubilation on their faces! Of course, you’ll probably hear “Damn it, that person took the Chagall I wanted,” but it’s all part of the fun!

Once I got into the hallways with all the art, I felt a little overwhelmed, because there were still a lot of options left! I’m lucky I can say this, because art rental actually ran out of art this year, and some people couldn’t get any, something that doesn't usually happen. But once I entered the halls, I started looking for pieces I recognized from my quick search through the website database.

The first piece I picked up was actually the piece I ended up with in the end. I have a German manuscript page from 1490! Yes! The 15th century, people! This is not a drill! It’s not the most fun or most beautiful piece of art ever, and I don’t usually go for the Christian art, but the piece was personally and historically significant, and I definitely felt an adrenaline rush after I paid my $5 and walked out with an ancient document in my hands, framed and wrapped in plastic. Now every time I sit at my desk in my room, I look up and see a 500-year-old manuscript about a Christian martyr on my wall and I feel so inspired and erudite! Living my best academic and artistic life! 

Monica and ruth
A sleepy Monica and Ruth with our mason jars at the 7:30 AM check-in


obie footwear
Monica's and my feet at the art rental line! Note the birkenstocks with socks and the chacos


ruth with art
Me exiting the main gallery with my piece! My face says it all! (picture creds: Monica)


ruth selfie
Me, serenely geeking out with my face right next to a 500-year old German manuscript


So, if you’re wondering if art rental is for you, I say DO IT!!! I can’t say how fun it was to finally take part in this iconic Oberlin tradition. Definitely do it with friends, and definitely do some research so you get a piece you’re really happy with! And, if you’re so inclined, dress up as an artist (or the art) and get to the front of that line to get a Picasso, baby (blogger Sarah got both a coveted Picasso AND a Miró one year!).

Regardless of how you do art rental, it’s definitely something every Obie should do at least once in their college career. Only 5 dollars for a semester of beautiful art on your dorm room wall! Only 5 dollars for a good time and for all the lovely memories! 

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