Spring Director's Letter

Commemorating the centennial of the Allen Memorial Art Museum has been the happy aim of our staff, community members, and friends during the past months, and we look forward to continued celebrations this spring. The exhibitions presented this academic year have been informed by the museum’s history, and I’m especially pleased that from February to May the AMAM will host Lines of Inquiry: Learning from Rembrandt’s Etchings. Co-organized by the AMAM and the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art at Cornell University, this loan exhibition celebrates not only the rich learning opportunities artworks provide in an academic environment but also an important episode in the AMAM’s past. From 1942 to 1944 the museum provided a secret sanctuary for the Rembrandt etchings held by New York’s Morgan Library, at a time when coastal museums feared bombardment or invasion. The AMAM’s custodianship of these works enabled scholarly research by an Oberlin student, Louise Richards (MA, OC ’44), who went on to become the chief curator of prints and drawings at the Cleveland Museum of Art. Promoting use of original works of art of the highest quality in teaching has been at the heart of our mission for 100 years, and the present exhibition both celebrates and continues that tradition. Co-curated by Andaleeb Badiee Banta, the AMAM’s curator of European and American art, and Andrew C. Weislogel, a curator at the Johnson, the exhibition and its catalogue present new research on Rembrandt and his practice, including scientific study of the paper he used. The etchings in the exhibition greatly reward close looking, and I hope you will have the chance to enjoy it in person in the coming months.

We began our centennial celebrations in May 2017, and among the many events of the year a dinner, afterglow reception, and symposium in early October were highlights—all complemented by a terrific video focused on the museum’s long history of teaching. We have a full slate of programs planned for spring 2018, with our celebratory year culminating on May 3 with a Purchase Party open to all. Concurrent with our AMAM celebrations has been our focus on Frank Lloyd Wright, as we’ve marked the 150th anniversary of his birth, and we’re excited, too, to host a third event related to Wright—and to the AMAM’s own history—on April 8, when curator Andrea Gyorody will speak about Ellen Johnson’s art collection that was formerly installed in the Weltzheimer/Johnson House.

The summer months, too, will see no shortage of new exhibitions and new ways of engaging with the community, including an installation focused on a newly acquired painting by African American artist Henry Ossawa Tanner and exhibitions that are part of the new contemporary art triennial FRONT International. Conceived by longtime AMAM supporter Fred Bidwell (OC ’74), FRONT opens on July 14 at venues throughout northeast Ohio, including the AMAM and the Weltzheimer/Johnson House. Andrea Gyorody heads up coordination of these exciting projects, which in Oberlin will highlight work by distinguished artists Barbara Bloom and Juan Araujo.

As ever, the staff and I continue to pursue many outside funding opportunities from foundations and organizations, and I’m very pleased that through curator Kevin Greenwood’s efforts one of the museum’s painted screens is being conserved by staff at the National Museum of Korea. And, through generous support of an Andrew W. Mellon Foundation grant awarded in December 2016, the AMAM and the Oberlin College Libraries are engaging in numerous planning efforts to explore ways to expand curricular connections between the institutions. Focus groups of faculty members, students, and staff have provided insight into current joint initiatives and areas in which expanded collaboration would be useful, while consultants with expertise in curricular or technical areas are assessing current practices and making recommendations for future development. Teams of museum and library staff are also visiting other institutions to explore effective models of collaboration. These planning efforts provide a foundation for the future, and the AMAM is thankful to the Mellon Foundation and to colleagues at the libraries for making this work possible.

In addition to our work to secure grants, the Second Century Campaign that was launched last year to provide support for the museum’s future programs, infrastructure, staff, and holdings has generated a tremendous response. Galvanized by an extraordinarily generous pledge of $500,000 from an anonymous donor, we aim to equal that amount with donations totaling $500,000 from other supporters, to reach our goal of $1 million—or $10,000 for every year of the museum’s existence. I’m very pleased to report that we have raised more than 60 percent of our goal. Many of the donations will be used to shore up museum endowments in such areas as acquisitions, conservation, and publications, while others will be used for current projects, including our robust series of public programs and our inspiring, educational exhibitions. If you would like to learn more about making a donation to the museum as it embarks upon its next century, please contact me—and if you have already donated, please know that the staff and I are enormously grateful for your support.

Andria Derstine
John G. W. Cowles Director