Jefferson Architecture Collection
When Clarence Ward, Oberlin’s first director of the Allen Memorial Art Museum and first art professor with a
doctorate, arrived in 1916 one of his priorities was to found an art library in what is now the museum’s East Gallery. Inspired by his friend I.T. Frary—the architectural critic, historian, photographer and author of Thomas Jefferson, architect and builder (Richmond, 1931)—Ward looked to Thomas Jefferson’s library as a model. Although he had more contemporary resources available, the painstaking process of reconstructing Jefferson’s library was a means of pulling together an authoritative basis for modern artistic and technical knowledge about architecture, landscape, decorative and mechanical arts, and fine arts.
When he retired from the college in 1949, the library, now in the second-floor gallery, had grown to nearly 25,000 books, prints and photographs; the Jefferson Architecture Collection had grown to 46 volumes and was housed in a seminar room dedicated to the study of American architecture. The Oberlin College Library continues to expand the Jefferson Architecture Collection; in 2017 it includesall but a handful of the 62 books in Fiske Kimball’s bibliography Thomas Jefferson, Architect. published in 1916 when Clarence Ward began building the Jefferson collection that sameyear, and it has been relied upon by subsequent art librarians for the past 100 years. Today Oberlin’s replica collection is certainly the finest such collection outside of the Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library at Columbia University.
(John Harwood, PHD, University of Toronoto)