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 The Annual Clarence Ward Birthday Party and Student Exhibitions

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Who was Clarence Ward and why do we celebrate his birthday?

Clarence Ward was the major force behind art education at Oberlin College during the first half of the 20th century. We are reviving the tradition of celebrating his birthday, which was an annual event when he was at Oberlin. He had so many roles at Oberlin that it's hard to say enough about his influence on the College and the town.

Clarence Ward was born in 1884 in Brooklyn, New York, but spent most of his childhood in New England. He received his A.B., A.M. and Ph.D. all from Princeton, the latter in 1914. He was hired by Oberlin College in 1916 (actually arriving on campus in 1917) and taught there until his retirement in 1947.

Teacher — Clarence Ward is best remembered for his teaching, and he clearly believed this was his most important role. He was an inspiring teacher, opening the eyes of his students to see art, architecture and the world in a new way. In the early years he was the only degreed Art Historian at Oberlin, so the majority of Art History courses fell on his shoulders (he taught seven courses in 1916–17). By necessity he could teach any period of art, but his passion was Medieval and American architecture.

Founder of the Art Library — One of the first things Clarence Ward did when he arrived at Oberlin College in 1917 was to found an Art Library. He then used his considerable energy to build the collection, creatively allocating funds and cleverly timing his purchases. By mid-century the library had grown to almost 25,000 volumes and was one of the largest Art Libraries in the country.

Chair of the Art Department — As Chair, Clarence Ward oversaw the arrival of some of the brightest stars in Art History (e.g., Wolfgang Stechow, Ellen Johnson, etc.), creating a national reputation for the Art Department.

Director of the Museum — When Clarence Ward arrived in 1917, the Allen Memorial Art Museum was just being completed. For many years there was little growth in the collection due to lack of funds. His energy and enthusiasm soon proved contagious, and gifts of art and money turned the situation around. When he retired in 1947 the museum had a reputation as one of the finest college museums west of the Alleghenies.

Architect — Clarence Ward's love of architecture was not a mere intellectual exercise; he was also a practicing architect. The Oberlin College President's House (the Samuel R. Williams house on Forest Street), the 1937 wing to the Museum and the East Oberlin Community Church are a few of his more notable projects.

Pastor — Founding member and pastor of East Oberlin Community Church, Clarence Ward was beloved by generations of parishioners and especially appreciated for his children's sermons. Years after his retirement he was frequently asked to perform weddings and other ceremonies by members of the church. He also designed the church and a later addition.

Barbara Q. Prior
Head, Clarence Ward Art Library


Last updated:
February 28, 2014