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Museum History

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Museum History

When Oscar Jacobson (1882-1966) became director of the School of Art in 1915, there was only one art class on campus. Supplies for drawing and painting were scarce, and sculpting materials non-existent. Though a few wealthy families had private collections, there were no art museums or collections in the state available to the public, and the art center nearest to Norman was as far afield as St. Louis. Undaunted by these challenges, Jacobson envisioned an art school which would nurture its students to develop to their fullest potential.

In 1936, with the acquisition of a large collection of East Asian art (750 objects), the generous gift of Lew Wentz and Gordon Matzene, the University of Oklahoma Museum of Art was officially founded and Jacobson was named its director. By this time, Jacobson had already collected more than 2,500 works of art for the university. The new museum's first galleries were in what is now Jacobson Hall. In 1948, the permanent collection was further embellished with the purchase of the so-called State Department Collection, comprised of 36 paintings from the exhibition Advancing American Art and including major works by artists such as Stuart Davis, Georgia O'Keeffe, and Edward Hopper.

Jacobson's vision of a permanent facility to house the art finally came to fruition in 1971, when Mr. and Mrs. Fred Jones of Oklahoma City donated a fine arts building to the university in memory of their son, Fred Jones, Jr., who had died in an airplane crash during his senior year at the University of Oklahoma. The resulting structure, the Fred Jones Jr. Memorial Art Center, housed the Museum of Art, which contains 15,000 square feet of exhibition space, the School of Art, and the administrative offices of the College of Fine Arts. In 1992, the Museum of Art was re-designated the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art.

Over the years, the museum's permanent collection has grown exponentially through the generosity of donors such as Max Weitzenhoffer and Jerome M. Westheimer Sr. In 1996, with an initial gift of $1 million from Mrs. Fred Jones, OU President and Mrs. David L. Boren spearheaded a successful fundraising campaign to acquire the important collection of the late Richard H. and Adeline J. Fleischaker, which is composed primarily of Native American and Southwestern art.

2000 was a watershed year in the development of the FJJMA's collections, with the gift of the Weitzenhoffer Collection of French Impressionism, which consists of 33 works of art by Degas, Gauguin, Monet, Pissarro, Renoir, Toulouse-Lautrec, Van Gogh, Vuillard, and others. It is the most important collection of French Impressionism ever given to an American public university. The gift came to the university at the bequest of Clara Weitzenhoffer, an art collector and longtime University of Oklahoma supporter.

Lester Wing

In 2005, the museum opened a new addition, designed by acclaimed architect Hugh Newell Jacobsen of Washington, D.C.  Named in honor of Mary and Howard Lester of San Francisco, the wing added more than 34,000 square feet to the earlier 27,000-square-foot building.  The Lester Wing features galleries for the Weitzenhoffer Collection, additional galleries, a 150-seat auditorium, an orientation room, a classroom, a museum store, and a new main entrance.  Jacobsen designed the Lester Wing as a sequence of limestone pavilions having pyramidal slate roofs with glass skylights at their apexes.  The building features an abundance of natural light, pure geometries, clarity of plan, and well-proportioned, top-lighted galleries that have an intimate, human scale.  The resulting serene, contemplative spaces put the visitor in the proper frame of mind for viewing works of art.

The Adkins Foundation Board announced in July 2007 that the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art and the Philbrook Museum of Art in Tulsa had been jointly selected to steward the Eugene B. Adkins Collection. The joint partnership by OU and the Philbrook was among many proposals submitted by leading museums across the country.

The Adkins Collection, which is valued at approximately $50 million, features approximately 3,300 objects, including more than 400 paintings by such distinguished American artists as Maynard Dixon, Worthington Whittridge, Andrew Dasburg, Alfred Jacob Miller, Victor Higgins, Charles M. Russell, Nicolai Fechin, John Marin, William R. Leigh, Leon Gaspard, and Joseph H. Sharp. The collection also includes impressive examples of Native American paintings, pottery, and jewelry by such famed Native American artists as Jerome Tiger, Maria Martinez, and Charles Loloma.

In spring 2010, Arizona-based James T. Bialac decided to give his private collection to OU because of the university’s commitment to excellence in education. The multimillion-dollar collection of more than 4,500 works represents indigenous cultures across North America, especially the Pueblos of the Southwest, the Navajo, the Hopi, many of the tribes of the Northern and Southern Plains, and the Southeastern tribes. Included in the James T. Bialac Native American Art Collection are approximately 2,600 paintings and works on paper, more than 1,000 kachinas, and 400 works of varying media, including ceramics and jewelry, representing major Native artists such as Fred Kabotie, Awa Tsireh, Fritz Scholder, Joe Herrera, Allan Houser, Jerome Tiger, Tonita Peña, Helen Hardin, Pablita Velarde, George Morrison, Richard “Dick” West, Patrick DesJarlait and Pop Chalee.

stuart wing

The Stuart Wing, which opened in October 2011, provides a new 18,000-square-foot expansion of the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art to house the museum’s many collections acquired within the past 15 years. Designed by noted architect Rand Elliott, the addition is named to honor a $3 million lead gift from the Stuart Family Foundation made possible by the generosity of OU Regent Jon R. Stuart and his wife, Dee Dee, a member of the art museum’s board of visitors. Construction on the new wing began in 2009 and includes renovations to the original 1971 building and the addition of the Eugene B. Adkins Gallery, a new photography/works on paper gallery, and new administrative offices. In all, the new Stuart Wing, with renovations, includes 27,480 square feet of exhibition space. Combining that with the 2005 Lester Wing’s 12,106 square footage, the total museum exhibition space, is approximately 40,000 square feet.

Fred Jones Jr. enrolled as a student at the University of Oklahoma following his service in World War II. Though he was slated to graduate in 1951, the Business Administration senior’s love of flying led to his untimely death when the small plane he was piloting crashed in 1950.

Jones was the son of Mr. and Mrs. Fred Jones, pioneer Oklahoma City business and civic leaders. In order to enhance the cultural life of the OU campus and to give students an opportunity to view outstanding works of art, Mr. and Mrs. Jones decided to honor their son by contributing funds to build the art museum and the new School of Art building.

The University of Oklahoma Museum of Art was originally established in 1936 in what is now Jacobson Hall, which honored the museum’s founding director Oscar B. Jacobson. The new museum opened in 1971 as the Fred Jones Jr. Memorial Art Center. Over a long period, Mrs. Fred Jones, Sr. played a leading role in expanding the museum’s collections and actively serving on the museum’s Board of Visitors. In 1992, the Museum of Art was re-designated the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art.

Members of the Jones family and multiple generations of the Fred Jones Family Foundation are actively involved in the planning of the museum’s present and future.