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Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College
87 North Main Street, Oberlin, OH 44074
440.775.8665

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Tuesday — Friday 10:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.
Saturday 1:00 p.m. - 5:00 p.m.
Monday, Sunday Closed

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The Allen presents changing exhibitions along with engaging guest speakers and public programs.

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Art at the AMAM

The Allen's collection is particularly strong in 17th century Dutch and Flemish painting, Japanese prints, early modern art, African art, and more.

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Coiling Dragon Conservation Project

September 6, 2022

Coiling Dragon Conservation Project

September 6, 2022

Last week, one of the Allen’s most popular and recognizable works, the large, bronze Coiling Dragon sculpture, went off view for the rest of the academic year. But why?

The reason is connected to a little-known secret. What the museum has long called Coiling Dragon was only a part of a much larger sculpture. Click through the historical photographs shown to see the complete work.

You can see that the dragon was just the base of a larger work, a type of Japanese decorative sculpture called a kōro 香炉, or incense burner. Originally made for Buddhist temples—large, ornate incense burners like this one were later created for the dynamic and lucrative export market. The magnificent arts exported from Japan during this period led to what was called the “Japan Craze” in Europe and North America which inspired artists such as Monet, Cassatt, and Van Gogh.

The photos show the incense burner in the Olney Art Gallery in Cleveland, the art collection of Charles and Abigail Olney that was the first art museum in the city, open to the public a few days a week. The large Olney collection was donated to Oberlin College in 1904 after Charles Olney’s death.

Perhaps because the upper urn section was slightly damaged, at some point after the opening of the Allen Memorial Art Museum in 1917, it was decided to put the upper sections in storage and to turn the dragon base into a fountain for the center of the rear courtyard. Generations of Oberlin students remember the dragon fountain as the focal point for this serene, cloistered space between the museum and Ward Art Building.

The dragon was not designed as a fountain, and decades of freezing and thawing led to damage to the bronze. In 1994, the Allen received a grant from the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation to repair and restore the dragon base, and the dragon was returned to the galleries as an independent work of sculpture.

The Allen is in the beginning stages of exploring a full restoration of the entire work. So, although the Coiling Dragon will be missed, look for periodic updates on the project, and be prepared for its spectacular return!

Author: Kevin R. E. Greenwood

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Japanese, Coiling Dragon, late 19th century. Bronze. Gift of Charles F. Olney, 1904.723A-C.

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