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From the Director / Spring 2023

January 30, 2023

From the Director / Spring 2023

January 30, 2023

It is a pleasure to address you here in the opening pages of the debut issue of the museum’s semiannual magazine, newly-designed in a larger, more inviting, and more informative format than that of the past.

The redesign was masterminded by Stacie Ross, who joined the museum’s staff in August as Communications Manager. In addition to her reconceptualization of print materials, Stacie has already made significant contributions to our marketing strategies and to the presentation of information both inside and outside the museum’s walls. I know you will enjoy reading about—and, given that we are a visual arts institution, seeing, through more and better images—what’s happening at the Allen, in this issue and in those to come.

As 2023 gets underway, so too does work as part of the museum’s new strategic plan, a living document that sets out our institutional direction during the next five years. The plan was conceptualized during the past two years with input from the entire museum staff, as well as from the Visiting Committee, students, faculty, College staff and alumni, volunteers, community partners, and members of our broader public, ably assisted by a specialized consultant and with the guidance and support of Dean David Kamitsuka. I will share with you more in future issues about this work, which aims to center inquiry, collaboration, and care in all that we do—while naturally supporting the experience of Oberlin College students and engaging with our visitors (whether they visit us in person, or virtually). As part of the plan, we are also looking ahead to envisage future growth of the museum, as we communicate its impact and seek to ensure its long-term sustainability. You, our supporters and visitors, will be key partners with us, and we are grateful for your sustained interest in the museum’s programs, outreach, and future.

Among the activities we have set for ourselves in the new plan is to continue to collect strategically, to acquire artworks that expand the stories we can tell, and that represent the rich diversity of the world’s artists and cultures. This is, in fact, something the Allen has been doing since its founding. Thanks to the collecting habits of 19th-century Oberlin College alumni, including Charles Martin Hall, and major donors Charles Olney and Charles Lang Freer, the earliest works to enter the collection were predominantly Asian; African and Indigenous American works also have been present, and have been consistently acquired, since our founding. The first works accessioned into the collection that we know to be by women artists came as part of the 1904 Olney bequest, paintings by Julie Hart Beers and Helen Elizabeth King. In 1915, the museum received a gift of Rookwood pottery, including some works decorated by Harriet Elizabeth Wilcox, and in 1919 the museum made its first known purchase of a work by a woman, a sculpture by Janet Scudder. That same year, the museum received a painting by Emma Ciardi, and in 1921 a work by Julia Severance, who was born in Oberlin and studied at the College. In the 1930s, acquisitions by women artists continued apace, with works by Frieda Salvendy, Käthe Kollwitz, Clare Leighton, Doris Lee, Peggy Bacon, Anna Vaughn Hyatt Huntington, Angèle Watson, Mary Cassatt, Enella Benedict, Lucienne Bloch, Mily Possoz, and Pop Chalee entering the collection, along with those by lesser-known Amelia Schlosser and Rosalie James.

In recent years, we have made it even more of a priority to acquire works by women—especially, when we can, from periods and cultures in which it is sadly rarer to find them. Older European oil paintings by women artists have not been well-represented in the Allen’s collection—for many years, the only one was the Double Portrait of a Boy and Girl of the Attavanti Family by Sofonisba Anguissola, from the 1580s, a gift in 1961 from the Samuel H. Kress Foundation. In 2016, the Allen acquired The Crucified Christ, signed and dated 1652 by Spanish artist María Josefa Sánchez, and we were thrilled to acquire Giovanna Garzoni’s Portrait of Zaga Christ (not an oil painting, but a miniature in watercolor and bodycolor) in 2021. Now we are delighted to further add to our holdings through a new acquisition, Self-Portrait with Straw Hat and Palette by French painter Marie-Elisabeth Lemoine (1761-1811), recently installed in the Willard-Newell Gallery. Lemoine was among the students of Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun (1755–1842), perhaps the best-known female artist at the end of the 18th century, when women painters were beginning to have more opportunities, though still woefully fewer than men. In this work, Lemoine depicts herself in front of her canvas, palette and brushes in hand. The precise meaning of her gesture towards her painting table is unclear, but she certainly draws our attention, proudly, to her tools. Lemoine’s paintings, along with those of her three sisters and female cousin, all artists, are only recently becoming better known, and we look forward to continuing research on this and other less-studied works.

Just in looking through this magazine, and at the themes of current exhibitions—as well as a few other new acquisitions, pictured on the back cover—you’ll be able to appreciate the diversity of the Allen’s holdings, and the great pride our curators and other staff take in collecting broadly, and in presenting timely, topical stories and varied viewpoints through the works entrusted to our care and the programs we put forth. We hope you’ll come to the museum soon to experience all that the Allen offers. And as ever, we thank you for your support.

Andria Derstine
John G. W. Cowles Director

Images:

Marie-Elisabeth Lemoine (French, 1761–1811), Self-Portrait with Straw Hat and Palette, ca. 1790–95. Oil on canvas. R. T. Miller Jr. Fund, 2022.23.

Sofonisba Anguissola (Italian, ca. 1532–1625), Double Portrait of a Boy and Girl of the Attavanti Family, 1580s. Oil on panel. Gift of the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, 1961.84.

María Josefa Sánchez (Spanish, active mid-17th century), The Crucified Christ, 1652. Oil on cross-shaped panel. Oberlin Friends of Art Fund, 2016.31.

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Allen Memorial Art Museum Closed for the Summer

Starting May 27, the Allen Memorial Art Museum will close for the summer in the lead up to the completion of Oberlin College and Conservatory's Sustainable Infrastructure Program (SIP). Learn More