The Allen Celebrates 100 Years of Art for the People

“The cause of art is the cause of the people.” Those words, written by William Morris, are a maxim that the Allen Memorial Art Museum has lived by since opening on the Oberlin College campus in 1917. The letters are chiseled into stone above the front doors of the museum building designed by Cass Gilbert. Like its Cleveland counterpart, the Allen has always been free to the public.


In the coming academic year, the Allen will celebrate its centennial with exhibitions, speakers, and a symposium related to its history and the growth of its collection, which now comprises more than 15,000 items. “We’ll be showing the most important, enduring, and popular works in the museum’s care, as well as highlighting the people who shaped our history,” said Museum Director Andria Derstine. For example, Derstine has curated an exhibition titled Maidenform to Modernism: The Bissett Collection that presents 24 works—all given by co-founders of a company which, in the 1920s, introduced a new kind of brassiere—that form the core of the Allen’s modern European collection. Joseph and Enid Bissett donated many superstars of the museum collection: paintings by Chagall, Matisse, Modigliani, Picasso, and others, along with paintings and drawings by Dubuffet and Miró.

Another exhibition celebrates the legacy of Ellen Johnson, whose career as an art history professor at Oberlin—in addition to her friendships with emerging artists of the 1960s and 70s—helped to build the Allen’s contemporary art collection. Organized by Andrea Gyorody, the newly arrived Ellen Johnson ’33 Assistant Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, This is Your Art: The Legacy of Ellen Johnson presents more than 50 works by artists Jim Dine, Eva Hesse, Sol LeWitt, Roy Lichtenstein, Agnes Martin, Claes Oldenburg, Frank Stella, Andy Warhol, and others.

Two exhibitions of Asian art focus on collectors who gave works to the Allen, including Clevelander Charles F. Olney, whose eclectic purchases filled his Cleveland home, which in the late 19th century became the city’s first art gallery. Another collector was Elisabeth Severance Allen Prentiss, who founded the museum in memory of her first husband, Dr. Dudley Peter Allen. A Century of Asian Art at Oberlin: Chinese Painting presents three major genres: landscape, bird and flower, and figure painting. A second exhibition features paintings and manuscripts from Persia and South Asia, along with silken prayer rugs. Both shows were organized by Kevin R.E. Greenwood, the Allen’s Joan L. Danforth Curator of Asian Art.

A Century of Women in Prints, 1917–2017 illustrates the achievements of women artists in the once male-dominated realm of printmaking. Works made by women during the museum’s first 100 years span such movements as expressionism, surrealism, abstract expressionism, and minimalism. They address issues of history, identity, social justice, and creativity. The exhibition was curated by Andaleeb Badiee Banta, curator of European and American art.


Allen Memorial Art Museum

87 North Main St.

Oberlin, Ohio 44074





A CENTURY OF WOMEN IN PRINTS, 1917–2017 August 8–December 17, 2017

A CENTURY OF ASIAN ART AT OBERLIN June 6–December 10, 2017

HOURS: Tuesday to Saturday 10 AM–5 PM; Sunday 1–5 PM; closed Mondays