What do you get when you cross an artistically-gifted Benedictine monk, the Oklahoma land run and a desire to bring the world’s art and history to a new frontier homeland? You get the treasure that is the Mabee-Gerrer Museum of Art in Shawnee, one of the oldest museums in the state. The museum features works you’ll find in art history books, artwork and artifacts that would be at home in any of the world’s prestigious museums.
Answering His Calling
Robert Francis Xavier Gerrer, a talented artist and musician, immigrated with his family from Launtenbach, France, to Missouri in 1872. Gerrer headed to Oklahoma when he learned of the 1891 land rush.
After developing a friendship with Abbot Thomas Duperou, Superior of the Benedictine community at Sacred Heart Mission, Oklahoma, Gerrer joined the priesthood. By 1892, Gerrer became Brother Gregory, his religious name after receiving his Benedictine habit.
Bringing the World to Shawnee
Recognizing his artistic talent, a visiting abbot offered to send Brother Gregory to Europe to study art. During a 1903 mission trip to the Holy Land, the now-ordained Father Gregory was given a small Egyptian scarab with a goose hieroglyph—the symbol for “A.” This artifact was the beginning of an extensive collection.
Father Gregory realized that his work and study of art allowed him to travel to places that many others may never get a chance to experience, so he set out on a mission to bring the world to Oklahoma. So, as he traveled the world, Father Gregory brought back the history and art of distant places.
The result is a museum-quality collection so large and diverse (over 6,000 items) that only five to 10 percent can be displayed at any one time, according to Dane Pollei, Director and Chief Curator of the museum.
Located on the campus of St. Gregory’s University, the museum opened in 1919 and includes artifacts and artwork from Father Gregory’s extensive travels—including items from Egypt, Greece, Rome and Asia.
“Our Egyptian collection is considered by many experts to be one of the best between Chicago and Los Angeles,” said Pollei, Haven taken tours of museums in these areas, I agree. How amazing to see Egyptian artifacts unearthed from 6,000 years ago and imagine the hands that molded them. Of course, what is an Egyptian exhibit without mummies and tomb artifacts? No disappointment here. Not something I expected as part of a permanent display in the heartland—which was exactly Father Gregory’s goal, according to his biographical display.
The Egyptian exhibit is not the only collection that gives the Mabee-Gerrer Museum its “Oklahoma treasure” status. As Pollei points out, most medieval collections are only found in Europe, but the Mabee-Gerrer boasts Medieval, Baroque and Renaissance works. Also, according to Pollei, Mabee-Gerrer is the only museum in the state to have art on permanent loan from the Arthur M. Sackler Foundation, a renowned non-profit art institution in New York City.
Father Gregory’s goal to educate is alive and well at Mabee-Gerrer. Displays have written descriptions that explain the purpose and origin of each artifact. Everything from the shrunken heads of early South American tribes (the kids seem to find these especially fascinating) to Father Gregory’s own art (a larger-than-life, original, portrait of Pope Pius X painted by Gerrer that won a medal at the 1904 World’s Fair) to contemporary art is exhibited.
The museum also offers a number of outreach programs to continue Father Gregory’s educational objective. These programs include art camps, classes and internships. Volunteer opportunities are also available.
Plan your visit:
The Mabee-Gerrer Museum of Art
1900 W MacArthur Dr, Shawnee
Open Tuesday-Saturday, 10:00am-5:00pm; Sunday 1:00-5:00pm
Admission $5 adults, $4 seniors, $3 students with valid ID and children ages 5-17. Free for children under age 5.
405-878-5300 or www.mgmoa.org
Take advantage of the downloadable resources (www.mgmoa.org/family-activities) before you visit:
• The Family Guide includes a treasure hunt, tips for exploring artwork and an art interpretation activity.
• The Self-guided tour download offers museum etiquette tips plus background information on some of the museum’s more popular works.
• After your visit, check out the Art Projects link to make sculptures and projects at home based on the museum’s collections.
Current and upcoming exhibits:
Through October 23
Magical Mystery Masks: The Art of G. Patrick Riley features an exhibit of masks by this Oklahoma artist and art educator.
Kids at Heart: MGMoA Regional 2012 features an exhibit of art created by the creative and talented hands of local young aspiring artists.
December 9-January 22, 2012
The Nativity: Etchings from the 16th and 17th Centuries features early etchings depicting the birth of Christ by artists such as Peter Paul Rubens, Rembrandt and Albrech Durer.
Karen Mitchell, a lifelong resident of the Oklahoma City metro area, lives in Edmond with her husband Mark, teenage son, Ryan, and one spoiled Welsh corgi. Daughter Megan attends OSU in Stillwater.