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The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture


The origin of the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art dates to the 1920s, when Oscar B. Jacobson (1882–1966) began collecting art for the University of Oklahoma (OU) even before the establishment of the art museum on the university campus in Norman. Jacobson, director of the OU School of Art and himself a painter, strongly believed that first-hand encounters with original works of art were an important component of any well-rounded education.

In 1936, with a gift of Asian art from Ponca City residents Lew Wentz and Gordon Matzene, the university officially founded its art museum and named Jacobson as director. Until his retirement in 1950 he continued to acquire fine art for the museum and to promote the work of American Indian artists, especially the group known as the Kiowa Five, who studied at OU. One of Jacobson's most significant contributions was arranging for the 1948 purchase of 36 of the 117 American paintings and watercolors comprising the controversial exhibition Advancing American Art, sponsored by the U.S. Department of State. From this show the museum acquired paintings by Edward Hopper, Georgia O'Keeffe, Romare Bearden, and others.

In 1971 Mr. and Mrs. Fred Jones of Oklahoma City donated funds for the construction of a museum building on campus in memory of their son, Fred Jones, Jr., who died in a plane crash during his senior year at OU. Over the years the museum's permanent collection has experienced exceptional growth through the generosity of donors such as Ellen and Richard Sandor, Max Weitzenhoffer, and the Jerome Westheimer family. In 1996 OU President David L. Boren and his wife, Molly Shi Boren, spearheaded a fundraising campaign to acquire for the museum the Fleischaker Collection, composed primarily of American Indian and Southwestern art. In 2003 William H. Thams of Midland, Texas, gave the museum thirty major works by Taos artists in memory of his wife, Roxanne.

The museum's collections continued to expand in the twenty-first century. Following the Thams Collection came the 2004 gift of twelve additional Taos paintings from Priscilla C. and Joseph Tate of Tulsa. Together, the Fleischaker, Tate, and Thams collections give the university exceptional representations of Southwestern art. The American Indian collection also grew dramatically with the 2003 acquisition of the R. E. Mansfield Collection, which was divided equally between the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art and the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C.

The year 2000 brought a windfall with the gift of the Weitzenhoffer Collection, which consists of thirty-three works of art by Degas, Gauguin, Monet, Pissarro, Renoir, Toulouse-Lautrec, Van Gogh, and others. The donation, from longtime OU supporter Clara Weitzenhoffer, has been described as the most important collection of French Impressionism ever given to an American public university. In 2003 the museum closed for a major expansion. Named for OU benefactors Mary and Howard Lester of San Francisco, a thirty-four-thousand-square-foot wing more than doubled the size of the facility. The Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art reopened in January 2005.

Eric M. Lee


George Lynn Cross, The Seeds of Excellence, The Story of the University of Oklahoma Foundation, Inc. (Norman, Okla.: Transcript Press, 1986).

Eric McCauly Lee and Rima Canaan, The Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art at the University of Oklahoma: Selected Works (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2004).

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The following (as per The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition) is the preferred citation for articles:
Eric M. Lee, “Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art,” The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry?entry=FR010.

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