AMAM Ceiling Conservation

by Oberlin Annual Fund

Impact Area: Arts, Education

Campus Area: Allen Memorial Art Museum

Funding for this Project ended on 2014-11-06


Raised out of $10,000




Days Remaining

How will your project impact Oberlin?

A gift to the Allen Memorial Art Museum's King Sculpture Court Ceiling Project is a terrific way to make a lasting impact on an important part of Oberlin's historic infrastructure. The condition of the decorations has been seriously compromised in their almost-hundred-year existence: they display darkening and severe paint losses, particularly on the upper walls, and overpaint mars their surfaces, which have never been properly cleaned. The project to clean and conserve the ceiling will take place during this academic year, and is expected to be complete by Commencement and Reunion Weekend in May 2015. Your donations in any amount are welcome towards the nearly $120,000 still to be raised to complete the estimated $500,000 project.* 

Donations totaling $10,000 would provide for the cleaning of two painted squares and two window areas. The canvases that make up the painted squares and window spandrels display animal and foliage designs, with stenciling additionally decorating each window area.

The project presents a unique opportunity to involve Oberlin students. Conservator Heather Galloway is teaching a museum-sponsored course about the work during this fall semester, and participated in a spring 2014 first-year seminar on materials, taught by chemistry professor Catherine Oertel, in which she discussed the project.

More on the conservation project:

In the early years of the 20th century, Elisabeth Severance Allen and Dudley Peter Allen (OC 1875) started to plan –  with architect Cass Gilbert –  for the building of a museum for Oberlin. Despite Dudley's sudden death in 1915, Mrs. Allen persevered, and the museum opened in 1917. Cass Gilbert worked with New York painter Frederick Wiley on the building's ceiling and clerestory decoration, made in emulation of French 16th-century ceiling decorations. The almost-century-old paintings – comprising both images on canvas affixed to the walls and ceiling, and painting directly on plaster -- have not been cleaned and conserved in 100 years. Covered with dirt, grime, and staining, their exuberant colors were barely visible. A poem, by transcendentalist poet Christopher Pearse Cranch, was inscribed on the eight corner canvases in the clerestory, but the very presence of lettering is currently not visible from the floor.  

The project to clean and conserve the ceiling has been decades in the making. Initial test-cleaning was done in 1998 by the Intermuseum Conservation Association (formed at Oberlin in 1952, through the efforts of then-AMAM director Charles Parkhurst). As part of a competitive process begun in 2012, they – now named ICA-Art Conservation – returned in 2013 and 2014 to conduct further tests and to develop the protocols for their work. At long last, conservators began work in June 2014.

*Should more money be raised than necessary, excess amounts will be used for other infrastructure improvements in the Cass Gilbert building.

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    Andria Derstine

    John G. W. Cowles Director

$ 50


Very happy to support this campaign!

$ 200

Tammy Eng-Gonzalez

$ 50

Laura Sico

So excited this project is happening--can't wait to see the end result!

$ 500

Mary K. Van Nortwick

$ 134

Emily Stein

My good friend Meg Miles completed the initial research on this ceiling prior to our graduation in 2006. I'm donating in her honor.

$ 10

Sheila Christmon

$ 25

Samantha Conroy

$ 50

Emily Edison

$ 100

Catherine Gletherow

The progress you have already made is amazing. I'm very excited to see the finished project.

$ 50

Karen Nierenberg

$ 20

Daniel F Brent

$ 1,000

William L. Vance

This beautiful room was one of the inspiring places of my time at Oberlin.

$ 25

Elinor Fanning

I especially love that students will engage in the study/practice the art of conservation through this restoration project.

$ 10

Sarah P Fisher

From a 2007 docent, excited this project is REALLY going to happen!

$ 25

Erik Inglis

A pleasure to join so many alums in supporting this project!

$ 20

Nancy Nguyen

Wonderful project --best of luck!

$ 50

Michael W McComb

$ 25

Amanda Tobin

I can't wait to come back and see it once it's done!

$ 100

Roula Seikaly

$ 25

Deborah Campana

What a wonderful project! Good luck with it, Andria & co.!

$ 25

Mary Brock

Such a wonderful undertaking! I can't wait to see the AMAM ceiling shining next time I'm in Oberlin.

$ 20

Alexandra Vargo

Wish I could give more!

$ 20

Andrew Feng

$ 20

Alexandra Sterman

So glad this work is being done! The AMAM will always feel like home.

$ 10

Caitlin W Condell

$ 25

Hanna Exel

I can't overstate how important the AMAM was to me as a student!

$ 25

Douglas M Gerlach

$ 18

Arnold Victor Coonin

$ 18

Ma'ayan Plaut

$ 100

Jane A Mathison

The ceiling looks fantastic! Thanks for taking this on.

$ 50

William Barlow

Ceiling Progress

October 16, 2014

Many, many thanks to those of you who have already generously given to the AMAM’s ceiling conservation project – 22 donors giving a total of $1,681 by October 16!  My colleagues on the staff of the museum and I, along with our partners at ICA-Art Conservation, are enormously grateful to you for the confidence you’ve shown in our project.

As an update, the painting conservators remain hard at work on the upper walls (the clerestory) of the museum.  We’ve posted a new photo – an image of conservator Heather Galloway, properly protected with a personal respirator, high on a scaffold while using a swab to clean one of the decorative spandrels that surrounds a poetry canvas.  The blues, greens, yellows and ochres of works such as this haven’t been visible for decades, and it’s exciting to see the images once more come to life.

Your support is enabling this project to move forward.  Please encourage your friends and fellow alumni to donate as well – every dollar counts!

Andria Derstine

Can I still give to this project?

November 6, 2014

Once funding has ended, can I still give to this project?

Yes! Visit, select "other" as the designation, and then specify which project in the space below. 

Ceiling restoration polishes AMAM

February 18, 2015

Article by Steven Litt, The Plain Dealer

OBERLIN, Ohio - "Please look up!" urges a sign just inside the entrance to the Allen Memorial Art Museum at Oberlin College. It's an artistic request that makes absolutely perfect sense. 

The museum, which houses one of the finest college or university art collections in America, is entering the final months of a $500,000 restoration of the ceiling of its King Sculpture Court, named for the museum's first curator, Hazel B. King.

For the first time in decades, it's possible to see that the ceiling is covered with rich paintings of animals and foliage previously hidden under dark layers of soot and grime.

"Coming into the building and looking up is like lifting the lid of a jewel box," said Andria Derstine, the museum's director, who is understandably enthusiastic about the project.

The sculpture court is the centerpiece of the Allen's 1917 building, a masterpiece designed by architect Cass Gilbert, the Zanesville, Ohio, native who became one of America's greatest early-20th-century architects.

Gilbert, who designed the Minnesota State Capitol and the U.S. Supreme Court Building, is most famous for having designed New York's Woolworth Building in 1913, the 700-hundred-foot Gothic spire that towers over lower Manhattan and remained the world's tallest building until the completion of a skyscraper at 40 Wall St. 17 years later.

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