Nestled on the University of Oregon campus grounds in Eugene is a magical building, purposefully designed with no windows to protect the treasures inside, known as the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art. Since 1933 this architectural masterpiece has mesmerized the public with its extensive collection of American, European, Korean, Chinese, and Japanese art. Beautiful both inside and out, the building has gone through a few changes and expansions over the years, but the history remains the same and tells a tale of appreciation and respect for art throughout the ages.
The museum was initially built to house the Murray Warner Collection of Oriental Art, which consisted of more than 3,700 works of art given to the University of Oregon by Gertrude Bass Warner. The collection was named after her late husband. Gertrude had spent years living, traveling, and collecting art in East Asia from 1904 up until 1938.
After the death of her husband Murray, she moved to Eugene to live near her son Sam and began work on finding a permanent home for her collection. Since the local university was lacking a museum at the time, she began working with them to establish what would become the East Asian Studies department at the University of Oregon.
Her hard work earned her the title of “curator for life,” and she became the first director of the University of Oregon Museum of Art in 1922. During this time, the collection was housed in its first home, the Gerlinger Hall at the university campus. However, due to Gertrude’s travels, the collection was growing rapidly, and it was clear the works of art would soon need a bigger home.
Plans for the new building were quickly in the works, and construction began in 1925. It was a special project near and dear to Gertrude’s heart as she sought to bridge cultural divides through art and culture education and knew a museum would be a great asset to the cause. Gertrude began working closely with the university’s Dean of Architecture and Allied Arts, Ellis F. Lawrence, helping to design the historic building.
She heavily influenced the building’s design, particularly its innovative climate control measures. Featuring lovely brickwork and iron grillwork, together, they built a place of learning that would still be used to educate generations for years to come.
Since its creation, the museum has continued to host exhibitions and house collections of historical and contemporary art for all the world to see. In the process, it has continued to grow. A major expansion project took place between 2002 and 2005, at which time the museum was given its current name in honor of Schnitzer, who was the major donor for the expansion work.
The expansion has further enhanced the atmosphere of discovery at the museum, reflecting the museum’s mission statement that includes the guiding principle: “We recognize our visitors’ different learning styles and the needs of a multigenerational and diverse audience.”
Today, the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art continues its mission of education not just in Eugene but also in Portland and Pullman, Washington, where they now have museums at Portland State University and Washington State University. Along with the addition of other locations, the museum has achieved many accomplishments.
The Eugene museum has been added to the National Register of Historic Places. It is one of seven museums in Oregon accredited by the American Alliance of Museums, being the only academic art museum of the seven.
It’s a well-earned recognition as the museum continues to manage research, educational programs and publish resources supporting the university’s academic mission, including outreach initiatives to serve the diverse interests of off-campus communities. Special exhibition galleries continue to be held displaying works from either the collection or on loan, representing many cultures of the world, past and present. Stop by on a Saturday when the public tours are free of charge and immerse yourself in art culture from around the world, just as Gertrude dreamed of all those years ago.