Shawnee’s oldest natural art gallery, the Mabee-Gerrer Museum of Art (MGMoA), is poised to mark its 100th year. The museum actually started out in the 1900s as a collection of artefacts from ancient civilizations and medieval paintings in the studio of Father Gerrer, the then Benedictine monk at St.Benedict’s Church.
To mark its more than 100 years of bringing art and cultural education to the people of Oklahoma, the MGMoA will be holding an exhibit entitled “Journey Back in Time: The History of the Mabee-Gerrer Museum of Art,” from July 13 to September 01, 2019; showing photographs of the museum and its collections during Father Gerrer’s time,
History of the MGMoA
Delaynna Trim, the current Curator of Collections at MGMoA narrates the story of how the museum first started. Based on stories told over the years, Father Gregory Gerrer started collecting artefacts and paintings while in Europe, training to become an artist. It is said that the European museums had inspired the Benedictine monk to collect magnificent paintings, ethnographic objects, and wood and seashell samples collected from a variety of cultures across the world. That way, he could bring the world to the people of Oklahoma by way of a local museum in Shawnee.
Although the collection brought home by Father Gerrer started small, it eventually grew through his travels and the people he met. He was said to have told them of his dream of bringing culture and art to Oklahoma. In turn, they gave him their valuable pieces of art and artifacts to help him fulfill that dream. One such artefact is the Egyptian mummy exhibited by the Glen Island Museum of Buffalo, New York, which he brought to Shawnee in 1921.
Ms. Trim said that by 1919, Father Gerrer’s collection had outgrown his studio, making it necessary to display the objects at the newly built Benedictine Hall of the St. Gregory campus. The hallway came to be known as the Gerrer Museum, where pieces of medieval and Renaissance artworks hung, while the artefacts were housed on the second floor.
The museum organized by Father Gerrer was described as encyclopedic, with its exhibits of taxidermied animals, Renaissance artworks, weapons collected from different parts of the world, and displays of woods and seashells as artefacts of natural history. Yet unlike other museums, the collection of the Gerrer Museum never belonged to any affluent individual.
Gerrer Museum Becomes the Mabee Gerrer Museum of Art
Father Gerrer passed away in 1946. Left without a director, the museum was temporarily closed. In 1957, Stephen Gyermek was hired as the new museum director and was tasked to oversee the renovation of the museum, as well as create programs for children and adults. However, St. Gregory’s High School and College had also grown and needed to use the rooms occupied by the museum. A new but temporary home for the gallery was found at the Kirkpatrick Science and Arts Foundation, until such time that a new building could be erected.
In 1977, the J. E. and L. E. Mabee Foundation in Tulsa, Oklahoma, agreed to sponsor the construction of a new building in which to house the Gerrer Museum collection. The Mabee Foundation is a non-profit establishment founded by John E. Mabee and his wife Lottie for the purpose of giving aid to religious Christian organizations, charitable institutions, hospitals, institutions of higher learning and the likes.
In April 7, 1979, the Gerrer Museum reopened in its new building as the Mabee-Gerrer Museum of Art.