History of the Ogden Museum of Southern Art

A gift of art from Roger Ogden and his father to his mother nearly 40 years ago marked the beginning of a collection that today forms the heart of the new Ogden Museum of Southern Art, University of New Orleans. Louisiana businessman and philanthropist Roger Ogden first saw Blue Lagoon, a Southern landscape by the early 20th century artist Alexander Drysdale, at a Baton Rouge, Louisiana art gallery in 1966. Captivated by its beauty, Ogden, a college student at the time, persuaded his father to help him buy the painting for his mother as a Christmas gift. For a number of years to follow, father and son continued the habit, fostering the younger Ogden's interest in Southern art.

The collection Roger Ogden went on to assemble was one of the first to focus solely on Southern art, helping to identify and define the genre. Ogden's collection helped to revive the forgotten works of great Southern artists and preserved an important aspect of Southern culture.

By the mid-1980s, Ogden had collected a full range of paintings that recounted the history and changing aesthetics of painting in Louisiana. The collection included 19th-century portraits by Jacques Amans, landscapes by William Henry Buck, Richard Clague and Clarence Millet, and works such as Mother Louisiana, an allegorical portrait of the state of Louisiana by Dominico Canova. Gradually, he began to expand his collection by including artists from other Southern states, and broadening the scope of works to include sculpture, photography, works on paper, self-taught art, and mixed media. By the 1990s, the Ogden Collection was recognized by art historians and collectors as one of the most significant of its kind in the nation.

"With that recognition," Ogden remembers, "I realized that the Collection could not remain the responsibility of one individual or family, but that it should belong to the public, and that it was incumbent on me to make plans for its placement as a whole."

Beginning in 1993, two national traveling exhibitions, Art in the American South 1733-1989 and Impressions of the South, introduced Southern art from Ogden's Collection to enthusiastic audiences around the country. This laid the groundwork for the announcement of a permanent showcase for the works.

The concept for creating a permanent public home for the Ogden Collection was based upon a unique public-private partnership between the University of New Orleans Foundation and Ogden. Since then, the Collection has grown, through the generosity of donors from across the United States, to become the largest and most comprehensive assemblage of Southern art in the world, establishing the Ogden Museum as the preeminent resource on art and culture of the South. The extraordinary Collection significantly boosts the visibility of these works, and complements other centers of Southern art, such as the Morris Museum of Art in Georgia and the Greenville County Museum in South Carolina. The opening of the Ogden Museum supports the growing national recognition of Southern art and celebrates the culmination of Ogden's original vision to share his passion with the public.

Laying the Foundation

Concrete plans for the Museum's future were laid down in late 1994 when the public announcement of the founding of The Ogden Museum of Southern Art was made in December by Ogden and Dr. Gregory O'Brien, Chancellor of the University of New Orleans. The concept for creating a permanent public home for the Ogden Collection was based upon a unique public-private partnership. It was built upon a gift of works from the Ogden Collection to the University of New Orleans Foundation to establish a museum of Southern Art, to be constructed in a complex of buildings in the Lee Circle area of the city. By 1999, the museum's five-story Stephen Goldring Hall was under construction and its historic library was under restoration.

Goldring Hall, featuring 47,000 square feet of exhibition space, stands as part of a larger, three-building complex that includes the significant 1889 Howard Memorial Library (later renamed the Patrick F. Taylor Library) designed by the important American architect and Louisiana native, Henry Hobson Richardson. The only one of Richardson's buildings in the South, the library will house the museum's 18th and 19th century art collections, its new Goldring-Woldenberg Institute for the Advancement of Southern Art and Culture, an orientation theater, studio and classroom spaces, and a technology resource center. The Library was made available to the University of New Orleans Foundation to house the earlier works in the Ogden Collection. Extensive improvements to the Library totaling $3 million were recently completed in the first phase of the structure's restoration. Programs related to the architecture and the life of H. H. Richardson will be an integral part of the activities presented in this structure.

Adjoining the Library, and included in the 20,000 square feet of space, is the new Clementine Hunter Wing dedicated to the art and life of this noted Louisiana self-taught artist. This will also be the permanent home to the Museum's educational initiatives, including classrooms and a technology center.

The Museum's Story Grows

With construction underway, the Ogden Museum continued its efforts to raise awareness about Southern art. In 1996, the Museum collaborated with The Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games Cultural Olympiad for the exhibition Picturing the South: 1860-1996. The Ogden Museum offered on extended loan 13 major paintings from its Collection for display at the Louisiana Governor's Mansion in Baton Rouge for a five-year period from January 1997 to August 2002. The Ogden Museum hosted its first national symposium Boundaries, Barriers, and Bridges in 1998, funded in part by the Rockefeller Foundation (NY), and in December 1999, the Museum took Southern art to an international audience by placing Louisiana native Clementine Hunter's Panorama of Baptism on Cane River on display at the Vatican in Rome at the request of then-Ambassador Lindy Boggs.

Julia Street Gallery

In October 1999, the Ogden Museum opened a temporary gallery on Julia Street near its present permanent home. This exhibition space in the heart of the city's warehouse gallery district allowed the Museum to hold rotating exhibitions to give audiences a preview of its Collection. Over 30,000 visitors from New Orleans and around the world passed through the Julia street gallery to sample the important traditions of Southern Art in 26 exhibitions.

The Julia Street Gallery also provided the Museum a place from which to launch collaborative relationships with other local art institutions and galleries rich in the spirit of cooperative research and scholarly exhibition, including the National D-Day Museum, the Contemporary Arts Center and The Amistad Research Center. The Museum partnered with The Amistad Research Center to show Treasures from the Amistad Research Center (August-September 2001), and presented a collaborative exhibition with the Contemporary Arts Center, Southern Contemporary: New Art from the Ogden Museum (Summer 2002). Extending relationships beyond New Orleans, the Museum welcomed Visualizing the Blues: Images of the American South 1862-2000 (April-July 2001) with the Dixon Gallery and Gardens in Memphis, Tennessee.

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