Sheldon Museum of Art

The Sheldon Museum of Art is an art museum in the city of Lincoln, in the state of Nebraska in the Midwestern United States. Its collection focuses on 19th- and 20th-century art.

Sheldon Museum of Art
Two-story stone-clad building; middle third glass-walled; wide steps leading up to it
Front (east) entrance
Sheldon Museum of Art is located in Nebraska
Sheldon Museum of Art
Sheldon Museum of Art is located in the United States
Sheldon Museum of Art
LocationR St & N 12th St
Lincoln, Nebraska U.S.
Coordinates40°49′03″N 96°42′16″W / 40.8175°N 96.704444°W / 40.8175; -96.704444
ArchitectPhilip Johnson
NRHP reference No.13000676[1]
Added to NRHPSeptember 3, 2013[1]


Sheldon Art AssociationEdit

In 1888, The Sheldon Art Association was founded as the Haydon Art Club. It got its name in honor of the British painter, Benjamin Robert Haydon. The Haydon Art Club held an annual art exhibit and supplied art education to the university. In the early 1900s, the club underwent a reorganization and was incorporated under its new name, the Nebraska Art Association.[2]

The Sheldon Art Association is a non-profit organization that has over 500 members.

Sheldon Museum of ArtEdit

The Sheldon Museum of Art was initially known as the University of Nebraska Art Galleries, and was then formerly known as Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery. The museum's name was changed in 2008, along with the support organization that supports the museum, which is now known as the Sheldon Art Association, formerly the Nebraska Art Association.[2]


The museum exhibited its collection in locations around the university, including Morrill Hall, until a dedicated building was completed in 1963.[3] Located at the junction of 12th and R Streets, on the city campus of the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, the Sheldon was designed by architect Philip Johnson and is a U.S. National Register of Historic Places.[4] The building's other distinctive features are a great hall with golden disks suspended from the ceiling, a spacious Great Hall, and a bridge-type grand staircase.

In 1959, Phillip Johnson proclaimed the Sheldon and the best building he had ever designed.[5] As part of Johnson's artist statement,[6] he said of the Sheldon “[T]oday the museum building stands as a community like the church courthouse of the last century. The architect must therefore create, inside and out, a symbolic structure which the community can refer to with some pride … The symbolic function of the Sheldon Gallery is fulfilled, I feel, not only the ‘classical’ exterior of travertine but mainly by the great hall which orients the visitor, as well as elevating his spirits.” The museum was designed with the idea of avoiding what he referred to as “museum fatigue”. This is the idea that visitors to museums often feel alienated from the museum environment.[7] This is a result of the freedom which he was given to him by the art association and its first director, Norman Geske.[7]

The building was funded by a gift of Frances Sheldon and her brother A. Bromley Sheldon.[8] The building was funded by two bequeaths by Frances Sheldon of $921,660 and her brother, A. Bromley Sheldon or $675,000. The Sheldon family owned a number of farms and a lumber yard in Lexington, Nebraska.[9] The building features Roman travertine, which is a type of limestone.[10] For many decades one of the key features of the great hall was an installation by Japanese-American sculptor, Isamu Noguchi, called “Song of the Bird.” He was invited to create and install a work as part of the building's opening ceremonies in May 1963.[11]


  • 1956-1993: Norman Geske[12]
  • 1983-1999: George Neubert
  • 2001-2008: Janice Driesbach[13]
  • 2008-2014: Jorge Daniel Veneciano[14][15]
  • 2014–present: Wally Mason

In 1956, Norman Geske was the first director of the Sheldon Museum of Art, and is widely credited with establishing the Sheldon's modern art collection, as well as other regional cultural programs and institutions like Interstate 80 Bicentennial Sculpture Project, the Museum of Nebraska Art in Kearney and the Mary Riepma Ross Media Arts Center, originally known as the Sheldon Film Theater.[16]

In 2014, Wally Mason, the former director and chief curator at Haggerty Museum of Art from Marquette University in Milwaukee, became director of the Sheldon.[17]


The Sheldon houses both the Sheldon Art Association collection (founded in 1888 as the Haydon Art Club), and the University of Nebraska collection, initiated in 1929. Together they comprise more than 12,000 works of art in all media. This comprehensive collection of American art includes prominent holdings of 19th-century landscape and still life, American Impressionism, early Modernism, Geometric abstraction, Abstract Expressionism, Pop art, Lyrical Abstraction, Color Field painting, Minimalism and Contemporary Art. In April 1965, "Golden Age", a painting by Benjamin West was stolen and recovered by the FBI. Charged in the incident was a student from the University of Nebraska.[18]

Sculpture gardenEdit

In the sculpture garden, more than 30 monumental sculptures are exhibited year-round. Among them are works by Gaston Lachaise, Jacques Lipchitz, Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, David Smith, Lyman Kipp, William G. Tucker, Bryan Hunt, Mark di Suvero, Michael Heizer, and Richard Serra. When the sculpture garden's first installations occurred, they were sometimes controversial. A woman once called a secretary and complained “I think Norman Geske should be fired, and what's more, he should be asked to leave the state because of all the junk he's introduced into the sunken garden south of the gallery.[19]

In 1998, Man in the Open Air, a 1915 bronze sculpture by Elie Nadelman, was stolen from the sculpture garden. Police speculated that it had been taken in the course of post-game revelry following the university football team's victory in the Orange Bowl. About a week later, it was recovered on the university's East Campus. The gallery's director hypothesized that the thief or thieves had been unaware of the work's value, estimated at over $500,000, and, after learning this, had placed it where it would be discovered by security guards during their rounds. Following $15,000 in restoration and repair, the sculpture was put on display inside the building.[20][21][22]


The Sheldon's exhibition program comprises approximately 20 exhibitions per year and focuses on American art in all media. The curatorial staff organizes exhibitions drawn from the permanent collection, many of which circulate nationally. The program also includes exhibitions organized by peer institutions throughout the United States. Educational programs such as symposia, lectures, children's workshops and tours are organized in conjunction with each exhibition.


  1. ^ a b "National Register of Historic Places Program: Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery". National Park Service. 3 September 2013. Retrieved 22 June 2016.
  2. ^ a b White, Tom (7 March 2008). "'Sheldon Museum of Art,' 'Sheldon Art Association' are new names". University of Nebraska–Lincoln.
  3. ^ Knoll, Robert E. (1995). Prairie University: A History of the University of Nebraska. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. p. 137. ISBN 978-0-80-322717-0. OCLC 832461462.
  4. ^ "National Register of Historic Places Registration Form: Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery / Sheldon Museum of Art" (PDF). National Park Service. United States Department of the Interior. 9 July 2013.
  5. ^ Milroy, M. (6 Oct 1957). "Johnson calls art gallery "best I've ever designed"". Daily Nebraskan.
  6. ^ Geske, N., Johnson, P., Hitchcock, H.R. (1960). "The Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery". Sheldon Art Association. University of Nebraska.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  7. ^ a b Staff (12 May 1963). "Entire building given by Sheldons". Lincoln Journal and Star.
  8. ^ "UNL Historic Buildings - Sheldon Museum of Art". Historic Buildings. University of Nebraska–Lincoln. 9 Oct 1959.
  9. ^ Staff (12 May 1963). "Entire building given by Sheldons". Lincoln Journal and Star.
  10. ^ Staff (9 June 1960). "Sheldon Art Gallery to feature Italian marble, unique structure". Lincoln Journal.
  11. ^ Staff (13 May 1963). "Noted sculptor calls new gallery "unusual",". Lincoln Journal and Star.
  12. ^ Staff reports (6 September 2014). "Norman Geske, first director of Sheldon Museum of Art, dead at 98". Omaha World-Herald. Retrieved 22 June 2016.
  13. ^ Wolgamott, L. Kent (28 March 2007). "Sheldon director Driesbach resigns". Lincoln Journal Star. Retrieved 22 June 2016.
  14. ^ "Veneciano selected as new Sheldon Museum of Art director". University of Nebraska–Lincoln. 22 April 2008. Retrieved 22 June 2016.
  15. ^ Smith, Steve (13 December 2013). "Veneciano to resign as Sheldon director". UNL Today. University of Nebraska–Lincoln. Retrieved 22 June 2016.
  16. ^ Klecker, Mara (6 September 2014). "Norman Geske, 'father of Nebraska art,' dies at 98". Lincoln Journal Star. Retrieved 22 June 2016.
  17. ^ Wolgamott, L. Kent (16 August 2014). "L. Kent Wolgamott: New director Wally Mason talks Sheldon". Lincoln Journal Star.
  18. ^ Staff (1965-04-26). "fbi in theft of painting from museum". Lincoln Journal and Star.
  19. ^ Denny, J. (1970-11-22). "Conversation piece: Geske's garden". Conversation piece: Geske’s garden.
  20. ^ "Sculpture stolen from art gallery". Bangor Daily News. January 9, 1998. Retrieved June 22, 2016.
  21. ^ Hachiya, Kim. "Police Find Man in Open Air on East Campus". Archived 2016-09-18 at the Wayback Machine Scarlet. January 9, 1998. Retrieved June 22, 2016.
  22. ^ "Man in Open Air Now in Great Hall". Archived 2016-09-18 at the Wayback Machine Scarlet. December 2, 1999. Retrieved June 22, 2016.

External linksEdit

Coordinates: 40°49′03″N 96°42′16″W / 40.81750°N 96.70444°W / 40.81750; -96.70444