OMAHA – The Joslyn Art Museum is filled with more than 12,000 works of art not including special exhibits on loan from other museums. The beautiful Art Deco building took three years to construct and cost nearly $3 million and opened in 1931.
George and Sarah Joslyn were New Englanders who came to Omaha in 1880 where George became a successful businessman with the Western Newspaper Union. In just 10 years Joslyn had acquired controlling interest in the company. With Joslyn as president and general manager the Western Newspaper Union was one of the largest newspaper service organizations in the world. It operated printing plants and publication offices in 32 major cities and had six exclusive plate foundries. It had the largest publication plant in the city of Chicago with 17 wholesale paper houses, and pulp and paper mills in northern Wisconsin. George Joslyn was the richest man in Nebraska.
The Joslyns were philanthropists who loved their community and supported many projects in Omaha and donated an estimated $7 million to a number of local charities. They named their unusual home in Omaha Lynhurst but neighbors dubbed it “Joslyn Castle” because of its resemblance to a medieval castle. The Joslyns often hosted parties there for underprivileged and orphaned children. Their only child died in infancy and the couple raised a foster daughter, Violet.
After George’s death in 1916 Sarah Joslyn wanted to build a memorial to her husband that would combine their interests in music and art. She decided to build a concert hall surrounded by art galleries. When it opened in 1931 the new museum received several gifts of private art collections as well as those of the Art Institute of Omaha and the Friends of Art.
The Joslyn Memorial, as it was first called, was hailed as a great addition to the city of Omaha and was listed as one of the 100 finest buildings in the United States. The Art Deco building’s exterior and retaining wall was constructed from 250 boxcars filled with Georgia Pink marble. The interior is made of 38 different marbles and stones from around the world. Omaha architects John and Alan McDonald designed American Indian themes throughout the building, including an abstract thunderbird on the entrance columns. The thunderbird theme is continued throughout the building.
In 1994 a 58,000-square-foot-addition, the Scott Pavilion, was added. The new addition was designed by British architect Sir Norman Foster and features the same Georgia Pink marble found in the original building. Visitors can climb the stairs of the original Grand Staircase and enter the museum or they can go in the pavilion street level entrance. The lower level of the pavilion has classrooms, galleries, a gift shop and the Café Durham.
The second floor galleries feature mostly 19th and 20th century European and American art with paintings by such renowned artists as Winslow Homer, Claude Monet and Edgar Degas. The second floor has several galleries dedicated to traveling exhibits and a large collection of American Indian art and Western art. Galleries include Colonial art, art of the American West, Impressionism, Dutch Golden Age, Baroque and Renaissance.
Nov. 11, 2006, was the start of the Joslyn’s yearlong 75th anniversary celebration that included a gala event. It was at this event that the museum announced a plan for a new sculpture garden on the museum grounds.
The unique garden opened to the public on June 6, 2009. It included reflective water ponds, enhanced entrances and drives, renovated and expanded parking, landscaped green space, rich granite pathways, a new entrance plaza and sculptures by internationally renowned artists. Then on Oct. 31, 2009, the museum opened a children’s Discovery Garden on the northwest corner of the campus.