Two men that know it best will discuss the history and purpose of Willamette University’s Hallie Ford Museum at the next Salem City Club.  Museum Director John Olbrantz and Senior Faculty Curator Roger Hull are passionate about the Salem cultural treasure, and know its story from the beginning.

The project began with a donation to the University a collection of “some 250 objects or art and craft, “representing five cultural areas” from the late Janeth and Mark Sponenburgh, Hull says.  This act of generosity led to more gifts of art, and in November 1993, Hull wrote his first proposal.

“When the museum idea first was glimmering,” Hull recalls, “I had no idea it would develop into such a significant cultural resource for Salem and the region.”

The institution gained momentum when Hallie Ford, who served on the board of trustees at Willamette University, provided funds for the purchase and initial renovation of the old telephone building at the corner of State and Cottage Streets.

Open six days a week, the Hallie Ford Museum is now the third largest art museum in Oregon.

It has had “a remarkable series of shows,” Hull says, “including such major ones as John Olbrantz’s ‘Breath of Heaven, Breath of Earth’ of Ancient Near East artifacts, last fall.”  He was also excited by the recent Manuel Izquierdo exhibit, saying, “It was perhaps our most elaborate regional show,” because it involved wrestling with numerous large-scale sculptures created by the Oregon artist.

Another important show will feature the work of Louis Bunce, a major regional painter who Hull calls, “the quintessential 20th-century Oregon modernist.”  It is an indication of the effort such projects require that Hull is already designing something that won’t be “up” until 2017.

Although the museum is officially a department of Willamette University, Hull says the institution considers itself “a City of Salem art museum as well.  He points out the fortuitous location, “on a city corner, at a bus stop.”

The museum is being taken seriously regionally, since Portland art audiences make a point of getting to Salem to see the shows.

Hull’s enthusiasm for museums, as well as Olbrantz’s, promises to be infectious to attendees of this City Club event.


Salem City Club

The Hallie Ford Museum of Art: A History of Excellence, A Legacy of Place

John Olbrantz and Roger Hull

April 4, 2013

Noon  – 1 p.m. (doors open at 11:15 a.m.)

Willamette Heritage Center at the Mill

1313 Mill Street SE