Bob Jones University Museum and Gallery seeks downtown home

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The Bob Jones University Museum and Gallery is often referred to as a “hidden gem”.

The description is “charming,” says executive director Erin R. Jones, but adds to the perception that the 70-year-old collection is inaccessible.

“The collection goes off the beaten track. It’s on a campus that you might not be thinking of visiting and not sure if you can visit. It seems difficult to achieve, and it was never intended, ”she says. “It is meant to be enjoyed by all. It was open to the public from day one, Thanksgiving Day in 1951.

Jones became director of M&G in 1998 after the death of her husband’s grandfather, Dr Bob Jones Jr., who collected most of the museum’s artwork.

These days, Erin Jones strives to make artistic treasures more visible and less “hidden”.

Seven monumental paintings by Benjamin West are on display in the War Memorial Chapel on the BJU campus. They were commissioned by King George III during the War of Independence, Jones explains.

West spent 20 years completing the collection, titled “The Progress of Revealed Religion”. Only 13 can be counted in the world. “We have seven in this chapel. It’s a national treasure right here in Greenville.

Another smaller exhibit in the Beaux-Arts building focuses on the German Renaissance, Martin Luther, and the Protestant Reformation in the 1500s.

M & G’s works are considered one of the largest collections of European Old Masters in the country, a term that refers to prominent European artists from 1300 to 1800 whose style is characterized by realistic depictions of people, landscapes and landscapes. proportions.

The collection includes over 400 paintings and tapestries; 1,000 antiquities from Hebrew, Egyptian and Roman cultures; icons once held by the Romanov tsars; furniture from the 14th to the 17th centuries; limestone cloister columns from the 1100s. The oldest object is an Egyptian jar from 3200 BC.

The galleries are also distinctive. “The walls are paneled from the 1500s or 1600s. You see the art as it would have been on display if you had lived during that time,” says Jones.

Many paintings are large; some are exceptionally fragile. Unfortunately, most of the works are no longer available for viewing.

In 2017, M&G closed its satellite site in the Coca-Cola building, now Sigal Music Museum, in Heritage Green. The board also found that the main museum building on campus was showing signs of deterioration.

“It was built in 1947 with blond brick, which absorbs moisture. This has become a problem for these old master paintings. We had to shut everything down, ”Jones says.

All but the most fragile pieces have gone to secure storage or been on loan to other institutions, including the Georgia Museum of Art, the Orlando Museum of Art, and the Palazzo Madama in Italy.

The museum’s board of trustees – since 1996, a non-profit entity, separate from the university’s board of trustees and trustees – started making decisions.

“The board felt the best option was to leave campus and make the collection more accessible to people, as was planned from the start,” Jones said. “The feedback is that the community wanted the collection downtown. “

In the end, prominent Greenville developers Bo Aughtry and Phil Hughes agreed to donate land near the Reedy River and proposed that it become a permanent home for the museum and gallery, as well as ‘a satellite site for the Greenville Art Museum and a long-envisioned museum, downtown conference and event space. Municipal staff are currently studying the project.

Preparing the paintings for storage or loan to other institutions is a monumental task - one of the many ways the museum and gallery preserves, maintains and shares the collection.

Jones predicts that the Museum and Gallery portion of the proposed building will be 60,000 square feet, nearly double the size of the old gallery on campus – space to accommodate much of the large collection, educational programs and the growth. M&G would have autonomy over its space, without rents.

Construction can take years. “It’s a big debate. I can understand that this is not a quick thing to do. Although M&G needs a new home, we look forward to sharing the collection with our community and visitors again.

Jones has learned firsthand that some changes are beyond his control. A Midwesterner who came to Bob Jones University to major in speech and drama, she met and married Stephen Jones, who became the university’s fourth president in 2005. Nine years later he then resigned that he was battling a chronic and painful form of Lyme disease.

“There were some moving and incredibly dark days,” she explains. “It’s been 11 years since the debilitating symptoms started. “

Six years after the first symptoms, Stephen was diagnosed and decided to participate in a rigorous three-month treatment in Arizona; two years later, his wife and three children saw gradual improvement. Last year he traveled and preached again.

“We are grateful for the return of one we recognize as Stephen,” says Jones, who has found comfort in the support of family and friends, meditation on the scriptures, journaling, and prayer.

As the M&G evolved, Jones and staff worked to present the collection to the public, bring the public to the collection, and be the stewards of an important part of the story.

“We need to make decisions that will preserve this collection for generations,” she says.

Despite the lack of dedicated space, Jones urges the public to enjoy the collection – through a monthly campus talk, a website filled with images and videos, home student programs and, most impressive of all. , Museum on the Move.

Two staff educators follow programs in any school, primarily public schools, from Kindergarten to Grade 12.

“We started in 2008-09 with 10 classrooms and around 200 students. By our 10th grade, we were in over 450 classrooms with over 12,000 students, ”says Jones.

“It’s incredibly inspiring for them,” she says. Demonstrations and lessons integrated with the arts help children understand basic subjects such as history, math, science and language arts.

Art can speak, Jones says, if people open their eyes and their hearts.

“This is the key. This is the mission of M&G. We seek to transform lives through the fine art. We want to touch the whole person, their mind, heart and soul, with the beauty of the message and the presentation. Art can do it.


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