Wednesday, March 22, 2023

University Museum Brings Culture, Heritage to Oxford

The David M. Robinson Memorial Collection of Greek and Roman Antiquities is the University Museum’s most extensive collection to date. However, around only 130 pieces are on display in the Kate Skipworth portion of the museum while there are over 2,000 objects total in the collection itself. The museum is now pursuing the project of displaying most, if not all, of these antiquities.
Professor David Robinson came to the University of Mississippi in 1949, and during his time here, he augmented the collection that would become one of the greatest showings of antiquities in the country.
this, too, is artAfter his death in 1958, Robinson entrusted his Roman sculptures to the University of Mississippi. The remainder of his collection was divided among his widow Helen Tudor Robinson, Harvard University and John Hopkins University. During the years before her death in 1960, Mrs. Robinson generously donated several pieces of her portion of the collection to the University of Mississippi. Upon her death, the rest of her share of about 300 objects were purchased and given to the university by Mr. and Mrs. Frank Peddle Jr. of Oxford. The Greek and Roman collection is now called the David M. Robinson Memorial Collection in honor of its largest contributor.
Though the collection is named after Mr. Robinson, he was not the only contributor to the vast assemblage of Greek and Roman antiquities. In 1962, The University’s Department of Classics gifted the museum about 300 pieces purchased from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Medical Alumni and the University’s Friends of the Museum purchased a set of medical instruments and glass that were collected by Victor Murlo, who corresponded with Robinson. The reputation of the Greek and Roman artifacts in the museum have often prompted art enthusiasts to donate their own art to the collection.
Today in the Kate Skipworth Museum, you can find anything from children’s game pieces to medical instruments. The museum has collected over 800 ancient coins, painted vases, carved marble busts and a magnificent volute-krater in its 56 years with the collection. They have also collected several panathenaic vases, which are large ceramic vessels that contained the olive oil given as prizes in the Olympics.
Robinson Collection project manager, Melanie Munns said, “Some of the objects we have are one of five in the world. We have a really impressive collection that a lot of people don’t know about.”
The project of displaying these pieces includes transporting them to the 1939 museum building (now empty) and transforming the collection and its space into an interactive learning experience. Robert Saarnio, museum director, said, “If someone asked me for five words to describe what we’re doing, I would say ‘physical access and intellectual access.’” With the help of private donors and enough fundraising, the museum hopes to purchase new cases, cleaning and preservation equipment for the antiquities, and technology for the display of this vast collection.
Apart from the Robinson Memorial Collection, there are several other fascinating collections and exhibitions on display at the museum. Saarnio said, “I’m not sure that we’ve had three stronger or more interesting exhibitions at one time than we have right now.”
From self-taught, southern folk art to football helmets designed by world-famous fashion designers, the University Museum is home to all sorts of unique artwork. And they want you to see it all.
77_3_72-side-bThe University Museum hosts several events and activities that encourage students, families and the Oxford community to get involved and interested in what they have to offer. They are a stop on the Yoknapatawpha Arts Council Oxford Art Crawl and take turns (with The Powerhouse) hosting its Mini Masters program for two to five year olds. The museum hosts opening receptions, artist lectures, and brown bag lectures for each of their newly opening exhibits.
They have several programs and activities to introduce families and children to the art community. The museum hosts a program called ArtZone every Tuesday and Wednesday after school. They often coordinate field trips and even host tours for classes at the UM campus. The education curator, Emily Dean, organizes family activity days about 3 times per semester that are often free. The next one, Santa’s Work/Shop will be on Saturday, December 6. In this workshop, families will create seasonal crafts and eat holiday snacks.
The University Museum celebrates its members with the annual membership party. It is a thank you reception for current members, an opportunity to gain new members and a chance to celebrate the current exhibits. Communications coordinator Rebecca Phillips said, “We’re always trying to grow our membership. This is our 75th anniversary year. So we’ve made it a goal to reach a higher amount. We’ve set our goal at 750 members. So hopefully we’ll get there.”
The public is invited to attend all exhibition openings and Brown Bag lecture series. This year, all special exhibitions are free to the public as well. The University Museum encourages you to visit and engage with the unique works of art that they have obtained.
“If you identify as a Greek-American and you live in the southeast — not just Mississippi — we want you to know about this collection, and we want you to feel that our museum is celebrating your heritage,” Saarnio said.
Rachel Vanderford is a reporter and can be reached at