By Ammie Bryant, Director Sheerar Museum of Stillwater History
Located on the lower level of the Sheerar Cultural and Heritage Center, the Sheerar Museum of Stillwater History’s existence is deeply intertwined with Culture and the Arts in Stillwater. The founding of the Museum and Cultural and Heritage Center were made possible by an organization that celebrates and funds the Arts in Stillwater.
In the November issue of Stillwater Living, I discussed the history of the founding of the facility in more depth, but in short, the Stillwater Arts and Humanities Council founded the Sheerar Cultural and Heritage Center in 1972. It was Mr. and Mrs. Leonard Sheerar’s gift of $25,000 that ignited the community wide drive to raise $80,000 to purchase the First Church of Christ, Scientist building at 7th and Duncan to house a museum and cultural center. Then in February 1973, the Arts and Humanities Council appointed a Cultural and Heritage Center Commission to operate the building and established a Visual and Performing Arts Trust and a Museum and Heritage Trust to govern its activities. The Cultural and Heritage Center opened on May 7, 1973 and the Sheerar Museum officially opened on November 17, 1974, under volunteer management. In 1989, the Arts and Humanities Council voted to transfer ownership of the Sheerar Center building and the Sheerar Museum collection to the Stillwater Museum Association. Many members on the Stillwater Museum Association’s first board had also served on the Arts and Humanities Cultural and Heritage Center Commission when the Sheerar Center building was purchased in the early 1970s. Gayle Robinson, Jim Bellatti, Frank Evans, Lynn Osborn, Fran Sorenson, George Berry, Kenneth McCollom, and Jean Orr Donaldson all served on both organizing boards.
The Sheerar Museum and its programming and exhibits still benefit from Arts and Humanities Council support. In recent years, the Cool Classics summer chamber music series that has been organized by the St. Cecilia Music club and co-sponsored and hosted by the Sheerar Museum has benefited from Council grant funding. Most recently, the Arts and Humanities Council provided a grant to sponsor the Museum’s newest exhibit, “Museums Collect the Strangest Things” which also happens to feature folkart as part of the display.
The Sheerar Cultural Center auditorium has long been a venue for the performing arts and especially for St. Cecilia Music Club members who include area music teachers. The months of November, December, April and May see hours of music recitals in the Sheerar Auditorium as area students display the skills they have mastered. The Mason and Hamlin Grand Piano on the Auditorium stage belongs to the St. Cecilia Club and renters of the facility have access to use of the instrument for their events. The Auditorium seats 200 in the audience and the acoustics are ideal for small intimate performances like recitals and small musical ensembles. This makes the Sheerar the perfect venue for music series like the Cool Classics chamber music series held on Fridays in July.
The Stillwater Art Guild, now in its 47th year as a thriving organization, has met at the Sheerar Cultural Center since the Center’s inception in the 1970s. The Stillwater Art Guild is “dedicated to stimulating community interest in the visual arts and crafts. The Guild offers a wide variety of activities for professional and amateur artists, as well as nonparticipating patrons of the fine arts.” (www.stillwaterartguild.org)
The Stillwater Art Guild originally held workshops in a space located in the balcony. Velma Sanders, past president and current Director, remembers “when I joined in 1983, we were meeting there.” Sanders said that the organization held its workshops in the Cultural and Heritage Center until they had to move elsewhere due to increased participation and space constraints. The Stillwater Art Guild still rents space at the Sheerar Cultural and Heritage Center for meetings and demonstrations. They have a storage area for their records and supplies and the Art Guild’s monthly Artist Demonstrations are held at 7:00pm on the fourth Monday of each month, September through November, and January through April.
The Sheerar Museum also houses the records of the Stillwater Writer’s Club. Founded on February 27, 1932 in the home of Mrs. George Oaks, its first president, the Stillwater Writer’s Club marked its 78th year last month. The club began with five members, Mrs. Oaks, Mrs. Stacy Bishop, Mrs. James H. Arrington, Mrs. W. F. DeMoss, and Miss Mable Caldwell. The club, was an outgrowth of a short story course taught by Dr. Lucretia Douglas, who was a creative writing instructor at Oklahoma A & M. Notable members of the club have included Glenn Shirley, Robert Cunningham, Cecil B. Williams, Mary Ellen Cooper, and Angie Debo who will be the center of numerous programs sponsored by the Stillwater Library and OSU Library this fall, in conjunction with an exhibit at the Sheerar Museum and a statue unveiling on the Stillwater Library lawn.
The Museum’s collection includes the history and work of area artists from photographers and painters to musicians and writers. The history and culture of Stillwater are inescapably linked to one another for each reveals something about the other. The Arts have long served as an important source for revealing the truths about our culture and history and we, here at the Sheerar, are proud to serve as a repository for Stillwater’s cultural treasures.