Founded in 1919, the Mabee-Gerrer Museum of Art is one of the oldest museums in the state of Oklahoma. Father Gregory Gerrer, for whom the museum is named, was a Benedictine monk of considerable artistic talent.
During Father Gerrer's travels to Europe, Africa and South America, he collected objects of artistic and ethnological value.
In 1903, while on a trip to the Holy Land, Fr. Gerrer received a small Egyptian scarab with a goose hieroglyph which is the symbol for “A.” Fr. Gerrer saw this as a sign that he needed to bring art and culture from around the world back to Oklahoma, which was not even a state yet. He started collecting art and artifacts from his travels and displaying them first in the rectory of St. Benedict’s Church in Shawnee, where he was assistant pastor, and later in his painting studio, which was built behind the church.
By 1919, he had outgrown his space and displayed these pieces in Benedictine Hall at the recently opened St. Gregory’s High School and College. The museum was truly encyclopedic, patterned after the great museums in Europe, containing everything from taxidermied animals, natural history samples of wood and seashells, weapons from around the world, and art from Renaissance masters.
During his lifetime, Fr. Gerrer created two catalogs of his collection– 1933 and 1942. The 1942 catalog lists 218 paintings and 6,347 artifacts. Fr. Gerrer would often trade his own paintings in exchange for pieces for his museum.
The time he spent at Notre Dame helped keep him up to date in the art market and introduced him to many generous donors.
Fr. Gerrer would be seen most days sitting in the museum working or telling someone who stopped by about these amazing treasures. Fr. Gerrer died in 1946.