Nebraska's Largest Art Museum


Joslyn Art Museum was a generous gift to the people of Omaha from Sarah H. Joslyn (1851–1940) in memory of her husband, George A. Joslyn (1848–1916).

New Englanders George and Sarah Joslyn came to Omaha in 1880. Married in 1874, the couple first moved to Montreal and later to Des Moines, Iowa, where George took a job unloading freight cars for the Iowa Paper Company. The company’s main business was providing small-town Iowa newspapers with “ready-print,” a news sheet pre-printed with special features and advertisements, which was then printed on the outside with local news. George Joslyn quickly attained an office position in the firm, and when a branch office opened in Omaha, he was offered the position of manager. The expanded company was reorganized in 1881 as the Western Newspaper Union. 

By 1890, Joslyn had acquired controlling interest in the company’s stock and began a vigorous expansion campaign. At the time of his death, the Western Newspaper Union, with George Joslyn as its president and general manager, was nationally recognized as the largest newspaper service organization in the world. It operated printing plants and publication offices in 32 prominent cities, six exclusive plate foundries, the largest publication plant in the city of Chicago, 17 wholesale paper houses, and pulp and paper mills in northern Wisconsin. George Joslyn was the richest man in Nebraska.

When associates suggested he move his business headquarters East, George answered that his money had been “made in Omaha and it would be spent in Omaha.” The Joslyns loved their adopted city and actively supported community projects, toward which it is estimated they gave more than $7 million. They gave generously to the University of Omaha, and among their many charities were the Humane Society, the Old People’s Home, and the Child Saving Institute. They often opened their home, Lynhurst (dubbed “Joslyn Castle” by Omahans because of its grand, baronial style), to parties of underprivileged and orphaned children. Their only child died in infancy, so they raised a foster daughter, Violet, as their own.

After her husband’s death, Mrs. Joslyn devoted herself to creating a memorial that would perpetuate their shared interests in music and art, as well as benefit the greatest number of people possible. She decided to build a concert hall surrounded with art galleries. When it opened on November 29, 1931, the new museum received several private collections as gifts, as well as collections from the Art Institute of Omaha and the Friends of Art.

During the opening day festivities, Sarah Joslyn quietly slipped into the crowd of 25,000 who lined up to see the magnificent new building. “I am just one of the public,” she remarked to those who recognized her, adding that the museum was her gift to the people of Omaha and that it was up to them to determine what to do with it. “If there is any good in it, let it go on and on.”

 
The extraordinary Art Deco building was hailed not only as an important addition to the city of Omaha, but to modern American architecture as well. In 1938 it was listed among the 100 finest buildings in the United States. Construction took three years and cost almost $3 million. The three-level interior comprises some 38 marbles from around the world and includes stone from Italy, France, Germany, Belgium, and Morocco. The exterior and retaining wall alone filled 250 boxcars with George Pink (Etowah Fleuri) marble.

The building’s architects utilized Native American themes throughout the museum interior and on the east entrance columns. Moravian floor tiles used in the colorful Storz Fountain Court include symbols for literature, music, architecture, and painting.

The Walter and Suzanne Scott Pavilion, a 58,000 square-foot addition designed by renowned British architect Norman Foster, Baron Foster of Thames Bank, and built in 1994 at a cost of $15.95 million, connects to the original Memorial building with the glorious glass ConAgra Foods Atrium.

In 2007, Joslyn celebrated 75 years of achievement and inspiration with an exciting year of events and programs recognizing the Museum's permanent collection, special exhibitions, building, campus, and community partnerships.

At a gala event on November 11, 2006, marking the start of Joslyn's year-long 75th anniversary celebration, Joslyn announced a plan for a new sculpture garden. Opened to the public on June 6, 2009, the garden is the focal point of a campus redevelopment that has dramatically changed the face of Joslyn's grounds and includes flowing reflective water features, enhanced entrances and drives, renovated and expanded parking, landscaped green spaces, rich granite pathways, an entrance plaza to welcome visitors, and important sculptures by internationally renowned artists. On October 31, 2009, the Museum opened a children's Discovery Garden on the northwest corner of campus, the third and final phase of the redevelopment.

In May 2013, the Museum stopped charging general admission, again providing free access to the public as it had done from its opening until the mid-1960s.