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Weitzenhoffer Family College of Fine Arts

The first courses in fine arts at the University of Oklahoma were given as early as 1893 in what was called the Musical Department, renamed the School of Music in 1899. The addition of courses in painting, drawing, oratory, and dramatic work dictated a change of name to the School of Fine Arts in 1903. Established as the College of Fine Arts in 1924, the fourth college founded at the university, the college was renamed the Weitzenhoffer Family College of Fine Arts in 2004 in honor of the Weitzenhoffer family, which has given extraordinary support to the college as well as to many areas of the university.

Today, the college offers the largest and most comprehensive fine arts program in the state and the region. The college faculty, with 104 members, is the second largest faculty at the University of Oklahoma. They are artists and scholars who are outstanding in their fields and committed to the education of young artists. The college is proud of its students, of whom 4 percent are National Merit Scholars and are recruited nationwide.

The college is composed of the OU School of Visual Arts, School of Dance, Peggy V. Dow Helmerich School of Drama, School of Music, and the A. Max Weitzenhoffer School of Musical Theatre. Because the college is part of a major research university, students profit from many opportunities to study in areas outside the arts.

The OU School of Visual Arts, which from 1924 to 1928 was known as the School of Painting and Design, was named the School of Art in 1929. The school offers comprehensive professional programs in film and video, photography, visual communications, studio arts and art history. The faculty is composed of teaching artists and art historians whose knowledge, leadership and skills create a classroom and studio environment that is creative and challenging. In fall 1999, the then School of Art opened the Charles M. Russell Center for the Study of Art of the American West. The center offers the nation’s first university-based program dedicated to the field of American art history as it relates to the Western United States. The OU School of Visual Arts hosts an impressive array of outstanding visiting artists through the Jerome and Wanda Otey Westheimer Chair for Distinguished Visiting Artists, established in 2004. In the fall of 2007, the school was renamed the School of Art and Art History, and the OU School of Visual Arts, in 2016.

The Department of Dance, which became the School of Dance in 1998, was established in 1961, when Miguel Terekhov and Yvonne Chouteau, principal dancers with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, were invited to teach a few classes. Response to these classes was so positive that Terekhov was invited to develop the present program. With a reputation for strong performance capabilities and the high quality and professionalism of its graduates, the program quickly rose to national prominence. The faculty blends academic skill and professional dance experience in ballet and modern dance. Former students have established professional careers in major ballet companies, as well as in Broadway musicals, national touring companies and modern dance companies. In spring 2000, Professor Mary Margaret Holt was appointed first holder of the John and Mary Nichols Endowed Chair in Dance, the first such chair in the school. In 2002 construction began on the Donald W. Reynolds Performing Arts Center, which includes renovation of Holmberg Hall and a new 18,000–square-foot facility for the School of Dance.  The new facility opened in 2005.

The Peggy V. Dow Helmerich School of Drama is the second oldest university dramatic training institution in the nation. The school traces its roots to 1903 and the “Program of Elocution and Expression.” In 1924, the same year the College of Fine Arts was established, the program became known as the School of Dramatic Art, officially changing its name to the School of Drama in 1937. 

A distinguished lineage of alumni has helped established a nationally recognized reputation for excellence. The school boasts Academy Award, Tony Award and Emmy Award-winning graduates among its alumni body, including Van Heflin, Alice Ghostly, A. Max Weitzenhoffer, Dennis Weaver, Rance Howard, Lou Antonio, Ronnie Clare Edwards, Larry Drake and James Garner.

In spring 2003, the school was honored by the native Oklahoman and distinguished actor James Garner with the establishment of the James Garner Professor of Drama.

In 2011, the School of Drama was named in honor of Peggy Dow Helmerich to recognize her outstanding career as an actress and the generous support provided by Mrs. Helmerich and her husband, OU alumnus Walter H. Helmerich III. Their numerous gifts have established endowments for student scholarships, special programs and a visiting guest artist professorship.

The School of Music presents over 200 recitals and concerts each year. A full complement of faculty artists and scholars offers instruction in all traditional instruments and voice, music education, music history, music composition and music theory. The school is housed in the magnificent Stanley B. Catlett Music Center, which was dedicated in fall 1998 with special guest performances by Marilyn Horne and Van Cliburn. In the fall of 1999, a series of recitals by distinguished concert organists, including Dame Gillian Weir, inaugurated the Mildred Andrews Boggess Memorial Organ. Students and faculty are frequent recipients of state, regional, national, and international awards.

The A. Max Weitzenhoffer School of Musical Theatre began as the Musical Theatre Program within the School of Drama in 1991, became an independent department in Fall 2001, and in 2009 became the fifth school within the College of Fine Arts. Alumnus and two-time Tony Award winner A. Max Weitzenhoffer endowed several professorships in musical theatre, and in honor of his gift, the department was renamed the A. Max Weitzenhoffer Department of Musical Theatre. In 2009, the program was named the Weitzenhoffer School of Musical Theatre. The school offers one of the strongest musical theatre programs within an American public university. While relatively new as an independent school, musical theatre has a long history within the college. Working closely with colleagues in dance, drama and music, the department offers the Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in musical theatre performance.

Max Weitzenhoffer at OU

Established as the College of Fine Arts in 1924, the fourth college founded at the university, the college was renamed the Weitzenhoffer Family College of Fine Arts in 2004 in honor of the Weitzenhoffer family, which has given extraordinary support to the college as well as to every area of the university.

The gift of the Weitzenhoffer Collection moved OU’s Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art into the forefront of university affiliated art galleries. The gift also provided the University with a new vision for the museum facility.

In the fall of 1998, Max Weitzenhoffer pledged $5 million to the support of the Musical Theatre program, which endowed faculty positions, student scholarships and professional and instructional development to nurture their talents, improve facilities and to enhance productions. In 2009, the program was named the A. Max Weitzenhoffer School of Musical Theatre.

Reynolds Performing Arts Center

The Donald W. Reynolds Performing Arts Center, built in 1918 as part of the University of Oklahoma’s original campus, is one of Oklahoma’s most historic buildings and one of the university’s key educational and community facilities. Originally named The Auditorium (1918) it was renamed Holmberg Hall (1938), after Fredrick Holmberg, professor of music and first Dean of the College of Fine Arts.

In 2002 the building began a multimillion dollar renovation. The original building with the addition of the new dance wing and renovated practice rooms were renamed the Donald W. Reynolds Performing Arts Center (2005), after Donald W. Reynolds.

The Building’s centerpiece is Oklahoma’s only European-style performance hall, the setting for appearances by famous visitors to Oklahoma, generations of OU student performers, and a wide range of community activities. Sometimes called “Oklahoma’s meeting house,” the building has housed some of the state’s most memorable events.

Famous visitors include President William Howard Taft, statesman William Jennings Bryan, poet William Butler Yeats, Composer Aaron Copland, and dancer Martha Graham. Former high school students from across the state remember it as the site of music, band and speech competitions and events.

In addition, many of the University of Oklahoma’s landmark events, from former OU President James Buchanan’s funeral to football Coach Bud Wilkinson’s national trophy presentation, were held in the facility.

Donald Worthington Reynolds (1906-1993) was born in 1906 to Gaines W. Reynolds, a traveling wholesale grocery salesman, and his wife Anna Louise. He spent his childhood in Oklahoma City and it was there the young Reynolds first began working in the industry he would eventually dominate, “hawking” copies of the Oklahoma News at the railroad depot.

After high school he set his sights on the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, working summers at a meat packing plant in Oklahoma City to pay for his studies.

Upon graduation in 1927, Mr. Reynolds worked in a variety of newspaper-oriented positions. With $1,000 in capital (part of which he borrowed), he invested in his first business enterprise, a photo engraving plant. Using the profits from this venture, he purchased and then sold his first newspaper, the Quincy (Massachusetts) Evening News. The proceeds were used to purchase the Okmulgee (Oklahoma) Daily Times and the Southwest (Arkansas) Times Record, the two publications that launched the Donrey Media Group.

Oklahoma would continue to play a pivotal role in his company’s success as he acquired sixteen newspaper properties in the Sooner state over Donrey’s fifty-three years of continuous operation.

Throughout his life Mr. Reynolds continually expanded his business enterprise, ultimately owning over 100 businesses in the newspaper, radio, television, cable television and outdoor advertising industries. His sharp business acumen focused on businesses located in small, but growth-oriented communities.

Upon his death in 1993, the Donrey Media Group, one of the nation’s largest privately held media companies was sold. A substantial bequest from Mr. Reynolds’ estate provided the endowment for the charitable foundation which he had created in 1954 – the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation.

It was from this foundation that a multi-million dollar grant was awarded in 2001 to restore historic Holmberg Hall to its original grandeur.

Fredrik Holmberg

When Fredrik Holmberg got off the train in Norman, Oklahoma, from Lindsborg, Kansas, in 1903, he looked around for the tallest buildings he could find and headed toward them. Not until he stopped and talked to someone on the "campus" did Holmberg realize he had mistaken the mental hospital for the University of Oklahoma. Clutching his violin under one arm, he walked a mile and a half back through town in a storm of red dust before finding the real campus, which he said later was not nearly as impressive as the first.

Discouraged by the barren plain and ready to catch the next train north, Holmberg instead kept his appointment with David Ross Boyd. The OU president "had a way of giving one an optimistic outlook," Holmberg wrote, and after their initial encounter, the music professor from Bethany College decided to stay. Within his first six weeks, he organized a men’s glee club, a women’s glee club, an oratoria chorus, a band and an orchestra. For the next 30 years, Holmberg never stopped working for the University and its students.

A native of Sweden who immigrated to the United States while still a teen, Holmberg worked in the wheat fields of central Kansas to pay his way through college. Even before graduating from Bethany in 1899, he was teaching violin—his favorite instrument—and harmony. According to OU historian David W. Levy, Holmberg believed that music, almost as much as religion, could provide the cultural cement that bound a citizenry together. He even credited "the extremely high moral standards" of Lindsborg to the town’s devotion to communal music.

Throughout the years, Holmberg was a tireless advocate for fine arts education, not only at OU, but around the state as well. He often would take his show on the road, giving concerts and plays in out-of-town venues and always encouraging the local high school students to consider OU after graduation.