Joan Mannheimer is passionate about ceramic arts. Whether the pieces are small and delicate, large and heavy, functional and sculptural, she appreciates their power—and the play of light around them.
This is what drove the devoted community volunteer to begin collecting contemporary American ceramics in 1964, before they were an accepted art form. It’s also what inspired her to donate much of her extraordinary collection to the University of Iowa Stanley Museum of Art in the early 1980s.
“I wanted students to hold these pieces and sense the volume and space they create,” says Mannheimer, who was one of the first co-chairs of what is now the Friends of the Museum of Art. She calls her hobby “a magnificent obsession” and says the real joy of collecting meant visiting artists in their studios and establishing close friendships with dealers, artists, and aficionados.
The museum first showed Mannheimer’s collection in the 1981 exhibit, “Centering on Contemporary Clay: American Ceramics from the Joan Mannheimer Collection.” She received the Elliott/Stanley Award for Acquisitions, in honor of her outstanding contributions to the permanent UI Stanley Museum of Art ceramics collections, in 1993.
Nearly four decades later, Mannheimer made another generous gift for Iowa’s art museum. In 2014, she became one of the first to support the Fund for Rebuilding the UI Stanley Museum of Art.
To recognize her significant donation, the museum will name the building’s Visible Storage Classroom—a space where pieces from the museum’s permanent collection will be on display and accessible to students, faculty, and researchers for hands-on study—in her honor. The glass vitrines lining the walls will store objects from the Joan Mannheimer Collection, as well as other sculptural arts, when they aren’t on exhibit.
“To fulfill our educational mission, we must engage deeply with the university’s curriculum,” says Lauren Lessing, director of the UI Museum of Art. “By serving as a laboratory space for the study of artworks, this classroom will help us integrate into courses in a wide range of disciplines, from chemistry and anthropology to art history.”
Mannheimer, who turned 92 this year, looks forward to seeing the Visual Arts Classroom, and other spaces, when she attends the building’s public opening. She is especially excited about experiencing one of her favorite pieces on exhibit at the museum—BrickBang, a sculpted glazed self-portrait by California artist Robert Arneson. “That piece epitomizes my journey,” she says.