by Deanne Stone, OLLI member

Only one museum in the United States owns a painting by Michelangelo, and it is not in New York or D.C. Would you have guessed Fort Worth, TX? In 2009, the Kimbell Art Museum acquired The Torment of Saint Anthony, the first Michelangelo to enter an American collection and one of only four known easel paintings believed to come from his hand.

Students taking Kerrin Meis’s fall course, Superb Art Collections in America, will be introduced to a dozen significant museums that most tourists overlook on their travels or have never heard of. Each museum is named after its collector, and Meis will highlight their fascinating stories--their personalities, idiosyncrasies, and approaches to collecting--as much as the collections. The most controversial is the eccentric Dr. Albert Barnes, who amassed an important collection of paintings by Cezanne, Renoir, and other major artists and then housed them in a building in an inconvenient location that was rarely open to the public. Another museum swirling in intrigue is the Isabella Steward Gardner Museum in Boston. In 1990, thieves broke into the museum and stole 13 paintings that have never been recovered.

Meis laces her lively, informative lectures with her signature sly humor. Perhaps her distinctive approach to relating art history with a mixture of facts and fun comes from her having entered the field in her late forties. After years of working in business and raising three daughters, she resumed her undergraduate education where she had left off when she married.

Meis was fortunate to encounter a Hungarian art history professor at Dominican College in Marin who sparked her enthusiasm to travel and seriously study European collections and historic sites. Meis completed her undergraduate work at Dominican and earned a Masters in Art History at Berkeley. Although her academic field of study was nineteenth-century French painting, she considers herself a generalist after having taught art history survey classes for ten years at San Francisco State University.

Since retiring, Meis has combined her interest in art and travel by leading tours in Southwest France. Next May, she’s taking a group to Turkey, and this December, she will squeeze in a pleasure trip to Burma. Closer to home, Meis leads tours of major exhibits at the Legion of Honor and the de Young and, on occasion, takes groups to New York to visit special exhibits at the Metropolitan Museum.

Meis hopes that those who take her class will be inspired to go off the beaten museum path and visit the Morgan Library Museum and the Frick Collection the next time they’re in New York, take a side trip to the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, MA, or venture to the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena. Most of all, she wants to make the study of art history enjoyable.

“Too many people approach art with a somber, overly serious attitude,” she says. “I believe in doing good academic research, but I also believe that learning about art history can be fun.”