The University Art Galleries is responsible for developing and maintaining the Permanent Art Collection of The University of South Dakota, which currently numbers over 1,600 pieces emphasizing South Dakota artists, contemporary art, Northern Plains American Indian Art, Asian and African study collections.
The University Art Galleries established an institutional Permanent Art Collection in 1980 with the mission to provide high-quality visual arts for the aesthetic enhancement of campus and as an educational resource. At the time, the University already owned a significant collection of Oscar Howe paintings, acquired as a benefit of his position as Artist-In-Residence, and the Art Department collected student work to document its graduates and for use in instruction. Establishing a USD Permanent Collection, incorporating the Oscar Howe and Art Department holdings allowed the University to actively pursue gifts of art. In the 1980s and 1990s, the University Collection was enhanced by donations of African and Asian collections, and subsequently Oceanic and Mexican study collections.
In the spring of 1995, the University Permanent Collection offered the vehicle for USD to accept a unique gift of art valued conservatively at $200,000. The story of this gift was unique enough to be featured in a story on collecting in the May 1997 magazine "Arts & Antiques." It is a story worth retelling.
Edward Stowe Akeley (1895-1983) grew up in Vermillion, the son of Lewis Akeley, a long-time University faculty member in Physics and Dean of the USD College of Engineering from 1913 to 1933. The senior Akeley joined the University faculty in 1887 and was one of its strongest academic leaders until his death in 1961.
Edward earned his B.A. from USD in 1915 and following in his father's footsteps, he chose a career in teaching. He earned his Ph.D. in Physics from the University of Chicago and was a long-time professor at Purdue University. Akeley began collecting art seriously by the early 1930s, initially specializing in German modernists who were labeled by the Nazis as "degenerate" artists. He acquired much of this work directly from the artists including Käthe Kollwitz, and he aided Jewish gallery owners to smuggle art out of Germany.
Edward met his future wife, Anna, in Vienna in the mid 1930s, and they were married in the U.S. in 1942. Together they spent a life collecting art and "pinching pennies" to do so. After the war, when Edward taught in Mexico City, he began collecting Latin American modernists and in the 1960s he took advantage of a unique opportunity to acquire an important collection of 17th and 18th Century Japanese woodblock prints.
When he died in 1983, Edward and Anna had spent 50 years and approximately $30,000 building a unique, diverse, and high-quality art collection ultimately valued at over one million dollars. By mutual agreement, his will guided Anna to distribute their collection to two nephews and four institutions to which he had a strong sentimental attachment.
On May 3, 1995, representatives of the University of South Dakota gathered with those from the University of Chicago, Purdue University, the Greater Lafayette Museum of Art, and the Akeley family at Purdue to claim works for their respective collections. In what was described at the time as a "NFL style draft," John A. Day, Former Dean of the University Art Galleries at USD, selected 36 pieces of art, including examples of all three of the Akeley's collecting focuses.