The Block Museum of Art at Northwestern University

Founded in 1851 in Evanston, Illinois (a Chicago suburb), Northwestern University ranks among the top universities in the United States.  Therefore, unsurprisingly, it has its own museum on campus.  Mary and Leigh Block founded the Block Museum of Art in 1980 with the goal of educating both students and the public about art.  Although most of the museum’s exhibits are rotating exhibits from other institutions, the museum itself has a collection of approximately 6,000 pieces of its own art, some of which were donated from the personal collection of Mary and Leigh Block.

I have visited the Block Museum twice.  The first time was in 2019, where I saw an amazing traveling exhibit called Caravans of Gold, Fragments in Time: Art, Culture, and Exchange Across Medieval Saharan Africa.  I believe that while the exhibit was on tour, it was the largest African collection in the United States outside of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art in Washington D.C.  Most of the items in the exhibit’s collection were on loan from museums in Mali, Morocco, and Nigeria.

This is 14th/15th-century jewelry that was excavated in Nigeria.

Africa’s role in the history of cultural exchange is often overlooked, so this exhibit did a wonderful job of presenting West Africa’s role in medieval trading.  For example, the exhibit included a 10th/12th-cetury piece of Chinese porcelain found in Mali, a 13th-century ivory Madonna and Child found in France, and old Arabic books found in Mali and Nigeria.  All of these objects are evidence of the material and cultural exchange that occurred between Africa and other continents throughout the centuries.

This is a commentary on the Qur’an by ‘Abd Allah bin Fudil from Nigeria, dating to 1794-95. It testifies to the cultural exchange between the Islamic world and West Africa.

The second time that I visited the Block Museum was in early 2020.  I happened to be wandering around Northwestern University’s campus for fun, so decided to visit the museum while I was there.  That means that I saw the last exhibit that the museum had on display prior to temporarily closing because of COVID-19.  The exhibit was called Modernisms: Iranian, Turkish, and Indian Highlights from NYU’s Abby Weed Grey Collection.  As its name implies, this temporary exhibit displayed modern Iranian, Turkish, and Indian art, primarily from the 1960s and 1970s.  I do not know a lot about art, especially modern art, so I have nothing more to say about this exhibit!

The Block Museum is free and open to the public, although it is still currently closed (as of March, 2021) because of COVID-19. During normal times, it has many events, including lectures and movie screenings. I believe that it displays two exhibits per year. Evanston is a tricky place to find parking.  However, there is a parking garage near the Block Museum (around Chicago Ave. and Sheridan Rd.) that has free parking on the weekends, and after 4 PM on weekdays.

To learn more about Northwestern University’s library, click here.

Sources and Further Reading

“Caravans of Gold, Fragments in Time: Art, Culture, and Exchange across Medieval Saharan Africa.” The Block Museum of Art. 2019.,-fragments-in-time-art,-culture,-and-exchange-across-medieval-saharan-africa.html (accessed March 5, 2021).

“Caravans of Gold, Fragments in Time: Art, Culture, and Exchange across Medieval Saharan Africa.” Caravans of Gold. (accessed March 5, 2021).

“Driving & Parking.” The Block Museum of Art. (accessed March 5, 2021).

Hartfield, Ronne. “Mary and Leigh Block Museum.” Encyclopedia of Chicago. 2005. (accessed March 5, 2021).

“Modernisms: Iranian, Turkish, and Indian Highlights from NYU’s Abby Weed Grey Collection.” The Block Museum of Art. 2020.,-turkish-and-indian-highlights-from-nyus-abby-grey-collection.html (accessed March 5, 2021).


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s