The Ball family is known for their enterprising and philanthropic spirit. When the five Ball brothers moved their company from Buffalo, New York, to Muncie, Indiana, in 1887, they immediately took an interest in their new hometown. Family members often volunteered their time and leadership to local organizations. In addition to these community efforts, several members of the Ball family were major art collectors.

In time, several of the Ball family’s private art collections would arrive at the gallery that would eventually become the Ball State University Museum of Art in 1991, then the David Owsley Museum of Art 20 years later. From the grand opening of the museum in 1936 to the present, the Ball family’s collections have greatly influenced the museum and have served as a foundation for the collection.

Frank C. Ball

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Frank C. Ball, the fourth eldest Ball brother, invented the world’s first semiautomatic glass machine, served as the Ball Brothers Company president for 63 years, and was an active member of the Muncie community.

Frank C. Ball had a wide-ranging interest in the arts, and his family was closely involved in developing the collection. Together they purchased art from artists, auctions, estates, and dealers. This led to a great variety in his collection.

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"Family Group" by Pieter Thys was purchased as the sale.

Frank C. Ball started giving his collection to the Ball Brothers Foundation in 1936. In the same year, the foundation loaned many of the important paintings, sculptures, and decorative arts in the collection to the gallery.

In February 1918, Frank and two of his daughters, Lucy and Margaret, were riding the elevator at the Plaza Hotel in New York. When the elevator reached the ballroom floor, several guests stepped out and worked their way into a crowd. Mr. Ball asked the elevator operator what was going on. The operator replied that it was the auction sale of the art collection of the late George A. Hearn.

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Mr. Ball had recently undergone eye surgery and was delighted that he could see the paintings at the Hearn auction. He bought over 70 works of art at the sale. Both in number and in scale, the paintings purchased were more than could be contained in the Ball residence. For many years following the auction, the collection was housed at the Herron School of Art in Indianapolis.

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Frank C. Ball and his family returned to New York several times to acquire new works of art for the collection. Mr. Ball continued to purchase at auctions, but like many collectors, developed relationships with art dealers and galleries. Mr. Ball purchased many pieces from the Grand Central Art Galleries in New York, including this sculpture by Paul Manship.

Frank C. Ball’s brother-in-law was the Hoosier impressionist J. Ottis Adams. This relationship gave him access to the artist’s best works and an interest in the Hoosier Group of painters. On one occasion, Mr. Ball contacted several group members, including T.C. Steele, William Forsyth, Otto Stark, and J. Ottis Adams, to inform them he desired a painting from each and named the price he was willing to pay. Mr. Ball left the selection up to the artist. He believed that if the artists were able to choose they would pick for him their best work.

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These works and Frank C. Ball’s collection at the Herron School were moved to the gallery at the center of the Fine Arts Building when it opened in 1936 forming the nucleus of the museum’s collection.

 Frank C. and Bessie Ball’s eldest son, E. Arthur Ball, continued the family’s art collecting tradition. During his lifetime, E. Arthur Ball developed a small collection of important European paintings.

E. Arthur Ball bought all of the paintings in his collection during the 1930s and 1940s from Wildenstein and Company, New York.

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E. Arthur Ball’s primary interest was 18th century French paintings, but he also bought three other European works, including “Portrait of Erasmus of Rotterdam” by Hans Holbein.

Following E. Arthur Ball’s death in 1947, offers were made to buy his collection. Fully understanding the loss this would have been to the community, Frank C. Ball’s daughters, Lucina Ball Owsley, Margaret Ball Petty, and Rosemary Bracken, provided the funds necessary to secure the paintings for the community’s future and later the museum’s collection.

The E. Arthur Ball Collection first exhibited at the gallery in 1952. Since then, the collection’s place at the David Owsley Museum of Art has received attention from art lovers and scholars.

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In 2007, the Jean-Honoré Fragonard painting “Sultana on an Ottoman” (1774/1776) from the E. Arthur Ball Collection was loaned to the Jacquemart-André Museum in Paris, France, for an exhibition of the artist’s work. The painting, which is an important piece from Fragonard’s body of work, has been exhibited internationally several times.

The youngest of the five Ball brothers, George A. Ball served as the Ball Brothers Company bookkeeper, secretary, treasurer, vice president, president, and board chairman.

George A. Ball also served on the boards of Indiana University, Ball State University, and what is now IU Health Ball Memorial Hospital. Together with his wife, Frances, he assembled an impressive collection of American art, much of it contemporary and rather more modern than the collection of his brother Frank.

George A. Ball’s wife, Frances, was very active and influential in developing the family’s art collection. Together, George and Frances pursued their diverse interests, including paintings and watercolors, sculpture, decorative arts, furniture, and Japanese woodblock prints. 

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George A. and Frances Ball strove to develop a collection that represented a wide range of culture and history. Their collection includes examples ranging from Roman glass to early American paintings, like this example by Gilbert Charles Stuart.

The collection that George and Frances assembled moved from conventional 19th century paintings to rather bold selections of contemporary American paintings. The couple’s collection was rather forward-thinking. They began collecting American artwork at a time when American art took second place to its European counterpart.

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George A. and Frances Ball purchased from the leading New York dealers William McBeth and Frank Rhen. Both had access to rich inventories of the best American paintings.


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George A. and Frances Ball must have believed that art was essential to the cultural and educational life of a community. The couple began donating portions of their private collection to the gallery in the 1950s. The rest of their collection was entrusted to their daughter, Elisabeth Ball, who continued to occupy their home until her death in 1982.

Elisabeth Ball was the only child of George A. and Frances Ball. Educated at Vassar College and trained as a botanist, Elisabeth’s passion for collecting tended to botanical illustration. Very likely, Elisabeth’s art history classes at Vassar also influenced her parent’s taste for contemporary American paintings.

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The Elisabeth Ball Collection is made up of hundreds of works of art, including paintings, drawings, decorative arts, and a large number of prints, including works by old masters such as the engraving, “Madonna by the Wall” by Albrecht Dürer.

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Like her parents, Elisabeth Ball also placed importance on American art. Her namesake collection includes several important American paintings, including this watercolor by Winslow Homer.

Elisabeth Ball’s diverse interests are reflected in the variety of her collection, which includes several works of art by early 20th century European artists that combine her interest in botany with an adventurous contemporary taste.

Elisabeth Ball’s experiences exposed her to new artistic mediums and ways of thinking about fine art. Her namesake collection also includes photography, which was gaining ground as a fine art medium when Elisabeth developed her collection.

Elisabeth Ball’s collection covers a broad range historically and stylistically. Her collection, along with that of her mother and father, was more focused and adventurous in the field of contemporary art.

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David T. Owsley, the son of Alvin and Lucy Ball Owsley and grandson of Frank C. Ball, has furnished the David Owsley Museum of Art with over 1,400 works of art. These contributions have greatly enriched the museum’s collection, particularly in the areas of ethnographic and Asian art. After graduate training in art history at New York University’s Institute of Fine Arts, David T. Owsley worked at The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s American Wing, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, and the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh, serving each with distinction. A thoughtful collector and connoisseur, David T. Owsley has exceeded the Ball family tradition of collecting in quantity and in quality.

David T. Owsley began collecting art at a young age. During his youth, he purchased artwork while on family vacations and travelling with his father, minister plenipotentiary to Denmark and Ireland, 1933-1939. These early experiences exposed David to world cultures and ignited a passion for collecting.

image of work of artDavid T. Owsley has been donating art to the museum for over 45 years. His contributions reflect his broad expertise as well as his intuitive response to works of art. Mr. Owsley’s contributions have also been thoughtfully selected to complement the collections already in place.

Through his contributions, Mr. Owsley has expanded the breadth of the museum’s collection by adding works of art related to other collections and targeting areas less well represented. The museum’s collection of art representing ancient China, India, and Southeast Asia have been almost single-handedly furnished by David T. Owsley’s connoisseurship and generosity.

Image of work of artBall State recognized his generosity by naming the David T. Owsley Ethnographic Gallery in 1978 and naming the museum after him in 2011. The university awarded him the President’s Medal of Distinction in 1989 and conferred an honorary doctor of humanities in 2005.

“I hope that the works of art I have given to the Museum of Art will not only be of interest and inspiration in themselves,” Mr. Owsley says, “but will serve also as signposts to avenues of exploration of the great and often beautiful cultures of our world.”

Epilogue

The Ball family members mentioned here loaned nearly 3,000 individual works of art to the gallery, providing an excellent foundation for the growth and development of the museum. The majority of the collections became part of the David Owsley Museum of Art permanent collection in 1995 through generous ongoing gifts made by the Ball Brothers Foundation and the George and Frances Ball Foundation.

The philanthropic spirit of the Ball family lives on today through their decedents’ commitment to the arts and the museum.

The third oldest Ball brother, Edmund B. Ball, collected art as well during his lifetime. His children, Edmund F. Ball, Adelia Ball Morris, and Janice Ball Fisher, have given works of art from the family collection to the museum.

Edmund F. Ball and his wife, Virginia, developed their own art collection, with emphasis placed on western art. Several works from their collection have been gifted or are currently on loan to the museum.

The devotion of these family members to the arts and their commitment to the museum is a fitting contribution to the legacy of the Ball family and their passion for the arts.

Acknowledgements

This webpage drew information from “Memoirs of Frank Clayton Ball” by Frank Clayton Ball; “The Magnificent Benefactors: the History of the Ball State University Museum of Art” and “Side by Side with Coarser Plants” both by Ned H. Griner; and “The Elisabeth Ball Collection of Paintings, Drawings, and Watercolors” published by the Ball State University Museum of Art.