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The Willard Wankelman Gallery is named for a former Director of the School of Art, under whose leadership of 26 years it flourished and grew from a tiny program with two faculty members, located in a World War II barracks building behind what is now Olscamp Hall, to a flourishing program with over 30 faculty. The art building was constructed in 1950, with a two-story gallery/auditorium at one end. It was in this space that art history was taught, and in which Professor Otto Ockvirk organized the first Student Exhibition, which opened on Mother's Day in 1951. In 1964, a building extension enabled the redesign of the space to be used exclusively as a gallery, which was designated The School of Art Gallery. It has survived relatively unchanged since then, although in 1998, the track lighting in the gallery was expanded.

Mr. Wankelman, who received his BFA and MFA degrees from Ohio State University, came to BGSU in 1946, after teaching at Port Clinton High School and at Washington State University. He was originally from Cincinnati, where his father had been a wholesale toy distributor. Within two years of his arrival, the art department began expanding, with the arrival of Philip Wigg, Charles Lakofsky and Robert O.Bone. Two years later Robert (Stinny) Stinson and Otto Ockvirk joined the team, and two years after that, Paul Running and Carl Hall.

The art department continued to grow, outgrowing its building in 1970, when the sculpture, glass and ceramics departments moved into the Art Annex, an old storage building on Reed Street near the railroad tracks. In the 1980's the design division also needed additional space, and took over the second floor of the Health Center across Ridge Street. The School of Art was finally reunited in 1992, when the new addition opened. Until then, the School of Art Gallery was the sole gallery in the school, hosting hundreds of exhibitions over the years. A full-time director was hired in 1985.

Mr. Wankelman died in 1995, and the gallery was renamed in his honor. The ceremony was attended by his wife and son Warren of Florida, as well as many of the faculty members that he had hired over the years. When Mrs. Wankelman passed away in 1998, family and friends again returned for a memorial in the Willard Wankelman Gallery.

The gallery continues to provide much needed space for student BFA and Design Exhibitions each year, as well as one-person and small group exhibitions.