The Lentz Collection for Asian Culture

Asian woodblock print

The purpose of the Lentz Collection for Asian Culture has been to recognize the rich and varied cultures of the many diverse peoples of Asia. As an entity within the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, its unique collections provide a singular opportunity for enhancing instructional programs on the campus, as well as enriching the cultural environment of the citizens of the state of Nebraska since 1986. The exhibitions embodied the University's strong commitment to fostering multicultural understanding through an appreciation of Asian cultures.

The Lentz Collection includes hundreds of objects covering a wide range of media and a broad geographical area. These items were chosen for their historical importance, cultural significance and aesthetic appeal. They include musical instruments, jade, Tibetan ritual objects, and many other items that reveal facets of traditional Asian civilizations — such as Asian ceramics, paintings, prints, sculpture, textiles and much more. The collection is digitized and viewable online.

Inspired by their many years of work and study in Asia, the initial endowment and basic collection was established by Professor and Mrs. Donald Lentz. First, they began collecting Asian musical instruments and then other Asian objects. Professor Lentz, an authority on Asian music, authored the book, The Gamelan Music of Java and Bali. The Lentz Center for Asian Culture became the realization of their deep commitment not only to Asian cultures, but to the University of Nebraska and the people of the great state of Nebraska.

Establishment of the Center was approved by the University of Nebraska Board of Regents in 1983, and it was dedicated in 1986 at Morrill Hall. It was moved to the Hewit Place in 2000.

The Center closed in 2010 and discontinued regular exhibitions, due to financial considerations.

portrait of Donald and Velma Lentz

Donald and Velma Lentz

Donald and Velma Lentz, the founders of the Lentz Center for Asian Culture, traveled to Asia on various expeditions. Donald Lentz was a professor of Music at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln as well as the band director. His specialty was Asian music. Mrs. Lentz was a pianist. Thus, the Lentz's started their collection with musical instruments. The Lentz Center for Asian Culture has many different and unusual instruments from Tibet, China, Burma, and elsewhere.

Professor Donald Lentz, a native of Brookings, South Dakota, received his B.A. and M.F.A. in his home state. He played the flute with the New York Symphony Orchestra, the Barrere Little Symphony and the John Philip Sousa Marching Band.

He was professor of woodwind instruments at the University of Nebraska - Lincoln School of Music and director of the University of Nebraska bands from 1937-1973. When Professor Lentz was named director in 1937, there were no half-time band shows and no high school band days. He initiated both. Professor Lentz is noted for his efforts to bring college marching bands into the national spotlight. In 1940, he convinced the university that the Cornhusker Marching Band should follow the Huskers to the Rose Bowl.

In 1952, Professor Lentz was awarded a Ford Foundation Grant to study Indian music. This was the first of ten adventurous trips to Asia, taken by Professor Lentz and his wife Velma. It was through these study trips that this remarkable couple began collecting Asian artifacts and musical instruments.

Professor Lentz received recognition for his books on the Hindu tonal system, the Gamelan music of Java and Bali, and articles published in Asian anthologies. He was the first to offer a Far Eastern instruments course at the university.

He received the "Eyes on Nebraska" award from the Nebraska Optometric Association in 1972, and was the recipient of the Epsilon Omega honor in 1973.

The Lentz's gave their collection to the University of Nebraska - Lincoln and the Lentz Center for Asian Culture was opened and dedicated in 1986. Professor Lentz served as the director from 1986-1987. He passed away in 1987 at the age of 79.

Mrs. Lentz, a retired pianist, served as the museum's director from 1987-1992. At the age of 95, she passed away in February 2006. She asked that memorials be made to the Lentz Center for Asian Culture.

Donald and Velma Lentz were very anxious to introduce Nebraskans to all aspects of Asian culture and modes of thought.