Deck the Halls

WAM_DecktheHalls_Cat.jpgFrom November 19, 1995-March 3, 1996, WAM exhibited, “Deck the Halls: Holiday Photography by Roger Mertin and Christina Patoski.” As, “the most… wonderful time…. Of the year…” has again approached and passed us, it is an apt time to look back at this exhibit which brings into focus the celebrations and pastimes that surround the holiday season.

In the exhibit catalogue, former WAM curator Patricia McDonnell described,

Christmas in late twentieth-century America is a pervasive cultural phenomenon, and for many it entails a round of rituals that are removed from a specific religious context. Given the importance in our culture of this winter observance, it represents prime territory for the artist interested in cultural meaning, its development, and ways of representation.”

Through the exhibition of the holiday-focused photographs of Roger Mertin and Christina Patoski, we can look at seasonal cultural offerings in different contexts.

An invitation to the exhibition opening and a listing of related programs provides further insight into the discussion of cultural considerations of the winter season:

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Former WAM Director of Education Colleen Sheehy described the exhibit,

The artists’ accumulation of images, taken in far-flung locales over a number of years, builds a composite picture of the country’s holiday folk customs. That larger picture reveals how Americans use objects in an artfulness of everyday life, creating domestic spaces in which ornament, architecture, and landscape are carefully designed and then enhanced through the use of lighting.

As I returned home for a holiday celebration with family this past weekend I thought of this exhibit. I gave special attention to how my mother used objects in “the artfulness of everyday life” to design our home with holiday décor.

After participating in a secular family viewing of “Home Alone” whilst enjoying a piece of lefsa lightly dusted with brown sugar, I realized just how, “Fast away the old year passes…”

“Hail the new, ye lads and lasses!”

Fa la la la la, la la la la.

Art & Nature

Over the course of the past few days, nature has had a great affect on the mood and demeanor of those that inhabit the Twin Cities. As we reach the middle of December, “mother nature” has provided us with a temperature of 40 degrees and a climate of rainstorms, only to be followed by a temperature of 25-degrees and freezing rain the next day. For those that were able to witness the brief moment that the sun made an appearance in as many as 2 days early this morning, consider yourself to be one of the lucky ones…

The recent irregularities in nature reminded me of a folder in a box I processed months ago in the WAM Archives of an exhibit titled, “The Debt of Art to Nature.”

Web_DebtofArt_01.jpg Web_DebtofArt_02.jpgThe exhibit, which originated at the Fogg Museum at Harvard University in 1943, was arranged by Ruth Lawrence to be exhibited at the University Gallery in 1945. The catalogue to the Fogg exhibit, written by Gretchen Warren, states, “This exhibition consists of a collection of shells showing their dynamic spiral, together with photographs of the spiral as used in the visual arts of almost every age and civilization. These will illustrate the widespread influence of this beautiful form and its value for symbolism… The thesis underlying this entire exhibition may be summed up in one phrase: Relatedness, order, and beauty in the universe, and their imperishable significance for man, in symbolism, tradition, and education.” A catalogue, drafted by Warren, was provided to Ruth Lawrence to accompany the exhibit at the University Gallery (see attached draft at left).

Images from the exhibit, showcasing the shape and form of the shell spiral juxtaposed with photographs and other objects were contained within the exhibition folder:

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Despite the gloomy weather of the past few days, I will try to observe artful forms of nature in my environs… as even a raindrop or an ice pellet falling from the sky has an aesthetic worthy of appreciation…

An apple a day…

Helps you appreciate art in a new way?


Photographs taken of students visiting the exhibition of works of American artists in the “Art Here” exhibit held in March of 1937 have me considering the gallery policies of that time. Was food and beverage allowed in the gallery spaces in Northrop Auditorium? Previous photos we have encountered allude to the fact that smoking was permitted at one time. Why not a quick snack?

ArtHere_01.jpgOn page 53 of the University Gallery press books (which have been meticulously photographed by a project processor – the files of which were recently shared amongst the project team), a clipping from a March 5, 1937 article from the Minneapolis Star is rubber cemented to the page. The article, written by John K. Sherman indicates that, “it’s a valiant picture ogler that can keep up with Ruth Lawrence and the University Gallery.”

As usual, Ruth mounted an exhibit that attracted the attention of University students, exposing them to contemporary artworks.

Several students seem to be thoroughly engaged in active appreciation of the “Art Here” exhibition:

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Web_O_Guards.jpg Amongst the records of WAM there has resided an occasional personnel file. While all personal and confidential records have been confidentially recycled – general notices, correspondence, and position descriptions related to the Gallery were retained.

At left, directions and qualifications for gallery guards (University students) are articulated in an administrative document dated 1973. While the guard duties of today differ from those of nearly 40 years ago (guards are no longer responsible for the sale of catalogues, and smoking isn’t allowed in any public building in Minnesota), some core job duties remain the same – i.e. reinforcing the photography policy, as well as ensuring the security of artwork.

WAM Music

When the Frank Gehry designed Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum was built in 1993, a space was created not only for exhibition, education, and experiences with art, but also for another ‘e’ – events. The space provided the museum the opportunity to stage seminars, lectures, symposiums, and concerts in conjunction with exhibitions and educational programming, as well as offer space rental for private events such as wedding receptions and holiday parties.

Private events records which contain such items as catering receipts, wedding reception schedules, diagrams of table and chair set up, etc., were considered incidental to the museum’s core activities, and thus not appropriate to the collection. The nature of the materials – credit card receipts and photocopies of personal checks – make it such that they cannot be kept without restrictions. These records were placed in confidential recycling.

Other WAM events however, those coordinated by WAM staff and provided for the public in connection to exhibitions or education and outreach efforts, provide insight into how the organization connected to audiences not only through sight – but also through sound…

This is evidenced in a series of events titled, “WAM Music,” a music series that featured regular concerts held at WAM. A few concert announcements were found amongst the records:

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Music is still a part of WAM events programming. In the build up for the recent re-opening in October 2011, a music event was held not within the space – but on top of it. Local band The 4onthefloor played a lunch-hour concert on the roof of WAM which entertained students, staff, and University visitors who danced on the sidewalks and gazed up at the building while enjoying their lunches on the lawn in front of neighboring Coffman Memorial Union.

Applying the Busa Theory: 2 + 2 = 5

The project staff of the WAM Files – Areca, Katie, Erik and myself recently presented our project process and discoveries at the Andersen Library First Fridays event held on November 4. In preparation, we began to add up all of the project results – stories uncovered, boxes processed, hours devoted, etc. I was excited to share our project – yet admittedly unprepared for the reaction we received. After we presented our project and results, we opened the floor for questions… only to receive an exclamation: “We want more!”

The audience questions also turned into personal recollections shared by those that had experienced WAM as it was known previously – as the University Art Museum and University Gallery.

Web_Valspar.jpgA particular recollection sparked my curiosity. Responding to a story shared of the records found of an exhibition of the work of former faculty member Peter Busa, an audience member indicated that Busa had designed the mural that covers the Valspar building in Minneapolis. Not knowing this connection, I was eager to learn more – as I see Busa’s mural from my bus window each morning on my commute to campus. In need of more details, I turned to the Digital Conservancy, and found a U of M News Service Release from October 25, 1973, (Digital Conservancy) that announces, “‘U’ Prof Designs Exterior Mural,”

“Peter Busa, professor of studio arts, is the designer of ‘Demolition,’ a 60 ft. by 75 ft. abstract mural on the southwest wall of the Valspar Corporation building at 1101 S. 3rd St. in Minneapolis. Actual painting of the mural, using 60 gallons of 17 different colors of paint, was done by painting contractors. Busa signed the mural in foot-high letters.”

Other results in the search for “Peter Busa” provided a U of M News Service Release from June 6, 1975 (Digital Conservancy), the contents of which resonated with me as we reflected upon the results of the WAM Files project:

“Teaching Art Means Giving the Student Opportunity For Experience,” written by Judy Vick, begins with, “Art is like love: it cannot be taught — it must be experienced. This is the theory of the first person in the studio arts department of the University of Minnesota to be honored for distinguished teaching.”

Vick then quotes Busa, “I don’t think you can teach people to be artists—art is like love–but you can expose them to the processes of art and give them the opportunity to teach themselves.

Busa expands further on his theory, “If a student of ours adds two and two and gets four, we suggest maybe he should go to IT (the Institute of Technology). If he gets five, maybe he has the capability to imagine.

Throughout this project we have been introduced to the processes of the archives and have been given the opportunity to teach ourselves, and to share with others, the love of art, history, and the University.

When we first started adding folders to boxes, rows to a spreadsheet, and posts to the blog, I could have never imagined that one day we would be standing in front of a crowded room, sharing the stories that we uncovered with an audience that is just as intrigued and enthusiastic about those stories as we are.

Then again – I’ve never been very good at math…

Fall Exhibitions, 1975

Web_O_Fall1975.jpgFound: A poster announcing fall exhibitions at the University Gallery, 1975.

Curious as to what the exhibition titled, “Works By Studio Arts Faculty,” on display 36 years ago was comprised of, I naturally turned to the Digital Conservancy for answers:

A U of M News Service Release from October 28, 1975 (Digital Conservancy), provided more detail:

“Films on filmmaking by Taka Iimura, a large kinetic sculpture by Guy Baldwin, porcelain miniatures by Tom Rose, and new lithographs by Zigmunds Priede will be featured in the Studio Arts Faculty Exhibition opening Monday (Nov. 3) in the University Gallery at the University of Minnesota.”

The release further describes the faculty members that were represented in the exhibit (certain artists are linked to the U of M’s Digital Content Library holdings, as well as external links):

“Other University faculty members participating in the exhibition are Mary Abbott, oils, watercolors and charcoal; Karl E. Bethke, intaglio prints and photographs; Peter Busa, oils; Victor Caglioti, acrylics; Thomas Cowette, tempera, acrylic and pencil; Allen Downs, photographs; David Feinberg, oils; Lynn A. Gray, mixed media; Gary Hallman, photographs; Raymond Hendler, acrylics; Curtis C. Hoard, low fire ceramics; Warren Mackenzie, porcelain and stoneware; George Morrison, oils; Malcolm Myers, lithographs and watercolors; Katherine Nash, bronze sculpture; Wayne E. Potratz, sculpture; William Roode, oils; Herman Rowan, oils; Herman Somberg, oils and Saul Warkov, wood and rope sculpture.”

Merry Pranksters

The caption reads: “‘Composition’ by George Morris, ‘Distraction’ by Heggen-Cohn, and ‘Abstraction’ by Agnes Earl Lyall. You get one guess at which one of these paintings is phoney (sic).”

Long before British artist Banksy snuck his paintings onto the walls of several venerable art museums in New York, a pair of University of Minnesota students pulled a similar prank at the University Gallery. In the WAM collection of press clippings from 1940, I found a series of newspaper articles outlining the drama. The January 31, 1940 Star Tribune newspaper article states:

There’s one too many paintings in the abstract art exhibit in Northrop auditorium, and how it got there or what to think of it is baffling the campus…. It’s title is “Distraction,” and it is signed by Heggen-Cohn…. Two fellows by the names of Vic Cohn and Tom Heggen are registered at the university. But they can’t be guilty. Neither owns a beret.

In a Minnesota Daily article from February 1st, juniors Vic Cohn and Orlo Heggen are revealed as the perpetrators, saying, “We done it for the art.” In a Star Tribune story that same day, they confessed to owning a beret, but claimed neither had ever worn it in public. Cohn and Heggen gifted Distraction to University of Minnesota Dean Malcolm Willey, stating, “We would like to have it hung where art lovers will appreciate it.” I wonder whatever became of Distraction?

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Clippings from the University Daily, Jan. 31 and Feb. 1, 1940

Robert Collins: Simple Design

When not processing, researching, or blogging about the WAM archival collection, I try to take some time to visit other museums – which I did this afternoon to view the Walker Art Center’s new exhibit, Graphic Design: Now in Production. The exhibit features the vast changes in design over the course of the past ten years. After my visit, my attention again returned to the WAM Files only to find that 58 years ago on this very day, November 5, 1953, a display of graphic designs and other works by Robert Collins, then assistant professor of design at the University, opened at the University Gallery.

A U News Service Press Release from October 26, 1953 (Digital Conservancy) describes the exhibition:

“The show covers Collins’ work since 1943. It includes paintings, caseins, drawings, textile and graphic designs and some illustrations and decorative drawings done for Ford Motor company publications.”

Two exhibit photographs were included in the folder titled, “Bob Collins” contained in Box 4:

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Correspondence between Ruth Lawrence, Gallery Director, and Collins reveal details of exhibit planning:

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Cats_100_RobertCollins_1953.jpgIn the catalog produced for the exhibit, Collins comments, “I would defeat my own purpose, here, if I continued to recount the complexities and intricacies of picture making, and of designing. No matter to what degree such involvements complicate the achievement of a coherent statement, the process remains essentially unchanged and fundamentally simple. One selects and puts together lines, shapes and colors.

After viewing the complexities and intricacies of designing of the past ten years this morning, encountering Collins’ 1953 exhibit and simple statement this afternoon – is simply appreciated.