March 2011

Candid Revisited

Through supplementary research on the history of the University Gallery, my tired eyes have scanned download after download from the PDF Archive collection of the MN Daily, the University’s student newspaper. The Daily’s PDF Archives provide access to PDFs of the paper dating back to 1900.

I came across the published MN Daily PDF for June 17, 1957, which contained an edition of the “Ivory Tower.” On page 11, continued on page 20, the feature story titled, “The Artist in The Gallery,” highlights Ruth Lawrence, the “quick-moving little woman with a ready smile,” at her retirement. The article includes an accompanying photograph, a candid of the artist in her gallery… a print of which resides in Box 3 of the WAM Archives.


The article, which contains personal memories and career accomplishments, also reveals Lawrence’s thoughts on retirement and her prophecy for the future of the Gallery:

It’s high time someone else took over. Saying goodbye to things you’ve loved is always hard. But I think you have to look ahead – and I’m sure everything will be as interesting as my earlier years have been.

The MN Daily recently featured the University Archives in a March 9, 2011 article and mentioned the Weisman Art Museum’s WAM Files archives project. Elisabeth Kaplan, University Archivist, gives a wonderful overview of the resources available in the Archives in “Following the U’s paper trail”.

Edvard Munch

In the fall of 1960, the University Gallery showed 40 master prints by the famed Norwegian artist Edvard Munch. These contact sheets feature images from the opening. Everyone seems to be drinking coffee or tea from tea cups, a tradition I’d rather like to see revived at art openings.


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Homeless No More

Two gigantic paintings by James Rosenquist and Roy Litchenstein (both painted for the 1964 World Fair) have long been important works in the Weisman Art Museum’s collection. I discovered these newspaper clippings and some small photos from 1966 in the files, which commemorate the first display of these works in Northrop Auditorium, where the University Gallery resided. They had to be laid out on the ground for viewing, as there was no place to hang such large work (and as I gather, they are still a bear to move). Apparently, the paintings were created to represent current American culture at the World’s Fair in New York. Afterward, they were given to the University by the artists, which found a home for them in the Weisman Art Museum.

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Draft Description

Found amongst the files was a draft of a brief history of the University Gallery. No author is identified, and while the tattered edges and coloring of the paper can give clue to its age, the final paragraph draws attention to the tentative list of exhibitions scheduled for the 1959-1960 season, providing an indication of when the draft may have been created.

The draft identifies the major contributors to the development of the Gallery, to include President Lotus Coffman, Hudson Walker, and Ruth Lawrence. A description of the scope and size of the permanent collection and mention of key works is included.


Simons says…

Simon.jpgFollowing Ruth Lawrence’s retirement in 1957, Sidney Simon, assistant professor of art, was hired as the next director of the University Art Gallery.

Meeting Minutes of the Board of Regents from Nov. 7-8, 1958 (Digital Conservancy) record the details of his appointment:

Sidney Simon appointed as Assistant Professor and Art Gallery Director Sept. 16, 1958 to June 15, 1960 at the rate of $6,235 Term B to read Nov. 16, 1958 to June 15, 1960

Due to Lawrence’s efforts in building the Gallery’s permanent collection over the course of her directorship (1934-1957), Simon would have ample opportunity to feature the University’s collection. A January 3 1961, U of M News Service release (Digital Conservancy) announces the Gallery’s annual permanent collection exhibition,

The choicest jewels of the University of Minnesota gallery – oils by Georgia O’Keeffe, B.J.O. Nordfeldt, Dove, Hartley and Feininger, water colors by Marin and Gross, Picasso prints, Kaethe Kollwitz drawings – will be put on public display in Northrop Memorial auditorium Thursday, January 12…

Following the permanent collection exhibition, a January 17th news release (Digital Conservancy) announces the Gallery’s “big show” of the year, “The Eighteenth Century – One Hundred Drawings by One Hundred Artists,” to open on January 23,

Outstanding 18th Century artists whose original works have been borrowed from museums throughout the world include Watteau, Fragonard and Boucher from France; Gainsborough and Romney from England; and Canaletto and Guardi, from Italy as well as numerous works from Germany, Switzerland and Holland… The show, which will hang in the galleries until March 7, is planned as a feature of the 49th annual meetings, in Minneapolis on Jan. 27, 28 and 29, of the College Art Association of America and the 14th annual meeting of the Society of Architectural Historians…

The works were assembled by University art department faculty, Professor Lorenz E.A. Eitner and Associate Professor Hylton A. Thomas, and were exhibited in the fourth floor gallery of Northrop:

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Materials and Tools of Archives

Inspired by the photographs found of the 1947 exhibit, “Materials and Tools of Art” I thought it would be of interest to share the Materials and Tools of Archives – as related to the WAM Files project.

First, the location. Processing occurs in a secure subbasement workroom of Elmer L. Andersen Library on the West Bank campus at the University. The workroom is shared by the many archives and special collections units that comprise the library. In a front corner of the room, the “materials and tools” are kept amongst three large tables which combine to form a U-shaped work station.

Let’s start with a few vocabulary words.

Thumbnail image for FolderBox4.JPGBox – Container for folders.
Folder – container for materials (correspondence, exhibit catalogues, exhibition checklists, photos, slides, etc.)

Processing began with replacing several of the first set of boxes that had ripped tops or torn corners/edges. Simply put, contents from old boxes are moved to new boxes. Propping the box allows for folders to be neatly and orderly stacked on top of each other while transferring contents from one box to another. Another tool, a sponge, acts as a placeholder, keeping folders upright and ensuring they don’t collapse or fold over as other folders are removed. Folders that are ripped, weak, or colored are replaced so that the folder will reinforce or adequately hold the contents within.

Pencil – Each folder is labeled with the collection number, folder title, and the date. Whether you like an old school #2 or a high-tech mechanical, it’s the processors choice – just never use a pen.

Eraser – We’re not perfect!

Stapler, staples – Labeled folders that do not need replacing are stapled on the label. Due to the humidity levels of the environment in which the collection is stored, the adhesive on the labels will give way over time resulting in a label free fall.

Staple remover – During the creation of the record (based on the administrative flair of the creator) notes, business cards, and other miscellaneous items were often stapled to the inside of folders. The staples are removed and the newly-free, formerly-attached items join the remaining folder contents.

Post-It Notes – To make notes!

Reference.JPGReference materials – In addition to the University Archives processing guidelines document, our project adviser has shared with us several standard references for archival processing.

Computer – The collection series, folder title, and date is recorded on a spreadsheet to make a record of the contents of the collection, which will later be converted to encoded archival description (EAD) which will be used to create a finding aid.

But before we get ahead of ourselves with talk of finding aids (we have completed processing just short of 30 boxes thus far), there is one final and and important material that is of paramount use in the archives – cotton, wool, polyester, whatever variety of fabric blend preferred by the processor that will provide an extra layer of warmth in the cool, cavernous, temperature controlled environment.


In the 1950-1952 Biennial President’s Report (Digital Conservancy), Ruth Lawrence shares an appraisal of how the concepts of museums and art have changed since becoming Director in 1934:

The concepts of museums, the methods of teaching art, and the attitudes of art have changed completely since WWI. Our 19th century patterns were deliberate and unhurried; speed is today’s yardstick. Therefore, what is presented must meet the demands of rapid appraisal, coupled with maximum interest.

From Box 3, “Staff Photographs, Resumes,” Ruth in the gallery…


With a Twist

I hadn’t heard of the Belgian painter Pierre Alechinsky before I came upon his file (the University Gallery exhibited his work in 1965), but some of the colorful pieces in the catalog caught my eye.

Another item that caught my attention in the file was a small hand-cut manipulated photo of a face, which I think is Alechinsky himself. There is no indication as to who made it or for what purpose, but it’s quite an interesting little piece.


Photos from the Alechinsky opening, 1965:
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Image from the catalog:

Jasper Johns

In 1959, the University Gallery was looking to bring in some hot young artists from the New York art scene. They wrote to (the now famous) Jasper Johns and his gallerist, Leo Castelli, and managed to put up a show of Johns’ work in 1960 — and this was only two years after Johns had his first solo show in New York. The letter to Johns states:

The University Gallery, on a very modest budget, hopes to be able to initiate a new program which will aim at bringing to the campus a series of small exhibitions of work by New York artists of interest.

Letter to Jasper Johns and a list of the pieces loaned:
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Materials & Tools of Art

Amongst the files that were kept on exhibitions held at the University Gallery, an occasional treat is provided to the processor by the inclusion of photographs of the installation and final appearance of the exhibit. Often intermixed with correspondence and checklists of artwork, these photographs offer us prime examples of exhibit design from the era in which the exhibition was held.

“Materials and Tools of Art,” prepared by Gallery staff, was held from September 29 to October 29, 1947.

A September 16, 1947 news release from the U of M News Service (Digital Conservancy) offers this statement:


“The exhibition will show the materials and tools from which an artist works and will explain how his choice of materials and tools plus his inventiveness and creativeness go into the making of a work of art.”


Watercolor, Stone
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