May 2011

Art Week, 1940


National Art Week was a nation-wide festival of arts held in late November of 1940, with the aim of encouraging Americans to buy American art. In Minnesota, numerous organizations held events, including the Walker Art Center, the Minneapolis Institute of Art, and the (then quite small) University Gallery. In fact, Ruth Lawrence, the Gallery’s director, served as Chairman of the Minnesota State Council for Art Week. I discovered an envelope full of patriotic “ART” ribbons still in pristine shape in the files, which were doubtless used to promoet the events. A booklet from Chicago about Art Week gave some more information, with an introduction by Daniel Catton Rich, Director of Fine Arts at The Art Institute of Chicago. He describes Art Week:

Doubtless you have often thought, “Wouldn’t I like to own a picture or a print or a piece of sculpture or a distinguished piece of craft-work.” Here is your chance. Throughout the city there will be exhibitions, visits to galleries and studios, art festivals, balls and demonstrations, all with one idea: to help you select what you desire at prices ranging from $1.00 to $100.00.

When this week is over countless American homes will be brighter and more interesting because art has come in the front door. And remember in enriching your life you are helping your neighbor, the American artist.

He closes with the fairly blunt: “Celebrate National Art Week. Enjoy its stimulating program. And don’t forget to BUY.”

Promotional Provenance

New_GalleryBrochure_1.jpgA general gallery brochure, multiple copies of which were tucked innocuously into multiple folders, from those documenting grant applications to others partially titled as “PR” or “Publicity,” announced the Gallery’s features, services, and most importantly, location and hours (when and how to get there!).

A clue to the year of the creation of the brochure resides in the descriptive text on the Exhibitions panel, which provides a list of exhibits to be held in 1972-1973.

The brochure documents how the organization presented itself at a certain moment in time. Included text promotes the Gallery’s collection:

“… outstanding works of art of all media which ranges in period from antiquity to the present and which is international in scope.”

The images selected showcase selected works of art from the collection, to include Oriental Poppies (Georgia O’Keeffe) and The Pod (Harry Bertoia).

Materials initially created for the promotion of the then current activities of Gallery, when kept in archives, now also serve to promote the provenance of the Museum.

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The Balloon: A Bicentennial Exhibition

To celebrate the invention of the balloon in 1783, the University Art Museum held a bicentennial exhibition in 1983… and collaborated with other arts organizations to provide events that featured the art, technology, and history of – the balloon.

New_Balloon4.jpgThe 1984 U of M Summer Session Bulletin (contained within a “Ballooning” folder) features the ballooning festivities by including a cover image of a hot-air balloon that was present on campus (with a design that matches the original Montgolfier balloon).

From a September 6, 1983 UM News Release (Digital Conservancy),”200 Years of Ballooning Will Be Celebrated with Facts and Fancy at U of M Art Museum,”

“Original engravings, watercolors, etchings and decorative art objects will depict experiments and fantasies in balloon design and will indicate how the balloon was used as a symbol and in satire… An additional exhibition of photographic murals will show the development of flight from its invention to the present.”

The exhibit included items from the U.S. Air Force Academy’s Gimbel Aeronautical Collection, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Cooper Hewitt Museum in New York, MIA, as well as the U of M Libraries own ballooning collection.

(Today, Images of Ballooning from the Piccard, Scholl and Winzen Collections can be accessed from the UMedia Archive.)

The opening preview invitation for the exhibition reveals how “Ballooning” was introduced to the University… complete with fashion show, a gourmet balloon-inspired buffet dinner, and balloon launch. (Though, note that the fireworks were canceled).

The news release also indicates that music would compliment the festivities:

“Students and faculty of the university’s School of Music will perform musical selections arranged by Professor Robert Laudon at 8 p.m. Nov. 9 in Scott Hall”

A recording from the performance was kept along with the exhibition files:

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Most of the material contained within the folders of the WAM archives consists of standard 8.5×11 papers documenting correspondence, notes, plans, etc. However, many of the exhibition planning files also contain a wide assortment of intriguing miscellany – photos, slides, negatives, cardboard-mounted wall labels, fabric swatches, catalogue drafts, newspaper clippings, books, etc. Here are a few of the curious items recently discovered while processing:

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A red pen, possibly left in the folder for decades; A paper bag with hand-drawn design/plan…

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Letters taped to a design of an exhibit structure; Tile sample? Bolt?

Look at America


Look was a popular bi-weekly magazine that ran from 1937 to 1971 and had an emphasis on photography rather than articles, a bit like Life Magazine. In the files, I found a number of photographs from an exhibition titled Look at America, but I have found no other documentation about this exhibition—I can’t even tell with certainty what year it took place in the University Gallery. The introductory wall text reads:

An exhibition of LOOK magazine photographs prepared by the editors of LOOK in co-operation with the American Federation of Arts. Theme titles from the poetry of Archibald MacLeish.

I do know that from 1946-1956, the Look editors published a series of books called Look at America, so I can guess that this exhibition stemmed from the books and eventually made its way as a ready-made show to the University Gallery. (Perhaps we’ll uncover more information on this exhibition in the files we have yet to comb through!)

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Update: The exhibition occurred in 1957 (thanks to Rebecca for finding the date in the Minnesota Daily archives). We also found the poster for this show: another gem:


Evolution of a Catalogue

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The Go Betweens: The Lives of Immigrant Children was an exhibition developed by the University Art Museum and shown in 1986. Along with the catalogue, I found some sketches done by the designers outlining what the final catalogue would look like. I always find it interesting to peek behind the scenes and see the work that goes into creating products such as a catalogue or an exhibition…

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Layout of the catalogue, and a page of the finished product.

On the road again…

1_MMTACorrespondence.jpg In 1976, the Gallery partnered with the Minnesota Motor Transport Association and the Vocational-Technical Institute #916 Truck Driver Training program to secure transportation for the traveling component of, “ A Bicentennial Exhibition of Minnesota Art and Architecture.”

Student truck drivers completed their practical road training. Residents of greater MN experienced real works of art without having to travel to the Twin Cities.

Green light for the creation of a “Touring Exhibitions Program.”

“People wanted and asked us to continue, so we have on a smaller scale,” a quote from Lyndel King, then ‘University Gallery’ director, in a May 9, 1978 UM News Release, “U of M Gallery Brings Art to Communities,” (Digital Conservancy).

The news release provides a simple overview of the program:

“Trucks, vans and drivers were donated, brochures were developed, and a speaker traveled with the exhibit. Each community provided space for the exhibit… The Gallery has now developed seven other, smaller traveling exhibits which are available to communities along with brochures and information about the art, the artists and the time period.”

Touring.png A flier described the services of the touring program as well as the exhibitions available, to include, “Cass Gilbert: Minnesota Master Architect” and “Francis Lee Jaques: Minnesota Artist-Naturalist” :


Listen to current Weisman Art Museum Director, Lyndel King, describe the relationship with the student truck drivers and instructors that transported the touring exhibitions:


Series… spill…

NEW_CoffeeStain.jpgThe contents of the folders contained within the WAM files not only document the specific activities of the Weisman (and the titles that proceed it) but also of associations the museum was and continues to be involved with. There are many records that document participation in regional, state, and national “Associations,” which this archive project has designated as a series title for classification.

This is just a guess – but judging by the appearance of this memorandum, I am assuming that at some point before, during, or shortly thereafter the March 20, 1987 Minnesota Association of Museums Steering Committee meeting, a spill of some sort occurred…

Art Rental Program


The Weisman Art Museum has a wonderful art rental program that allows students, employees, and departments to rent works of art by the semester or the year. I knew of the program, but what I didn’t realize is that it has been part of the Weisman/University Gallery since the very beginning. The rental program began in 1934 at the Gallery, where framed print reproductions were available for students to rent for only 25 cents per academic quarter — a cheap way to decorate drab dorm or department walls. One 1942 letter of appreciation from the Agricultural Education Department stated:

May we express our thanks and appreciation for the privilege of using some of your pictures in our Department during the spring quarter? The pictures were picked up by some of your men the other day, and we hope that they came back to your Department in good shape. Now, our walls look like Mother Hubbard’s cupboard.

In the files (mixed in with all the notices of unreturned or late artwork) I also discovered these promotional photographs from the mid-1940s of stylish patrons renting artworks.

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The Gallery Goes to Washington

When not in the sub-basement of Andersen Library processing the WAM files, my whereabouts on campus are often confined to an area just to the south of the library, to encompass Heller Hall, Wilson Library, and the Hubert H. Humphrey Center.

The Humphrey Center is often host to many events and activities that include the attendance of political leaders, and my proximity to this building is the reason for my one and only brush with political “celebrity.” As I leaned back from taking a refreshing sip of water from a Humphrey drinking fountain, my eyes focused upon a tall gray-haired man, in a smartly tailored suit, that was walking towards me down the hallway: Former U.S. Vice President, Walter Mondale.

I thought of that moment recently when I came across the folder titled, “Minneapolis Sculpture” in the Archives. The folder contained a photocopy of an article from the Los Angeles Times, profiling Mondale’s wife, Joan Mondale, and her transformation of Number One Observatory Circle, the official residence of the Vice President, into a setting for the display of American art.

According to the article, through her MN art connections (she previously worked at the MIA), it was arranged for the loan of prominent American artworks from museums across the country to be “exhibited” at the residence throughout the time that Mondale served as Vice President. The accompanying photograph with the article contained a familiar object – a piece from the University Gallery’s collection, David Smith’s, “Star Cage.”


New_StarCage1.jpgBehind the article copy was found a loose-leaf sheet of paper containing handwritten instructions (with diagram) on how the sculpture was to be mounted to a stand for display. The constructed mount appears slightly more secure compared to how it was once displayed alongside its creator David Smith, as well as to how it was mounted while Smith was creating it.

In recalling “star” sightings and learning more about the Mondale’s and the history of the official residence of the Vice President, I can’t help but think that the sculpture, “Star Cage” was an apt fit for temporary display at Number One Observatory Circle.

The residence, once the home to the Chief of Naval Operations, is located on the grounds of the U.S. Naval Observatory – where astronomers were measuring the location of the stars in 1977, and continue to do so to this day.