June 2011

Visiting Artists

In 1949, the University’s department of art began hiring visiting artists as instructors. Today, the artists Paul Burlin, Ralston Crawford, Arnold Blanch, Cameron Booth, and Philip Guston are all represented in the museum’s permanent collection whether through their own works or works done of them – no doubt related to their contributions to American art but also likely related to the time they spent with the University in the initial years of the visiting artist teaching program. Each artist was also featured in a Gallery exhibition which served, “both as a reception… and to introduce new members of the art department faculty to the public.” Catalogues from their exhibits were processed and are now contained in Box 110 of the WAM collection.

Web_WAM_113_PaulBurlin.jpgA January 3, 1949 UM News Release (Digital Conservancy) announces the first artist:

Paul Burlin, well-known American painter and teacher at the Art Students’ league, Woodstock, N.Y. arrived in Minneapolis Tuesday (Jan. 4) to begin a three-month teaching schedule…

Burlin’s work here will inaugurate a new University department of art teaching program in which artists with various approaches to their work will teach for one quarter each at the University.”

Burlin in the WAM collection.

Web_WAM_113_RalstonCrawford.jpgRalston Crawford followed as visiting instructor in the Spring quarter. His exhibit at the Gallery ran from April 28-May 20, 1949. A March 18, 1949 UM News Release (Digital Conservancy) announces his background:

“He was sent by ‘Fortune’ magazine in 1946 as the only artist among 117 photographers and reporters who observed the atomic bomb tests at Bikini. His report, included abstract pictures of the destruction, appeared later in the December, 1946, issue…'”

Crawford in the WAM Collection.

Web_WAM_113_ArnoldBlanch.jpgVisiting artist Arnold Blanch, a native of MN (Mantorville), taught an advanced painting course during his visit. A November 22, 1949 UM News Release (Digital Conservancy) announces Blanch’s eclectic November 29,1949-January, 6, 1950 exhibit at the Gallery:

“The 39 paintings in his University exhibition include work from 1924 through 1949. A group from the 1930s is made up of work done in Florida.

Among the ceramics, are several bowls and a 1949 set consisted of a salad bowl and plates which has been produced commercially by well-known china manufacturer.

The scarves, also manufactured commercially, were made by the silk screen process. One of them, ‘The Picnic’, done in 1947 includes 20 different colors.

The Exhibition includes, ties, a hooked rug of abstract design and Christmas wrapping paper.”

Blanch in the WAM Collection.

Web_Ctlg_CameronBooth.jpgA Dec 4, 1950 UM News Release (Digital Conservancy) announces that “paintings and drawings by Cameron Booth, one of America’s leading abstract painters” will be on display in the Gallery from December 11, 1950-January 7, 1951. Booth, visiting from The Art Students’ League in New York, had previously taught at the Minneapolis School of Art and St. Paul School of Art.

Booth in the WAM Collection.

An exhibition of the work of Philip Guston, a spring quarter visitor-artist was held April 10-May 12, 1950 at the University Gallery. A March 24, 1950 UM News Release (Digital Conservancy) indicated that the exhibit, “will include 16 paintings, a number of drawings, and photographs of several of his murals. Among these will be murals from the Queensbridge housing project, New York; the Social Security Buildings, Washinton, D.C.; and the WPA building façade at the New York World’s Fair.

Works of Guston in the WAM Collection.

Typical Tuesday

On a typical shift in the archives processing room, I often sit across the room from another intern who is working on a different project sorting through handwritten letters – one type of archival material.

Web_WAM_115_MimbresBox_01.jpgWhat is interesting to me about the WAM collection is that I often don’t know what to expect – what type of material to expect – when removing the lid of the next box.

For instance, take a Tuesday afternoon from two weeks ago. I removed the lid of soon-to-be box 116 to find the draft of a catalogue for a Mimbres pottery exhibition right on top of the folders. The draft, too large to fit upright in the standard archival box, had been casually placed on top. I made note of the oversized material and set it aside along with other items we’ve encountered that didn’t quite “fit.”

After getting through a few folders, I was taken aback upon opening the front fold of a folder containing planning correspondence for the Mimbres pottery exhibit, as a mysterious foreign object flew up and landed back down on the folder. Not really sure what it was – I convinced myself it was a old dried up piece of granola or a stray piece of corkboard – and logically determined it should not be kept in the folder, but rather discarded.

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That was soon followed by a dry and crumbly rubber band that had partially attached itself like a parasite – through some scientific process – to correspondence from The Supreme Council of the Scottish Rite. Another rubber band contained within the folder shattered like glass upon touch…


And then there was a cut-out of an ear of corn…

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Upon further examination, it was revealed to be part of the design of a brochure for a public work of art by artist Harriet Bart titled, “Harvest” that was installed/planted outside the Weisman in 1996.

Because the WAM collection contains the former working files of museum employees, processing the material gives us great insight into the personal organizational habits of certain individuals. For example, who ever was proofreading a draft of the label text to be used for the Mimbres pottery exhibit, cared to mark a passage with a sticky “Memo from Hell.”


Is this “memo” literal, or whimsical?

From my perspective, the presence of it in the WAM collection… is pretty typical.

“Too nice a day. Everybody at beach.”

“Too nice a day. Everybody at beach.” This was one of the comments recorded in 1966 by a University Gallery guard on a lazy Sunday in June. I found a stack of these comment cards in the files, giving a little window into the thoughts of those silent sentries. The guards were asked to fill out cards evaluating the events of their shift, on Sundays and during Friday night concerts in Northrup Auditorium, downstairs from the gallery. (These were presumably times when other gallery workers were not present).

The text reads: “Remarkably varied reactions in the Baertling show, from guffaws to admiration.” (referring to Olle Baertling)

Most of the comments relate to the number of patrons and their reactions to the artwork, all in 1966. Here’s a sampling of the comments:

Jan. 16: Poor crowds—not an “art” crowd—many negative comments on Busa. (referring to Peter Busa)

Apr. 28: The gallery was open only for intermission, as a result of a mixup on keys too complicated to explain here.

May 1: Some sort of youth concert in the afternoon. Had many kids running all over the place. Closed gallery a bit early because of the numbers of kids on all floors and thought it was safer since I couldn’t be all over.

June 9: A steady trickle of people came looking for sewn up canvases. Most people seemed to think that it was a letdown after all that lurid publicity.

Oct. 7: Good crowd at all exhibitions. It is virtually impossible to keep a count on 4th floor during intermission—the crowd is too dense and mobile.

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Tools, Materials, and the Artist: 1948

Web_WAM_003_ToolsMA_2.jpgThe title of the 1948 exhibition, “Tools, Materials, and the Artist” sounds strikingly similar to the 1947 exhibition titled, “Materials and Tools of Art.” Further, the folders that contain the materials that chronicle each exhibit are only 6 folders apart from each other in Box 3. Each folder contains photographs of the exhibits – which are similar in content, yet different in arrangement.

It is not until coming across Ruth Lawrence’s correspondence in the University Gallery records (which were incorporated into the WAM collection) in Box 109 however, that the reason for mounting two similarly titled exhibits a mere year apart comes to light.

Ruth, who had been out East on a collecting visit, and away from the Gallery, receives an update from an employee on the status of the “Materials and Tools of Art” exhibit that was mounted at the Gallery in her absence in 1947, indicating that the exhibit “opened with a bang.


Another letter, written by Ruth, addressed to “Bill” makes the suggestion that they keep part of the exhibit in tact to use over again, “It, in my opinion, merely emphasized again ‘how it’s done.’ ‘They say’ – if you want to get a point over to an uninitiated mind it must be repeated in new form seven times.


So, in September of 1948, “Tools, Materials, and the Artist” was displayed at the Gallery. (A new form of an exhibit held the previous year… for the uninitiated minds.)

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Art I

The short-titled folder, “Art I” merely contains a few black and white photographs…

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An October 4, 1947 UM News Release (Digital Conservancy), contains a report from H. Harvard Arnason, chairman of the Department of Art at the University of Minnesota, detailing the organization, purposes, and programming of the department, and brings insight to the meaning behind, “Art I”

“Art I is a lecture and workshop course designed to introduce the student to the many problems involved in the first approaches to objects of art. Examples selected from great works of painting, sculpture, and architecture are used to illustrate principles of design and the various intents of the artist. In the workshop the student attempts to solve in a simplified form, certain basic problems in color, design and interpretation which have concerned artists. In the lecture period he is then shown how the great artists of the past and present have approached and solved these same problems. The introductory course is being taught cooperatively by a large part of the art faculty, and thus serves as an integrating factor for faculty as well as students. “

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You are Invited…

Many events are organized in relation to exhibitions: openings, galas, previews, special lectures, concerts, etc. The WAM collection contains many invitations to such events in association with exhibitions past.

American Identities: Cabinet Card Portraits, 1870-1910, from The Doan Family Collection
Exhibited February 25-March 22, 1985 at the University Art Museum in Northrop Auditorium.

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From a February 19, 1985 UM News Release (Digital Conservancy):

“The exhibition presents a selection of 55 Cabinet cards, primarily Midwestern in origin, collected by the Doan family of Fort Dodge, Iowa, over the past 20 years…

The “artist-photographers” who produced the portraits shifted around scenes and properties until the right “fit” for the subject was achieved… It was important to present subjects at their best in the chosen role, whether beau, debutante, successful merchant or farmer, war hero or proud parents. Even the most humble person took on an air of dignity in the photographer’s lens.”

Gaps in History

Remember those oversized floppy disks from the 1970s and 1980s? I do (barely), but they still looked strange and almost comical when I came upon a trove of them in the WAM files. It’s been decades since I’ve seen one, or a machine that could read one, so I wondered if there is a way to retrieve the information they hold.

I asked Erik Moore, Assistant University Archivist, about this issue, He says, “Simply put, the 8 inch floppy is lost… They were not easily played back on other 8 inch floppy machines because the drives that created them were so unique.” It turns out Erik has come upon this problem before, and has written a blog post for the Academic Health Center History Project on this very topic. On the problem of obsolete media and archiving, he says, “Changes in storage media will always challenge our preservation techniques and cause a few gaps in recorded history. This is to be expected and for the most part accepted as progress to better record keeping.”

I’m sure we can come up with another use for these floppies. As a frisbee, perhaps?

Art Sandwiched In

Web_WAM_059_ArtSandwiched_Egypt_Eames_1.jpgAlmost everyday for lunch I have a turkey sandwich at my desk (not in the Archives – no food allowed of course). This is not very exciting, or interesting whatsoever. I thought about my mundane lunch ritual when I came across the folder titled, “Art Sandwiched In” in BOX 88. In the late 1980s, the University Art Museum conducted lunchtime art programming for University staff. Lectures were held on a variety of art topics, from the history of furniture to ancient world wonders.


Although this program has long since ended, I found myself jealous of the University staff members of years past who had this exciting lunchtime opportunity open to them. Then I thought of the University’s Public Art on Campus program, administered by the Weisman. I think I’ll create my own lunch time art appreciation series, grab my turkey sandwich, leave my desk behind, and find a bench next to a campus installation to “sandwich in” some art…


Piece of Cake

In celebration of a recent birthday, I thought I would share some cake:


However, as indicated by a pencil-written caption on the back of this photograph, from folder, “Staff Photographs” in Box 3, these Gallery attendees are likely celebrating an exhibit opening, rather than a birthday:

“Korean Art Exhibition Jan 8 – Feb 11

Jacqueline Ronning – art libn. eating cake”

Ruth’s Reflections, Research…

Web_WAM_003_StaffPhotographs_4.jpg Several boxes already processed contain “Museum History” folders and others similarly titled. However as we near the end of processing the first set of 116 boxes, which document 77 years of institutional history, the “Museum History” folder in Box 100 might be the most intriguing yet. The contents of this particular folder include a 24 page report, each word typed on delicate light-weight paper. A hand-written notation on the first page indicates, “Mrs. Lawrence’s 25 yr. report.”

In the section titled, “Objectives Outlined,” a reflective description of the curator’s (Lawrence’s) initial responsibilities in the Gallery was found:

“The other duties of the new curator included holding round-table discussions with students; organizing a student art society, which would bring together artists and students and expose students to cultural matters; seek out lecturers and provide demonstrations on art subjects; and in general “advertizing and selling” art to the student body and faculty, in ways proper to the dignity of the institution. Other suggestions followed; by this time the task seemed overwhelming. Mrs. Lawrence explained that she was amazed and somewhat confounded, although also flattered, that they would think that she could handle such an assignment. The job called for diplomacy and great understanding on a full time, not a half-time basis. As for the Gallery itself, she felt she was not qualified, had had no training, and would not know where to begin. She was sorry, but with her other assignments of teaching and counseling, she believed that they had mistaken her capabilities. But when one comes into one’s first job with the University, one does not usually refuse to cooperate when given an assignment.”

Despite her initial question of confidence, Lawrence embraced her first University assignment in 1934 and continued to guide the University Gallery until her retirement in 1957.

WAM_089_MuseumStudy.jpg In Box 89, a folder titled, “Museum Study, Procedure, Management Etc., ” dated 1934, contains reference materials that Lawrence kept on gallery practices. In addition to a pamphlet from the Toledo Museum, titled, “The Museum Educates,” and clippings from “The Art Digest,” fliers produced by the Newark Museum titled, “The Museum,” were found that outlined recommendations for running a museum or gallery. The article, “Case Movers” addresses, “Mr. Dana’s Original Solution of a Difficult Museum Problem.” “A Convenient Gallery Stool” suggests that a bench or stool placed within a gallery addresses the ‘museum fatigue’ experienced by most visitors.

WAM_089_MuseumStudy_Enjoy.jpg A small book titled, “Enjoy Your Museum,” by Carl Thurston offers simple lessons in carrying out the work in a museum. Perhaps such lessons inspired Lawrence’s work. From “Chapter II: What to Expect From a Picture:”

“Don’t expect too much.

Don’t expect it to pour out entertainment like a radio while you sit passively in front of it. It corresponds to a sheet of music rather than to any musical machine: it has to be played, and no one can play it for you but yourself. Some paintings can be played at sight, others need long study and practice; with each one you ultimately reach a stage at which it at least seems to play itself…

Don’t expect too little from a picture.

It is something more than a careful copy of nature. It is something more than a pretty story told in paint. It is more than a pattern of colors or a decorative arrangement of shapes. It is all of these things at once and many more. It is a sort of crossword puzzle which can be read up and down, diagonally and across, backward and forward, and whose separate words, taken consecutively in any order, form a poem.”