July 2011

Peter Busa

The lead-up to Peter Busa’s exhibition at the University Gallery in 1966 held some dramatic twists and turns. Busa was a professor of art at the University of Minnesota at the time. Just 3 months before his show was to be installed in the University Gallary, a vandal broke into his studio and slashed, burned, and otherwise damaged or destroyed many of Busa’s paintings.

Busa worked quickly to repair and repaint the canvases that could be salvaged, and created new works to fill in for destroyed ones. His solo show went forward as planned, somewhat miraculously.

Perhaps the strangest aspect of this story is that the “prime suspect” was another member of the University Art Department faculty… my, what a tangled web we weave.

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Photos from the Peter Busa opening at the University Gallery
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Newspaper clippings from the file about the exhibition and vandalism

Ernst Josephson

Thanks to the keen eyes and wits of the University Archives staff, we found a trove of posters for University Gallery exhibitions throughout its history. They are beautiful remembrances of the shows, particularly many of the colorful posters from the 1960s. We’ll be featuring some of these posters throughout the next few months, along with images from the gallery and openings.

Ernst Josephson‘s drawings and paintings were exhibited in the University Gallery in 1965. The poster features a stylized image of Josephson himself. He was born in 1851 in Sweden, and in 1887 was diagnosed with schizophrenia—the poster design above seems to hint at his state of mind. During this time his style altered, becoming more abstract (his work was later seen as a pre-cursor to the styles of Matisse and Picasso). One reviewer of the U Gallery show in the Minneapolis Tribune says:

Josephson’s art is full of idiosyncrasy, of drawing things the “wrong” way that turn out to be right…. The drawings are a strange world in themselves. Josephson’s line is quixotic, kinetic, yet sustains an airy delicacy and a fine judgment in filling the rectangle with wiry strength.

Opening for Ernst Josephson in 1965. Sidney Simon, the director of the U Gallery, can be seen in the image on the left.

A Packed House


Packing artwork or other delicate artifacts is something of an art itself, and museums need to have it down pat. The objects must fit snugly and be protected from jostling and the elements. This is particularly tricky with traveling exhibits, such as this 1984 show Making America Strong: World War II Posters, created by the University Art Museum. These polaroids document the behind-the-scenes packing process (or perhaps unpacking, it’s hard to tell!) of the framed posters at the Museum.

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Packing/unpacking for the show, and a poster for the show in St. Cloud

The Little Staple Remover That Could

Clip. Snap. Pull. Snip.

The little staple remover separated papers that contained private or confidential information. The WAM Files project staple remover was a happy little staple remover for she had such a “jolly load” of confidential materials to separate!

There were University invoices with social security numbers, personnel files with social security numbers, and even reports of grades earned in courses taken… with social security numbers! Then there were photocopies of personal checks – checks for donations, checks for reservations, and checks for libations!


The little staple remover aids the processor in separating the items containing confidential information, which are then set aside for confidential recycling.

As they have often encountered folders containing papers which are stacked 2 or more inches thick, the processors and the little staple remover are often left thinking…

I think I can… I think I can… I think I can… I think I can…

(Blog post written in the spirit of The Little Engine that Could, by Watty Piper)

Institute of Design Exhibition, 1948

Web_WAM_003_InstituteofDesignEx_1.jpgAnother early look into the composition and content of the exhibit spaces of the University Gallery in Northrop Auditorium is captured in these photos of the Institute of Design Exhibition, held January 26-February 25, 1948.

According to a UM News Release from January 20, 1948 (Digital Conservancy), the exhibit was “a comprehensive exhibition of almost 300 examples of work done by faculty members and students of the Institute of Design in Chicago.

Artists featured in the exhibition included: Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, Gyorgy Kepes, Richard Koppe, Serge Chermayeff, George Fred Keck, and Arthur Siegel.

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“The Institute of Design in its teaching methods urges free experimentation by students and an analysis of the problems involved in the particular problem concerned.”


Bicentennial Bevy

I have previously featured several items that are present within the WAM collection concerning the Bicentennial Exhibition of Minnesota Art and Architecture. Just when I thought I had seen the last trace of any Bicentennial exhibit record – I came across a bevy of related materials that once again increased my intrigue in this exhibition.

Several photographs and negatives (loose or in envelopes) that capture the various stops along the statewide exhibition tour, were found bulging from a folder in Box 100. Upon the sage advice of the Archives staff, negatives were placed in envelopes and photographs were enclosed in protective sheets.

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The photographs document the installation of the traveling exhibit at host sites, capture visitors from local communities enjoying the works on display, and also feature a few choice shots of the “big rig” used to haul the exhibition across the state.

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Skandinavisk Træ


Minnesota is home to a large number of descendants of Scandinavian and Finnish immigrants. Folks here love their pickled herring and carved Swedish horses. I’m sure this popular interest in the heritage and history served as an impetus behind the University Gallery’s 1979 exhibition Scandinavian Wood. The exhibition, which also toured to other locations in the Midwest, showcased the ornate woodworking crafts of the Scandinavian and Finnish tradition. The catalogue states:


“Wood is to Scandinavia as marble was to Greece. It is the building material par excellence. It could be dug out, steamed and bent, splintered, carved, gouged, hammered, and made into a myriad of useful things. In an effort to define the importance of wood in Scandinavia, the exhibition has been grouped according to six different aspects of daily life requiring the use of wooden objects.”

The six categories the curators chose are displayed nicely in these charming exhibition photos I found in the files: Storage, Clothes, Music, Tools, Food, and Whimsy. Storage includes items such as bentwood boxes, baskets, canteens. Clothes shows looms and tools for washing clothes. Food shows spoons and bowls and the like. Tools displays augers, knives and of course, ski poles, while Music includes violins, a horn, and a flute. Whimsy (my favorite category) includes the toy horse, ornaments, a fan, and Värmland trolls.

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Scandinavian Wood exhibition

Folk Arts

A September 25, 1984 UM News Release (Digital Conservancy) announced, “Folklorist to Survey Minnesota Arts and Artists”

“If you are the latest in a long line of duck decoy painters, quilters or Slovenian pastry decorators, Willard Moore wants to hear about you. Moore, a Minneapolis folklorist, will conduct a yearlong hunt for Minnesota folk arts and practicing folk artists. The University of Minnesota Art Museum will coordinate and administer the survey, which will begin Oct. 1. Moore, as guest curator, and the museum staff will organize an exhibition and publication on Minnesota folk arts from the material he collects.”

Moore’s hunt brings to light the research involved in creating museum exhibitions. This survey resulted in a book, and the University Art Museum exhibition, “Circles of Tradition: Folk Arts in Minnesota,” held in 1989.

The front and back cover of a promotional material created for the exhibit, found amongst the many boxes of folders that document this exhibition and related programming and events:

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Mapping Murals

Ever walked by a mural and wondered about the history behind it—who painted it and why? In a folder titled simply “WPA”, I found materials meticulously documenting the locations and conditions of WPA murals made in Minnesota. Artists painted these historic murals during the Great Depression as part of the economic relief provided by the Work Progress Administration. The murals adorned public buildings such as post offices, the State Fairgrounds, University of Minnesota buildings, and Fort Snelling.

In 1976-1977, the University Gallery exhibited a show highlighting work like these murals, titled Accomplishments: Minnesota Art Projects During the Depression Years, which went on to tour other locations in the state. The mural research was in preparation for this exhibit.

My favorite find from this file: a large delicate sheet of yellow tissue that displays a pencil-drawn map of Minnesota, with the names of cities and numbers next to them (perhaps indicating the number of murals located there). I also discovered a book containing information about the murals, whether they still existed in 1976, and whether they were in good or poor state of repair. Sadly, it seems that the majority of the murals were painted over or the buildings were knocked down, so not many remained in 1976, and even fewer still exist today.

Mapping Minnesota WPA murals

Book outlining the location and condition of murals.