August 2011

Seong Moy

Web_WAM_003_SeongMoy_Poster.jpgThe artist Seong Moy was hired at the University as an Art Lecturer for the spring quarter of 1950-1951. As was customary for visiting artists in the Department of Art, an exhibition of Moy’s work was displayed at the Gallery during his appointment (exhibit dates: May 3-June 15, 1951).

To learn more about Moy, I turned to the Archives of American Art, which has a vast collection of oral history interviews with American artists. I found a comprehensive oral history interview with Moy (the transcript is accessible on their website) in which I learned of his upbringing in China, immigration to Minnesota, development as an artist at the St. Paul School of Art and influences of other artists on his training, war service, teaching, and his time in New York with the Art Students League, amongst other topics…

As it turns out I didn’t need to refer to an external source to find more information on Moy, as there is another interview with the artist that is contained right here at the University – in the WAM collection. The transcript of the interview was found in Box 3, in a folder titled, “Seong Moy, Prints and Oils, May 3-June 15, 1951.” Clues from the transcript itself indicate the particulars behind the interview. The transcript is titled, “Critically Speaking” and is dated as “Thursday, April 26, 1951.” A time of, “2:00” is also indicated.

An article in the February 3, 1951 edition of the MN Daily titled, “KUOM Adds New Discussion Series on Entertainment,” indicates that “Critically Speaking” was a daily radio broadcast that featured “discussions on art, movies, radio, television, books and the theater. ” This particular broadcast of Critically Speaking begins with an introduction of current exhibitions and promotion of exhibitions that were forthcoming by a speaker identified as “Betty.” This is likely Betty Maurstad, a curator at the University Gallery.

Betty: … but the highlight of our spring exhibition program will be an exhibition of work by Mr. Seong Moy – which will open on May 3rd – just exactly one week from today. Mr. Moy, who is the visiting artist at the University of Minnesota during this spring quarter, has graciously accepted our invitation to be with us on the program this afternoon and so, at this time, I would like to introduce: Mr. Seong Moy.

Seong: How do you do.

Betty: You know, Mr. Moy – we’re really very much excited about your forthcoming exhibition at the University Gallery – and we’re delighted that you could take time from your teaching duties to be with me this afternoon – so you can tell me something about – oh, about your work – and about yourself.

Here are a few pages from the broadcast Critically Speaking, featuring artist Seong Moy:

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View works by Seong Moy in the Weisman’s permanent collection in the Digital Content Library.

Purchase Prizes

In 1950, the University Gallery announced it would be holding it’s first national print exhibit, inviting artists from across the country to submit entries for competition of prizes of up to $600 (UM News Release, September 20, 1950: Digital Conservancy).

“Each artist who wishes to exhibit may enter two prints that he has executed sometime within the last 18 months…The one dollar entry fee and entry blank must be sent by Nov. 10 to the University Gallery…”

A Dec 4, 1950 UM News Release (Digital Conservancy) announced the winning prints, which were displayed in the Gallery through the end of January and became part of the Gallery’s permanent collection.

(Select the hyperlinks below to view the purchased artwork at the Digital Content Library).

*A folder titled, “First National Print Annual Exhibition, Dec. 6, 1950-Jan. 19, 1951” can be found in Box 3 of the WAM archival collection at the University Archives.

You are cordially invited… II

Previously we shared in invitation to a talk related to a past exhibit. This month’s invitation offers an evening of scenic design, vaudeville, a light supper and dancing in celebration of a past exhibit…


In the mid-80s, the University acquired the “Twin City Scenic Collection,” which consisted of over a thousand renderings, sketches and models from the Twin City Scenic company of Minneapolis. As indicated by a U of M press release from 1985 (Digital Conservancy) former Twin City Scenic Studio president, W.R. Brown, brought the collection to the University. The studio was established in 1896 and was located in the Bijou Theatre. From vaudeville to the circus, this theatre contributed greatly to the Twin Cities theatre scene. The exhibit, and related programming, conducted in 1987, brought to light this local highlight.

All the Way to the Bank

Installation drawing for the John Rood sculpture Return of John Brown

The University Gallery assisted with the installation of two John Rood sculptures in the National American Bank in Minneapolis in 1975. (Rood was a professor of art at the University if Minnesota from 1944-1946.) On the surface this is not a particularly interesting topic, but I quite liked these installation drawings I found in the files. The carefully rendered drawings show the sculptures with a stylishly-dressed customer for scale, and are interesting drawings by themselves. The attached typed captions detail how each sculpture will be mounted: “The sculpture’s plate is mounted on top of a column which is secured to a rectangular, weighty platform. The material is walnut stained birch plywood.”

Installation drawing of a John Rood sculpture, and photographs of the two sculptures

Federal Students

In the early years of the Gallery, personnel consisted of the curator, Ruth Lawrence, and to those who are referred to in the archival records as, “federal students.” This title is written in pencil on the back of a photograph in Box 3:


The Federal Students employed at the Gallery were part of the National Youth Administration (NYA), a division under the Works Progress Administration that provided work-study income to students and other financial support to youth in the years that followed the Great Depression.

Web_FedStudents_03.jpgBox 101 contains a folder titled, “Gallery Procedures” in which resides the document, “Instructions to Federal Students.” From the instructions, we learn of what the duties of the Federal Students were, “As noted above, the departments with which you will be mainly concerned are (2) Art Reference Room, (4) the Fine Arts Room, (11) the Galleries.

In the foreword to a bound gallery report compiled in 1939, Ruth Lawrence provides further description of the “federal students,”

“The N.Y.A. students were wholly untrained and those assigned often came to us at first disinterested in the work, and great deal of patience was needed in training them for the tasks they were to do… “

Other included documentation reveals the position requests that were made to the Federal Student Work Project in 1936-1937:

Secretarial – shorthand typing
poster work – art training-printing
journalism – handle publicity work
take charge of print room and art books, print file – graduate students in art if possible, afternoons free
collect materials on artists for their works for loan print collections – must have fine arts training
finish and make picture frames – carpentering and painting, packing and unpacking for gallery and lifting hanging exhibitions
guard duty – interest in art, so as to answer questions in gallery, two may be women for fine art room.

An example of the duties performed by federal students is found on a Federal Student Daily Report,


In the same 1939 gallery report, Ruth reflected,

“…The task was tremendous and it was fraught by almost insurmountable hazards due to the inaccurateness caused by ignorance of the material handled and the fact that the students were attempting tasks which required trained skill and knowledge. It was only through patient and laborious instruction that they could carry on with any degree of efficiency. However, without the excellent cooperation and enthusiasm of these students and a determination to build the Gallery into a fine thing, this task would have been hopeless.”


Robert Motherwell


Robert Motherwell was featured in the University Gallery in 1965, in a traveling exhibition from the Museum of Modern Art. Motherwell was part of the New York School (which included Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, and Willem de Kooning) and his work is likewise in the Abstract Expressionist vein. His distinctive style of painting with rich black blobs and swaths is on display in this poster for the show, and in the photographs from the opening.

The press release from the Gallery describes Motherwell and his style:

Robert Motherwell, one of the foremost contemporary painters, has developed along with his painting a unique eloquence and profundity in the use of collage. Subtleties of feeling and a spirit of tempered freedom are richly stated through the combination of papers and painting. This extraordinary sensitivity and cultivation of style are also shown in his drawings.

The Weisman Art Museum still has in its collection an important piece from Motherwell, called Mural Fragment. This piece caused some controversy when it first came to the University in 1965, to be displayed in the Duluth student center. Some students and faculty petitioned for its removal, stating “We feel a better example of modern art could have been selected, rather than this crude daub that looks like a deformed octopus alongside of two decayed dinosaur eggs.” Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, I guess. The gallery director kept the painting up.
Read more about Motherwell and Mural Fragment here.

The Motherwell opening at the U Gallery

Press release and news clipping from The Daily

Fine Arts Room

In building upon President Lotus Coffman’s initial intentions with the “fine arts experiment” at the University, in the early years the Gallery provided not only exhibition and art rental in order to improve the “cultural aspects” of the student population, but also a room of respite in order for students to be exposed to art and culture.

Documentation included in Box 101, which includes Ruth Lawrence’s early correspondence and administrative papers, creates a picture of what the “Fine Arts Room” was like and the processes followed to maintain it.

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Georgia O’Keeffe: Oak Leaves, Pink and Grey

The Room was featured in a 1935 edition of School and Society in an article titled, “An Experimental Arts Room at Minnesota,” prompting an inquiry to Ruth Lawrence from a reader, C.H. Bennett. Lawrence, responding to the inquiry, provides an additional description of the room’s atmosphere and design, which also compliments the black and white photographs contained in the photograph collection of the University Archives:

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“The room is modern in design. A blue and off white color scheme is carried throughout, two walls blue and two walls and the ceiling off white. The furniture is all modern; the lines are horizontal. The windows have blue venetian blinds and heavy blue drapes which drop to the floor. At one end of the room is an alcove, indirectly lighted, in which we exhibit one masterpiece of modern painting. The corner of the opposite wall is mirrored in such a way as to afford a transition from the blue wall to the off white one. Besides the lighting in the alcove there are many modern designed lamps to give that added touch that makes the room homelike.”

“Everyone seems to feel that the room is fulfilling adequately the hope that it will become an art sanctuary. I believe an incident which happened when we opened the room will illustrate this. The evening before the opening reception, I was sitting in the room, giving it a last appraisal and criticism, when one of my employees came in to ask me a question. He progressed to the center of the room, stood still a moment, and then, with a hasty apology, carefully carried his cigarette to the door, and stamped it out saying that it was nothing short of sacrilidge to smoke there.”

The care and upkeep of the Room was tasked to the federal student workers employed at the Gallery. In “Instructions to Federal Students,” a complete description of the maintenance of the room is described,


“The Fine Arts Room is to be cleaned thoroughly 3 times a week. By cleaning “thoroughly” we mean that the rug is to be vacuumed, the venetian blinds dusted, the furniture dusted, the mirrors washed, the metal grills polished, etc. Every day however, the cabinets are to be dusted and should the rug need vacuuming, that is to be done also. We shall try to arrange it so that it is the duty of certain girls to do cleaning, but it is every girl’s responsibility to see that the room is in good shape at all time.”


The instructions also describe the behaviors to follow within the Room, which was monitored by “hostesses,” “Hostesses are not to study while they are on duty in this room. They are to sit quietly, reading the art books and magazines and taking the attendance. Visitors are not to smoke, study, or converse in loud tones. Also, lounging or napping on the part of either the visitors or hostesses is not permitted.

The instructions further indicate, “Daily attendance blanks are to be taken from the office by the person opening the room for the day. They are to be left in the room for subsequent entries by other hostesses and turned in to Room 318 when the room is closed.

Take a look at the attendance taken, and list of questions asked about the Fine Arts Room:


Hand-done Handsome Things, 1949

Web_HDHT_01.jpgIn order to commemorate the Minnesota Territorial Centennial, the University Gallery exhibited “the most humble object made at home because it had to supply some need, to those objects of great artistry and excellent craftsmanship which would grace any museum in the land.

While no catalog was created for the exhibit titled, “Hand-done Handsome Things,” Gallery Director, Ruth Lawrence, received a donation in order for some of the exhibited works of Minnesota arts and crafts to be photographed. The photos were later compiled into a scrapbook, which is now contained in Box 3 of the WAM archival collection.

In the introduction, Lawrence states, “There is positive value in these objects, not only through their historical implications but also as they may inspire and aid future craftsmen. They can have an indirect or economic value to living craftsmen as well as direct or intrinsic value to the worker himself or to the community…

The East holds the philosophy that the artist is not a special kind of man but every man a special kind of artist. With more leisure time coming this philosophy of the East might well be pondered here.

Ponder over a few of the scrapbook pages containing hand-done handsome things…

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Frank Pearson


In the Ivory Tower literary magazine, student Roger Horrocks wrote of his visit to the Frank Pearson exhibit in 1965:

Entering the University Gallery (that claustrophobic white corridor which reminds me of a ship’s passageway), I was overwhelmed by the blaze of color pouring out from a series of diamond-shaped, T-shaped, and upside-down-L-shaped canvases. At first, I approved of the disciplined geometrical forms, but felt very irritated by the color. There appeared to be not the slightest attempt to blend or harmonize different tints, not one painting on which the eye could rest peacefully.

Horrocks did warm up to the paintings eventually, appreciating their optical illusion qualities.
The painter Frank Pearson was a faculty in the University of Minnesota Art Department at the time of his show. Pearson resigned suddenly after only one and a half years on the faculty, and if you’d like to know why, take a look at the Peter Busa entry on this blog and venture a guess…

Frank Pearson talking with Sidney Simon (director of the U Gallery), and student Roger Horrocks. On the right, a photograph from the opening.

Color images of Pearson’s paintings from 1965. The color images have cracked, while the black and white images of the show have held up.

Jerome Liebling

Upon reading the news of the recent passing of Jerome Liebling, photographer and former U of M art faculty member, I looked back through the WAM Files to see if his work had been featured in an exhibit at the University Gallery.

A folder, titled, “Photography – Jerry Liebling, Feb. 27 – Mar. 21, 1951” was found in Box 3. The folder contents included a catalogue, titled, “A Photographic Document of the Minnesota Scene” and a typed statement from the artist, which includes insights on his art form:


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The WAM permanent collection contains some of Liebling’s photography, noteably of other U of M art faculty.