September 2011

Building on Imagination…

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The large and oddly-shaped brochure for the University Art Museum’s show Building on Imagination: Architectural Imagery in Children’s Books caught my eye in the files. Soon after, I found a hand-made prototype of the brochure, colored with marker and pasted together, with lines in place for text. I love that the brochure design itself is imaginative and inventive, echoing the towers a child might build.

Building-imagination_broch-side.jpgThe exhibition explored architecture within children books, featuring original illustrations from books such as “Kenny’s Window” by Maurice Sendak, and “King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table” by Gustaf Tenggren, among others. It toured around the region to 23 sites from 1989 to 1992. The Northfield News wrote of the exhibition in 1991:

“Besides examining architecture in children’s book illustrations, Building on Imagination also highlights children’s experiences of real buildings and of designing make-believe buildings with blocks or blankets in messy bedrooms. A set of stone blocks from the Victorian era included in the exhibition demonstrates the appeal architectural toys have had for children long before Lincoln Logs or Legos became popular.”

The Biographer’s and Processor’s New Best Friend

I came across an article in the New York Times by Stephen Mihm titled, “The Biographer’s New Best Friend,” that commented upon the usefulness of digitized newspapers to biographers in tracking the whereabouts of the people they are researching.

Digitized newspapers have also aided WAM archives processors by providing context to the materials contained within the collection.

Web_UA_Photos_ArtRental.jpgTake for instance a folder that contains excellent photographs… but that also does not include excellent captions or descriptions of said photographs. Last spring on the WAM Files, my co-processor shared excellent photos of the University Gallery’s art rental program that she uncovered while processing. Staff at the University Archives later shared with us additional photos related to the art rental program that are contained in their photograph collection (at left – “Art gallery. lending pictures. 1948.” pictured are Sallie Wruck, Elvie Berggren, and Betty Maurstad, Curator – from the University Archives).

To learn more about the student art rental program, I performed a few keyword searches of “art rental” and “University Gallery” on the MN Daily website (online presence of the student-run University newspaper), and received results from the Daily’s PDF Archives. Upon reviewing my results, I was almost instantly able to learn more about the art rental program and process by accessing these digitized newspaper files:

A January 11, 1944 MN Daily headline informed, “Decorating Those Walls: U Gallery Prints are Renting Fast.” The article indicated that although enrollment had decreased (due to the war), 70 students rented 133 prints, and 16 servicemen borrowed 38 prints. The Gallery also loaned 23 prints to the Navy for USS Minnesota.

In an August 14, 1947 MN Daily article titled, “U Offers Art For Two Bits,” the history of the program and report of student tastes was offered:

During the first quarter of its operation only 50 prints were rented to students. Since that time the number has increased to about 450 in a regular quarter… According to Betty Maurstad, most of the students are repeat customers. Almost all of them live on campus in dormitories, fraternities, and sororities. Quite a few live in the University village… The few prints of the modernist school in the gallery are becoming more popular. Also there is an increasing interest in sculptured pieces…

…So for a quarter, enjoy your art at home. Choose what you will. Hang it where you like. If you can’t paint one, rent one.”

Thanks to the biographer’s -and the processor’s- new best friend, with a personal computer, internet access, and a PDF reader, you can do your research… where you like.


This past week, the University of Minnesota welcomed new President Eric Kaler with an inauguration – amongst other fanfare and ceremony. The Student Unions and Activities office shared a photograph of President Kaler next to his picture portrait that will be placed in the President’s Room of Coffman Memorial Union.

This lead me to think of the origin of the portrait of the University president for which the student union is named: President Lotus Delta Coffman. The University Gallery, as it turns out, had a large role in preparing Coffman’s portraiture for display.

From the WAM Collection, file of the Fine Arts Committee, Box 110, Minutes of the Fine Arts Committee, December 4, 1939:

“The fifth item to be discussed was relative to the portrait of President Coffman. This painting was completed by Mr. John Johansen of New York, and was ready for its first viewing by the Arts Committee. The Committee went to Mr. Burton’s studio where the painting was shown. It was the consensus of opinion that the portrait was a dignified one and well represented Mr. Coffman and that for future generations it would be a worthy record of him. Instructions were then given Mrs. Lawrence to take the portrait to the Gallery for cataloguing, photographing, and storage until the frame could be designed by Mr. Johansen and the painting could finally be put into place in the main lounge of the Coffman Memorial union. Instructions were given Mrs. Lawrence to have 6 8×10 photographs made by Mr. Hollis and 1 small photo for the Gallery records. One 8×10 print is to go to Mrs. Coffman, one is to be kept in the Gallery files, and the remaining four are to be sent to Dean Willey’s office.”

*President Coffman passed away September 22 1938.

You are Invited: IV

Web_WAM_004_AllenDowns_1.jpgSince we will be well over half a century late to the tea mentioned in the at-left invitation for University art professor Allen Downs, you are instead invited to review the archival resources that illuminate his exhibition of photography at the University Gallery, April 24-May 22, 1953…

From the MN Daily’s PDF Archives, The Ivory Tower April 27, 1953, “Downs Calls Photos ‘New Object’ in Art

“Subject matter of the pictures varies from slum districts to Niagara Falls and nudes.

Downs, who came to the University in 1948, called his work ‘the fusion’ of documentation and abstraction. ‘A photograph is a new object, in spite of its authentic appearance as a document of past experience,’ he said.”

From the WAM Collection at the University Archives, Box 4: (the invitation) and photographs of the exhibit:

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Once upon a time…

Once upon a time… the negatives of installation photos taken of the exhibit, “Once Upon a Time: Illustrations of Children’s Tales From Around the World” were not rolled up and bound by a rubber band.

In context of the included note, and upon unraveling the now accordion-ized negatives, it appears as if the exhibit was held in the foyer of Northrop Auditorium:

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Some Assembly Required

The assembled “Northrup Mall” brochure for the Cass Gilbert exhibition.

In 1982, the University Gallery’s Cass Gilbert: Minnesota Master Architect exhibition was touring around the region. According to the catalog, the exhibition was the first one to focus on his Minnesota years. Cass Gilbert was a world-renowned architect who grew up in St. Paul, Minnesota and designed many famous buildings throughout the country, including the Minnesota State Capital, the Woolworth Building in Manhattan, and the United States Supreme Court Building. He also designed the general scheme of the Northrop Mall at the University of Minnesota—the heart of the East Bank of campus and very familiar to all students here. The University Gallery stood at the head of the mall in Northrup Auditorium, and the effects of Gilbert’s design were surely felt there on a daily basis. (Now the Weisman Art Museum stands just across the street from the mall).

Gilbert-mall-flat.jpgTo illustrate Gilbert’s design concept more concretely, the University Gallery offered a very interesting brochure—one could cut and assemble it into the three-dimensional shape of the mall design. This activity was clearly aimed at kids, but I also had a good time assembling one of the many leftover brochures we found in the files (that’s the uncut version on the left). The explanatory text for the innovative “Archipops” brochure states:

We want to encourage children of all ages to better understand their built environment… Archipops is a chance to examine one significant design and learn to ask some questions about it. The model of Cass Gilbert’s Mall is a tool for understanding a talented architect’s solution to the question how to organize the campus of the University of Minnesota.

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The Archipops brochure and the cover of the exhibition catalog.

Then and Now

As WAM staff prepare to re-open next month following a year-long closure in which the existing museum facility received a face-lift and addition, it is an interesting occasion that we at the Archives are processing the very boxes that document the initial planning and physical build of the Frank Gehry designed museum which resides on the East Bank of the U of M-Twin Cities campus.

The following photos were found amongst the folders and contents that later filled BOX 174. A folder titled, “New Building: Site planning” was paper-clipped to the photographs. The date stamp on the photos give a clue to the year they were taken…

Can you identify what is missing from the following photos?


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Cordially III

The University of Minnesota Art Museum cordially invited visitors to view the exhibitions, The Woodblock Prints of B.J.O. Nordfeldt and Emily Nordfeldt’s Legacy: Paintings, Drawings and Prints of B.J.O. Nordfeldt at a reception held Sunday, February 17, 1991, which included a gallery talk, woodblock printing demonstration, and tea, sherry and light refreshments.















A large collection of Nordfeldt’s works can be found in WAM’s permanent collection.