October 2011

Appraisal of our position…

Web_Box.jpgTo use a phrase first utilized by former University Gallery Director Ruth Lawrence in a report to the President in the 1940s, the WAM Files project staff recently met to make “appraisal of our position” in processing the WAM archival collection.

As of the end of September, we had processed a total of 176 boxes of WAM records that had been accessioned into the University Archives collection.

During our appraisal, we admitted that we loved dust and stapling labels to folders so much, that we agreed to keep going – and thus, 38 additional boxes of exhibition planning records and educational files were prepared according to Archives guidelines, and were picked up by a University Libraries van and transported to the basement workroom of Andersen Library.

Since the project was launched nearly 8 months ago, we have processed over 7,000 folders – selected contents of which have been shared in 87 (now 88) blog posts.

Upon appraisal, we are in the position to continue processing, posting, and providing a glimpse into the unique materials contained within the WAM Files.

October Exhibitions, 1958

In the early years of the gallery, exhibition announcements were prepared on a monthly basis as exhibits changed more frequently. Though we are reaching the end of October, better late-than-never to share the poster that announced the exhibits that were on view in the University Gallery just over a half-century ago (October, 1958):


Revealing Rollins

My eyes widened this week after I came across an online article from the Star Tribune, which reported upon the recent uncovering of lost artwork of the Minnesota artist Josephine Lutz Rollins: “Unburied treasure in Stillwater

Rollins joined the faculty of the University of Minnesota in 1927 and continued as an instructor until 1965. Her legacy as a Minnesota artist spreads far past the University, however. A 2007 exhibition organized by the Minnesota Historical Society and the Minnesota Museum of American Art titled, “In her Own Right: Minnesota’s First Generation of Women Artists,” placed Rollins alongside other female artists that contributed to the arts and culture of the state. A biography of Rollins can be found in an article on the exhibit from MPRnews.

The name “Rollins” has appeared several times in the WAM collection, specifically in folders and catalogs that document two exhibitions that were held at the University Gallery:

Historic Buildings in Minnesota: Jo Lutz Rollins, 1949


“Mrs. Rollins has never for a moment forgotten that her task as an artist is not merely to record certain historical monuments, but somehow to translate these buildings into works of art which will exist and have value in and of themselves. She has never at any time lost sight of her task of organizing a two-dimensional area through the application of water color pigment. And not only do these paintings exist as fine formal statements of a most exacting medium, but a comparative study of the works illustrates how effectively and sensitively she has responded to the particular quality, the specific mood of the subject she was portraying. The paintings thus become not only a most illuminating mirror of Minnesota history, but more important, a fine interpretation and translation into an artistic medium of a century of Minnesota.” – H. H. Arnason, Chairman, Department of Art, Exhibit Catalog

Josephine Lutz Rollins: Retrospective Exhibition, 1962


Mrs. Rollins appreciates what time does to man’s environment; she is attracted to a world that is not new and shiny. In her paintings the viewer finds few people; but they are not missed; for their trace is everywhere, in the way an old historic house sits on the land, in the look of a familiar river bank, in the enchantment of a foreign city. It has been her distinction to have reaffirmed the familiar in such a way as to have translated it into works of art of lasting merit.” – Sidney Simon, Director, University Gallery

WAM’s permanent collection contains many works by Rollins. View her water colors, drawings, and other works at the Digital Content Library.



I’ve come across a few visitor’s register books in the files from the 1980s and 1990s (visitors wrote their name, where they hailed from, and any comments about the show.) I began perusing the register for the 1989 show Recaption/Recontext, featuring photographs from the Cray Research/Film in the Cities collection. The show was curated by photographer Vince Leo, who paired each photograph with a quotation about photography from a variety of sources, thus “recaptioning and recontextualizing” the images. In the catalog, Leo states his general aim is “to agitate against or puncture what we usually think about these photographs in particular, or about photography in general; to open gaps in interpretation instead of closing them.”

Some of the comments in the visitor’s register book about this show caught my eye:

  • Took me back home.
  • Gave me hope.
  • It’s nice to know photography is not dead.
  • It’s bare! But wow!
  • Why are the two pictures pertianing to black people “lent by the artist” and not owned in the collection?
  • I loved the variety. Some photographs leave me entranced and with the need to see more.
  • Deep! / Intense
  • Illuminating a wonderful example of the power of context!
  • I agree – do whatever you must to get your point across – nothing is sacred.

And my favorite comment was simply: “Art?”

Invitation for the exhibition “Recaption/Recontext”


As I walked along the wood floors of the recently re-opened Weisman Art Museum, my pace quickened (though still within an appropriate pace for an art gallery) as I directed my strides towards the new Woodhouse Family Gallery. This gallery features WAM’s collection of contemporary American artwork and includes works of the artists Marsden Hartley, B.J.O. Nordfeldt, Alfred Maurer and Georgia O’Keeffe, to name a few.

While each of these artists deserves an appreciation (and a blog post), my sense of eagerness and hurried pace to this gallery was for one reason, and one reason only: Star Cage.

In processing the WAM archival collection over the past 8 months, we have uncovered many records detailing the exhibition of David Smith’s sculpture, “Star Cage.” Though the records have served to build intrigue amongst the processors, “Star Cage” itself has remained illusive and distant (as represented in this undated photo of the gallery spaces in Northrop Auditorium):


As the piece has become a popular representation of Smith’s work, it is frequently loaned to other museums, and not until recently, for the occasion of the re-opening of WAM, was it returned to Minneapolis to be displayed in the museum. The sculpture was the first piece to be acquired for the University Gallery’s John Rood Sculpture Collection, (established by the long-time University art department faculty member and sculptor for which it is named).

See what we have uncovered about “Star Cage” over the past several months, and hurry over to WAM’s new galleries to join me in some stargazing…

A previous blog post details the folder titled, “Minneapolis Sculpture,” which includes a newspaper clipping with a photograph of the sculpture next to Joan Mondale at the Vice President’s Residence in Washington D.C., where the work was exhibited in 1977.

Yet another post details a photo contact sheet found of the work in a 1959 exhibition of Japanese prints.

Box 3 contains a contact sheet, likely of promotional photos taken of the gallery, with “Star Cage” prominently featured alongside gallery curator, Betty Maurstad.



In 1952, the University Gallery held an exhibition of the works of Marsden Hartley. This promotional poster notes the dates of the exhibition:


The exhibit was held in conjunction with the release of a book of which the artist was subject. According to a U of M News Release, dated April 25, 1952 (Digital Conservancy) the book, Marsden Hartley, authored by Elizabeth McCausland, and published by the University Press, contains “a biographical and critical essay on the artist and is illustrated with reproductions of 43 of his works, ranging from some of his earliest paintings to the one on his easel at the time of his death in 1943.

Specifically, the book profiles the Hartley works that were in the collection of Hudson Walker (the first curator of the University Gallery). Walker’s collection was, at that time, on permanent loan to the University Gallery.

Today, the Weisman Art Museum’s Ione and Hudson D. Walker Collection (a bequest to the gallery in the 1970s), features the largest collection of Hartley’s works. Several of these works are prominently featured in WAM’s new expanded galleries in the current exhibit titled, “Cartography of a Collection.”