May 2012

High School Higher Ed

Since the founding of WAM as the University Gallery in 1934, students at the University have been provided with several opportunities for direct exposure to art. In the early years – after completing their rigorous studies – students could climb the several flights of stairs in Northrop Auditorium to visit the latest exhibit displayed in the gallery or flip through the pages of an artist’s biography while relaxing in the Fine Arts Room. They could even return to their own dormitory to gaze upon a print that they rented for 25 cents from the gallery’s student loan collection.

But what about other students in Minnesota who did not attend the University? What about their exposure to art? The University Gallery had that covered too…

HighSchool-2.jpgIn May of 1938 the University Gallery loaned more than 40 color prints from the student loan collection (a collection of print reproductions that students could rent to decorate their rooms) to be exhibited at secondary schools in the Twin Cities. In collaboration with the Minneapolis committee of the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York City, modern prints from within the gallery’s student loan collection were displayed first at Central High School and later at Folwell Junior High School in Minneapolis.

The prints were selected by Ruth Lawrence, gallery curator, and Miss Ella Witter, art instructor at Central High School. The exhibit was intended as an introduction to modern art for high school students and included reproductions of the works of Kandinsky, O’Keeffe, Picasso, Matisse, Renoir, Cezanne, among others.

Press clippings found within the University Gallery press books provide photographs and descriptions of the traveling exhibition:


HighSchool-1.jpgYou may notice on the images from the press books that the notations next to the clippings state 1939 and not 1938. To get down to the bottom of this matter of year, I headed to the Minnesota Daily’s PDF Archives. On page 2 of the April 29, 1938 edition of the MN Daily the article,” Gallery Shows Will Circulate in High Schools” is found. The heading of the press book page indicates 1938 as well.

*For a history of Minneapolis public schools, visit the Minneapolis Public Schools online historical archive, which has hundreds of files and photographs that document the history of the school district.

Fully Animated

Disney1.jpgDuring the month of May, 1935 the University Gallery was host to some animated visitors. As described in the May 12, 1935 article in the Minneapolis Tribune titled, “Mickey Mouse Goes ‘Arty’ in University Exhibition,” the gallery exhibited 50 black and white drawings and 48 color drawings from the Disney studio in California, which were loaned to the gallery by the College Art Association. The drawings illuminated the process of animation, and showcased celluloid character drawings superimposed over landscape drawings on paper.

The Minnesota Daily student newspaper reported Mickey and Minnie Mouse scampering for higher education:


During the run of the exhibition, original Walt Disney short films were also shown. A gallery report indicated that “projection apparatus” was brought to the gallery and from time to time Mickey Mouse and Silly Symphonies cartoons were played. This was in addition to frequent talks given by the Department of Visual Education on the methods of animation.

Today, thanks to the projection apparatus known as You Tube, we can view the Silly Symphonies that were likely shown in the University Gallery:

The Skeleton Dance, 1929
Flowers and Trees, 1932
Three Little Pigs, 1933

… and more…

*The exhibition was held two years prior to the release of Walt Disney Animation Studio’s first full-length animated feature, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.”

About Spring

The green grass, blooming flowers, and recent temperature increase in Minnesota has me thinking a lot about spring. Thoughts about the season were interpreted at the University Gallery in June of 1955 in an exhibit simply titled, “About Spring.”

An exhibition poster promoted the seasonal exhibition:


AboutSpring_1955-Announce.jpgAn exhibition publicity release from June 1955 (left) found in the gallery press books from the 1950s-60s provided a description of the exhibition:

About Spring – to July 15. A group of 40 paintings, prints, and drawings from local sources are being shown in the fourth floor gallery. Landscapes, flower still lifes and other subjects related to the season are accompanied by evocative stanzas from English and American poets. Among the artists represented are: Adolf Dehn, Leon Hartl, Louis Eilshemius, Kurt Roesch, B.J.O. Nordfeldt, Milton Avery, Marsden Hartley, and Sue Fuller as well as members of the Department of Art: Cameron Booth, Robert Collins, and Josephine Lutz Rollins. Other paintings were loaned by the Minneapolis Institute of Art and Walker Art Center.

In searching through the links to the artists’ works as represented in WAM’s collection on the Digital Content Library, I found a variety of landscapes and works of still life that could capture the essence of spring. But it wasn’t until I came across a series of landscapes by B.J.O. Nordfeldt that I found a visual representation that matches what I think spring is all about…

The yarn of it all…


When a University of Minnesota senior and fellow member of the WAM Collective, eager (and hopefully not beleaguered) to graduate, questioned the group recently about the purchase of his cap and gown, I was reminded of an exhibition that the University Gallery held in 1938 on the topic of Academic Dress.

The University Gallery Press books featured an article clipped from the University’s humor magazine, Ski-U-Mah titled, “For a Cap and Gown,” written by Bill Sims, that light-heartedly reported upon the regalia of academic dress in 1938:


“Those who were on hand to witness the traditional Cap and Gown Day procession as it wound its way through the campus, over the knoll and eventually up the steps to Northrop Auditorium, watched half puzzled and awed by the razzle dazzle and color, pomp, clicking cameras and showy corsages.

After the seniors came the faculty in their flowing gowns and bright hoods. Oh, what my dead grandmother wouldn’t have done for just one small piece out of each of those brilliant hoods that filed past! What a crazy quilt that would have made!”

The exhibit was arranged by Ruth Lawrence, who in addition to her role as curator of the Gallery, also served on the University’s Functions Committee where for several years she assisted in formal preparations for graduation ceremonies, and even designed uniforms for a Grand Marshall and two assistants that became part of the ceremony. “A crazy quilt” of fabric swatches that represented the colors of academic dress were found charted on a piece of paper in a folder titled, “Ruth Lawrence: University Committees Correspondence.”

Sims’ description of the costumes continued with some background:

“The people who wear these fine letters have honorary or high academic degrees. The color of the trimming on the hood signifies the wearer’s degree; the color of the lining tells what university he wrested it from.

It’s a great show, this academic style parade, and well worth an hour of anyone’s idle attention. It’s all done to a code- the International Code of Academic Costume…”

…The history of academic costume is quite a yarn, and if you ever get caught with a case of mumps or something I suggest you catch up on it, if you can’t think of anything else to do.”

Cats_011_AcademicCostume_1939.jpgIn May of 1938, this “yarn” of a history was displayed at the University Gallery, where close to 100 examples of robes in the U of M academic dress as well as examples from Harvard University, University of Toronto, and the University of Leeds, England were displayed. A catalogue of the exhibition (at left) described the history, rules, and regulations of academic dress. Published by Cotrell & Leonard, Albany, N.Y., and printed and distributed for the Intercollegiate Bureau of Academic Costume, “The History of Academic Costume in America” supplemented the show.

All yarns aside, in the publication, Gardner Cotrell Leonard wrote an opinion on the reason that such standards for academic dress were established and for what the standards symbolized:

“On its history and picturesque side it serves to remind those who don it of the continuity and dignity of learning. On its democratic side, it subdues the differences in dress arising from the differences in taste, fashion, manners and wealth, and clothes all with the outward grace and equal fellowship which have ever been claimed as an inner fact in the republic of learning.”

While soon to be graduates in the areas of public health and pharmacy may challenge the taste and fashion of salmon pink and olive, they never-the-less will walk across the stage with outward grace as they receive the diplomas that acknowledge the dignity of their learning.

Congratulations 2012 University of Minnesota graduates!


This week, museum professionals from across the country descended upon the Twin Cities to attend the annual American Association of Museums (AAM) conference, held this year at the Minneapolis Convention Center. Over 4,000 registered participants, in addition to volunteers and other attendees, shared best practices and formed collaborations throughout the schedule of hundreds of sessions and meetings held from April 29-May 2.

This is not the first time the twin towns have hosted museum professionals for discussion and deliberation. In 1948, the Midwest Museums Conference was held from October 14-16, and various sessions and meetings were conducted at local museums and galleries.

According to the conference schedule that was found in a folder titled “Memberships” in Box 110 (at left), the events kicked off with an “Informal Get-together and Smoker” on Thursday, October 14 at the Walker Art Center, hosted by Director Dan Defenbacher, and concluded on Saturday, October 16 with the final event at 2:00 PM, an Illinois-Minnesota Football Game “for all ardent fans.”

Though the article in the MN Daily that reported upon the conference was titled, “Museum Men Meet,” there were women there too – a tour was given of the University Galleries by Director Ruth Lawrence on Saturday, October 15 with a luncheon at the U of M’s Junior Ballroom to follow.

The men of the conference included Dan Defenbacher Director of the Walker Art Center; Henry D. Brown, Director of the Detroit Historical Museum; Walter J. Breckenridge, Director of the Minnesota Museum of Natural History; Richard S. Davis, Senior Curator at the Minneapolis Art Institute; Milton D. Thompson, Director of the Minneapolis Science Museum; Russell Plimpton, Director of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts; Nils G. Sahlin, Director of the Swedish Art Institute; Col. Clifford C. Gregg, Director of the Chicago Natural History Museum; Vice President Malcolm Willey, University of Minnesota; Dr. Louis Powell, Director of the St. Paul Science Museum; G. Huber Smith, Curator at the Minnesota Historical Society; and Malcolm Lein, Director of the St. Paul Gallery and School of Art.