June 2012

Something fishy…

The recent opening of WAM’s summer show, Tenuous, Though Real, which features Minnesota artists, has me wondering – What makes a Minnesotan? There are certainly stereotypes – such as the tendency to accentuate vowels in verbal conversation, knowing the definition of the term “lutefisk,” and harboring a preferential way in which one prepares “lefsa” (If it isn’t with brown sugar, than all I have to say is… Ufda.)

I am a true Minnesotan, born and raised. However, I must confess that my identity as related to my home state is devoid of one common stereotype: I have never “gone fishing.” That is right… I have never put bait to hook, nor fly to reel… Growing up, the “great outdoors” was experienced at the ballpark rather than on one of the many thousands of MN lakes… (In fact, my hometown resides in the only county in the state without a natural lake.)

FishFormsCat.jpgDespite never experiencing the thrill of a big catch, I still understand and recognize the importance of the “fish” in MN culture. This understanding was likely the inspiration for an exhibit held at the University Gallery in the spring of 1955 titled, “Fish Forms in Art.” The works on display captured the form of the fish in a variety of mediums and represented many cultures.

A University Press Release from April 7, 1955 described the exhibit:

… an attempt was made to get objects representative of all major areas and periods in the history of art. [The] largest single group is made of works of contemporary artists such as Picasso, Braque, Lachaise, Lurcat, and Masson. The oldest piece in the showing of 97 objects is a slate palette in the shape of a fish dating from the predynastic period in Egypt (before 3200 B.C.) and loaned by the University Museum, Philadelphia… Because China and Korea consider the fish in special esteem, the two countries are represented by example of porcelain, painting and carving in ivory and jade. From America, Indian pottery from the southwest is shown along with a carved polychrome wood garden fountain…

Materials created to support and promote the exhibit include an exhibit catalog (above) as well as posters that were likely posted on campus bulletin boards.

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Photographs from the exhibit found in Box 5 of the WAM collection at the University Archives:
*Click on the photo for a pop-up to a larger version.


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John Rood: The Metamorphosis of a Sculptor

John Rood was born in Athens, Ohio in 1901. He left school at age 12 to help support his widowed mother, but continued to learn and teach himself in music, literature and writing. After securing a job as an office boy, John was able to save enough money to send himself to high school. He studied in various subjects and was able to graduate in one year.

At the age of seventeen he had the accidental acquaintance of a man who changed the whole course of his life, Murray Sheehan, then head of the Department of Journalism at the University of Arkansas. In 1927, when Rood was 25, Murray introduced him to a wealthy family in Washington, who immediately secured him as a private secretary and travel companion on a trip to Europe. This is where he was first exposed to the avant-garde of the day, met the likes of Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hemingway and witnessed the new rise of surrealism (e.d. Schneider, Bruno; John Rood’s Sculpture, University of Minnesota Press, 1958).

Rood’s artistic and literary senses continued to develop after returning to the States and culminated in the periodical, Manuscript, which he edited with then wife Mary Lewland. In 1933 Rood began sculpting and investing more time in his craft and in 1936 the periodical was abandoned. In the Spring of 1937 Rood had his first one man show in New York at the Argent Gallery, where he gained favorable reviews from the New York Times art critic, Howard Devree.

ua100296.jpgIn 1944 Rood received a telegram from Laurence Schmeckebier, head of the Fine Arts Department at the University of Minnesota asking him if he were interested in joining staff to teach sculpture and related subjects. He accepted immediately and despite his wife’s family’s wishes, moved to Minneapolis alone. His principle medium was wood but in the late forties he took up stone carving, experimenting with marble and alabaster. During this period Rood and Lewland divorced and he married Dorothy Bridgman Atkinson in 1948. John and Dorothy would go on to establish the Rood Sculpture Collection to provide funds to strengthen the Arts at the University of Minnesota.

Rood’s interests moved to bronze and metal, and he began utilizing welding tools. He was promoted to Professor in 1957, and expressed a continued interest in religious subject matter with many exercises in simplification, particularly of animal forms (e.d. Susan Brown; Works By John Rood, A Memorial Exhibition, University of Minnesota Press 1974).
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In June 1964 The John Rood Sculpture 42-62 exhibition was held at the University Gallery to commemorate Rood’s departure from teaching and recent gifts to the University. Exhibited in gallery 307 of Northrop auditorium were the display of twelve sculptures in wood, stone, and metal, which represents the entire range of Rood’s work from 1942-1962.

After leaving the University Rood had his first exhibitions in Europe at Milan and Rome in 1965. This later phase of his work included “structachromes” of wrought iron and stained glass and, in the 1970s, painted wood constructions (e.d. Susan Brown; Works By John Rood, A Memorial Exhibition, University of Minnesota Press 1974). Rood returned to Minneapolis in the early seventies where he died in 1974.


Under the direction of Barbara Shissler (Director 1972-1975), The University Art Museum produced a memorial exhibition to honor Rood and his contributions to the University and community. The accompanying catalog included Rood’s following statement:

The compulsion to make things, rarely physically useful though occasionally so, has been with me as long as I can remember. This compulsion in time, gave rise to a necessity as real as that for food and drink. A love and respect for materials – wood, stone, metal – led quite naturally to the creation of art.

Art for me has become a kind of religion, believing as I do that we should leave the world a better place for having lived in it. Also the knowledge that I am part of the endless metamorphic chain – animal matter becoming dusk again, and dust nourishing plants to be eaten and become a part of the animal world including man himself – has cheered me since it makes clear that I am brother not only to all other people, but to everything else in the world: rocks, trees, mountains – everything!

As I grow older life becomes more enjoyable, in spite of those physical pains to which we all are heir; enjoyable in that it presents more facets of understanding, so that situations which might bring tears to a youngster bring instead a wondrous sense of the comical, the humorous. Nothing matters quite so much as it did when young.

So, I have come to the making of art that has no other purpose than to delight the human spirit; to appeal to our sense of order yet without any message other than that we are human, that we are alive, that only the human being can create a work of art with the imperfections of any hand-made thing which imperfection is basic to man himself. In these latest works, don’t look for anything more than a celebration of the joy of being “a member of the world” (1973)

Most of Rood’s prolific career was spent in Minneapolis, and examples of his work are abundant in the Twin Cities area. Many of his works reside in the Weisman’s permanent collection and an inventory of his papers can be found at Syracuse University.


A post on posters…

Planning continues for the WAM Files exhibit that will open at WAM on July 14th… The exhibit will feature, amongst other unique items from the Archives, some of the first items of intrigue that the project processors encountered – University Gallery exhibition posters. A WAM Files blog post from February 27, 2011 profiles processor Areca’s initial reaction to her discovery of a set of exhibit posters. As the project continued, we kept finding posters – in the exhibition files, in a separate over-sized materials collection at the Archives, and even more in a box in the back of WAM’s work room (which will later be transferred to the Archives).


One of the many posters that we encountered was created to promote an actual exhibition of posters. The exhibit, simply titled, “Posters,” was held in the Gallery in the fall of 1952.

Correspondence written by Assistant to the Director, Ivan Majdrakof – found within the exhibition record in Box 4 – described the exhibit:

Rather than the artist-designed poster we concentrated on what we thought were good posters encountering a large public. A high standard of design was our basic criteria. Sources of material were: the New York Subway Advertising, the New York Times, Army andNavy Recruiting offices, Foreign Travel agencies, Cancer Society, our own collection of World War I work, and private collectors of early European posters.


Label text from the exhibition stated:


WELL DESIGNED posters rarely reach a large audience and yet nearly every poster in this exhibit has been seen by a huge number of people.

THE PRIMARY reason for choosing one work and disregarding another was its DESIGN BASIS. Did the poster stop you and invite consideration? Was it eye-appealing? How well did it sell its product? How much did it use the DESIGN ELEMENTS easel painting had and is passing on to it?

THE WELL DESIGNED poster is invariably emotionally satisfying. There is no convincing emotion without GOOD DESIGN.

SINCE the criteria of a STRONGLY DESIGNED poster before a large public was used we found that certain categories of the poster-makerʼs art were eliminated. Sentiment, sex, the actual graphic portraying of a product are more often absent.

THE GREATEST successes DESIGN-WISE seem to be in the realm of ideas. The CAREFULLY DESIGNED poster seems to stress emotional attitudes. Subtler, non-visible ideas lend themselves to CONTEMPORARY DESIGN. Yet the same challenge is there for all poster or visual communication. Only through more “extreme” successful solutions as those on display here will the level of this art be generally raised.

THESE POSTERS divide into three approximate periods. The earliest displayed here are from about the thirties when European poster art was quite advanced from a DESIGN STANDPOINT. The typographic layout of these early German posters still influence the works of VISUAL DESIGNING today.

When the WAM Files exhibit opens in July, we hope that museum visitors find a few eye-appealing posters that will invite their consideration…

2 “e’s” and 2 “f’s”

Web_UA_Photos_FineArts_1.jpgThroughout the summer and fall of 1935, Dean Malcolm Willey and curator Ruth Lawrence were busy making preparations to open a Fine Arts Room as an extension of the gallery. They secured funds from President Coffman to furnish the room as well as to purchase an original work of art to serve as the focal point. Willey and Lawrence selected Georgia O’Keeffe’s, “Oak Leaves, Pink and Gray,” which they purchased in New York City.

In order to prepare for any possible errors in the eventual publicity that the opening of the room and the acquisition of the painting would likely receive, Willey wrote the following letter on October 25, 1935 and addressed it to The Minnesota Daily:

“I know that you are always anxious to come as close to accuracy as possible in the Daily, even to the spelling of names. During the next weeks you undoubtedly will have accounts referring from time to time to the special art room which the University is opening and the distinguished painting which the University has acquired for hanging in it. The artist is Georgia O’Keeffe. Would you instruct your desk men or whoever oversees such matters, that the proper spelling is with two “e’s” and 2 “f’s”: thus, O’Keeffe.”

Despite the forewarning, as found in two separate articles clipped from the Daily, Georgia’s surname was printed with a singular “f”:

From, “U Plans New Student Room for Art Study,” The Minnesota Daily, January 29, 1936:


From, “New Art Room Opens Sunday,” The Minnesota Daily, January 26, 1936:


You’re Invited: Grace Hartigan Paintings, 1957-1963

On September 23, 1963, the opening of an exhibition of the works of artist Grace Hartigan was held at the University Gallery in Northrop Auditorium. An invitation to the exhibition, found in the Gallery press books from the 1960s, is one of many clues found within the archives that can begin to describe the details and events surrounding exhibitions during this decade.


In addition to the opening invitation, an exhibition poster was created to announce and promote the exhibition–which ran through November. Posters were folded and mailed out to friends of the Gallery to publicize the exhibition. A Hartigan poster was found in the back room of the Weisman’s in-house storage, a duplicate is also preserved within the WAM exhibition poster collection at the Archives.


From the exhibition folder, contained in Box 9 of the WAM records at the University Archives, a draft list of exhibition hostesses was found that outlined the schedule for which “Mrs.” or “Miss” was assigned to welcome visitors. The list includes female faculty members (Jo Rollins, Katy Nash), the wives of male faculty members, as well as Liz Cless (Mrs. Howard), the daughter of former Gallery Director Ruth Lawrence, who was the co-director of The Minnesota Plan for the Continuing Education of Women at the University, and Mrs. Wilson, wife of University President O. Meredith Wilson, among others.

(click on the thumbnails below for a larger photo…)


GraceH3.jpgIn addition to attending the opening of her exhibit, the artist Grace Hartigan also gave a seminar to University students and artists the following day, as reported in a Minnesota Daily article from September 23, 1963, which was found in the Gallery press books from the 1960s (at left). The article also provided a brief description of Grace Hartigan’s work, and indicated that at the opening of the exhibit, University students and artists, “milled around, viewing and discussing the show over cookies and coffee.” Several photographs, also found within the press books, portray the milling, viewing, and discussing of the show over cookies and coffee…

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Additional photographs from the press books also likely capture the seminar that was held for students and artists the day following the exhibition opening. Though as the photographs are adhered with rubber cement to pages within the press book, and contain no captions or descriptive material, it is hard to distinguish which photographs capture which event. (Is Hartigan pictured in two different outfits within the photographs, or was she photographed with a jacket on at the same event?)

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Correspondence between the artist and University Gallery Director Sidney Simon was also found within the exhibition folder. This letter from Simon to Hartigan expresses Simon’s thanks for her attendance at the exhibition opening, and comments upon the success of the exhibit:


*In a collections related note, the personal papers of Grace Hartigan are preserved at the Syracuse University Library.

University Gallery Silk Screen Process

Long considered as a commercial method of print production, the silkscreen process received a new appreciation in the mid-1930s, when artist Anthony Velonis, tasked by New York City Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia with a project to promote the city government, embraced the silkscreen method to produce posters that publicized administrative projects in the city. Velonis’s publicity work precipitated the Works Progress Administration (WPA) poster division, and also lead to the establishment of the silkscreen process as a fine art form, termed the “serigraph.” (Read more about Velonis and view posters produced by the WPA Poster Division from the collection of the Library of Congress.)

Cats_019_SilkScreen_1941.jpgIn February of 1941, the University Gallery held an exhibition of the silkscreen process and works created by it. An exhibition catalog (at left) was produced by the Gallery using the print method, and includes an overview of the art form, and a step-by-step description of the process. The concluding sentence of this 17 page catalog simply states, “And now we wish you success and much pleasure in working with the silk screen process.

In a clipping from the Star Journal, titled, “Silk Screen prints at ‘U’; Watercolors Shown,” John Sherman indicated in his review of the exhibit that,

One of the solutions of the tough and two-sided problem of getting original art to the art consumer at prices he can afford to pay and at prices which keep the artist solvent, is the silk screen process… The exhibit, rounded out by specimens from eastern artists, will surprise you by the sparkle and variety of its color, and the richness of effects which can be obtained. The medium is highly flexible – few or many colors may be used, and they can be applied “as is” or in combination by means of overprinting and overlapping.

SilkScreen1.jpgIn another clipping from the Minnesota Daily titled, “Silk Screen Work Shown By Gallery,” (at left) Violet Smith reported that in addition to displaying silkscreen work by artists, the actual frame and squeegee, tools utilized in the production of silkscreen prints, were displayed in the Gallery. The artist Syd Fossum (his work “Gas House District” was part of the exhibit) gave an impromptu demonstration of the process to visitors.

University faculty, students, and Gallery employees utilized the silkscreen process to produce exhibition posters and catalogs that promoted the frequently changing exhibitions held in the Gallery. (The work of University student Homer Mitchell is outlined in a previous post.) This work was representative of the curriculum of the Department of Art, part of the College of Science, Literature, and the Arts. A 1951 Course Bulletin (available in the Digital Conservancy’s collection of Course Catalogs, Bulletins and Course Guides) reports the following design courses available to students:


Art 73f-74w-75s. Presentation Techniques. A study of the communication of visual ideas in the fields of exhibition techniques, illustration, and advertising. Source materials available in the nature and tradition and creative use of media are explored as part of the problem of organization.

Art 73f. Experiments in the Use of Wash Techniques, Ink, Gouache, Watercolor, and Other Media. Elementary problems in presentation using the limitations of the media as a starting point…

Art 74w. Discussions and Readings in Area of Visual Communication. Workshop problems in photomechanical and related print processes, air brush, and mixed graphic techniques…

Art75s. Practice in the Use of Symbols in Specific Presentation Problems and a Reconsideration of General Design Principles…


Allure of the Archive

The allure of the archive is found not only in the rich original evidence of the past that it contains, but is also demonstrated by what the archive may lack. The nature of the organization of records and the proclivity of the record creator determine the composition of the collection. In other words, a single archival collection may not contain all of the information or materials created on a certain person, event, or organization – it may not offer the whole story. This aspect of the archive sends the researcher on an unending hunt for information, each turn determined by obscure clues found amidst some of the most unassuming records.

Web_WAM_004_Hartley_Poster.jpgAn example of this is found with the 1952 exhibition of the works of Marsden Hartley, held at the University Gallery from May 5 to June 13 (and promoted by the poster at left). To learn more about the exhibit it would seem only natural to a researcher to consult the exhibition record from the organization that held the exhibition. The exhibition record is contained in Box 4 of the WAM archival collection at the University Archives. Expecting a wealth of information – an exhibition checklist, opening invitation, catalogue, correspondence, photographs of installation, etc., after consulting the record, I realized that my sights were set too high. While many exhibition record folders contain all of the aforementioned items and more, the folder titled, “Hartley Show, 1952” does not. The contents of this folder consist simply of an exhibition poster and a hand written note with the following text,

Hartley Show Retrospective May 5 – June 13. About 160 items shown – Ptgs. Drawings prints and pastels all drawn from the Hudson Walker Collection here on loan
in the gallery – a fine catalog was prepared by Elizabeth McCausland printed by the U. Press – A group from these will be circulated on west coast – south and in eastern museums.

Though not much to work with, this description did provide a clue: the name Elizabeth McCausland.

Naturally, I turned to the Digital Conservancy to see if any reference to this exhibit and to McCausland occurred in the historical resources preserved and digitized by the University Libraries. Sure enough, a University of Minnesota News Service press release from April 25, 1952 titled, “Marsden Hartley, American Artist, ‘U’ Book Subject” appeared in my search. (Page 91)

The Hartley exhibit opened on May 5 in conjunction with the release of a publication of a biography of the artist written by Elizabeth McCausland and published by the University Press. The exhibit included over 150 prints, watercolors, and drawings created by Hartley.

Further research on McCausland lead me to an archival collection of her personal and professional papers, which are preserved at the Archives of American Art. Portions of the Elizabeth McCausland papers, 1838-1980, bulk 1920-1960 were digitized and made available for research (thank you!). The series, “Correspondence and General Files, 1900-1964, bulk 1950-1964” includes a section of pertinent interest: Box 17, folders 40-51, which contain correspondence with staff of the University Gallery, University Vice President Malcolm Willey, the University Press, and Chairman H. Harvard Arnason of the Department of Art regarding the research for and publication of McCausland’s biography of Marsden Hartley. Additional portions of this series also contain correspondence with Hudson Walker, who owned the Hartley works, but had placed them on loan to the University in 1950.

A February 17, 1951 correspondence from McCausland to Ruth Lawrence, Gallery Director, informed Lawrence of McCausland’s “imminent descent on the Hartleys now with you.” She outlined that she intended to spend 2-3 weeks researching Walker’s Hartley paintings. She indicated the importance of her study, “facts which do not exist anywhere else may often be translated from obscure hieroglyphics on the back of pictures. I am becoming a cryptographer of Stieglitz inscriptions.” (Hartley’s work was previously exhibited at Alfred Stieglitz’s gallery in New York.)

In Lawrence’s February 21, 1951 response to McCausland, Lawrence not only welcomed her to the Gallery, but also offered to her the use of her apartment, as Lawrence would be away from the Gallery on an exhibition collecting trip during the time McCausland would be in residence in the Gallery.

Additional letters in folder #44,”University Gallery, 1951-1952, 1957,” in box 17 of McCausland’s Correspondence and General Files outline McCausland’s research, and consist of detailed requests to Betty Maurstad, the Gallery staff member in charge of “collections,” for specifics on Hartley’s paintings. In addition to corresponding about the details of the Hartley publication and exhibition, there are also personal comments between McCausland, Maurstad, and Lawrence regarding pets, news of the day, and family hardships.

The correspondence also reveals that the publication of the Hartley book was delayed by the University Press, and that the exhibition had to be delayed as well.

Read through the additional letters in the University Gallery folder, or browse the contents of folders of correspondence with H. Harvard Arnason (Image 42-43), a contract with the University of Minnesota, business with the University Press, and personal correspondence with University Vice President Malcolm Willey to research the alluring archival material that document the 1952 exhibition of the works of Marsden Hartley at the University Gallery.

Print Research

In Box 191, a folder titled “Print Research,” dated 1923-1977 was found. Contained within the folder were several examples of object labels that at one time identified works exhibited at the University Gallery. The objective of a label is to provide the credentials of the work – title, artist, medium, size, ownership, era, etc. Here are some examples:

*click on the image for a larger version

Mt. Sainte Victore, by Jacques Villon, Paul Cezanne


Still Life, by Jacques Villon, Georges Braque


Tempo, by Robert Kaufmann. This label was included with the work as part of the traveling exhibit, “A University Collects: Minnesota,” comprised of works from the University Gallery collection that was circulated by The American Federation of Arts in 1961-1962.


(The Dutchman’s), by Cameron Booth. This work, which is now part of WAM’s permanent collection, is identified by this label as a loan from the collection of H.D. Walker. Hudson Dean Walker’s art collection was donated as a bequest to the University after his death in 1976. Many of the works in his collection were placed on loan to the University as early as 1950.