A Curious Little Package

What could be in this curious little package, rubber band stuck, found jammed into to the front pocket of a 25 year-old blue binder?


Mystery slides!



Three slides, depicting potter’s marks of renowned local potter Warren MacKenzie, found inside an Exhibit Tech binder.

The images on these slides look like mysterious runes or a secret language and in a way, that’s exactly what they are. These images depict potter’s marks, which are a kind of icon or signature used by studio potters to identify their works. In a museum setting, we rarely get to see these marks because they are usually located inconspicuously on the bottom of works.

These slides were made for a 1991 retrospective exhibition of the work of renowned local studio potter Warren MacKenzie. It wasn’t clear from surrounding files how these slides were used in the exhibition, but perhaps they were projected during a curator’s lecture or an artist’s talk to help exemplify different time periods or themes in the artist’s career. Perhaps they were projected on the walls of the gallery near works containing the marks. Maybe the images were turned into graphics for the exhibit walls or a publication.

To see examples of  MacKenzie’s work – but no peeking underneath, please – visit the WAM current exhibition: Ceramics from the Weisman Art Museum Collection | A Personal View

To learn more about potter’s marks and the potters that use them, explore The Marks Project.

Bye-bye curious little package. Hello archival sleeve!



To be 10 Years Old!

Like cloud gazing, the Weisman Art Museum’s facade reflects the world around us and captivates adults and children alike.

Among other festive activities and exhibitions celebrating the 10th Anniversary of the building in 2003, young visitors were invited to collaboratively color this poster-size image of the Weisman.

I might see a reflection of Andersen Library in shadow, an orange sun setting behind it.

What catches your eye?

One Gehry to Another – Postcards to the Museum



Usually we think of sending postcards from a museum, but postcards sent to a museum? Today’s archival highlight is just that: postcards sent to the Weisman Art Museum highlighting Frank Gehry designed buildings around the world. 

Postcard image of a home on Venice’s Ocean Front Walk designed by Frank Gehry in 1984. Original photograph by Jeffrey Stanton.


Postcard image of the Frank Gehry designed museum at the base of Seattle’s Space Needle — known as the Experience Music Project, also known as the EMP Museum, also known as the Museum of Popular Culture or MoPOP. Original photograph by Stanley Smith.


Postcard image of Prague’s notable architecture featuring the Frank Gehry designed building called Dancing House, which was inspired by the dancing of Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire.


Postcard image of the Frank Gehry designed Walt Disney Concert Hall of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Original photograph by Grant Mudford.


Heather Carroll is the processing archivist for the Weisman Art Museum‘s collection at the University of Minnesota Archives. This project was made possible by funds provided by the State of Minnesota from the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund through the Minnesota Historical Society.

From the Publicity Books: Honoring Ruth Lawrence…II

A University Gallery Publicity Book dated 1957 included a brief article about the acquisition of a painting to the art collection. “Still Life with Leaves” by B. J. O. Nordfeldt was given to the collection by the artist’s widow, Emily Abbott Nordfeldt and dedicated to retired gallery director Ruth Lawrence “in recognition of her years of service to the University of Minnesota and to the University Gallery” .

Still Life with Leaves by B. J. O. Nordfeldt

Still Life with Leaves by B. J. O. Nordfeldt

Upon donation in July 1958, the painting was displayed as the “Picture of the Month” in Northrup Auditorium’s east stairwell.  Although it was described as brightly colored in a newspaper article, by today’s standards the color pallet might be called reserved, subdued or earthy. What is surprising to me is that amidst these seemingly murky tones is the definite sense of light reflecting and even emanating from within the still life.

While the collection in 1958 had an impressive amount of Nordfeldt works on long term loan, this painting was among the first Nordfeldt works to become a part of the gallery’s permanent collection. Today, the WAM collection holds a goodly number of works by Nordfelt many of which can be viewed online here. You can see three works by Nordfeldt on display in WAM’s Woodhouse Gallery and two works in the current WAM exhibition, Surfaced: Rarely Seen Woodcuts from the Collection on view through November 15, 2017.

Heather Carroll is the processing archivist for the Weisman Art Museum‘s collection at the University of Minnesota Archives. This project was made possible by funds provided by the State of Minnesota from the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund through the Minnesota Historical Society.


Sighted: James Lee Byars!



As you can clearly see by the hat, this architectural sketch by E.C. of Frank O. Gehry & Associates exemplifies not only how the skylights of the Weisman Art Museum cast light indirectly to illuminate artworks but also the hope that conceptual artist James Lee Byars (1932-1997) might visit the shining new building upon its completion in 1993.

Coincidence or not?

 James Lee Byars performing "UP?" for "Made With Paper" exhibition

James Lee Byars performing “UP?” for “Made With Paper” exhibition in 1968 at the Museum of Contemporary Craft in New York City, wearing his signature hat. Photo courtesy of the American Craft Council.

“Obsessed by the idea of perfection, Byars produced a remarkable body of work that strove to give form to his search for beauty and truth. Pursuing what he called “the first totally interrogative philosophy,” he made and proposed art at scales ranging from the vastness of outer space to the microscopic level of subatomic particles, in an attempt to delineate the limits of our knowledge while enacting a desire for something more.” – Wikipedia

Heather Carroll is the processing archivist for the Weisman Art Museum‘s collection at the University of Minnesota Archives. This project was made possible by funds provided by the State of Minnesota from the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund through the Minnesota Historical Society.


From the Publicity Books: Honoring Ruth Lawrence…I



At first glance, the University Gallery’s Publicity Books appear to be mere scrapbooks filled with mementos of early exhibitions, that were found filed away on a bookshelf somewhere in the back of someone’s office. However, tucked unassumingly into a Publicity Book dated 1953-1954, rests a short but impressive letter that challenges that idea.


March 12, 1953

Dear Mrs. Lawrence:

It was with interest that I read the attached clipping in the Minneapolis Star.  It brought back many fond memories of my days on the campus; Mrs. Humphrey and I made countless trips to the gallery, there was always something new and interesting to be seen.  I particularly remember some of the modern art exhibits and the heated discussions they precipitated.

You are to be commended on the magnificent job you have done through the years. I know you must have derived great personal satisfaction from it.

With all the best wishes.

Sincerely yours,
Hubert H. Humphrey


The letter was sent to University Gallery director Ruth Lawrence from then senator and future Vice President of the United States, Hubert H. Humphrey shortly after his first unsuccessful run for president. Humphrey cared enough to write to Lawrence after coming across an article featuring Lawrence in the daily newspaper.  The article states:

In the beginning the gallery placed the emphasis on contemporary art and in this was the first among the city’s galleries.  

Now it has become what Mrs. Lawrence had planned: the “handmaiden of teaching.” Student shows, faculty show, shows on design, architecture, advertising art and interior decoration are aids to the student as well as pleasant to look at for the casual gallery visitor. 


It’s clear from Humphrey’s letter, that included the clipping, that the gallery had fulfilled Lawrence’s instructional mission in meaningful, lasting ways.



I don’t know about you, but if I received a letter out of the blue from one of our senators commending me for a job well done, I would certainly be flattered and I might frame or otherwise show off the letter. From the inclusion of such a glowing letter from a prominent local and national figure in the Publicity Book, one gets the feeling that the books weren’t tucked away in the back of an office but perhaps on display to be perused by students and visitors to the gallery or the Fine Arts Room.

In an archival setting, correspondence of all types are often grouped together within a collection. However, original order is a fundamental principle of archives because it can help define relationships. The Humphrey letter, while unusual for its placement in a Publicity Book, wasn’t misfiled but rather infers that these books were publicly used. Perhaps this letter inside the Publicity Book was almost as visible as a frame on the wall, and so a fitting way to honor Ruth Lawrence and her mission with the gallery.


Heather Carroll is the processing archivist for the Weisman Art Museum‘s collection at the University of Minnesota Archives. This project was made possible by funds provided by the State of Minnesota from the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund through the Minnesota Historical Society.




Ready, Set…Process! (2017 edition)


It has begun… again.



Earlier this month, project processor Heather Carroll, graduate student from St Kate’s and St Thomas, began processing the newest set of Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum records that were recently accessioned. While most of the records are from the mid-2000’s to 2015, there are some older gems such as press books from the 1960’s and 1970’s. We’ll will be sharing these and other archival finds here.

Ready, set… Process!


Heather Carroll is the processing archivist for the Weisman Art Museum‘s collection at the University of Minnesota Archives. This project was made possible by funds provided by the State of Minnesota from the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund through the Minnesota Historical Society.


Understanding Sculpture Today

From the beginning, the exhibition philosophy of the University Gallery was guided by a simple purpose – to expose University of Minnesota students to new forms of art in order to further understanding and cultivate appreciation. The exhibit Understanding Sculpture Today, held from November – December 1946, is one example of an application of this philosophy.

Sculpture1.jpgThe University Gallery press books contain various articles, printed by local newspapers, which promoted and reviewed the exhibit. According to these sources, the exhibit was assembled by William Saltzman (acting director), and included 40 works of sculpture loaned by galleries and individual artists throughout the country. According to Saltzman, who was quoted in a November 1, 1946 MN Daily article, “The purpose of the exhibit, as the title implies, is to present various media and methods of interpretation as found in contemporary sculpture.

The exhibit included “Two Bodies,” by Alexander Archipenko, “Overture,” by Calvin Albert, “Hanging Mobile,” by Alexander Calder, and “Biography in Bronze,” by Carl Milles. Various local artists were also represented in the exhibit, to include University of Minnesota art professor S. Chatwood Burton, and Evelyn Raymond of the Walker Art Center.

University student Stan Hietala reviewed the exhibit in a November 22, 1946 MN Daily article titled, “From Marble to Plexiglas: Sculpture Shows Versatility.” Hietala reported, “The show is an excellent example of the ability of William Salt[z]man, gallery assistant director, and his staff. It answers a need in a field somewhat unknown to the [non-art] student, helping him to understand today’s sculpture.

The Minneapolis Daily Times printed a photograph of two University students observing a sculpture titled, “Five That Escaped” (above). The sculpture was popularly mentioned in many of the articles about the exhibit. Hietala’s review also mentioned the work:

Quite often an artist is found who expresses his emotions primarily, ignoring conventional style or contemporary trends. In Randolph W. Johnson’s bronze… the sculptor almost achieves pure emotionalism, void of dogmatic style.

The five figures are stumbling along, fatigued, yet in haste. Their whole demeanor reflects horror and fright.”

WAM continues to promote the understanding of sculpture in the museum galleries, as well as throughout campus. Archipenko’s, “Two Bodies” is currently on display in the Woodhouse Gallery, and is one of many examples of sculpture that can be found within the museum. For the current Target Studio for Creative Collaboration exhibit, contextual flux, artist Jason Hackenwerth worked with University students (to include several studying “non-art” disciplines) to produce new sculptural forms. Throughout the University, over 30 different forms of sculpture can be found in courtyards, building entrances, lounges, garden spaces, and other campus locations as part of the Public Works of Art program.

For current University of Minnesota students – and visitors – who have harbored a latent curiosity in regards to the shapes and forms that they encounter on campus, opportunities abound at WAM for them to start understanding sculpture today

Season’s Greetings Cards

Don’t let the above-normal temperatures of late fool you — December has officially arrived. Though some of you may have a sliver of pie somewhere in the back of your fridge, Thanksgiving is now far behind, and for many, the focus has sharply turned towards December holiday preparations. It is at this time, every year, that my mother starts to lay the prep work for the 25th: requesting lists of gift ideas, reporting the status of holiday home decorating, and asking that truly pivotal question, “What should we write in the annual Christmas card?”

GreetingCard.jpgThis question has been on the minds of mothers (and other card preparers) since the Victorian era, as a representative display of card designs exhibited at the University Gallery in 1946 suggested. The exhibit provided a history of printed salutations and displayed an array of designs likely to inspire visitors as they made plans to spread their holiday wishes. A Century of the Greeting Card, held from November 25 to December 28, 1946, included Christmas and other holiday cards produced by English and American card manufacturers. On loan from Brownie’s Blockprints, Inc. of New York City, the cards included then current designs from the 1940s as well as a print of the first Christmas card ever produced. (at left – Betty Maurstad, curator, is shown holding examples of the holiday cards in a photograph printed in the Minneapolis Tribune.)

In the 1840s, Sir Henry Cole (the first director of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London) commissioned John Callcott Horsley, an artist from the Royal Academy, to design a card to send to friends at Christmas. Horsley’s design portrayed a multi-generational family toasting the holidays (the child toasted too, as she or he is shown sipping from the wine glass). The greeting included a simple message:

A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you.

It wasn’t until the 1860s that the card business developed commercially. The greeting card economy crossed the pond in the 1870s when Louis Prang, a lithographer and publisher, referred to as “the father of the American Christmas card,” began printing cards in the United States.

Though modern day greeting cards have become quite sophisticated, to include audio cards that allow you to record your own greeting, as well as increasingly complex and impressively staged photo greetings, I think I will take inspiration from Cole’s first holiday card and respond to my mother that the simplest of greetings can often be among the best.

You can carry on the tradition of the greeting card by creating your own at WAM’s annual holiday discount event, BeDazzled, on Wednesday, December 4, 2012 from 4:00 – 6:00 p.m. Letterpress your own card with Studio on Fire and enjoy treats, music, discounts, and more!