Many Many Many Thanks

Thank you notes. Copies of hundreds and hundreds of hand written, personalized thank you notes, jam packed and bound into sturdy 4″ cloth covered binders that are labeled “datebooks”.

These notes were all written by Lyndel King, Director of the University Gallery and Weisman Art Museum (WAM) since 1975.  King was director during the fundraising campaign and building process of the iconic Gehry-designed museum, which opened in 1993. The notes of gratitude contained in these “datebook” binders were written in 2010 to the many donors responsible for funding the 8,100 square foot addition to WAM.

Stewarding the relationships that make art collections and museums possible is just one of the many behind-the-scenes, and often thankless, duties of a museum director. These notes show grace, expertise and a passionate commitment to WAM. I can only imaging the time and effort she put into ensuring every donor was appropriately and personally thanked for their contribution.

A big thank you to Lyndel King for her efforts and achievements on behalf of WAM, the arts, the UMN community and beyond.

Paging through a “datebook” of correspondence including personalized thank you notes from Lyndel King to donors.

Special thanks to Liz Kammerer and Mark Yechout for their help in making the gif for this post.

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.


“Art and Science Can Open the Door”

I find the two best parts of working in the archives are making discoveries while I’m processing materials, and helping people answer questions and make their own discoveries. In the library and archive world, the latter is called Reference Service. Recently, I was able to provide reference services using WAM’s archival collection, UMN’s digital conservancy and the Digital Content Library to help a researcher uncover information about a specific set of artworks by UMN faculty member, Walter Quirt (pronounced KURT), made while he was in the Yucatan region of Mexico.

Quirt was a mostly self taught painter, “a pioneer of American abstract art” and “a man of  strong and forthright opinions, a man of ideas” according to H.H. Arneson, Chairman of the Art Department, from a clipping dated November 17, 1958 found in the University Gallery’s press books.

Walter Quirt really was a “man of ideas” who, along with UMN studio art student Jack French, took art to science’s door. They traveled to the Yucatan region of Mexico in the Winter of 1967 to test a social science hypothesis regarding cultural visual preferences. To test the theory, the artists would take photographs of the local landscapes and urban terrains, then translate the linear elements and movement of the photographs into drawings which would then be shown to local residents to gauge their non-verbal reactions.

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During what little leisure time they had during this months-long trip, Walter Quirt made observational drawings of life in the Yucatan. Shortly after their return from the Yucatan, Quirt exhibited seventeen of his Yucatan drawings at the U Gallery. For the exhibition statement, he wrote:

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Most of the drawings in this exhibition are casual impressions of an amateur bull fight I witnessed in Ticul, Yucatan. Those not of this subject bear a relation to the visual test material Mr. Jack French and I worked on during our stay in Ticul, which we carried out on behalf of Dr. Strodtbeck of the University of Chicago and the sponsorship of The International Programs and Graduate School of the University of Minnesota.

One of the Yucatan drawings: Amateur Bull Fight, Ticul, Yucatan by Walter Quirt, 1967. Image Courtesy of Weisman Art Muesum, accessed through UMN’s Digital Content Library.

A year later, French exhibited his MFA thesis, also at the University Gallery.

St Paul Dispatch blurb from May 25, 1967

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Although I wasn’t able to locate images of either exhibition on display, French wrote an interesting paper of his field observations and findings of the Yucatan project that closed with these thoughts:

Science has proven that energy is the essential force needed for life and motion. If the energy is misused it follows that life and motion will be in jeopardy. Art is also a form of energy and the theoritician [sic] can show that a’ specific art form has been created by the acceptance of a certain kind of energy. We know that science can measure physical energy forces. We have not been able to measure psychological energy forces, because we have never isolated a specific instrument by which to arrive at this
measurement. A test based on linear preferences may well be the necessary instrument needed for this energy measurement.

Psychologists working in the field of perception, now argue that visual stimuli do, in fact, affect mans’ social and psychological
motivations. Logically -then, the visual arts represent a socio-psychological force which can affect the attitudes and temperaments of individual and social behavioral patterns. If these two antecedents are alligned [sic] with a definite procedure for measuring the individual and social preference for a particular linear energy, it seems highly probable that art and science
can open the door to a deeper understanding of the living patterns of man and society.

Its a pretty great day when through references services in the archives we get to open a door to a place where art and science meet.

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.

 


Remembering the Wellstones at WAM

In honor of Wellstone Remembrance Day today, we share the exhibition postcard for Twelve Years and Thirteen Days: Remembering Paul and Sheila Wellstone, photographs by Terry Gydeson. The photographic series became a book of the same title:

Senator Paul Wellstone is remembered for his infectious enthusiasm and his ardent devotion to helping all people gain a voice in American politics. In a remarkable collection of more than seventy photographs, Twelve Years and Thirteen Days commemorates the Wellstones’s commitment to social and economic justice and will be an inspiration to those throughout the country who share their values.

To see a selection of the images included in the exhibition, visit Terry Gydesen’s website . The book can be found at the University of Minnesota Press or the UMN Libraries. To learn more about this exhibition and the WAM archives contact the University Archives.

Front of the exhibition postcard for “Twelve Years and Thirteen Days: Remembering Paul and Sheila Wellstone”

Reverse side of the exhibition postcard for “Twelve Years and Thirteen Days: Remembering Paul and Sheila Wellstone”

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.


The Unusual Life of Painting No. 85

University Gallery Publicity Books

In a University Gallery Publicity Book dated 1968, amidst other article clippings about the gallery is an open letter to the University community from William C. Bernstien M.D., Clinical Professor and Director of Proctology. This item stands out from the rest–first, its a letter rather than an article, its written by a doctor rather than an art critic or art historian and the letter is not directly about the gallery but a student’s artwork. This unusual letter is an introduction to the the twisting tale of an ill-fated painting titled No. 85.

The letter begins:

“Have you heard about the “happening” at the University Hospital and do you know what has caused the “stir” in the lobby of Mayo? Here’s what it is all about! Quite by accident a large color painting by Ron Brodigan was selected for exhibit in the hospital lobby and the reaction  to its presence there has been an exciting one.”

 

Polaroid pictures circa 1968 of Brodigan’s painting titled No. 85 upon installation in the University hospital lobby. Courtesy Weisman Art Museum registrar’s accession files.

Intriguing beginning, right? Digging a little deeper into the publicity book, another article surfaces revealing a related and opportune moment in time: a University alum needs to find a new home for his enormous paintings offering them to the gallery; the University Gallery, already with too little storage space, would normally have to decline the student’s donation but a perfectly timed request from the U hospital for artwork saves the day. This painting appears to begin an initiative to display works from the art collection in public spaces around the campus–a practice which continues today. The stars seemed to align for Ron Brodigan’s painting back in 1968… but things aren’t always what they appear.

 

Article from an unknown publication, written by former gallery director Charles Savage III,  found in the gallery Publicity Book 1968.

Back to the open letter from Dr. Bernstein: it goes on to describe public reactions to the Brodigan’s painting No. 85 in the lobby:

“”Ye gads! What is this supposed to be?” to “This is just what this lobby needs!”. One professor in the medical sciences asked if the painting was supposed to be some new type of bulletin board. At least, the painting is being looked at, questioned and, at times, admired. The painting is Rob Brodigan’s expression of color – for color’s sake. What, one is often asked, inspires an artist to create such a painting?”

Dr. Bernstein goes on in the letter to articulately trace the possible inspiration for No. 85 from Jackson Pollock to the Washington School Color Painters to Ron Brodigan via the Walker Art Center, concluding:

Artist Ron Brodigan has created a very meaningful color painting of stripes in mild, gentle colors. Brodigan is a mild and gentle man… but the stir has created in the lobby of Mayo compares favorably with the action resulting from the works of his peers.
You should visit the Mayo lobby but don’t look for an image or a story in the painting. Just stand back and enjoy the action and interaction of color. If the first viewing doesn’t turn you on, please come back — it may happen.”

The stir it created? The “happening”? What happened?

A partial answer was found in the accession files of WAM’s registrarial department. Just a few months after Brodigan’s No.85 was installed in the hospital lobby, it was removed due to what appears to be vandalism. The condition report in the WAM accession file states: “Entire surface soiled. Finger marks, color pencil mark & ball point pen marks in several places. The above condition was noted upon return of the picture from Special Loan to Dr. John Westerman, Director, University of Minn. Admin on August 27, 1968.”

 

But this vandalism and return to art storage isn’t the end of No. 85’s tale.

Painting No. 85 leads a quiet existence–whether back on display or in storage–for following twenty-five years. That is until Brodigan’s No. 85 is on display in a lobby again, this time in Northrop Auditorium circa 1993, when a 30″ gash is inflicted upon the painting in unknown circumstances.

Brodigan’s No. 85 circa 1993 with 30″ gash.

Once again, the painting is removed and brought back to art storage where a new discussion ensues. The painting is large and expensive to store, the repair of the gash would cost substantially more than the painting’s estimated value. However, according to a printed email from the registrar in the accession files, the University Museum’s collection policy at the time stated that deaccessioning could only happen if the work was “bug-infested”. “Deaccessioning” is museum-lingo for removing an item from a collection. There are strict rules of conduct and ethical considerations regarding removing works from a museum collection. These strict guidelines protect the integrity of both the collection and the museum. It is normal for museum collection policies to be routinely evaluated and updated.

This incident with the painting seems to instigate a different conversation about collection policy, crossing years to the opening of the Weisman Art Museum, and may have contributed to the regular process of updating deaccessioning policies for the University’s art collection.

In 1995, Ron Brodigan is contacted about the situation with No. 85 and the options for the artwork going forward which may have included return to the artist, request for funds to repair the work or deaccesioning. The decision was made by all involved to deaccession the work. In this case, while a very unusual outcome for deaccessioning and not without much discussion and debate, deaccessioning included destruction of No. 85.

Rest in peace, mild and gentle, No. 85.

Special thanks to WAM’s registrars-Erin, Rosa and Annette-for all their help.

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.

Full letter from Dr. Bernstien the University Community:

“What’s all the fuss about in the lobby?” Open letter from Dr. Bernstein, page 1.

“What’s all the fuss about in the lobby?” page 2.

 

 

 

 

 

 


Where in the world?

Could it be Delaware?

Could it be Washington?

Yes to both.

Stumped?

 

 

Weisman Art Museum before construction

Found in the archvies: a parking with a view. An undated, uncredited photo of a parking lot that no longer exists on the Minneapolis campus.

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.

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!

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.

 


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?

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.


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

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.