University Art Museum

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.


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.

 

 

 

 

 

 


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.

 


Hudson Walker: Curator, Patron, Friend

In a report compiled by long-time gallery director Ruth Lawrence to reflect upon the 25th anniversary of the Little Gallery in 1959, a section titled, “The First Curator,” described Hudson D. Walker’s background and his brief, though instrumental, role in the foundation of the Weisman Art Museum as The Little Gallery in 1934:

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“The University was most fortunate in obtaining Hudson Walker, who in March, 1934, was appointed the Gallery’s first curator of art. Mr. Walker was experienced in Gallery operations and management. He was the grandson of Mr. T. B. Walker, founder of the Walker Art Gallery. Hudson Walker was no novice in the functioning of a museum. He had been trained at the Fogg Museum, Harvard University, for work such as this. He knew the practical side, the importance of shipping and care of works of art worth thousands of dollars. He was especially aware of the responsibility of borrowed works. He had developed a small gallery of his own in Minneapolis, dealing in such works as watercolors, woodcuts, etchings, etc.”

Walker was officially appointed to the title of “Curator of Art” at the University in March of 1934, and departed at the end of his appointment in June in order to pursue the establishment of a gallery in New York City. However, his role with the University of Minnesota and the Little Gallery did not conclude with the end of his employment. Walker’s relationship would inspire additional titles in relation to his contributions to the University and to the museum.

Lawrence’s description of the First Curator only briefly touches upon the work done by Walker in those few months he was employed at the U of M. For the very first exhibit that was held at the gallery, he arranged for the loan of 18th and 19th century paintings from regional art museums, and covered the expense to insure the works out of his own pocket. At his departure, Walker imparted some advice to university administration that would shape the formation of the gallery in its formative years. He emphasized to Assistant to the President Malcolm Willey that “There should be some anchorage provided in the way of a permanent collection to insure a permanency of interest” and added that the gallery should emphasize a “workshop character” as opposed to the “traditional notion of a museum as a place for safekeeping of rare objects.”

In 1950, Walker placed works from his private collection on loan to the University of Minnesota. The loan included many pieces by the artists Alfred Maurer and Marsden Hartley. He, along with his wife Ione, also made many generous gifts of artwork and additional donations to the gallery in the following years.

WalkerOutstandingService.jpgIn 1965, Walker became an award winner and honoree when he received the Outstanding Achievement Award from the Minnesota Alumni Association. A letter (at left, click for a pop-up to read) from the President of the Minnesota Alumni Association addressed to Gallery curator Betty Maurstad, extended a formal invitation to the ceremony that was held to present Walker with the award.

In conjunction with Walker’s receipt of this award, an exhibit titled One Hundred Paintings Drawings and Prints from the Ione and Hudson D. Walker Collection was held from November 4-December 19, 1965 at the University Gallery. A dedication by University of Minnesota President O. Meredith Wilson, printed within the catalogue that was prepared for the exhibition stated, “The collection of Mr. and Mrs. Walker is an important resource in furthering the University of Minnesota objectives of teaching, research and service and has aided immeasurably the University’s development of significant programs in the visual arts.”

Exhibition catalogue, One Hundred Paintings Drawings and Prints from the Ione and Hudson D. Walker Collection:
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Polaroid photographs taken at the exhibit opening show Walker amongst other attendees in the hallways and stairwell that lead to the gallery in Northrop Auditorium:
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WalkerExhibitOutline.jpgA drawing of a proposed gallery layout for the exhibit was found in the exhibition file in Box 11 of WAM’s archived administration records. From the drawing, (at left, click for pop-up to review) one can assume that the exhibit was split into sections-one section of 22 miscellaneous works from Walker’s collection, another section that contained 12 works by the artists Alfred Maurer, another room dedicated to 14 large Marsden Hartley paintings, and a final section of Alfred Maurer graphic works, that appear to have been placed in the hallway that lead to the gallery.

More polaroids were found in the exhibition folder that show the works displayed in the gallery space:

Alfred Maurer, “Portrait of a Girl with Gray Background,” 1930, oil on composition board
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(1) Alfred Maurer, “Two Heads,” 1930, oil on composition board
(2) Alfred Maurer, “Two Figures of Girls,” 1926, oil on composition board
(3) Alfred Maurer, “Still Life with Cup,” 1929, oil on composition board

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Artworks by Marsden Hartley, as displayed in the exhibit:

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An additional item found alongside the polaroids in the exhibition folder is a note from Walker to President Wilson that expressed Walker’s appreciation for the acknowledgement he received from the University:
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Two additional titles were given to Walker on the occasion of a 1977 memorial exhibition titled, Hudson D. Walker: Patron and Friend. The exhibition commemorated Walker and the bequest of his collection to the museum.

Regardless of how one refers to Hudson Walker when recalling the history of the museum – first curator, patron, or friend – it is clear that no appellation can truly capture all of the contributions that he has made to its legacy.


Baltzley Binder Bounty

According to Wikipedia, in 1910, Louis Baltzley invented the binder clip, Patent # 1,139,627, so that his father Edwin no longer had to bind his manuscripts by sewing the pages together through holes punched in the pages (which was the standard method in the day).

Web_LastClips.jpgIn more recent times, the binder clip is commonly used in offices of all types to bind large volumes of paper together. In the case of the WAM Files – the working administrative records kept and contained by Gallery/Museum/WAM employees – binder clips were used to organize and contain such items as lengthy grant applications, full sets of label text for exhibits, duplicate copies of press releases, sets of photographs, etc…


In our pursuit of minimal-level processing, binder clips were removed from the files, resulting in a growing bounty of fasteners.

As I began to encounter CDs, DVDs, and disks of all shapes and sizes during processing, I pondered over the fate of binder clips as offices adopt digital processes and searched for possible additional uses for the clips. To my surprise, some very ingenious do-it-yourselfers have recorded videos on how to make an iPhone Binder Clip Dock to fasten-bind-clip their digital devices in place.

If only I had an iPhone… imagine what I could do with all of these binder clips!


Recaption/Recontext

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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”


Building on Imagination…

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The large and oddly-shaped brochure for the University Art Museum’s show Building on Imagination: Architectural Imagery in Children’s Books caught my eye in the files. Soon after, I found a hand-made prototype of the brochure, colored with marker and pasted together, with lines in place for text. I love that the brochure design itself is imaginative and inventive, echoing the towers a child might build.

Building-imagination_broch-side.jpgThe exhibition explored architecture within children books, featuring original illustrations from books such as “Kenny’s Window” by Maurice Sendak, and “King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table” by Gustaf Tenggren, among others. It toured around the region to 23 sites from 1989 to 1992. The Northfield News wrote of the exhibition in 1991:

“Besides examining architecture in children’s book illustrations, Building on Imagination also highlights children’s experiences of real buildings and of designing make-believe buildings with blocks or blankets in messy bedrooms. A set of stone blocks from the Victorian era included in the exhibition demonstrates the appeal architectural toys have had for children long before Lincoln Logs or Legos became popular.”


Cordially III

The University of Minnesota Art Museum cordially invited visitors to view the exhibitions, The Woodblock Prints of B.J.O. Nordfeldt and Emily Nordfeldt’s Legacy: Paintings, Drawings and Prints of B.J.O. Nordfeldt at a reception held Sunday, February 17, 1991, which included a gallery talk, woodblock printing demonstration, and tea, sherry and light refreshments.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A large collection of Nordfeldt’s works can be found in WAM’s permanent collection.


A Packed House

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Packing artwork or other delicate artifacts is something of an art itself, and museums need to have it down pat. The objects must fit snugly and be protected from jostling and the elements. This is particularly tricky with traveling exhibits, such as this 1984 show Making America Strong: World War II Posters, created by the University Art Museum. These polaroids document the behind-the-scenes packing process (or perhaps unpacking, it’s hard to tell!) of the framed posters at the Museum.

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Packing/unpacking for the show, and a poster for the show in St. Cloud


Folk Arts

A September 25, 1984 UM News Release (Digital Conservancy) announced, “Folklorist to Survey Minnesota Arts and Artists”

“If you are the latest in a long line of duck decoy painters, quilters or Slovenian pastry decorators, Willard Moore wants to hear about you. Moore, a Minneapolis folklorist, will conduct a yearlong hunt for Minnesota folk arts and practicing folk artists. The University of Minnesota Art Museum will coordinate and administer the survey, which will begin Oct. 1. Moore, as guest curator, and the museum staff will organize an exhibition and publication on Minnesota folk arts from the material he collects.”

Moore’s hunt brings to light the research involved in creating museum exhibitions. This survey resulted in a book, and the University Art Museum exhibition, “Circles of Tradition: Folk Arts in Minnesota,” held in 1989.

The front and back cover of a promotional material created for the exhibit, found amongst the many boxes of folders that document this exhibition and related programming and events:

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