Articles by arecaroe

Skandinavisk Træ


Minnesota is home to a large number of descendants of Scandinavian and Finnish immigrants. Folks here love their pickled herring and carved Swedish horses. I’m sure this popular interest in the heritage and history served as an impetus behind the University Gallery’s 1979 exhibition Scandinavian Wood. The exhibition, which also toured to other locations in the Midwest, showcased the ornate woodworking crafts of the Scandinavian and Finnish tradition. The catalogue states:


“Wood is to Scandinavia as marble was to Greece. It is the building material par excellence. It could be dug out, steamed and bent, splintered, carved, gouged, hammered, and made into a myriad of useful things. In an effort to define the importance of wood in Scandinavia, the exhibition has been grouped according to six different aspects of daily life requiring the use of wooden objects.”

The six categories the curators chose are displayed nicely in these charming exhibition photos I found in the files: Storage, Clothes, Music, Tools, Food, and Whimsy. Storage includes items such as bentwood boxes, baskets, canteens. Clothes shows looms and tools for washing clothes. Food shows spoons and bowls and the like. Tools displays augers, knives and of course, ski poles, while Music includes violins, a horn, and a flute. Whimsy (my favorite category) includes the toy horse, ornaments, a fan, and Värmland trolls.

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Scandinavian Wood exhibition

Mapping Murals

Ever walked by a mural and wondered about the history behind it—who painted it and why? In a folder titled simply “WPA”, I found materials meticulously documenting the locations and conditions of WPA murals made in Minnesota. Artists painted these historic murals during the Great Depression as part of the economic relief provided by the Work Progress Administration. The murals adorned public buildings such as post offices, the State Fairgrounds, University of Minnesota buildings, and Fort Snelling.

In 1976-1977, the University Gallery exhibited a show highlighting work like these murals, titled Accomplishments: Minnesota Art Projects During the Depression Years, which went on to tour other locations in the state. The mural research was in preparation for this exhibit.

My favorite find from this file: a large delicate sheet of yellow tissue that displays a pencil-drawn map of Minnesota, with the names of cities and numbers next to them (perhaps indicating the number of murals located there). I also discovered a book containing information about the murals, whether they still existed in 1976, and whether they were in good or poor state of repair. Sadly, it seems that the majority of the murals were painted over or the buildings were knocked down, so not many remained in 1976, and even fewer still exist today.

Mapping Minnesota WPA murals

Book outlining the location and condition of murals.

“Too nice a day. Everybody at beach.”

“Too nice a day. Everybody at beach.” This was one of the comments recorded in 1966 by a University Gallery guard on a lazy Sunday in June. I found a stack of these comment cards in the files, giving a little window into the thoughts of those silent sentries. The guards were asked to fill out cards evaluating the events of their shift, on Sundays and during Friday night concerts in Northrup Auditorium, downstairs from the gallery. (These were presumably times when other gallery workers were not present).

The text reads: “Remarkably varied reactions in the Baertling show, from guffaws to admiration.” (referring to Olle Baertling)

Most of the comments relate to the number of patrons and their reactions to the artwork, all in 1966. Here’s a sampling of the comments:

Jan. 16: Poor crowds—not an “art” crowd—many negative comments on Busa. (referring to Peter Busa)

Apr. 28: The gallery was open only for intermission, as a result of a mixup on keys too complicated to explain here.

May 1: Some sort of youth concert in the afternoon. Had many kids running all over the place. Closed gallery a bit early because of the numbers of kids on all floors and thought it was safer since I couldn’t be all over.

June 9: A steady trickle of people came looking for sewn up canvases. Most people seemed to think that it was a letdown after all that lurid publicity.

Oct. 7: Good crowd at all exhibitions. It is virtually impossible to keep a count on 4th floor during intermission—the crowd is too dense and mobile.

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Gaps in History

Remember those oversized floppy disks from the 1970s and 1980s? I do (barely), but they still looked strange and almost comical when I came upon a trove of them in the WAM files. It’s been decades since I’ve seen one, or a machine that could read one, so I wondered if there is a way to retrieve the information they hold.

I asked Erik Moore, Assistant University Archivist, about this issue, He says, “Simply put, the 8 inch floppy is lost… They were not easily played back on other 8 inch floppy machines because the drives that created them were so unique.” It turns out Erik has come upon this problem before, and has written a blog post for the Academic Health Center History Project on this very topic. On the problem of obsolete media and archiving, he says, “Changes in storage media will always challenge our preservation techniques and cause a few gaps in recorded history. This is to be expected and for the most part accepted as progress to better record keeping.”

I’m sure we can come up with another use for these floppies. As a frisbee, perhaps?

A Model Museum

A polaroid from July of 1993 features a small scale model of the Weisman Art Museum interior, which opened in November of that year. This represented a huge step for the University Art Museum—after 59 years of being housed in Northrop Auditorium’s upper floors, and many false starts at finding funds for another building, the museum was about to move into a world-class architectural wonder.

blueprint-weisman.jpgI recently got a peek into the new WAM expansion that is currently under construction, and spotted a scale model very much like this earlier one, outlining the gallery configuration and placement of art. The expansion will allow the museum to display more than three times as many objects from the permanent collection. Indeed, the “Little Gallery” has come a long way.

In the same file as the polaroid, I also found a set of blueprints for the Weisman Art Museum from the early 1990s. The most fascinating part to me was the tangle of lines and angles that illustrates the side facing the river—rather unusual in a blueprint, I would imagine.

Art Week, 1940


National Art Week was a nation-wide festival of arts held in late November of 1940, with the aim of encouraging Americans to buy American art. In Minnesota, numerous organizations held events, including the Walker Art Center, the Minneapolis Institute of Art, and the (then quite small) University Gallery. In fact, Ruth Lawrence, the Gallery’s director, served as Chairman of the Minnesota State Council for Art Week. I discovered an envelope full of patriotic “ART” ribbons still in pristine shape in the files, which were doubtless used to promoet the events. A booklet from Chicago about Art Week gave some more information, with an introduction by Daniel Catton Rich, Director of Fine Arts at The Art Institute of Chicago. He describes Art Week:

Doubtless you have often thought, “Wouldn’t I like to own a picture or a print or a piece of sculpture or a distinguished piece of craft-work.” Here is your chance. Throughout the city there will be exhibitions, visits to galleries and studios, art festivals, balls and demonstrations, all with one idea: to help you select what you desire at prices ranging from $1.00 to $100.00.

When this week is over countless American homes will be brighter and more interesting because art has come in the front door. And remember in enriching your life you are helping your neighbor, the American artist.

He closes with the fairly blunt: “Celebrate National Art Week. Enjoy its stimulating program. And don’t forget to BUY.”

Look at America


Look was a popular bi-weekly magazine that ran from 1937 to 1971 and had an emphasis on photography rather than articles, a bit like Life Magazine. In the files, I found a number of photographs from an exhibition titled Look at America, but I have found no other documentation about this exhibition—I can’t even tell with certainty what year it took place in the University Gallery. The introductory wall text reads:

An exhibition of LOOK magazine photographs prepared by the editors of LOOK in co-operation with the American Federation of Arts. Theme titles from the poetry of Archibald MacLeish.

I do know that from 1946-1956, the Look editors published a series of books called Look at America, so I can guess that this exhibition stemmed from the books and eventually made its way as a ready-made show to the University Gallery. (Perhaps we’ll uncover more information on this exhibition in the files we have yet to comb through!)

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Update: The exhibition occurred in 1957 (thanks to Rebecca for finding the date in the Minnesota Daily archives). We also found the poster for this show: another gem:


Evolution of a Catalogue

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The Go Betweens: The Lives of Immigrant Children was an exhibition developed by the University Art Museum and shown in 1986. Along with the catalogue, I found some sketches done by the designers outlining what the final catalogue would look like. I always find it interesting to peek behind the scenes and see the work that goes into creating products such as a catalogue or an exhibition…

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Layout of the catalogue, and a page of the finished product.

Art Rental Program


The Weisman Art Museum has a wonderful art rental program that allows students, employees, and departments to rent works of art by the semester or the year. I knew of the program, but what I didn’t realize is that it has been part of the Weisman/University Gallery since the very beginning. The rental program began in 1934 at the Gallery, where framed print reproductions were available for students to rent for only 25 cents per academic quarter — a cheap way to decorate drab dorm or department walls. One 1942 letter of appreciation from the Agricultural Education Department stated:

May we express our thanks and appreciation for the privilege of using some of your pictures in our Department during the spring quarter? The pictures were picked up by some of your men the other day, and we hope that they came back to your Department in good shape. Now, our walls look like Mother Hubbard’s cupboard.

In the files (mixed in with all the notices of unreturned or late artwork) I also discovered these promotional photographs from the mid-1940s of stylish patrons renting artworks.

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A thief struck the University Gallery in June of 1967, stealing 6 prints right out of their frames. According to the theft report in the files, the prints (meaning woodcuts, lithographs, and the like) were works by very well-known artists, including Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Max Beckmann, and Ernst Ludwig Kirchner. The report states:

The group of 13 prints was installed at the request of the Art History Department as a Study Exhibition for Art I Classes, and was to be retained until the end of the examination period for Spring Quarter, June 9. The prints were scheduled to be taken down this morning, June 12.
The 6 missing prints were the more valuable ones of the entire group of 13… Their disappearance was discovered by Mr. Larry Gruenwald, Technician at the Gallery, upon his arrival at the Gallery, Monday June 12, at 7:30 a.m.

The file includes letters to auction houses alerting them to the theft, in case the stolen prints should come up for sale. I couldn’t find any evidence that the prints were ever returned however… I guess this remains an unsolved mystery.

Documentation of the theft