Articles by wilso952

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.


High School Higher Ed

Since the founding of WAM as the University Gallery in 1934, students at the University have been provided with several opportunities for direct exposure to art. In the early years – after completing their rigorous studies – students could climb the several flights of stairs in Northrop Auditorium to visit the latest exhibit displayed in the gallery or flip through the pages of an artist’s biography while relaxing in the Fine Arts Room. They could even return to their own dormitory to gaze upon a print that they rented for 25 cents from the gallery’s student loan collection.

But what about other students in Minnesota who did not attend the University? What about their exposure to art? The University Gallery had that covered too…

HighSchool-2.jpgIn May of 1938 the University Gallery loaned more than 40 color prints from the student loan collection (a collection of print reproductions that students could rent to decorate their rooms) to be exhibited at secondary schools in the Twin Cities. In collaboration with the Minneapolis committee of the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York City, modern prints from within the gallery’s student loan collection were displayed first at Central High School and later at Folwell Junior High School in Minneapolis.

The prints were selected by Ruth Lawrence, gallery curator, and Miss Ella Witter, art instructor at Central High School. The exhibit was intended as an introduction to modern art for high school students and included reproductions of the works of Kandinsky, O’Keeffe, Picasso, Matisse, Renoir, Cezanne, among others.

Press clippings found within the University Gallery press books provide photographs and descriptions of the traveling exhibition:


HighSchool-1.jpgYou may notice on the images from the press books that the notations next to the clippings state 1939 and not 1938. To get down to the bottom of this matter of year, I headed to the Minnesota Daily’s PDF Archives. On page 2 of the April 29, 1938 edition of the MN Daily the article,” Gallery Shows Will Circulate in High Schools” is found. The heading of the press book page indicates 1938 as well.

*For a history of Minneapolis public schools, visit the Minneapolis Public Schools online historical archive, which has hundreds of files and photographs that document the history of the school district.

Fully Animated

Disney1.jpgDuring the month of May, 1935 the University Gallery was host to some animated visitors. As described in the May 12, 1935 article in the Minneapolis Tribune titled, “Mickey Mouse Goes ‘Arty’ in University Exhibition,” the gallery exhibited 50 black and white drawings and 48 color drawings from the Disney studio in California, which were loaned to the gallery by the College Art Association. The drawings illuminated the process of animation, and showcased celluloid character drawings superimposed over landscape drawings on paper.

The Minnesota Daily student newspaper reported Mickey and Minnie Mouse scampering for higher education:


During the run of the exhibition, original Walt Disney short films were also shown. A gallery report indicated that “projection apparatus” was brought to the gallery and from time to time Mickey Mouse and Silly Symphonies cartoons were played. This was in addition to frequent talks given by the Department of Visual Education on the methods of animation.

Today, thanks to the projection apparatus known as You Tube, we can view the Silly Symphonies that were likely shown in the University Gallery:

The Skeleton Dance, 1929
Flowers and Trees, 1932
Three Little Pigs, 1933

… and more…

*The exhibition was held two years prior to the release of Walt Disney Animation Studio’s first full-length animated feature, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.”

About Spring

The green grass, blooming flowers, and recent temperature increase in Minnesota has me thinking a lot about spring. Thoughts about the season were interpreted at the University Gallery in June of 1955 in an exhibit simply titled, “About Spring.”

An exhibition poster promoted the seasonal exhibition:


AboutSpring_1955-Announce.jpgAn exhibition publicity release from June 1955 (left) found in the gallery press books from the 1950s-60s provided a description of the exhibition:

About Spring – to July 15. A group of 40 paintings, prints, and drawings from local sources are being shown in the fourth floor gallery. Landscapes, flower still lifes and other subjects related to the season are accompanied by evocative stanzas from English and American poets. Among the artists represented are: Adolf Dehn, Leon Hartl, Louis Eilshemius, Kurt Roesch, B.J.O. Nordfeldt, Milton Avery, Marsden Hartley, and Sue Fuller as well as members of the Department of Art: Cameron Booth, Robert Collins, and Josephine Lutz Rollins. Other paintings were loaned by the Minneapolis Institute of Art and Walker Art Center.

In searching through the links to the artists’ works as represented in WAM’s collection on the Digital Content Library, I found a variety of landscapes and works of still life that could capture the essence of spring. But it wasn’t until I came across a series of landscapes by B.J.O. Nordfeldt that I found a visual representation that matches what I think spring is all about…

The yarn of it all…


When a University of Minnesota senior and fellow member of the WAM Collective, eager (and hopefully not beleaguered) to graduate, questioned the group recently about the purchase of his cap and gown, I was reminded of an exhibition that the University Gallery held in 1938 on the topic of Academic Dress.

The University Gallery Press books featured an article clipped from the University’s humor magazine, Ski-U-Mah titled, “For a Cap and Gown,” written by Bill Sims, that light-heartedly reported upon the regalia of academic dress in 1938:


“Those who were on hand to witness the traditional Cap and Gown Day procession as it wound its way through the campus, over the knoll and eventually up the steps to Northrop Auditorium, watched half puzzled and awed by the razzle dazzle and color, pomp, clicking cameras and showy corsages.

After the seniors came the faculty in their flowing gowns and bright hoods. Oh, what my dead grandmother wouldn’t have done for just one small piece out of each of those brilliant hoods that filed past! What a crazy quilt that would have made!”

The exhibit was arranged by Ruth Lawrence, who in addition to her role as curator of the Gallery, also served on the University’s Functions Committee where for several years she assisted in formal preparations for graduation ceremonies, and even designed uniforms for a Grand Marshall and two assistants that became part of the ceremony. “A crazy quilt” of fabric swatches that represented the colors of academic dress were found charted on a piece of paper in a folder titled, “Ruth Lawrence: University Committees Correspondence.”

Sims’ description of the costumes continued with some background:

“The people who wear these fine letters have honorary or high academic degrees. The color of the trimming on the hood signifies the wearer’s degree; the color of the lining tells what university he wrested it from.

It’s a great show, this academic style parade, and well worth an hour of anyone’s idle attention. It’s all done to a code- the International Code of Academic Costume…”

…The history of academic costume is quite a yarn, and if you ever get caught with a case of mumps or something I suggest you catch up on it, if you can’t think of anything else to do.”

Cats_011_AcademicCostume_1939.jpgIn May of 1938, this “yarn” of a history was displayed at the University Gallery, where close to 100 examples of robes in the U of M academic dress as well as examples from Harvard University, University of Toronto, and the University of Leeds, England were displayed. A catalogue of the exhibition (at left) described the history, rules, and regulations of academic dress. Published by Cotrell & Leonard, Albany, N.Y., and printed and distributed for the Intercollegiate Bureau of Academic Costume, “The History of Academic Costume in America” supplemented the show.

All yarns aside, in the publication, Gardner Cotrell Leonard wrote an opinion on the reason that such standards for academic dress were established and for what the standards symbolized:

“On its history and picturesque side it serves to remind those who don it of the continuity and dignity of learning. On its democratic side, it subdues the differences in dress arising from the differences in taste, fashion, manners and wealth, and clothes all with the outward grace and equal fellowship which have ever been claimed as an inner fact in the republic of learning.”

While soon to be graduates in the areas of public health and pharmacy may challenge the taste and fashion of salmon pink and olive, they never-the-less will walk across the stage with outward grace as they receive the diplomas that acknowledge the dignity of their learning.

Congratulations 2012 University of Minnesota graduates!


This week, museum professionals from across the country descended upon the Twin Cities to attend the annual American Association of Museums (AAM) conference, held this year at the Minneapolis Convention Center. Over 4,000 registered participants, in addition to volunteers and other attendees, shared best practices and formed collaborations throughout the schedule of hundreds of sessions and meetings held from April 29-May 2.

This is not the first time the twin towns have hosted museum professionals for discussion and deliberation. In 1948, the Midwest Museums Conference was held from October 14-16, and various sessions and meetings were conducted at local museums and galleries.

According to the conference schedule that was found in a folder titled “Memberships” in Box 110 (at left), the events kicked off with an “Informal Get-together and Smoker” on Thursday, October 14 at the Walker Art Center, hosted by Director Dan Defenbacher, and concluded on Saturday, October 16 with the final event at 2:00 PM, an Illinois-Minnesota Football Game “for all ardent fans.”

Though the article in the MN Daily that reported upon the conference was titled, “Museum Men Meet,” there were women there too – a tour was given of the University Galleries by Director Ruth Lawrence on Saturday, October 15 with a luncheon at the U of M’s Junior Ballroom to follow.

The men of the conference included Dan Defenbacher Director of the Walker Art Center; Henry D. Brown, Director of the Detroit Historical Museum; Walter J. Breckenridge, Director of the Minnesota Museum of Natural History; Richard S. Davis, Senior Curator at the Minneapolis Art Institute; Milton D. Thompson, Director of the Minneapolis Science Museum; Russell Plimpton, Director of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts; Nils G. Sahlin, Director of the Swedish Art Institute; Col. Clifford C. Gregg, Director of the Chicago Natural History Museum; Vice President Malcolm Willey, University of Minnesota; Dr. Louis Powell, Director of the St. Paul Science Museum; G. Huber Smith, Curator at the Minnesota Historical Society; and Malcolm Lein, Director of the St. Paul Gallery and School of Art.

Fuller Fabrics

Fashion is in the air at WAM as the museum’s student group, WAM Collective, is preparing for the upcoming No White fashion show and student design competition.

FullerFabrics2.jpgUniversity students and gallery employees were also in a flurry over fashion in February of 1957 when the University Gallery opened an exhibition entitled, “Fuller Fabrics.” An exhibition poster (at left) promoted the exhibit.

The exhibit featured a project titled, “The Fuller Fabrics Modern Master series of Print Fabrics” which displayed paintings by contemporary artists alongside nearly 60 different prints of fabric that were produced as inspirations from their works.

A feature article and photo spread in the November 14, 1955 edition of LIFE magazine titled, “New Fabrics Put Modern Art in Fashion” described Fuller Fabrics – a fabric manufacturer, and their project to reproduce the contemporary works of Marc Chagall, Fernand Léger, Pablo Picasso, Raoul Duffy, and Joan Miro on cotton fabrics which were to be sold commercially by the yard.

A promotional photograph found within the exhibition folder in Box #6 of the University Archives archival collection, shows University Gallery curator Betty Maurstad posing next to a didactic from the exhibit. A gallery notice further described the exhibition:

FullerFabrics3.jpg FullerFabrics4.jpg

*In a collections connection – the Victoria and Albert Museum have amongst their textiles, a yard (or 3 ft. x 3.75ft) of the fabric designed by Joan Miro and produced by Fuller Fabrics, titled, “Woman and Birds.”

Featuring Feininger


Each month, WAM releases a new “art card” – a free, postcard sized print of an object from the museum’s collection. A description of the work is included on the back of the card. For the month of April, the art card (available at the information desk) features Lyonel Feininger’s work, Dröbsdorf I.

Featuring Feininger in the month of April is an appropriate commemoration of the 74th anniversary of the first retrospective exhibition of Feininger’s work to be held in the United States. This exhibition, comprised of 19 oils and 40 watercolors painted by Feininger between the years of 1909 to 1937, opened at the University Gallery in April of 1938.

The Minneapolis Star published a photograph of Feininger on April 12, 1938, as evidenced by a clipping found in the Gallery press books. Another article from March 26, 1938, announced the exhibit and commented upon Feininger’s work,

“His paintings are abstract and suggestive rather than realistic, combining precise structural line and dream-like moods. He is a musician of ability.”

Though American born, Feininger spent nearly 50 years of his life in Germany, where he came to reject the “Nazi dictation on aesthetics” and returned to the United States to continue to produce modern abstractions.

If you live too far away or are otherwise unable to drop in to the museum to pick up the card of the month, WAM’s online resource, Artful Writing, can provide you with additional information about the art and about the artist.

78 Years…

Another year has come and gone in institutional existence for WAM as today marks the 78th anniversary of the “Little Gallery” which opened on April 5, 1934.

How do you celebrate 78 years? Perhaps with a look back to previous commemorations…

Upon the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the museum in 1984, several special exhibitions were held to celebrate the museum’s history and acknowledge the development of the permanent collection.

Special exhibition catalogues were designed as a throw-back to reflect the aesthetic of the catalogues produced during the 1930s.

1984 Exhibition Catalogues:

Cats_229_50Years-AmericanPaintings_1984.jpg Cats_230_50Years-Drawings_1984.jpg Cats_231_50Years-Decorative_1984.jpg Cats_232_50Years_RecentAcquisitions.jpg

1930s Exhibition Catalogues

Cats_008_UGDecember_1937.jpg Cats_010_UGApril_1938.jpg Cats_013_OscarBluemner_1939.jpg

For a description of the opening day of the Gallery in 1934, see a previous post, that celebrated the museum’s seventy-seventh year.