Who are you?

In addition to the records contained in the WAM archival collection, there are other records related to the museum that can be found in other collections at the University Archives. Archives staff shared with us photographs from the Photograph Collection related to the University Gallery. The only problem was, a few of the photographs did not have captions, thus, we could not determine who was captured within the image.

Who are you?

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It is not until I came across an article in The Minnesotan, 1967-1968 on the Digital Conservancy that I found an answer. These very photos were published alongside a feature article about the gallery titled, “The Place Upstairs” (referring to the gallery – located upstairs in Northrop Auditorium). Pages 6 and 7 of the issue of this publication featured the two photographs from the Photograph Collection at the Archives, and also provided captions…

Left Image: “Museum Director Charles C. Savage, Museum Assistant Helen M. Thian, Art Gallery Technician Larry L. Grunewald.

Right Image: “Mrs. Harold W. Smith and Mrs. Robert L. Summers chat at the opening of the Faculty Women’s Club exhibition at the Gallery.

Thank you again Digital Conservancy!

Don’t Open Boxes

Don’t open boxes.” This was the dry reaction of a WAM staff member after I had shared my find of a large box full of 13 binders in a storage room at the museum. The binders were each titled, “press book” and were dated by academic year. As I wiped away a few centimeters of dust off of the cover of the first binder, I was hopeful yet hesitant at what I would find.

Web_Pressbook3.jpgIt was more than I expected. Newspaper clippings, photographs, press releases, posters, opening invitations…. oh my! Each binder contained an explosion of ephemera covering exhibits and programming at the University Gallery from approximately 1957-1969. Each piece was neatly placed on pages and covered with clear plastic sheets.

This find came at an interesting time, as it happened just one day before I finished processing and documenting the last box, #218, of the WAM Collection at the University Archives (more on this later).

But although I have reached the last box at the Archives, through the simple act of opening boxes at WAM, I realized, as long as there is a WAM, there will always be more boxes to open.

I must now in good faith scan the pages of the press books to create digital versions, and then dutifully prepare the press books to be transferred to the Archives to be preserved in future “last” boxes… 219… 220… and so on.

But until I am finished with this latest discovery, I will likely heed sound advice, and refrain from opening any more boxes for the moment. I have a lot of scanning… and reading… to do:

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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!

And then… there was one.

Web_LastBox.jpgThree months after the WAM Files project staff agreed to continue processing an additional accession of 38 boxes of records transferred from WAM to the Archives, and a mere 12 days after we all celebrated the start of a new year, this project processor finds herself preparing for an end – of the physical processing of the WAM collection material. This week, I reached the final… last… single… box of the archival collection.

However, the end of physical processing by no means signifies the end of the WAM Files. After the last folder is removed from this long Bankers Box and is marked with a #4 (collection number) and the year of the folder’s content, is placed into its eternal location in a Paige archival quality box, and is documented in an 8,000 + row spreadsheet, there is still more work to be done…

Here is a preview:

1. Finding Aid -We need to compose a historical note, scope, and content, so curious researchers can easily access our collection and the treasure trove of information contained within.

2. MORE Blog Posts – Did you really think that we shared everything that we came upon? Surely we saved some very juicy records for ourselves that we have yet to share…

3. Exhibit -The WAM Files – “in the flesh”? To our surprise and delight, WAM Exhibition staff scheduled an exhibit that will feature items from the archival collection that document the history of the museum. Coming to a WAM gallery near you in Summer 2012…

WAM Music

When the Frank Gehry designed Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum was built in 1993, a space was created not only for exhibition, education, and experiences with art, but also for another ‘e’ – events. The space provided the museum the opportunity to stage seminars, lectures, symposiums, and concerts in conjunction with exhibitions and educational programming, as well as offer space rental for private events such as wedding receptions and holiday parties.

Private events records which contain such items as catering receipts, wedding reception schedules, diagrams of table and chair set up, etc., were considered incidental to the museum’s core activities, and thus not appropriate to the collection. The nature of the materials – credit card receipts and photocopies of personal checks – make it such that they cannot be kept without restrictions. These records were placed in confidential recycling.

Other WAM events however, those coordinated by WAM staff and provided for the public in connection to exhibitions or education and outreach efforts, provide insight into how the organization connected to audiences not only through sight – but also through sound…

This is evidenced in a series of events titled, “WAM Music,” a music series that featured regular concerts held at WAM. A few concert announcements were found amongst the records:

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Music is still a part of WAM events programming. In the build up for the recent re-opening in October 2011, a music event was held not within the space – but on top of it. Local band The 4onthefloor played a lunch-hour concert on the roof of WAM which entertained students, staff, and University visitors who danced on the sidewalks and gazed up at the building while enjoying their lunches on the lawn in front of neighboring Coffman Memorial Union.

Applying the Busa Theory: 2 + 2 = 5

The project staff of the WAM Files – Areca, Katie, Erik and myself recently presented our project process and discoveries at the Andersen Library First Fridays event held on November 4. In preparation, we began to add up all of the project results – stories uncovered, boxes processed, hours devoted, etc. I was excited to share our project – yet admittedly unprepared for the reaction we received. After we presented our project and results, we opened the floor for questions… only to receive an exclamation: “We want more!”

The audience questions also turned into personal recollections shared by those that had experienced WAM as it was known previously – as the University Art Museum and University Gallery.

Web_Valspar.jpgA particular recollection sparked my curiosity. Responding to a story shared of the records found of an exhibition of the work of former faculty member Peter Busa, an audience member indicated that Busa had designed the mural that covers the Valspar building in Minneapolis. Not knowing this connection, I was eager to learn more – as I see Busa’s mural from my bus window each morning on my commute to campus. In need of more details, I turned to the Digital Conservancy, and found a U of M News Service Release from October 25, 1973, (Digital Conservancy) that announces, “‘U’ Prof Designs Exterior Mural,”

“Peter Busa, professor of studio arts, is the designer of ‘Demolition,’ a 60 ft. by 75 ft. abstract mural on the southwest wall of the Valspar Corporation building at 1101 S. 3rd St. in Minneapolis. Actual painting of the mural, using 60 gallons of 17 different colors of paint, was done by painting contractors. Busa signed the mural in foot-high letters.”

Other results in the search for “Peter Busa” provided a U of M News Service Release from June 6, 1975 (Digital Conservancy), the contents of which resonated with me as we reflected upon the results of the WAM Files project:

“Teaching Art Means Giving the Student Opportunity For Experience,” written by Judy Vick, begins with, “Art is like love: it cannot be taught — it must be experienced. This is the theory of the first person in the studio arts department of the University of Minnesota to be honored for distinguished teaching.”

Vick then quotes Busa, “I don’t think you can teach people to be artists—art is like love–but you can expose them to the processes of art and give them the opportunity to teach themselves.

Busa expands further on his theory, “If a student of ours adds two and two and gets four, we suggest maybe he should go to IT (the Institute of Technology). If he gets five, maybe he has the capability to imagine.

Throughout this project we have been introduced to the processes of the archives and have been given the opportunity to teach ourselves, and to share with others, the love of art, history, and the University.

When we first started adding folders to boxes, rows to a spreadsheet, and posts to the blog, I could have never imagined that one day we would be standing in front of a crowded room, sharing the stories that we uncovered with an audience that is just as intrigued and enthusiastic about those stories as we are.

Then again – I’ve never been very good at math…

Appraisal of our position…

Web_Box.jpgTo use a phrase first utilized by former University Gallery Director Ruth Lawrence in a report to the President in the 1940s, the WAM Files project staff recently met to make “appraisal of our position” in processing the WAM archival collection.

As of the end of September, we had processed a total of 176 boxes of WAM records that had been accessioned into the University Archives collection.

During our appraisal, we admitted that we loved dust and stapling labels to folders so much, that we agreed to keep going – and thus, 38 additional boxes of exhibition planning records and educational files were prepared according to Archives guidelines, and were picked up by a University Libraries van and transported to the basement workroom of Andersen Library.

Since the project was launched nearly 8 months ago, we have processed over 7,000 folders – selected contents of which have been shared in 87 (now 88) blog posts.

Upon appraisal, we are in the position to continue processing, posting, and providing a glimpse into the unique materials contained within the WAM Files.


As I walked along the wood floors of the recently re-opened Weisman Art Museum, my pace quickened (though still within an appropriate pace for an art gallery) as I directed my strides towards the new Woodhouse Family Gallery. This gallery features WAM’s collection of contemporary American artwork and includes works of the artists Marsden Hartley, B.J.O. Nordfeldt, Alfred Maurer and Georgia O’Keeffe, to name a few.

While each of these artists deserves an appreciation (and a blog post), my sense of eagerness and hurried pace to this gallery was for one reason, and one reason only: Star Cage.

In processing the WAM archival collection over the past 8 months, we have uncovered many records detailing the exhibition of David Smith’s sculpture, “Star Cage.” Though the records have served to build intrigue amongst the processors, “Star Cage” itself has remained illusive and distant (as represented in this undated photo of the gallery spaces in Northrop Auditorium):


As the piece has become a popular representation of Smith’s work, it is frequently loaned to other museums, and not until recently, for the occasion of the re-opening of WAM, was it returned to Minneapolis to be displayed in the museum. The sculpture was the first piece to be acquired for the University Gallery’s John Rood Sculpture Collection, (established by the long-time University art department faculty member and sculptor for which it is named).

See what we have uncovered about “Star Cage” over the past several months, and hurry over to WAM’s new galleries to join me in some stargazing…

A previous blog post details the folder titled, “Minneapolis Sculpture,” which includes a newspaper clipping with a photograph of the sculpture next to Joan Mondale at the Vice President’s Residence in Washington D.C., where the work was exhibited in 1977.

Yet another post details a photo contact sheet found of the work in a 1959 exhibition of Japanese prints.

Box 3 contains a contact sheet, likely of promotional photos taken of the gallery, with “Star Cage” prominently featured alongside gallery curator, Betty Maurstad.


The Biographer’s and Processor’s New Best Friend

I came across an article in the New York Times by Stephen Mihm titled, “The Biographer’s New Best Friend,” that commented upon the usefulness of digitized newspapers to biographers in tracking the whereabouts of the people they are researching.

Digitized newspapers have also aided WAM archives processors by providing context to the materials contained within the collection.

Web_UA_Photos_ArtRental.jpgTake for instance a folder that contains excellent photographs… but that also does not include excellent captions or descriptions of said photographs. Last spring on the WAM Files, my co-processor shared excellent photos of the University Gallery’s art rental program that she uncovered while processing. Staff at the University Archives later shared with us additional photos related to the art rental program that are contained in their photograph collection (at left – “Art gallery. lending pictures. 1948.” pictured are Sallie Wruck, Elvie Berggren, and Betty Maurstad, Curator – from the University Archives).

To learn more about the student art rental program, I performed a few keyword searches of “art rental” and “University Gallery” on the MN Daily website (online presence of the student-run University newspaper), and received results from the Daily’s PDF Archives. Upon reviewing my results, I was almost instantly able to learn more about the art rental program and process by accessing these digitized newspaper files:

A January 11, 1944 MN Daily headline informed, “Decorating Those Walls: U Gallery Prints are Renting Fast.” The article indicated that although enrollment had decreased (due to the war), 70 students rented 133 prints, and 16 servicemen borrowed 38 prints. The Gallery also loaned 23 prints to the Navy for USS Minnesota.

In an August 14, 1947 MN Daily article titled, “U Offers Art For Two Bits,” the history of the program and report of student tastes was offered:

During the first quarter of its operation only 50 prints were rented to students. Since that time the number has increased to about 450 in a regular quarter… According to Betty Maurstad, most of the students are repeat customers. Almost all of them live on campus in dormitories, fraternities, and sororities. Quite a few live in the University village… The few prints of the modernist school in the gallery are becoming more popular. Also there is an increasing interest in sculptured pieces…

…So for a quarter, enjoy your art at home. Choose what you will. Hang it where you like. If you can’t paint one, rent one.”

Thanks to the biographer’s -and the processor’s- new best friend, with a personal computer, internet access, and a PDF reader, you can do your research… where you like.

Once upon a time…

Once upon a time… the negatives of installation photos taken of the exhibit, “Once Upon a Time: Illustrations of Children’s Tales From Around the World” were not rolled up and bound by a rubber band.

In context of the included note, and upon unraveling the now accordion-ized negatives, it appears as if the exhibit was held in the foyer of Northrop Auditorium:

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