Marsden Hartley

Robert Clark Nelson

The WAM Files exhibit features a series of exhibition posters from the 1960s that can all be attributed to the same artist/designer. The name “Robert Clark Nelson” is found in small type on the edges and corners of several posters created to promote University Gallery exhibitions throughout the decade.

Nelsonposter1.jpgMany clues are found within WAM’s archival collection (housed at the University Archives in Andersen Library) that explain the circumstances of the creation of these posters. A U of M Purchasing Department form dated August 5, 1965 outlines that the total amount of $560.00 was used “to cover costs of designing University Gallery exhibition poster-announcements and invitations for the Academic Year 1965-66.” A Fee of $75 was assessed for the “design, layout, finished art, and production overseeing” with an additional $5 for materials for each of the 7 posters created. Two of the posters that now hang on the East wall of the Edith Carlson Gallery in the WAM Files exhibit were designed by Nelson for the 1965-1966 Academic Year: “Robert Motherwell,” and “Peter Busa.”

NelsonPoster2.jpgA Departmental Budget Record that represents Printing Requisitions for the University Gallery indicates that 2200 posters were printed to promote the Motherwell exhibit. The line item for 500 mailing labels found on the budget record, along with the fact that many of the posters kept from that era have folds and small tears (and some also include mailing labels on the back), are clues that lead us to believe that exhibition posters were created to serve as mailed exhibition announcements.

Thanks to the digitization efforts of the library unit of another institution of higher education, more information is gleaned about Robert Clark Nelson – the designer behind the name. In the September 28, 1966 edition (Volume XLI-No. 2) of the Clarion, the student newspaper of Bethel University in St. Paul, MN, an article titled, “Professor Receives Top Award In Walker Art Center Exhibition,” reveals that Nelson was a professor at Bethel. The article includes a portrait of Nelson and reported that he was one of top three award winners in the Walker Art Center biennial of painting and sculpture in 1966.

Other posters included in the WAM Files exhibit designed by Nelson include the following: John Rood Sculpture, 1964; Alechinsky, 1965; American Drawings, 1965; Marsden Hartley, 1966; Alan Davie, 1967; Jerome Hill, 1968:

*A note on artistic processes: The posters created by Nelson during the 1960s were created through photo-offset and lithography, processes that the Smithsonian American Art Museum describes in the online exhibit, “Posters: American Style.”

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:


“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

(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


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.

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.

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…


In 1952, the University Gallery held an exhibition of the works of Marsden Hartley. This promotional poster notes the dates of the exhibition:


The exhibit was held in conjunction with the release of a book of which the artist was subject. According to a U of M News Release, dated April 25, 1952 (Digital Conservancy) the book, Marsden Hartley, authored by Elizabeth McCausland, and published by the University Press, contains “a biographical and critical essay on the artist and is illustrated with reproductions of 43 of his works, ranging from some of his earliest paintings to the one on his easel at the time of his death in 1943.

Specifically, the book profiles the Hartley works that were in the collection of Hudson Walker (the first curator of the University Gallery). Walker’s collection was, at that time, on permanent loan to the University Gallery.

Today, the Weisman Art Museum’s Ione and Hudson D. Walker Collection (a bequest to the gallery in the 1970s), features the largest collection of Hartley’s works. Several of these works are prominently featured in WAM’s new expanded galleries in the current exhibit titled, “Cartography of a Collection.”