Peter Busa

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.”

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…