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WPA: Visual Aids to Teachers of Art

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In her report titled, "University of Minnesota Gallery of Art," with "Mrs. Lawrence 25-year report" written in pencil across the top, long time gallery director Ruth Lawrence provided a 24 page background on all of the activities of the Gallery over the course of 25 years. A large portion of the report -- nearly seven pages -- outlined the Works Progress Administration (WPA) work projects assigned to the Gallery. Ruth reflected, "By February 6, 1938, significant changes were taking place, but greater ones were ahead. On that date the Emergency Relief Works Progress Administration assigned a project of 20 workmen to the Gallery."

From 1938-1942 WPA workers were assigned to annual work projects in the University Gallery. The main duties of their work consisted of developing an art reference service to support instruction at the University. Workers also created circulating exhibitions comprised of visual aids for teachers. These visual aids were matted, framed, and compiled by the WPA employees and distributed by the Junior League Clubs of Minneapolis, St. Paul, and Duluth. Exhibitors from elementary and secondary schools, teachers colleges, and other small arts organizations throughout the state could rent the visual aid exhibits for a fee that covered postage.

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Found within WAM's collection of exhibition catalogues was a stapled report titled, "Visual Aids to Teachers of Art" that included descriptions of the exhibits and how they could be rented. A booklet titled, "Horses in Art, Exhibition No. 101" was also found. This booklet, which contains instructions and a sample curriculum, accompanied the exhibit materials. Exhibits were comprised of 10 reproductions of old and contemporary artwork that were mounted to boards, designed to be set in the grooves of a chalk well and rest against classroom blackboards.

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After the outbreak of WWII, all WPA work at the University was re-assigned to the war effort, and the art reference service was scaled back to provide resources to University instructors and students only. Ruth reflected, "All traveling exhibitions were stopped. During the war years unfortunately, these were destroyed by a mysterious fire in the storage or fan room, beginning in the organ loft."

Thanks to the accessibility of the Minnesota Daily's PDF Archives, more information about the mysterious fire is gleaned when a search of the PDF Archives provided a copy of the November 5, 1942 edition of the newspaper, which contains the following headline, "Fire Destroys Northrop Art Works." The article begins,

A fire of undetermined origin burning for more than half an hour in the organ blower room, 303 Northrop auditorium, yesterday destroyed almost all of the art displays, and equipment stored in the room.


About $250 worth of picture frame moldings, ten elementary school art exhibits and numerous picture display board were burned.

Thanks to the WPA project reports, the existence and preservation of posters and catalogues, as well as additional resources such as the PDF Archives, we are able to learn more about the unique services and programs that the Gallery once provided.

A post on posters...

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Planning continues for the WAM Files exhibit that will open at WAM on July 14th... The exhibit will feature, amongst other unique items from the Archives, some of the first items of intrigue that the project processors encountered - University Gallery exhibition posters. A WAM Files blog post from February 27, 2011 profiles processor Areca's initial reaction to her discovery of a set of exhibit posters. As the project continued, we kept finding posters - in the exhibition files, in a separate over-sized materials collection at the Archives, and even more in a box in the back of WAM's work room (which will later be transferred to the Archives).


WAM_004_Posters_1952-1953.jpgOne of the many posters that we encountered was created to promote an actual exhibition of posters. The exhibit, simply titled, "Posters," was held in the Gallery in the fall of 1952.

Correspondence written by Assistant to the Director, Ivan Majdrakof - found within the exhibition record in Box 4 - described the exhibit:

Rather than the artist-designed poster we concentrated on what we thought were good posters encountering a large public. A high standard of design was our basic criteria. Sources of material were: the New York Subway Advertising, the New York Times, Army and Navy Recruiting offices, Foreign Travel agencies, Cancer Society, our own collection of World War I work, and private collectors of early European posters.

Label text from the exhibition stated:


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WELL DESIGNED posters rarely reach a large audience and yet nearly every poster in this exhibit has been seen by a huge number of people.


THE PRIMARY reason for choosing one work and disregarding another was its DESIGN BASIS. Did the poster stop you and invite consideration? Was it eye-appealing? How well did it sell its product? How much did it use the DESIGN ELEMENTS easel painting had and is passing on to it?

THE WELL DESIGNED poster is invariably emotionally satisfying. There is no convincing emotion without GOOD DESIGN.

SINCE the criteria of a STRONGLY DESIGNED poster before a large public was used we found that certain categories of the poster-makerʼs art were eliminated. Sentiment, sex, the actual graphic portraying of a product are more often absent.

THE GREATEST successes DESIGN-WISE seem to be in the realm of ideas. The CAREFULLY DESIGNED poster seems to stress emotional attitudes. Subtler, non-visible ideas lend themselves to CONTEMPORARY DESIGN. Yet the same challenge is there for all poster or visual communication. Only through more "extreme" successful solutions as those on display here will the level of this art be generally raised.

THESE POSTERS divide into three approximate periods. The earliest displayed here are from about the thirties when European poster art was quite advanced from a DESIGN STANDPOINT. The typographic layout of these early German posters still influence the works of VISUAL DESIGNING today.




When the WAM Files exhibit opens in July, we hope that museum visitors find a few eye-appealing posters that will invite their consideration...

Print Research

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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

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Still Life, by Jacques Villon, Georges Braque

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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.

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(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.

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Who are you?

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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

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"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

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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.

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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

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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

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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...

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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.

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