Hudson Walker, a Harvard-educated art collector and historian, was christened the first curator of the Little Gallery on the University of Minnesota campus in March 1934.
What began as the Little Gallery grew into a big gallery. We now know it as our beloved campus museum, the Weisman Art Museum.
Hudson and his wife Ione were not in Minneapolis long before they left for New York City to establish another gallery. Still, the Walkers began a long standing tradition at WAM of lending art to students; the practice continues today.
Last Wednesday, the WAM Collective hosted its annual “Homework Art Rental Launch Party” at the museum.
The Collective reserved 45 artworks specifically for students from their larger 1200-piece rental collection. Priced at $15 per piece for the semester, students could choose from a variety of works including drawings, paintings and prints. Another 850 works from the rental collection have already been rented out, mostly to University faculty and departments. University students and staff can rent any piece of art from the rental collection.
And they might want to. According to Laurel Darling, a senior WAM Collective member who studies English and art history at the University, the collection has some real gems.
“There’s a piece of Abraham Lincoln that’s blurred, but if you go up close it’s a naked woman,” Darling said.
The event, which hosted in conjunction with WAM’s monthly study night, had students filtering in throughout the evening. Twenty pieces of art in total went to new homes by the party's conclusion; each student had their own reason for choosing their specific piece.
Denise Lauj, a geography and geographic information science junior, came to the event with a purpose. She just moved into a new apartment in Stadium Village.
“I wanted to get something for my room because I’ve heard from a lot of people that have come over that it looks like I don’t live there because it’s not home-y at all,” Lauj said.
Lauj has been working to spruce up the place, and getting a piece of fine artwork was the finishing touch. She chose “Seefeld in Tirol” (1958), a woodcut on paper by artist Hanns Kobinger that illustrates a calming forest scene in black and white.
Keerthi Manikonda, a freshman studying neuroscience, came for the free coffee at WAM’s study night and left with a new piece of decor.
Manikonda was checking out the rental art on display with her study buddy when they landed on Sister Mary Corita Kent’s 1969 screenprint, “In Touch.” It was one of the largest works on display at the launch party, with eye-catching pink and red florals on a black background.
“My friend Kate ... she literally went, ‘That screams Keerthi.’ I got it because apparently it is very like my personality,” Manikonda said. “It’s kind of angsty, but at the same time it has this sort of elegance to it, which kind of describes me in a way."
Manikonda said she’s going to hang the work in her dorm room with command strips.
WAM had her covered, sending each rented piece of art home with supplies to mount it on a wall. WAM Collective members Madalyn Johnson, Ricky Ford and Alex Cain were busy packing up the art so students could safely transport it home.
“Less than five [artworks] have been damaged since 1934,” said Katie Covey, the director of student engagement at WAM.
In addition to hanging supplies, students were given a document outlining what will happen if the art is damaged or the student fails to return it to the museum.
The rental period lasts for one semester, and students could be charged a fee of $100 if their art is not returned on time. Damages are assessed on a case-by-case basis. For insurance reasons “none of the works are valued more than $500,” said Stuart Deets, a Ph.D. student in the art history department and WAM’s program assistant.
However, serious the consequences may be for damaging part of the collection, Hudson Walker and WAM were never deterred from lending art to students.
“The collection is to be lived with and experienced as part of your home in your life. So it goes in peoples’ homes with the understanding that it’s going to be part of their every day,” Covey said.
Freshman biomedical engineering student Angad Cheema had decided on a specific place in his room for his artwork before he came to the launch party.
Cheema chose Edith Carlson’s 1981 piece "#438" from her Desert Light series for its simplicity. The piece of art, created using colored pencil, is going to live in his dorm room during this semester, between posters he got at the poster fair in Coffman Memorial Union.
Cheema left the “Homework Art Rental Launch Party” with his work of art, but also a mission.
“Now I have to figure out who Edith Carlson is,” he said.