Minneapolis School of Art
In 1948, when I enrolled at The Minneapolis School of Art,
the registration line ran from the office through the hall
out the front door, down the steps to the sidewalk, and to
the end of the block. Over six hundred students enrolled in
the day program, most of them on the GI Bill. The largest
enrollment prior to WWII had been a hundred and thirty students
in both day and night classes. Walker Art Center also had
a school of art at that time, and they were equally inundated
with students. When it became my turn to register, they noticed
that I had studied art at the University of Nebraska for two
years, and I was asked if I wanted to teach or to be a student?
Wisely, I affirmed the latter.
With few exceptions, the majority of regional art schools
such as the Minneapolis School of Art were founded between
1870 and 1900. The oldest schools were the Philadelphia Academy
of Art in the eighteenth century, Maryland Institute of Art
at the beginning of the nineteenth century, Cooper Union only
slightly later, Cranbrook Academy in the 1920s and Art Center
in the 1930s.
The earliest directors at the Minneapolis School of Art had
been European drawing masters or painters. During the daytime,
the art school functioned as a finishing school for young
ladies studying drawing, watercolor, oil painting and sculpture.
At night, the studios were used to instruct tradespeople in
commercial engraving and Illustration, lettering or calligraphy
and other trade-based skills. During the 1950s, Ed Kopietz
was the Director at the Minneapolis School of Art, and he
came from an advertising background.
the 1950s at most art schools, there were no departments,
and even when there were, the Director had absolute power
over teachers, students and curriculum. I recall an occasion
where I sassed the Registrar. I immediately found myself called
to the Directors office, and just as quickly, suspended
for two days. The Director had total responsibility for the
school, and made final decisions on everything. Other administrative
officers were an Assistant Director, Business Manager and
Registrar and three secretaries. The Business Manager with
an assistant usually operated the school supply store in addition
to keeping financial records.
students and faculty members, the Directors secretary
was an especially important person as she was often the intermediary
between them and the Director. The majority of teachers were
practicing artists and none had a degree in art. There were
many part-time teachers in both Fine Arts and Advertising
Design.I believe that to some extent or another, this pattern
applied to most art schools, especially those which were regional.
It is my impression that art schools in large metropolitan
areas such as New York City, Chicago and Los Angeles operated
differently and did not change as abruptly as the regional
declared major was Advertising Design. However, the majority
of classes were in Fine Arts. Many hours of drawing were required
as well as several courses in painting. Advertising Design
was regarded as an unfortunate aberration of art by the majority
of faculty members, especially the painters. The Minneapolis
School of Art was very much a Fine Arts school. As the art
school at the time consisted only of the Morrison building,
many classes were taught in museum corridors with freestanding
dividers between classes.
substantial number of teachers were drawn from the ranks of
local PWA and WPA artists who had practiced art full time
under government subsidy from the early 1930s until WWII.
The student body was composed mainly of veterans, and it was
overwhelmingly older and male. On Friday nights, the veterans
literally took over the Nicollet Bar & Grill. The owners
had to clear out the basement, install additional booths and
put up with a rowdy bunch of art students.
those nights it was only art students, artists and people
interested in art that were involved. Walter Fritz
Mondale was dating Joan at that time, and they would show
up for the discussions fairly regularly. Charles Schultz and
friends were regular patrons. What we now call foundations,
was a two year program consisting of classes in basic design,
color, painting, sculpture, calligraphy and drawing. The only
academic course was Art History, and this was taught by painting
or drawing instructors. Most studio courses were required
with few electives. The school awarded certificates to qualified
students after four years. Tuition was between three or four
hundred dollars for an academic year.
school closed at 5pm and no students or teachers were allowed
on the premises after hours, only museum security guards.
As a student and young teacher, I regularly stuck a matchbook
in a basement window-lock of the Morrison building before
leaving at the end of the day. High bushes hid the windows,
and I would return in the evening or on weekends and crawl
through the window to work. I knew when the guards made their
rounds and hid in the rest room.
of veterans declined about 1950 as quickly as it had begun.
Schools were overcommitted and faced serious problems because
of the sudden decrease in revenue. Some art schools closed
down. This was when the Walker School of Art was phased out.
Other schools were incorporated into rapidly expanding multi-campus
state systems. A number of art schools saw accreditation as
an avenue to survival, and they began to move in this direction.
Accreditation changed single purpose art schools forever