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Origins Educational Years page 2

 
 

The 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.

In 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 Director’s 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.

For students and faculty members, the Director’s 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 schools.

My 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.

A 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.

On 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.

The 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.

Enrollment 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

 

Minneapolis School of Art Accreditation >

 

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