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Origins Educational Years page 3

 
 

Accreditation of The Minneapolis School of Art
As a student, I witnessed and participated in the transition of the Minneapolis School of Art from a pre-war museum art school to an accredited educational institution. With the move toward accreditation, a President replaced the Director as chief administrative officer, and most presidents came from academic backgrounds rather than art. At the Minneapolis School of Art, the new president, Wilhelmus B. Bryan, had formerly been the Dean of Humanities at Macalester College and Dean of Students at Princeton. The Assistant Director became Dean of the College, and in rapid succession, new administrative offices were established such as Director of Admissions, Dean of Students, Director of Alumni, Director of Business Affairs and Development Officer. Ever since, the process of adding new administrative functions and administrators has continued without abatement. Department Head positions were created, faculty committees took responsibility for most academic affairs, academic rank was installed (not tenure), and academic courses introduced into the curriculum. Many academic teachers were borrowed from neighboring institutions and taught humanity classes part-time at the art school. The basic introductory program was reduced from two to one year, and Foundations was staffed with full-time teachers assigned only to that program.

The new academic requirements represented about one third of the credits for graduation. This meant a reduction in the number of studio hours.

The movement of art schools toward accreditation began in 1952, and in 1959 under the leadership of Dr. Bryan, the first art schools became accredited, The Minneapolis School of Art, Chicago Art Institute and Cranbrook Academy. When the call came through to President Bryan from the North Central accrediting offices notifying us that The Minneapolis School of Art had been accredited, he immediately called the president of trustees. Mr. Bell contacted a catering firm and within the hour, a large truck parked in front of the school. An enormous punch bowl was placed in the front rotunda and there were strawberry tarts and punch for everyone. All classes were dismissed and everyone including some trustees joined in the celebration.

 

School Breaks and Distrations
My schooling in Minneapolis was interrupted when I was called back into service for a year during the Korean conflict. Based on my education in art and experience at Dewey and Wilson Display, I was put in charge of the silk screen shop for Post Training Aids at Camp Joseph E. Pendleton in Oceanside, California. One of my colleagues was a graduate of Chouinard in Los Angeles and another was a student at the San Francisco Art Institute. It was a wonderful opportunity to compare notes on teachers and programs and I enjoyed and learned a great deal from them. After completing my service, I returned to Minneapolis, taught a silkscreen course and finished my last year of studies graduating in 1952.

At Lincoln and Minneapolis, each Spring when the school year ended, I was sick and tired of school and wanted only to get the heck out of there and do something different. One summer I went to Cloquet, Minnesota and stayed with a Finnish farm family. I worked on a railroad section crew bulling rail. Many of the crew did not speak English but Swedish, Finnish and Russian. The Johnson’s (the original family name was Jutenen, but there were so many in the area, they had their name changed to Johnson) being Finns had no bathtub, just a sauna which we fired up every Saturday. Any baths in between had to be in Pine River which ran in front of the house and it was about forty-eight degrees during the summer.

Another summer, I worked on a survey crew in Locate, Montana on the Powder River. Locate was north of Miles City and was one building which housed a gas station, general store, post office and restaurant. We lived in tents for two weeks at a time and then had a long weekend at home before returning to camp. Another summer, I worked on an asphalt gang in Lincoln, Nebraska paving streets. Without a doubt, this was the most physically-demanding job I ever worked.

The best thing about these jobs was that by late July, I was eager to return to school. I knew that I did not want to spend my life doing this kind of work. However, I wanted to do the job well enough to be respected by the other workmen. I knew that I was there for the summer, but they were going to spend their life working at the jobs. I learned to respect these people for what they do because I know what is required to do the work. I have always kept this respect, and what I consider some of my greatest compliments have been being asked to stay on the job because I was a good worker. I consider the summer jobs an important aspect of my education.

 

Finding Graduate School
After receiving my BFA at the Minneapolis School of Art, I remember feeling serious trepidation regarding my readiness to go out into the world. At the time, I was teaching a Silk Screen course and had been asked to continue in that role. The art school was then seeking accreditation, and when I approached the president, Wilhelmus B. Bryan, about going to graduate school, he was supportive and encouraging. There were no faculty with graduate degrees in art, and he knew this was going to be a factor in receiving accreditation.

My problem was that I did not know of any schools with graduate programs. When Dr. Bryan asked me which graduate school I wanted to attend, my response was that it would be necessary to think about it a little longer. Finally, I came up with Cooper Union. Dr. Bryan did some checking and called me into his office, and with a rather puzzled look on his face, informed me that Cooper Union did not have a graduate program.

Before I could make another mistake, Charles Sawyer, the Dean of the School of Art at Yale University visited our school to give a lecture. Evidently Dr. Bryan told him there was a young teacher who wanted to go to graduate school. I was summoned from the Silk Screen studio with ink on my hands and reeking of lacquer thinner to meet Dr. Sawyer. He asked if I would like to attend Yale University. My reply was if I could get into the program. Dr. Sawyer quickly responded by saying, “It is not if you can get in, it is do we have what you want?” I then asked what they had? He mentioned Albers, Lustig, Matter and others. I did not know who any of these people were and did not even know in what city Yale University was located, but I had heard that if you went to Harvard, Princeton or Yale, life would be good to you. In the most positive tone I could muster, I told Dr. Sawyer that Yale University sounded just fine.

My enrollment in graduate studies at Yale was in 1953. My entrance into Yale was more or less through the back door because of Dr. Sawyer’s intervention. I did not even have an undergraduate degree, only two years at a state university and a certificate from an art school. I seriously doubt if I would have been accepted coming through the normal application process. For me, the two years at Yale were a period of complete bewilderment. Having grown up in a number of small towns in Nebraska, I probably experienced more cultural shock coming to Yale than most foreign students. I never felt comfortable or part of Yale, and still do not to this day. While I sensed that everything being said and done was extremely important, I did not understand it. It was a number of years after graduation before my Yale experiences were finally assimilated.

 

Josef Albers & Yale University >

 

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