Origins Tumultuous Years page 3


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. After graduate school when I was a full fledged instructor, administration gave me a key to the building. I let students in evenings and weekends to do school work. This was reported by security guards to the administration and it was an ongoing source of irritation to administrators. Finally, the president told me to stop the practice of letting students in after hours or turn in my key. I rented a small office down the street from school and turned in my key.

With exceptions, the majority of regional art schools were founded between 1870 and 1900. The oldest being 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 trade-people in commercial engraving and illustration, lettering or calligraphy and other trade based skills. During the 1940s, 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 oficers 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 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.

The era began with the GI bill. One of the principal benefits was a provision for post-secondary academic or technical education. This was an amazing piece of legislation and most appropriate for the times. The war had ended, and at the same time manufacturing plants ceased wartime production, cut the workforce and began retooling for peacetime markets. Millions of veterans were coming home and would be seeking employment. The GI bill kept many veterans off the job market for two to four years allowing time for industry to make adjustments. At the end of the war, there were approximately nine million men and women eligible for educational benefits. The scale of the program significantly raised the level of American workers and created a unique educated middle class.

Veterans inundated almost every type of educational institution from technical schools, art and music academies, and public or private universities throughout the country. Art schools expanded staffs and facilities to accommodate the sudden influx of veterans with its accompanying prosperity.

The GI bill created incredible incentive for growth in all higher education, and it was to have an impact on post-secondary education long after it was over.

Enrollment of veterans declined about 1952 as quickly as it had begun. Schools were over-committed 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 state systems of multi-campus institutions. 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.

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 and tenure were installed, and academic courses introduced into the curriculum. Many academic teachers were borrowed from neighboring institutions and taught 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.

By 1965, most art schools seeking accreditation had achieved their goal. During this period, a number of proprietary schools became accredited in order to benefit from federal funding programs, notedly, Art Center, The Oakland School of Arts and Crafts and The School of Visual Arts.

My Teaching Years continued >

Download PDF




Site Index



. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8