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Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum records

Identifier: ua00004

Scope and Content

The Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum collection contains the administrative records of the museum as it was known under the following official titles: University Art Gallery (or University Gallery) (1934-1983), University Art Museum (1983-1993), and Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum (1993-present).

The previously processed University Gallery collection, comprised of eleven boxes, was incorporated into the Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum collection during processing. Although the museum was at one time part of the University’s Art and Art History departments, and faculty served concurrently as directors of the Museum, the collection does not contain records from these departments.

The collection is arranged into 10 series:

Exhibitions Series content is associated with specific exhibitions held at the museum or at another museum as part of the Traveling Exhibitions Program. Exhibition records may include research, related programming notes, promotional materials, special event plans, correspondence with artists, loan agreements, checklists, installation notes and diagrams, label drafts and related publications.

Funding Series content is related to fundraising in support of museum exhibitions and programming to include grant applications to the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), Institute of Museum Services (IMS), and others. Content may also relate to the creation and maintenance of special funds established in the name of faculty, artists and other patrons who supported the development of the collection, exhibitions, and programming.

Administrative Series content contains correspondence, planning documents, and related materials associated with non-exhibition related administrative processes, procedures, and programming related to staffing, budgets, internal committees, activities of the Colleagues Advisory Board, technology implementation, and new building planning and maintenance. Files documenting the planning for the new museum facility include architect search and selection, building plans, construction records, and facilities planning.

Associations Series content is related to staff involvement in professional organizations to include the American Association of Museums (AAM), Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD), Minnesota Association of Museums, Upper Midwest Conservation Association (UMCA), and others.

Collection Series content includes materials not related to specific exhibitions, but that document works in the collection, or objects proposed for accession into the collection.

Education Series content documents museum education department programs, University of Minnesota courses held in conjunction with exhibitions, as well as materials of the Museology -and later- Museum Studies Program.

Newsletters and Press Books Series contains University Art Museum and Weisman Art Museum newsletters as well as press books maintained by WPA museum staff from 1934 through the 1940s, and further maintained by museum staff into the 1960s. Press binders from the 1980s through 1990s are also in this series.

Exhibit Posters and Architectural Drawings Series contains exhibit posters from 1951 through 1980 and architectural drawings related to the construction of the Weisman Art Museum circa 1990 and the expansion of the Weisman Art Museum in 2011.

Publications Series contains catalogs, invitations, pamphlets, postcards, gallery guides etc. published for/by the Weisman Art Museum, University Museum or University Gallery.

Electronic Records Series contains electronic documents in various formats produced by employees of the Weisman Art Museum. Contents are in various digital formats.


  • 1927-2016


Language of Materials

Collection material in English.

Use of Materials

Items in this collection do not circulate and may be used in-house only.


Researchers may quote from the collection under the fair use provision of the Copyright law (Title 17, U.S. Code). Requests to publish should be arranged with the University of Minnesota Archives.

Historical Note

The Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum is a teaching museum of the University of Minnesota. Established in 1934 with a mission to instill art into the everyday lives of students, the Museum preserves and displays the University’s art collection and features thematic interdisciplinary exhibitions and educational programming for students and the greater community. The Museum Building was designed by Architect Frank Gehry and named after Frederick R. Weisman, prominent art collector and native of Minneapolis. The museum, known previously as the University Art Museum (1983-1993) and University Art Gallery (1934-1983), resided in Northrop Memorial Auditorium prior to the Opening of the Weisman Art Museum in 1993.

The University Art Gallery began as an experiment in the fine arts initiated by University President Lotus Coffman and Assistant to the President Malcolm Willey. Referred to as the “Little Gallery,” it opened on April 5, 1934, on the fourth floor of Northrop Memorial Auditorium. The gallery was administered by a Fine Arts Committee composed of Willey as Chairman and faculty representatives from the various art disciplines on campus including Fine Arts (Everard M. Upjohn), Architecture (Frederick Mann, S. Chatwood Burton), Art Education (Ruth Raymond), Home Economics (Harriet Goldstein), and Ancient History (Faith Thompson). Hudson D. Walker, grandson of T.B. Walker and graduate of the Fogg Museum, Harvard University, was hired by the University in March 1934 to serve as Curator of Art on a part-time appointment. After Walker’s departure in June 1934, Ruth Lawrence, widow of former Assistant to the President James C. Lawrence, was appointed as curator. Lawrence’s title was changed to Director in 1940, and she served in that role until her retirement in 1957.

Early exhibitions were arranged to support instruction and were organized through national traveling exhibition programs, prominent museums, and art institutions and through direct loans from artists. Exhibitions featuring student and faculty artwork were also regularly held. The gallery conducted an art rental program and established a Fine Arts Room where art appreciation was emphasized over formal study.

Among the gallery staff were federal student workers from the National Youth Administration who packed and unpacked exhibitions, framed artwork, and monitored the Fine Arts Room and gallery. From 1938 to 1942, the gallery was assigned Works Progress Administration (WPA) employees, who under Lawrence’s oversight, built a robust exhibition program and art reference repository. The reference materials, comprised of slides, pamphlets, and other clippings from published materials, served as a resource to support instruction at the University and educational work throughout Minnesota. In 1942, following the U.S. entrance into World War II, all WPA employment at the University was reassigned to support the war effort, and many gallery activities were briefly suspended as a result.

In 1947, a centralized Department of Art under the College of Science, Literature and the Arts (SLA) was formed, integrating work formerly offered in the School of Architecture and other Institute of Technology departments, art education courses in the College of Education, and other subjects in SLA. The Gallery became part of the newly formed department. H. Harvard Arnason served as department chair until 1961.

In 1950, Hudson D. Walker, who had become a prominent art dealer and collector in New York City, placed his private art collection, comprised of works from important contemporary artists, on permanent loan to the University. His collection was donated in 1978 as a bequest to the University after his death in 1976 and constituted a substantial contribution to the development of the gallery’s permanent collection.

SLA was restructured and renamed the College of Liberal Arts in 1962. An internal reorganization within the college separated the Department of Art into the Studio Arts and Art History departments in 1966, with oversight of the gallery granted to the Art History department. The administrative structure of the gallery during the 1960s and 1970s was reflected in exhibitions and programming: Studio Arts and Art History faculty served as Gallery directors, faculty exhibitions were featured, and thesis exhibitions of master of fine arts (MFA) candidates were held each spring quarter.

In 1972, Elmer L. Andersen, Chair of the University Board of Regents, charged a committee to reconsider the role of the gallery within the University. A sub-committee recommended that the gallery become an all-University teaching resource with a focus on serving all academic disciplines. To achieve this aim, the gallery was moved administratively from the Art History department in the College of Liberal Arts to an independent unit organized under the Office of the Vice President for Academic Affairs in July 1974.

The structural change of the Gallery precipitated a burgeoning Exhibitions Program in the late 1970s that included a series of major interdisciplinary federal grant-funded exhibitions and a long-running traveling exhibition program.

The gallery’s constricted quarters in Northrop Auditorium curtailed exhibitions and programming. Insufficient temperature and climate controls for the care and preservation of objects in the collection and for loans of works for exhibitions were cumbersome and prevented the gallery from receiving accreditation by the American Association of Museums.

Several iterations of planning for a new building arose over the years, including the gallery as a part of a new arts quarter on the West Bank campus, as a partner in a new location for the Campus Club, and as a part of a new campus alumni center. In each case, funding was never realized.

To focus the mission and purpose of the gallery, a request was made for a title change to better reflect the organization’s identity as a museum as opposed to a gallery. On May 12, 1983, the Board of Regents officially resolved to approve “University Art Museum” as the new title.

Through the creation of a community advisory committee, the Colleagues Advisory Board, in 1984, museum administration placed concerted effort on planning and fundraising for a new building. Two substantial commitments created financial capacity for the new building: a promise of funding from University President Kenneth Keller as part of the Minnesota Campaign, and a commitment of $3 million from Frederick R. Weisman, prominent art collector and businessman.

Following the selection of architect Frank Gehry, construction was completed on the new museum site – adjacent to Coffman Memorial Union on the East Bank campus - in the fall of 1993. The Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum (WAM) Building opened on November 21, 1993.

WAM closed in September 2010 to complete an 8,100 square foot expansion of gallery space Designed by Gehry Associates. The Museum re-opened on October 3, 2011.

Head Curators/Directors:

  1. Hudson D. Walker, March-June, 1934
  2. Ruth E. Lawrence, 1934-1957
  3. Sidney Simon, 1958-1965
  4. Charles Savage, 1966-1969
  5. Allen Davis, 1969-1971
  6. Barbara Shissler, 1972-1975
  7. Lyndel King, 1975-1978 (Acting); 1978-2020
  8. Alejandra Peña-Gutiérrez, 2021 - present


260 boxes (330.1 cubic feet)


Collection contains the administrative, exhibition, and program records of the Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum (WAM), and its predecessor, the University Gallery (University Art Museum) at the University of Minnesota.

Source of acquisition

A large portion of the collection was transferred from the Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum (WAM) to University Archives by Jennifer Rymarkiewicz in June 1997. Continuing accretions have been transferred from WAM to University Archives on a semi-regular basis, with large accessions added in 2011-2012 and 2017.

Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum Records, 1927-2016
Karen Spilman; Susan Hoffman; Heather Carroll
July 2005; updated 2014; updated 2018
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English

Revision Statements

  • 2014: Collection processed and accretions added by University Archives interns Rebecca Wilson and Areca Roe. EAD updated by Karen Spilman and Susan Hoffman (2014).
  • 2018: Accretions processed and EAD Updated by processing archivist, Heather Carroll (2018).

Collecting Area Details

Contact The University Archives Collecting Area