At first glance, the University Gallery’s Publicity Books appear to be mere scrapbooks filled with mementos of early exhibitions, that were found filed away on a bookshelf somewhere in the back of someone’s office. However, tucked unassumingly into a Publicity Book dated 1953-1954, rests a short but impressive letter that challenges that idea.
March 12, 1953
Dear Mrs. Lawrence:
It was with interest that I read the attached clipping in the Minneapolis Star. It brought back many fond memories of my days on the campus; Mrs. Humphrey and I made countless trips to the gallery, there was always something new and interesting to be seen. I particularly remember some of the modern art exhibits and the heated discussions they precipitated.
You are to be commended on the magnificent job you have done through the years. I know you must have derived great personal satisfaction from it.
With all the best wishes.
Hubert H. Humphrey
The letter was sent to University Gallery director Ruth Lawrence from then senator and future Vice President of the United States, Hubert H. Humphrey shortly after his first unsuccessful run for president. Humphrey cared enough to write to Lawrence after coming across an article featuring Lawrence in the daily newspaper. The article states:
In the beginning the gallery placed the emphasis on contemporary art and in this was the first among the city’s galleries.
Now it has become what Mrs. Lawrence had planned: the “handmaiden of teaching.” Student shows, faculty show, shows on design, architecture, advertising art and interior decoration are aids to the student as well as pleasant to look at for the casual gallery visitor.
It’s clear from Humphrey’s letter, that included the clipping, that the gallery had fulfilled Lawrence’s instructional mission in meaningful, lasting ways.
I don’t know about you, but if I received a letter out of the blue from one of our senators commending me for a job well done, I would certainly be flattered and I might frame or otherwise show off the letter. From the inclusion of such a glowing letter from a prominent local and national figure in the Publicity Book, one gets the feeling that the books weren’t tucked away in the back of an office but perhaps on display to be perused by students and visitors to the gallery or the Fine Arts Room.
In an archival setting, correspondence of all types are often grouped together within a collection. However, original order is a fundamental principle of archives because it can help define relationships. The Humphrey letter, while unusual for its placement in a Publicity Book, wasn’t misfiled but rather infers that these books were publicly used. Perhaps this letter inside the Publicity Book was almost as visible as a frame on the wall, and so a fitting way to honor Ruth Lawrence and her mission with the gallery.
—Heather Carroll is the processing archivist for the Weisman Art Museum‘s collection at the University of Minnesota Archives. This project was made possible by funds provided by the State of Minnesota from the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund through the Minnesota Historical Society.