December 21, 2017

The gift of a letter

Photo by Don Wong.

While processing the archival collection of the Weisman Art Museum, I stumbled upon a heartwarming exchange between a UMN Ph. D candidate and Frederick R. Weisman himself. Copies of the letters dated July 21, 1993 and July 26, 1993 are in a folder amidst other reactions to the newly built Gehry-designed museum building.

Dear Mr. Weisman,  (Although I must tell you, I think of you as Fred)

Quite simply, I am too old to be writing a letter like this. But since I have never before written one, and since the intensity of my pleasure and gratitude seem to warrant some sort of excess, I hope you will forgive a little gushing.

What I want to do is thank you for my building. The University of Minnesota Art Museum. It is very much my building. And it is one of the most treasured gifts I have ever been given. I take a walk every afternoon, and leave, all year, leaving lectures still only half written, dissertation notes open on my desk, student papers ungraded, the  cooking, organizing, trimming, tending, all suspended. I leave, that is, my real world, cross campus, and walk back. and forth across the Washington Avenue bridge several times. My reaction is the same every day. I am each day astounded at the beauty, the humour, the complexity, the sweetness, of the building you have given me. I smile, I laugh, I feel peaceful and refreshed. I frequently have insights about my researcher; if it turns out to be anything other than prosaic, this dissertation I am wrestling with, it will be because your building, my building, shakes me, allows me to let go a little, lets me giggle, helps me understand what is beyond describing.

Weisman, touched by the letter, wrote back immediately.

Dear [Ph. D candidate], (although I think, of you as my good friend)

I received your letter today and I’m answering you today. In fact, I’ve put aside all other matters simply to answer your letter.

Your letter is a gift to me. I have received many letters from the citizens of Minneapolis, (all, thank heavens, praising the museum.) None, however, have caused tears to come to my eyes as yours did. You pay me a great honor and I shall cherish and keep your letter as the lovely tribute that it is.

I hope the Frederick R. Weisman Museum of Art will continue to make you happy, to help you chuckle, to make your days a little more exciting when everything seems rather mundane and tiresome. It will bring an added dimension to the pleasure I derive from the museum while living many miles away in California.

Thank you for your dear letter.


Frederick R. Weisman

As I rush about this holiday season, I will try remember to stop and appreciate the gifts all around, like the walk across the Washington bridge with the view of an ever-changing, inspiring building.


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.

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