t. Paul’s best kept secret

by Joe Carlson

The hustle of academic life in the hallways of the St. Paul Student Center dissolves within the gentle light and soft music surrounding the puffy, colorful artifacts in the Paul Whitney Larson Gallery.
Just across Buford circle on the second floor of McNeal Hall, sunlight angles through the glass walls of the Goldstein Gallery, striking the nearly completed exhibit of vibrant African-American quilts.
“Art is a way to realize that school isn’t just about books and facts,” said Larson Gallery student curator Heather Holland, a senior in art history.
But many students and faculty members never take advantage of the galleries in St. Paul, especially students whose regular class schedules in Minneapolis never take them across the four-mile divide between the campuses.
“I would say that every time I mention this (gallery) people are surprised,” said Larson Gallery employee Theresa Winge, a junior majoring in fashion design.
But even many St. Paul students don’t realize that the galleries are there. “I tell people, ‘Hey, you should come to the gallery,’ and they say, ‘Where’s that?’ They don’t know it’s here,” said Larson Gallery employee Beth Anderson, a freshman majoring in environmental science.
One reason may be the galleries’ location.
At first, the St. Paul campus might seem an unlikely site for two of the four art galleries on campus. Only about 3,800 of the 37,000 students on the Twin Cities campus attend classes in St. Paul. Also, formerly known as the Farm campus, St. Paul has a reputation of focusing on agricultural research and education.
But the decision to locate the galleries in St. Paul was not a random one. The concentration of students and faculty members using the St. Paul Student Center is high — more than 5,000 people enter the building each day, according to the student center — making it an ideal location for a gallery. “What better place for an art gallery than a student center?” Holland said.
The Goldstein Gallery is part of the College of Human Ecology, which is located on the St. Paul campus. “We are (associated with) the department of Design, Housing, and Apparel,” said Goldstein Gallery Administrative Fellow Fancy Trice, a graduate student in the College of Human Ecology. “It seems like a logical place for a gallery.”
Also, the presence of art is helping to expand St. Paul’s image beyond agriculture. “This gallery gives the student an opportunity to connect with things that are not often a part of this campus,” Winge said.
The Larson Gallery, located in a recessed room behind the Buford Avenue entrance to the student center, is funded by student services fees and houses diverse arts of various University and community artists.
“The gallery is a way of getting students to share a common interest,” said Larson volunteer Lisa Connelly, an art history junior.
“This gallery defies the stereotypical gallery image as stark and haughty. It is a very comfortable space,” Holland said.
“This gallery is St. Paul’s best hidden secret,” she said.
In fact, many people are unaware that the Larson is as much a student lounge as an art gallery, with seating for about 15 people and four music listening stations. “It’s a multi-purpose space,” Holland said. “As well as being an art gallery, it is a music listening center.”
The center boasts a collection of almost 3,000 titles in 16 genres of music. Visitors are encouraged to bring in their own music as well.
But the music collection isn’t the only thing in the gallery that is diverse. Gallery planners try to select a variety of artists and styles when they review artists’ exhibit applications.
“We’ve done a solid wall show, but that wasn’t as successful. We try and get a mixed-media use of space.” said Larson Gallery volunteer Susan Doerr, a University graduate with a degree in art history. A wall show is one in which every piece of art hangs from the walls, rather than resting on pedestals and tables.
The current exhibit, which opened Sunday, features the colorful and intricate fabric artistry of clothing design senior Jill Fuerstenberg.
“Someone saw all my art hanging in my place and they suggested that I talk to the gallery and have a show,” Fuerstenberg said. “Everything I have on display are things that I’ve been working on throughout my college career.”
Larson attracts a wide range of visitors, from regular students and staff members to people who come to see movies at The Theatre across the hall. Their reasons for stopping by are as varied as the visitors themselves. “The general public come for the art, but students come for everything,” Winge said.
Others simply come for the music and relaxing atmosphere.
“I get a number of people who come in quite regularly who could care less about what art is on the wall,” Winge said.
The gallery is named after a former student center director who was active in fostering an appreciation for the arts among students.
“Paul Whitney Larson was the first director of the student center, and it was started because of his dedication to the arts,” Holland said.
The gallery is dedicated to the students it serves. Not only does the gallery display student art, but the committee that plans and implements the galleries’ programs is composed entirely of students.
“A gallery for the students by the students,” Connelly said.
“The people that actually choose the art and hang the art are students,” Holland said. “Students know what programs are going to be successful because students know what students will want to see.”
Although the Larson gallery is concerned with students’ downtime, the Goldstein Gallery is committed to education and cultural enrichment.
“We really should be called the Goldstein museum,” said Goldstein Gallery Director Sue Baizerman.
“We’re trying to offer an interpretive approach to culture. … We want to understand the meaning of objects to culture,” she said. “What is the meaning of these objects in people’s lives?”
“It’s not fine art,” said Lois Haugerud, president of Friends of the Goldstein Gallery. “It’s art that you find everyday.”
The gallery is named for former faculty members Harriet and Vetta Goldstein, “two women who promoted the practical beauty of everyday objects, like costumes and textiles … and other utilitarian objects form many different cultures,” Trice said.
Baizerman said that the concept of art in day-to-day life is consistent with the general goals of the St. Paul campus. “Traditionally, the roots of the campus have been in practical fields,” such as design, agriculture, and veterinary medicine. “The art in everyday philosophy exhibits that.”
The Goldstein houses innovative exhibits and has been one step ahead of museums across the country since it opened, Baizerman said. “The trend in the last five years is to get away from studying objects in the backroom and get out into the community.”
“We want our collection to be used,” Baizerman said.
Not only does the gallery lend parts of its 12,000-item collection for use in University classes, but it also stages shows outside of the University. For example, the Goldstein exhibited its collection of 1920s fashions at Dayton’s last quarter.
Currently, the Goldstein is between shows. The next exhibit, scheduled to open Feb. 2., is called “Who’d A Thought It: Improvisation in African-American Quiltmaking.”
“Quilting shows are kind of a staple of the Goldstein,” Trice said.
But “Who’d A Thought It” is unique in that it is a touring exhibit, visiting from the San Francisco Craft and Folk Art Museum. Most of the shows are extensively planned and coordinated by University faculty members and students. The previous exhibit, on fashion in the ’20s, took more than two years to plan.
“One of the biggest problems we have is with mannequins,” Baizerman said. “When we did a Korean show, we took casts of (Korean) student’s faces and made the mannequins.”
The gallery space is redesigned for each exhibit with specially made display shelving and furniture. “We approach it as a three-dimensional design problem,” Baizerman said. “We’ve done over 100 exhibits. … It’s kind of a challenge to make the space look different each time.”