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Richard Hillstrom at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts,1993. Star Tribune photo by Rita Reed
The Rev. Richard Hillstrom, a Lutheran minister who parlayed a modest salary, a discerning eye and a passion for American art into a museum-quality collection, died at his home in Edina on Dec. 16. His health had been failing in recent weeks, and his death was announced by Gary Langness, a longtime friend. He was 99.
Though Hillstrom devoted his long professional career to the ministry, it was as an art collector that he made his most enduring mark on the culture of Minnesota. His most important legacy is likely to be the collection of about 250 American modernist paintings and drawings that he donated to his namesake Hillstrom Museum of Art at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, his alma mater.
Over the years he also gave the museum an endowment totaling $1.5 million as of 2012. Asked how a minister could amass so much money, he credited smart investing through Lutheran Brotherhood (now Thrivent Financial) at a time when the stock market was strong, according to the Gustavus Quarterly.
He was also founding curator of the Lutheran Brotherhood (now Thrivent Financial) art collection which features Old Master prints and drawings on Christian themes by Albrecht Durer, Rembrandt and others.
Starting in the 1940s when Hillstrom was ministering to a parish in the hard-scrabble steel milling town of Gary, Indiana, he would visit the Art Institute of Chicago on his days off and then poke through the city's galleries and antique shops where he was drawn to paintings by Swedish American artists. His budget was extremely modest, and he later recalled the guilt he felt at having bought, for $5 each, original lithographs by Grant Wood, John Steuart Curry and Thomas Hart Benton, three of the country's leading regionalists. Each of those prints would be worth thousands now but, at the time, his $15 purchase felt like a fortune on a minister's salary.
Over his 70 year career, Hillstrom amassed a refined and important collection of paintings by early 20th century American modernists Maurice Prendergast, Guy Pene du Bois, Everett Shinn, John Twachtman, Willard Metcalf and Reginald Marsh plus prints and drawings by John Sloan, Grant Wood, George Luks and Edward Hopper among others.
The Minneapolis Institute of Arts staged a show of his collection in 1993, and he gave pieces of art to the Institute as well as to the Weisman Art Museum, the Minnesota Historical Society, the American Swedish Institute and the Minnesota Museum of American Art among other venues.
"I admired Rick greatly, both for his deep, self-taught knowledge of art and for his supportive friendship," said Donald Myers, director of the Hillstrom Museum at Gustavus." He was eager to make it possible for others to be affected by art in the way that he was. And he was always happy to guide and encourage friends in their interest in collecting art and in supporting art institutions.
"He was a great mentor and friend to me, always ready with encouragement and advice but never insistent on having things done just his way," Myers continued. "He enjoyed his friends and loved to be able to joke with and tease them and have the same kind of good-natured ribbing come his way."
Born in Dassel, Minn, a town of 800 about 50 miles west of the Twin Cities, Hillstrom and his four brothers were first generation Americans, their parents Alma and Martin Hillstrom having immigrated from Sweden to the United States. Following his 1938 graduation from Gustavus Adolphus College, he studied theology and was ordained as a Lutheran minister in 1942.
After serving the Gary parish for five years during World War II, he was an assistant minister at Mount Olivet Lutheran Church in Minneapolis for five years. He spent the bulk of his career, 30 years, as chaplain at St. Paul's Bethesda Lutheran Medical Center from which he retired in 1982. In retirement he went on to establish the Lutheran Brotherhood (now Thrivent) art collection which has toured exhibitions to communities and churches throughout the Midwest.
At the time of the 1993 Minneapolis Institute of Arts exhibit, his friend Edward Lindell, a senior vice president of Lutheran Brotherhood, said that Hillstrom's generosity was characteristic of a man who was by temperament "a great mixture of art sophistication and Lutheran piety."
Robert Stearns, who headed Walker Art Center's performing arts department from 1982 - 1988, died December 3 at his home in Palm Springs, Ca after a brief illness. He was 67.
While working at the Walker, Stearns was the executive producer of the Minneapolis workshop and concert performances of "The Gospel at Colonus," a contemporary reimagining of Sophocles' "Oedipus at Colonus," directed by Lee Breuer and composed by Bob Telson. Co-produced by the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the show was presented as part of the 1983 Next Wave Festival. It subsequently toured internationally from 1984 - 1988.
In 1984 he was executive producer for the Walker's staging of "the Knee Plays for the CIVIL warS: a tree is best measured when it is down," directed by Robert Wilson with music by David Byrne.
During his Walker tenure Stearns also oversaw performances and residencies by such Walker stalwarts as John Cage, Spalding Gray, Ntozake Shange, William Burroughs, Robert Bly, Fab Five Freddy, the Trisha Brown Dance Company and the Merce Cunningham Dance Company.
Stearns left the Walker in 1988 to become the first director of the Wexner Center for the Arts which was still under construction at Ohio State University in Columbus. Exhibitions organized under his leadership include a series surveying art in Europe and America beginning with the 1950s and '60s, followed by the 1970s and '80s, and wrapping up with "New Works for New Spaces: Into the Nineties."
In 1992 he established Stearns + Associates, a Columbus-based firm providing curatorial and arts programming to galleries, arts councils and festivals throughout the country. The firm produced the exhibition "Photography and Beyond in Japan: Space, Time and Memory," which opened at the Hara Museum of Contemporary Art in Tokyo in November 1994 and subsequently toured to the Museo Rufino Tamayo, Mexico City; Vancouver Art Gallery, Vancouver, BC and was presented in the United States at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., the Denver Art Museum and the Contemporary Art Museum in Honolulu.
Over the following decades, Stearns' exhibitions focused on Ohio artists, early-American painting, artists from Mexico City, and visions of the American heartland.
While based in Columbus, Stearns retained ties to Minnesota, serving from 2000 - 2006 as senior program director and curator for Arts Midwest, a Minneapolis-based non-profit that produces exhibitions and programs that travel throughout the Midwest.
"Robert was an extremely gifted curator," said David Fraher, president and CEO of Arts Midwest, in a statement. "He was quirky, erudite, curious, and extraordinarily thorough with his research. He was also so very bright and passionate about his work, the artists he worked with, and the projects he built."
Fraher credited Stearns with helping Arts Midwest expand and strengthen its ability to produce international programs and exhibitions.
Prior to arriving in Minnesota, Stearns worked in New York first as assistant director of the influential Paula Cooper Gallery (1970-72) and then at The Kitchen (1973-77), a pioneer in video and installation art. He was director of Cincinnati's Contemporary Arts Center from 1978-1982. He graduated from the University of California, San Diego in 1970.
A celebration of his life was held Dec.10 in Palm Springs.
Winton Guest House at Gainey Conference Center, Owatona. Photo by Mike Ekern, provided by University of St. Thomas.
When the Winton Guest house was moved from Orono to Owatonna in 2008, the sculptural building was cut into eight pieces, the largest of which weighed 80 tons. Then the sections were hoisted onto trucks and slowly moved to the Daniel C. Gainey Conference Center, a pastoral southern Minnesota site owned by the University of St. Thomas. There it was reassembled and used as a meeting site.
At the rededication of the building in 2011, the designer, internationally acclaimed Los Angeles architect Frank Gehry, praised the movers for having done "an incredible job" that was "93.6 percent right."
Now the 2,300 square foot house has to be moved once again. The University of St. Thomas sold the conference center in August to Meridian Behavioral Health which plans to use the 180 acre site as a residential treatment center for "people with addictive diseases and behavoral disorders."
The Winton Guest house was excluded from the 2014 sale with the proviso that St. Thomas must move it by the end of August 2016. Where it will go has not been decided. Options include moving it to the University's St. Paul campus or selling it to a deep-pocketed architecture buff willing move it somewhere else.
Gehry designed the unusual building in 1987 for Twin Cities arts patrons Mike and Penny Winton. Its distinctive shape -- including a pyramid-shaped living room sheathed in black-painted metal, a garage/kitchenette covered in plywood, a brick fireplace room, a limestone-clad bedroom -- won immediate acclaim and an honor award from the American Institute of Architects.
When the Wintons sold their 11 acre property overlooking Lake Minnetonka in 2002, buyer Kurt Woodhouse subdivided and sold off the site which included a main house designed by Philip Johnson. He donated the guest house to St. Thomas, stipulating that it be removed. The move took two years and reassembling the pieces another year.
Architect Frank Gehry with arts patron Penny Winton at rededication of the Guest House, August 31, 2011, in Owatonna. Photo provided by University of St. Thomas, Thomas Whisenand, photographer.
Give your holiday date a weekend of la dolce vita at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. The museum is extending the weekend hours of its popular show "Italian Style: Fashion Since 1945." The exhibit will remain open until 9 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 26 and Saturday, Dec. 27 and again the following weekend, Friday, Jan. 2 and Sat. Jan. 3. The show closes Sunday, Jan. 4.
For ticket information: artsmia.org
In the aftermath of W.W.II, with its cities in ruins and industries struggling, Italy turned to fashion and design to help revive its economy. Exhibitions of sleek, efficient and stylish modern Italian housewares toured the United States, offering Americans a glimpse of Eurostyle that helped bring good design to the masses. Fashion, too, was enlisted in the revitalization program with designers in Florence, Rome and Milan turning out glorious evening wear and chic sports ensembles that brought casual glamor to Middle America.
Organized by the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, "Italian Style" features about 100 ensembles from the V&A collection. Spanning more than 70 years, it includes gowns worn on screen by film stars (Audrey Hepburn, et al) plus pieces from such prominent fashion houses as Valentino, Armani, Gucci, Fendi, Pucci, Prada, Missoni, Dolce and Gabbana and trend setters young and old. The show will travel to the Portland Art Museum in Portland, OR and the Frist Center for the Visual Arts, Nashville, following its Minneapolis presentation.
Star Tribune file photos of Mildred "Mickey" Friedman
Mildred "Mickey" Friedman, the influential Walker Art Center design curator who died in September at 85, was remembered this week in New York City for her samba, her style, her curiosity, and her quiet grace. About 100 A-list artists (Chuck Close, Claes Oldenburg, Christo, Judith Shea), architects (Hugh Hardy, Billie Tsien, Frank Gehry), museum directors (Sam Sachs, Frick emeritus; Adam Weinberg, Whitney; Olga Viso, Walker) and past and present Walker friends gathered at the Century Association on a rainy Monday evening.
Former Walker curator Dean Swanson recalled dancing the samba with her on a "glamorous dance floor in Rio" in 1963 when they were helping Friedman's husband Martin, then the Walker's director, prepare a show of American art that took grand prize at that year's Sao Paulo biennial. With a nod to the Friedmans' long marriage (she died on their 65th birthday), Tsien compared "smart, tough, rational" Mickey to the character Rosalind Russell played opposite mischievous, fast-talking Cary Grant (Martin) in the classic 1940 film "His Girl Friday."
Recalling the "quiet grace and gentle beauty of a loving friend," Gehry took a jib at a Manhattan institution when he credited her with always "searching for uncharted water, unlike MOMA." Lise Friedman, eldest of the couple's three daughters, observed that one of their mom's "most important lessons was always to make an extra place at the table when someone unexpectedly comes."
After Hardy led toasts to the Friedmans, the crowd munched hors d'oeuvres, including a high-style version of that old Midwestern standard, "pigs-in-a-blanket" (puff pastry, no cheese, Dijon mustard).
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