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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."
Miranda Brandon's "Impact (Warbler)" photo was made in 2013 and has been shown at Soo Visual Arts Center.
The Minneapolis College of Art and Design has picked five Midwestern artists as winners of the 2014/15 Jerome Foundation Fellowships for Emerging Artists. Each will receive $12,000 and have various professional opportunities during the fellowship year.
Chosen from 252 applicants, the winners are Miranda Brandon, a bird-enthusiast who photographs and rehabilitates injured birds; Regan Golden-McNerney, who uses altered photos and drawings to document ecological change in the landscape; Jess Hirsch, a sculptor and installation artist concerned about health and healing; Sieng Lee, an installation designer drawing on his refugee experiences as a first-generation Hmong American; and Jason Ramey, a sculptor intrigued by roadside signage and backyard furniture.
Judges were Candida Alvarez, an artist and professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago; Shannon Fitzgerald, curator and executive director of the Rochester Art Center, and David Norr, a New York City-based writer/curator.
During the fellowship term, the emergees will meet with visiting critics, participate in a group show opening in fall of 2015 at the MCAD Gallery, have an essay written about their work, and participate in a panel discussion.
Allen Christian surveys which art to put up for sale this weekend in his crowded House of Balls before moving the studio to a larger space.
The House of Balls is rolling down the road to a new and bigger home, so owner Allen Christian is having a moving sale this weekend. After 28 years in the North Loop (current studio location is 212 Third Ave. N., across from the Monte Carlo), the artist/ oracle-on-demand is setting up shop just off the Cedar/Riverside LRT station in a much higher-profile spot, a 2,800-square foot building, most recently home to the underground music club Medusa, that features twice the space he currently has plus a 1/3-acre outdoor plot for larger-scale work.
To habitues of the Warehouse District, the House of Balls has been much more than your average gallery or studio. Opening hours were random, but you could push buttons on the door that would light up figures inside and allow passersby to record messages or hear Christian's answers to life's knottiest questions.
Christian, whose signature carved bowling balls have expanded to all sorts of sculpture and multimedia works made with recycled everything, said he sees the move as a way to “just let everything go and re-create myself.” The sale is noon- 8p.m. Fri. and Sat. p.m. ,with more than 120 artworks plus art materials priced between $30 and $3,000.
Over the years, the House of Balls has attracted curious people of all stripes — most recently, with the addition of Target Field and sports bars to the neighborhood, people looking to buy baseballs and footballs, a trend likely to skyrocket when the new Vikings stadium, from which the new House of Balls site is visible, is finished. No worries, says Christian. “Once you get them across the threshold, you’ve got a chance to start conversations about everything from repurposing all the stuff that’s around them to what they’re doing with their lives,” Christian said. “If they’ve got the balls.” If they don’t, he’s got some to spare.
Elizabeth Armstrong, Minneapolis Institute of Arts curator. Star Tribune photo by Marlin Levison
A dynamic personality who brought a casual style and keen intellect to her job, Armstrong joined the Minneapolis museum in August 2008 to head a new department of contemporary art and to serve as the museum's assistant director for exhibitions and programs, then a new post. The museum had previously collected contemporary art, but in a haphazard way that left huge gaps in its holdings along with masterpieces by Francis Bacon, Chuck Close, Philip Guston, Frank Stella, Cy Twombly and others.
Armstrong focused the acquisition program on contemporary works that extended or interacted in unexpected ways with the museum's holdings of traditional art. Key purchases included a photo by Yinke Shonibare, a British-Nigerian photographer whose staged pictures pose provocative questions about colonialism among other issues.
At the MIA Armstrong also founded the Center for Alternative Museum Practice (CAMP), a department that experiments with fresh ways to mix contemporary and traditional art and to engage the public in its appreciation and understanding. She raised $4 million for new acquisitions and curated a number of key exhibitions including "Global Remix I," " What is Sacred?," "More Real: Art in the Age of Truthiness," and "Until Now: Collecting the New (1960-2010)."
In Palm Springs she will oversee a museum that operates from three sites. The main facility is the Palm Springs Art Museum, a 150,000 sq ft. building in the city's center. That entity has a satelite of the same name in Palm Desert and an Architecture and Design Center, Edwards Harris Pavilion which just opened just opened on Sunday, Nov. 9.
Armstrong succeeds Dr. Steven Nash who oversaw the Palm Springs museum's growth starting in 2007. He is responsible for adding the two satellite locations.
Prior to her tenure at the MIA, Armstrong was Acting Director and Chief Curator at the Orange County Museum of Art (2001-2008) and Senior Curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art in San Diego (1996-2001). She spent 14 years at Walker Art Center as an associate curator (1982-1996), and before that worked in various capacities doing research and curatorial assistance at museums in Berkeley and San Francisco, California and as a grants administrator at the National Endowment for the Humanities in Washington, D. C. She earned a B. A. in American Studies from Hampshire College in Amherst, MA and a M.A. in art history from the University of California, Berkeley.
Among Armstrong's award winning publications are the books Birth of the Cool: California Art, Design, and Culture at Midcentury, and American Moderns: Villa America, 1900-1950 which showcased highlights from the collection of the late Myron Kunin, a Minneapolis-based arts patron and influential mentor to Armstrong and others.
Alexa Horochowski's 2014 installation at The Soap Factory. Star Tribune photo by Tom Sweeney
A lot has changed in the 25 years since The Soap Factory art complex started life as No Name Exhibitions.The popoular outpost for Halloween fun and experimental art is celebrating its quarter century anniversary with a benefit party from 6 p.m. to midnight, Saturday, Nov. 15 in its cavernous, brick-and-timber warehouse, a former soap factory, at 514 S.E. Second St., Minneapolis.
The Factory's presence there has been a spur to development in what is now a fast-gentrifying neighborhood near the Mississippi River. Back in 1989, what is now a rough-hew home to avant garde art was still a functioning factory.
"There have been a lot of changes in this building," said Ben Heywood, executive director of The Soap Factory. "Back then they were literally melting down animals and turning them into fat and then throwing lye into it and turning it into soap."
Back then a group of local artists banded together and started No Name Exhibitions in another quasi derelict building known as the Skunk House. On the opposite side of the Mississippi and just west of Hennepin Av., the Skunk House was subsequently acquired by the Federal Reserve bank to house its air conditioning plant, Heywood said. No Name then moved into the bottling house of the former Grain Belt Brewery and from there to the Soap Factory in 1995.
"Our exhibition space went from 600 square feet to 50,000 square feet when we moved here, so that's a big change," Heywood said.
The Factory building is still pretty raw, but it too has changed over the years. Now, for example, it has bathrooms. And in January it will add heating and air conditioning for the basement and first floor. Previously the place closed in winter months when there was no heat.
Other improvements include the addition of a permanent staff, rather than volunteers who ran the place until 2002. With staff came a year-round exhibition and performance program. And the ever-popular Haunted Basement Halloween shindig. And now the 25th anniversary party.
Billed as a "day of citywide fun," the anniversary committee may have overpromised a bit. There won't be hot air balloons or marching bands on Nicollet Mall, much as Heywood would love such stuff. By "city-wide" they mean art impressario and cultural gadabout Andy Sturdevant leading a Soap Factory History tour starting at 3 p.m. Saturday in a vintage bus that will roll past previous Factory locales.
"Andy is a city-wide celebration in himself," Heywood explained. Indeed.
The Factory invited 9,000 people to the shindig and expects a good turn out.
"We can hold 700 people on the first floor and we should have a full house," Heywood said.
Party goers can expect Beatrix* JAR and Solid Gold to kick off the event with DJs Diarrhea (Jackie Beckey) and Christopher Saint Christopher (Christopher Allen) commanding the dance floor and emcee Ian Rans running the show.
There will be complimentary cocktails by Bittercube, gourmet nibbles from Fabulous Catering and Common Roots catering, small plates from Tilia, Heyday, Haute Dish, Third Bird, and the University of MN College of Design. Plus art by Aaron Dysart and Andy DuCett. Performances by artist Jaime Carrera and theater company Live Action Set. Plus an auction, of course.
(Party 6 p.m. to midnight, Nov, 15, tickets $50 to $2,000. The Soap Factory, 514 Second St. S.E., Mpls. For tickets: www.soapfactory.org)
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