Kristin Wigley-Fleming Art Fine Arts Gallery, Center for the Arts
February 1 - March 20, 2008
(Note: A full history of the Luther College Fine Arts Festivals, from which the following material is drawn, was written by Jane Kemp and published in the Fall 2007 issue of Agora.)
In 1957, the Wisillminowas (WIMIS) organization, one of four newly-organized men’s societies at Luther College, originated the idea for an eight-day event which they called a Fine Arts Festival. It was intended to include representative events from the worlds of music, drama, art, and literature and feature luminaries representing one or more of these fields. An important part of the Festival was a professional art exhibit and competition arranged under the supervision of Art Department faculty member Ernest Schwidder, teaching at Luther as a one-year sabbatical replacement. The purpose of the exhibit was “to establish a tradition of the college as the cultural center of the community and the founding of a permanent collection of contemporary and local American art.”
Rules for the first art competition, which ultimately became guiding principles for all the succeeding Fine Arts Festival Exhibitions, were that only two works in any two-dimensional medium of painting, drawing or printmaking were permitted entry by professional artists from Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin or Illinois. Purchase prizes of up to $400 were awarded by the discretion of a jury.
What begun with such promise in 1957, continued to some degree for the next 10 years, finally ending in March 1967. The final art exhibit related to the Festivals was held in December 1968. Orville Running, who supervised all but the first Festival art exhibits, remembered when interviewed in 1991, that the Festival exhibits had run their course since no one had the will to continue to shoulder the responsibility for planning and implementing them.
The single most enduring legacy of the Fine Arts Festivals was the greatly expanded collection of art works acquired for the College as a direct result of these exhibits. When the Festivals began, the entire College art collection numbered fewer than 100 pieces and was exclusively dependent on gifts and donations. The Fine Arts Festivals literally doubled that number and marked the first intentional purchases of art by the College to supplement its holdings.
Five works were purchased for the College from the first exhibit. Eventually, 100 art works were acquired during the decade of the Fine Arts Festivals. This group of works, now called the Fine Arts Festival Collection, is officially considered a “named collection” within the greater Luther College Fine Arts Collection. A full description of the Fine Arts Festival Collection can be found on the Fine Arts Collection website, http://finearts.luther.edu.
An additional legacy of the Fine Arts Festivals may also be linked to the adoption of art as a major at Luther College. While art had been taught for many years at the College, with Norwegian-American artist Herbjørn Gausta recorded as already teaching art at Luther in 1876/87, it did not become a major until 1958. Moved from place to place on campus, the art department studios moved to Korsrud that same year when a student, writing in Chips, noted that, “Entering the door is to enter a new world, the world of art and art students striving toward the newest major concentration offered by the College, that of art or art education.” Korsrud Annex was utilized for teaching pottery. Orville M. Running, reminiscing in 1986, commented that when the proposal for an art major was submitted to the Faculty Senate, it “passed with much good will.”