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: An Autumn of Architecture


Christopher Monkhouse



Institution Minneapolis Institute of Arts
The Minneapolis Institute of Arts has had ties to the Prairie School (an architectural movement led by Frank Lloyd Wright) since 1914. In that year, Francis Little had just moved into a late Prairie School masterpiece by Frank Lloyd Wright, located on the shores of Lake Minnetonka. Coincidentally, in 1914 he also became a member of the Institute's board of trustees.The Wright connection was reinforced in 1917, when Little gave the museum its first Japanese prints—a magnificent set of Ando Hiroshige's Tokaido Road woodblock prints, which he had obtained from Wright. (Selected examples of prints formerly owned by Wright will be on view in the Asian galleries throughout the fall, along with ceramics formerly in his collection, including a Chinese roof tile and a Korean dragon jar donated by Louis Hill, Jr. in the 1980s.)Little died in 1923, but the Minnetonka house continued to shelter members of his family for the next fifty years. In 1972, however, this Prairie School home no longer met the family's needs, and it was sold to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York with the understanding that it would be dismantled. The Metropolitan retained the magnificent music room for reinstallation in its American Wing, while selling other parts of the building to museums and collectors. The Minneapolis Institute of Arts purchased the corridor leading to the master bedroom with money from the David Draper Dayton Fund. Although acquired in 1972, the corridor was not on view—except for temporary installations in 1982 and 1994—until the Institute established a gallery in 1998 to showcase its Prairie School collection.The acquisition of the bedroom corridor had bittersweet overtones in the early 1970s—after all, a beautiful local landmark had been demolished. It has subsequently served as a catalyst for the Institute's acquiring additional Prairie School material designed by Wright, Louis Sullivan, William Purcell, George Elmslie, and George Maher. The development of a Prairie School collection over the past three decades, and now a gallery in which to display it, has meant that the Institute can address an era when the Midwest was in the forefront of progressive design, not only in this country but throughout the world.Of all the Prairie School acquisitions made since 1972, 2328 Lake Place here in Minneapolis, now known as the Purcell-Cutts house, is the jewel in the collection's crown. Designed in 1911-13 by William Purcell as a residence for himself, with the assistance of his partner George Elmslie, the home had only one subsequent owner, whose son, Anson Cutts, Jr., willed it to the Institute in 1985. The Institute then undertook a major restoration, overseen by Michael Conforti, head of the Department of Decorative Arts at the time, and the architectural firm of MacDonald and Mack. The funds Cutts left for the restoration were supplemented by generous donations from Kenneth and Judy Dayton, the Decorative Arts Council, Gabberts Furniture & Design Studio, and the Friends of the Institute, all of whom continue to be vital partners with the Institute on projects concerning architecture and design. The Purcell-Cutts house opened to the public in 1990, and this year the Institute is celebrating a decade of welcoming visitors to Purcell's home. One of the great challenges a museum faces with an off-site property is making sure it receives the attention it deserves. In order to meet this challenge, the Institute, with the gift of funds from Kenneth and Judy Dayton, commissioned David Swanson of Construct Studios in 1996 to make a detailed scale model of the house, which has become a focal point of the Prairie School gallery. In addition, a virtual tour of the Purcell-Cutts house, created by the museum's Interactive Media Department, can be viewed in an adjacent gallery. And with the publication this September of Progressive Design in the Midwest: The Purcell-Cutts House and the Prairie School Collection at The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, made possible by a generous grant from the Target Corporation, there is now a book to serve as both a guide to the Purcell-Cutts house and a catalogue for the Prairie School collection at the Institute. Jennifer Komar Olivarez, Assistant Curator in the Department of Decorative Arts, Sculpture, and Architecture, wrote this most welcome volume, with the assistance of Cori Wegener. The distinguished historian and St. Paul native Roger Kennedy contributed an introductory essay titled "On Being a Progressive Client."If visitors to the museum this summer found the Prairie School gallery often under wraps, there was good reason. A personal leadership gift by Target Corporation Chairman Bob Ulrich, as well as support from the Target Corporation made it possible to enhance the gallery even further by installing several recent acquisitions, including a skylight from Purcell and Elmslie's Madison State Bank and architectural elements from Chicago buildings designed by Louis Sullivan. This activity could not be more timely because the Institute is serving as one of the principal hosts for the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy, which is holding its annual meeting in the Twin Cities September 20-24, 2000. In fact, following the keynote address in Pillsbury Auditorium on September 21, the Prairie School gallery will be formally dedicated as the Ulrich Architecture and Design Gallery in recognition of Bob Ulrich's extraordinary commitment to these areas at the Institute.To honor the Frank Lloyd Wright Conservancy's visit, the Institute, with guest curator Jane King Hession, has mounted an exhibition titled "John Howe in Minnesota: The Prairie School Legacy of Frank Lloyd Wright," made possible by a generous grant from Gabberts Furniture & Design Studio. This pioneering survey of the man who has been called "the pencil in Frank Lloyd Wright's hand" consists of nearly one hundred drawings and related objects generously lent by the Northwest Architectural Archives at the University of Minnesota and from private collections. As a charter member of Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin Fellowship, Howe, with his extraordinary graphic skills, was in charge of Wright's drafting room from 1937 until Wright's death in 1959. In 1967, Howe established an architecture practice in Minneapolis, and over the next twenty-five years he designed and built more than eighty buildings in Minnesota. His work was primarily residential, including a house for himself and wife Lu overlooking a lake in Burnsville. Howe designed his buildings to respect and reinforce the surrounding landscape. As a result, Howe's residences are among the finest examples of organic architecture in the state and worthy heirs to the Prairie School and Frank Lloyd Wright.Christopher Monkhouse is the James Ford Bell Curator in the Department of Decorative Arts, Sculpture, and Architecture at The Minneapolis Institute of Arts.John Howe in Minnesota: The Prairie School Legacy of Frank Lloyd Wright
September 2, 2000-January 7, 2001
Galleries 242 and 243
This exhibition is supported by our architecture and design partner, Gabberts Furniture & Design Studio.Related ImagesLiving Room of the Purcell-Cutts House, Minneapolis, Minnesota, showing mural by Charles Livingston Bull. A detailed scale model of the Purcell-Cutts House, created by David Swanson in 1996, is on view in the Ulrich Architecture and Design Gallery on the third floor at the Institute. This architectural rendering by John Howe of his home, "Sankaku" will be included in the exhibition "John Howe in Minnesota: The Prairie School Legacy of Frank Lloyd Wright." Progressive Design in the Midwest, by Jennifer Komar Olivarez, is available in the Museum Shop.
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Source: Christopher Monkhouse, "An Autumn of Architecture: A gallery dedication, a new book, a special exhibition, and related programs celebrate Midwestern architecture at the Institute," <i>Arts</i> 23, no. 7 (September 2000): 6-8.
Rights: ©MIA
Added to Site: March 10, 2009