History of the Spring Art Show

The Art Show’s First Ten Years

The origin of the annual art show dates back to 1940 when J. O. Christianson, Director of Agricultural Short Courses, and Walter C. Coffey, Dean of the Department of Agriculture at the University of Minnesota, discussed sponsoring an exhibit of Minnesota’s “unknown rural artists.” The exhibit, they felt, would provide an opportunity for rural artists to exhibit their work at the University and benefit from the interaction and advice from University faculty members. It would be a way to help develop the state’s vast cultural resources.

The first Rural Art Show was held in January of 1945 in the library and second floor corridors of Coffey Hall. A total of 126 items, including paintings, drawings, sculpture and handicraft were exhibited, representing 47 artists from 31 different Minnesota counties.

The second show was delayed to January of 1953, due to the effects of the post-war years. The opening of the second show was part of the dedication ceremony of the new library built on the St. Paul Campus. Entry rules for the second show stated that “any amateur artist living in the country or in a town of less than 2,500 population in Minnesota will be eligible. There is no limit on the number of entries from any one person.” There were so many requests from people who lived in larger communities, that the rules were changed to towns of 10,000, and each artist was limited to 5 entries. The Art Show became part of the University’s annual Farm and Home Week, and the exhibit usually lasted five days. The reading room of the library where the shows were held could accommodate about 125 paintings, so when the fourth show drew in 375 artworks, the rules had to change again, limiting each artist to two entries.

The early shows invited handicrafts as well, but by the fifth show, entries were limited to “fine art.”

The seventh show took place during the state centennial and drew large numbers of works, as a result, the number of entries was changed to one per artist. The many requests to accept artists from larger communities again led to extending the community population restriction to 15,000.

The ninth show was moved to the new Student Center, offering more gallery space and the opportunity to extend the show to ten days. The number of entries had been raised to two again, and the Student Center was filled to over-flowing. The tenth show had more entries than ever (228), and although limited to one per artist, the space at the Center was again over-crowded.

The MRAA is formed

In 1959, at one of the meetings at the eighth art show, the Minnesota Rural Artists Association (now named Artists of Minnesota) was formed. The activities of the new organization would be to publish a newsletter, exchange information among rural artists and rural art groups, and sponsor rural art clinics and shows. The group continued to work closely with the Rural Art Show committee at the University.

The Minnesota Rural Artists Association launched the first show of its own in June of 1974. The show generated a lot of energy and excitement in the group which had, by that time, dwindled in size. Much of the enthusiasm leading up to the show was centered around the fact that the show would be unjuried and because it would be for members only!

The show was held in Appleton and the judge for that first show was a well-known artist and art instructor from Duluth, John L. Peyton.