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Harvesting the Big Apple in Winona: Museum showcases art about New York City

October 4, 2018

New York City is nowhere near the small Minnesota city of Winona, but for the next five months its presence will be felt there.

The exhibition “This Is New York,” which opened this week at the Minnesota Marine Art Museum, includes 15 paintings depicting the Big Apple, from its early days as a small Dutch colony to its present-day, skyscraper-filled skyline.

You might not expect to find modern-art masters such as Joseph Stella in this Mississippi River town, population 27,000, located about two hours south of the Twin Cities. That surprise is part of the museum’s charm.

“When I am up in the Twin Cities, going to events or just talking to people or colleagues, and I tell them we have two Monets, two Chagalls, two Picassos and two Matisses, they’ll be like, ‘Wait a minute, really?’ ” said executive director Nicole Chamberlain-Dupree.

Two works sparked this New York-centric show: Joseph Stella’s 1922 painting “Study of the Brooklyn Bridge,” a close-up of the mighty steel structure that the museum acquired earlier this year, and Charles Sheeler’s 1932 “View of Central Park,” a bird’s-eye view of Manhattan drawn in Conté crayon, on long-term loan from a private collector.

The show hangs in the museum’s front gallery — “the green gallery,” as it’s called (the walls are painted in Steamed Spinach). “This Is New York” takes viewers back to a different time in the city’s — and America’s — history. Contrast the slowness of boat transport to the islands of New York City in days past with the contemporary experience of speed-walking down a concrete street en route to catch a train.

Contemporary painter L.F. Tantillo’s “East River Waterfront, c. 1662” portrays New Amsterdam, the tiny Dutch colony that became New York. It shows modest one-room houses, windmills, and dirt roads where Wall Street and the Brooklyn Bridge would later be built. It’s possible to see from one side of the island to the other.

Tantillo’s painting “has Dutch ships and they are all accurate,” said Jon Swanson, the museum’s curator of collections and exhibitions. “He lives for this stuff — it is the chase of information that really inspires him.”

Jack Gray’s hyperrealistic painting “Snowfall, the Battery,” showing two red tugboats moored on a wintry day, was painted in the 1950s, when the Canadian-American painter lived and worked on his own boat in New York Harbor.

American genre painter John George Brown’s 1880 painting “A Thrilling Moment” portrays a group of boys energetically catching a fish. It is one of the only pieces in the show that include humans amid landscapes ruled by the mysterious ocean.

Water, water everywhere

Given the theme of the Minnesota Marine Art Museum — “great art inspired by water” — every work has some depiction of liquid H²O. But not every piece has to be Minnesota-centric.

“I’ve entertained doing Chicago-based shows, or Great Lakes,” said Swanson. “I have done a lot of Minnesota ones.”

A native of Duluth, Swanson came to the museum by way of a combined interest in nautical archaeology and art history, in which he holds degrees from Texas AM University and the University of London, respectively.

He worked in the Mediterranean Sea, excavating ships, and spent many summers in Bodrum, Turkey, where the Institute of Nautical Archaeology was founded.

Swanson quit diving 12 years ago, which is when he moved back to Minnesota and joined the museum, which was founded in 2006.

Second Saturday event

The museum’s permanent collection has made it a day-trip destination for art lovers from Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa. Though Chamberlain-Dupree does not foresee any additional physical expansions — the museum has been expanded three times, most recently in 2014 — the team has seen an increase in attendance.

“We saw about 28,000 [visitors] these last two years,” she said. “We want to see that grow.”

The museum received an arts access grant this year from the Minnesota State Arts Board to do Second Saturday programming. Oct. 13 will be the final one of the year, with $1 admission, themed activities and an artist demonstration.

It may not compare to a weekend trip to the Big Apple, but visitors are guaranteed to see the Statue of Liberty as she was in another era.

In John Stobart’s painting “The Statue of Liberty and a Panorama of New York Harbor in 1886,” viewers can see the foredeck of a boat sailing into New York Harbor, with Lady Liberty and the city in the background. Sailors are milling about, awaiting land.

“We tell people, ‘Stobart’s son wanted him to put an empty bottle in his paintings’ and so people are looking at it, trying to find it,” said Swanson.

We cannot tell you where it is, but here’s a hint: Look at the sailor’s pockets.

612-673-4438 • Twitter: @AliciaEler

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