Minnesota lost one of its great citizens when Angus Wurtele passed away on Sunday, September 3, 2017.
Angus was born in Minneapolis in 1934. At 27 he succeeded his father as president of Minnesota Paints, which later became Valspar. By the time he retired as CEO in 1995, Valspar had become the fifth largest paint and coatings manufacturer in North America. Angus was named Executive of the Year in 1996 by Corporate Report Minnesota, marking a long and distinguished career as a highly successful CEO.
It is a great understatement to say that the Walker Art Center was very fortunate when Angus joined the Board of Trustees in 1971. During his inspiring 45-year tenure as a Walker trustee, he served in every conceivable leadership capacity including as vice president, president, and chair of the board. In addition Angus served on at least 14 different committees over five decades, chairing many of them. The Walker’s board recognized Angus’s extraordinary intellectual and financial contributions to the institution when they made him an Honorary Trustee in 2006.
“I had the great pleasure of joining the Walker board the very same year that Angus did and have served on it along with him these many years,” says fellow Honorary Trustee Roger Hale. “In fact, I was a classmate of Angus’s beginning in the 9th grade, so he is someone I have greatly respected and admired for a very long time. Angus was an exceptional person and an amazing trustee who helped Martin Friedman, Kathy Halbreich, and Olga Viso make the Walker into a world-class contemporary art center. He is going to be greatly missed by me and his many friends at the Walker and in this community.”
Angus and his wife Margaret have made incredibly generous gifts to the Walker over the years, enabling the institution to better serve audiences and artists alike. Their support for the three-year Open Field program (an award-winning project that convened people for free outdoor activities on the Walker’s hillside) and exhibitions featuring the work of Frida Kahlo, Claes Oldenburg, and Pop artists from around the globe attracted huge audiences to the Walker.
Their $6 million gift in support of the $100 million “More than a Museum” campaign enabled the Walker Art Center to double in size from 130,000 to 260,000 square feet in 2005. More recently, the Wurteles made the lead $20 million gift to the Walker’s $75 million “Vision for the Future” campaign, which helped to unify the Walker and Minneapolis Sculpture Garden into a more welcoming and environmentally sustainable 19-acre destination for the next generation of art lovers. The Walker was pleased to name the four-acre hillside adjacent to the museum the Wurtele Upper Garden in honor of that gift.
In addition to supporting the Annual Fund, programs, exhibitions, and capital campaigns, Angus and Margaret also have donated outright and/or contributed to the Walker’s purchase of more than 300 marvelous works of art including a sterling collection of collages, drawings, paintings, and prints by Robert Motherwell. Kathy Halbreich wrote in the forward to a 430-page catalogue raisonné of Motherwell’s prints published by the Walker in 2003 that the “Wurteles’s wise counsel, extended affection for the Walker, and devotion to Motherwell’s place in the history of art allow us the opportunity to enjoy, today and tomorrow, the lyrical convictions of on the great artists and critics of the twentieth century.” Angus and Margaret also enabled Martin Friedman to commission Martin Puryear to create the monumental sculpture Ampersand, which has welcomed more than 9.5 million visitors at the entrance of the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden during the past 29 years.
“In their donations of art to the Walker’s collection, the Wurteles have been patrons who understood the big picture, and have sought to make long term impact with their choices,” says Senior Curator Siri Engberg. “The extraordinary gifts they made possible of works by Robert Motherwell—chosen in collaboration with the Walker and artist’s estate—represent a cross-section of paintings, drawings, and collages made across the artist’s remarkable career and also established a complete archive of the artist’s prints. This generosity ensured that the Walker is now a key repository and one of the most important centers of study for this material. The Wurteles also helped to acquire key outdoor sculptures by Kris Martin and Monika Sosnowska. Their longtime advocacy for the Walker was recently honored by the Estate of Sol LeWitt, which in 2015 gave an important outdoor work in their honor.”
“It’s impossible to say how much Angus has meant to the Walker,” states Executive Director Olga Viso. “He has left us such an incredible legacy evidenced by his willingness to always step forward and lead when the Walker needed him most. He always encouraged the institution to make bold choices to advance its mission. The 2017 completion of the Walker’s campus master plan, including the addition of the five-acre hillside landscape of the Wurtele Upper Garden, would not have been possible without his vision and the vital investment of early planning funds for staff to experiment with programming before making the final infrastructure investments which he and his wife Margaret generously donated. I will never forget sitting in a board meeting nearly 10 years ago in which the kernel of the idea was first mentioned of creating a ‘programmatic park’ in the Walker’s ‘open field’ where the Guthrie Theater once stood. Halfway through the presentation, Angus leaned over and whispered in my ear, ‘Don’t worry, I will help you do this.’ There is no question that Angus is truly one of the biggest reasons why hundreds of thousands of people are able to visit our galleries and the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden as well as enjoy hundreds of dance, music, theater, film, design, new media, and education programs annually.”
“Angus understood how important the Walker was to the Twin Cities and its reputation of being one of the great cultural centers of our country and was steadfast in his support of it,” Viso adds. “He was an executive director’s dream and has left an incredible legacy at this institution and many others.”