It was a chilly night 75 years ago on January 4, but that didn’t stop 3,000 visitors from coming to celebrate the opening of the Walker Art Center. But even if the weather did stop Minneapolis residents, they could’ve tuned into WCCO from 9 to 10 pm for a live radio broadcast of the festivities. Equipped with portable microphones, announcers Florence Lehman and Clellan Card roamed the building from galleries to basement interviewing staff and guests along the way. Here’s an excerpt from the radio transcript to give you a sense of opening night.
Clelland Card: Here we are in the Walker Art Center, a scene of one of the most interesting ideas in the nation. There are a large amount of visitors present. This is a startling development for an art museum. It tells an absorbing and thrilling story. We must throw away our old ideas of what an art center is like. It is no longer something you would rather stay away from. This is different. As you walk in you see brightly colored walls and ceilings. Would never dream an art school could look like this. 1940 art comes in bright colors. We all dislike the mausoleum atmosphere of the old museums. Here there is action, fun, and enjoyment. People are busy doing things with their hands; that is part of the art center purpose.
Now let’s talk to the man who runs this place, Mr. Dan Defenbacher. Am I in an art center or a manual training center?
Mr. Defenbacher: A museum in the modern manner. The term implies a museum which breaks with tradition. We break with tradition by placing the same stress on present-day art as we do on the past art.
Florence Lehman: Now we are in the sculpture studio. This is Jean Severson. What are you making?
Jean Severson: A portrait sketch of the model in front of me.
Lehman: What goes into the sketch?
Severson: There’s an armature under here.
Lehman: What’s an armature?
Severson: An armature is the foundation of the model. It holds the clay. Some are made of wood, others of wire. There is wire in this sketch.
Lehman: Can anyone work in here?
Severson: Yes. Everything is free; anyone can come here.
Clelland Card: This is the most restful trip I have made in an art gallery. There’s no gallery fatigue here, no squinting of eyes. All exhibits are made attractive with captions, easy to look at. By reading the captions one gets the whole story of the pictures in everyday language, everyday terms. It is hard to believe these walls were before a uniform drab white. They have been done over in very pleasing colors.
Old formal display cases gone. Cases are made of painted wood extending from top to floor with only opening for object or objects displayed. For example, here is a black vase shown against a turquoise wall. Vases having designs are shown against background lighted just right. The brief description I am giving doesn’t do justice to this. You must come and see for yourself.
Card (interviewing Hon. Gov. Harold Stassen): How do you like the art center?
Stassen: I am enjoying it very much. I find it very stimulating. It’s very thrilling. Judging from the turnout, bringing this number of people out on a cold evening speaks well for Minneapolis. The art center is full of people.
Card: What significance do you feel the art center has on our locality?
Stassen: This is a splendid forward step in broader appreciation of art. Pleased to see a step of this kind taking place in Minneapolis.
Card (interviewing Sydney Stolte, State Works Progress Administration [WPA] Administrator): Do you feel that without WPA this new art center would not have been possible?
Stolte: Not entirely so. Many factors must qualify to make a WPA project. The Minnesota Arts Council, to whom our community should give great credit, is a large factor. An art project is a big project. Many people are not aware of the many talents of our own artists. The Art Project was set up to help artists badly hit by the depression.
Lehman (interviewing lithograph printer Morris Olstad): Do you print on pieces of paper?
Olstad: A drawing is made on stone or zinc plate, etched and then printed. The coated transfer paper on which the drawing is made is placed between damp blotters and run through the press under pressure.
Lehman: How do you know how much pressure to use?
Olstad: Have to use your own imagination, must get just enough.
Lehman: Must have to work at it a long time to know just the right amount of pressure to use. How long have you done this kind of work?
Lehman: I guess that is long enough.
Card: We certainly have enjoyed our visit here. We hope all of you will have the chance to come down here soon and have a good time, see the beautiful things here. (Signs off)