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Tweed front door

A Collector's Clarion

Alice Tweed
Alice Tweed Tuohy

Before there was social media, there was the Society and Women’s Activities editor at the Duluth News Tribune, Patricia Hodgson. In 1941 she wrote a day in the life piece about Mrs. Alice P. Tweed. “It was a very full day,” Hodgson reported. They spent much of it at the Duluth Red Cross office where Mrs. Tweed chaired the War Production Department, a group charged with making warm clothes for kids impacted by World War II. Clearly impressed by Alice, Hodgson wrote, “Here was a job that called for executive ability, ability to make quick decisions, to see through the maze of regulations and red tape to the important end view.”

This eye on the end view continues to reverberate four decades after Alice's death. George and Alice Tweed’s 300-piece art collection was planted at the University of Minnesota Duluth in 1950 and has grown to 9,000 works of art. The gallery that was the first floor of their home is now the Tweed Museum, with seven galleries and 15,000 square feet of exhibition space, inspiring more than 30,000 visitors each year. More importantly, “The museum tells the stories of who we were, who we are, and who we may become,” says Chancellor Lendley Black. “It’s an irreplaceable keeper of the culture of the region, and it deserves our support.”

UMD is gathering its base as it enhances the mid-century modern masterpiece of a museum for the 21st century. The goal is to raise $4-million to improve the building’s visibility and to create two new gallery spaces. The Alice Tweed Tuohy Foundation is launching the effort with a $1-million lead gift, further evidence that Alice's executive ability is a timeless asset for those fortunate enough to be in her end view.


Donation Delivered

Tweed news conference on September 18
Director Ken Bloom announcing the Tweed's $1-million gift

The ever-evolving Tweed needed a clarion for its next step. It arrived from California, wrapped in history and stamped with UMD's promise to maximize the museum's education potential, "We must continue to find a place for arts programs and partnerships. Not only for what it teaches students about art, but for what it teaches us all about the world we live in," said Chancellor Black at a news conference announcing the receipt of the $1-million gift.

John Mackall, an Alice Tweed Tuohy Foundation board member, says he's excited about what the gift means for the museum's future, but the donation happened because of the Tweed's past. "For many years we have been impressed with the expansive vision by which UMD has continually improved the Tweed Museum, to the great benefit of the students and the larger Duluth community. Our support reflects our deep gratitude and appreciation."

Tweed dedication in 1958
Alice Tweed at the museum's dedication in 1958

Arts Alive

It stands alone on the North Shore; the only fine arts collecting museum this side of the Twin Cities, but by no means is the Tweed stagnant. In her original donation documents, Alice specified that the she didn't want the museum to be static, "A collection of art must be a living thing," she wrote.

Her husband, George, certainly applied this principle to his collection, the 300 pieces that would grow into the Tweed Museum of Art. In an era when tycoons' trading cards were displayed in their home galleries, Tweed took care in his selection. St. Paul railroad builder James J. Hill sold him the most famous painting in the Tweed collection, Jean-Francois Millet's "The Diggers."

The art didn't conform to the conventional tastes of the period, instead passing the criteria, "Could we enjoy living with this indefinitely?" If the answer was no, George was known to reject it on sight. It was personal. "The collection constituted for us both one of the chief interests in life, and these works of art became in truth a part of our home and of our lives," said Alice.

When George died in 1946, pallbearers included well-known Duluthians like William VanEvera, Robert Congdon, A.H. Crassweller, Robert Mars, George Spencer, and Harry Zinsmaster. They represented Duluth's boom years, saying goodbye to an iconic shaper of the community, a journalist by trade who would become a leader in financial and mining circles. He died at home, 2531 East Seventh Street, leaving Alice, their daughter, Bernice, and their art collection behind.


In Memorial

"It is my wish that the collection will be perpetuated to be shared by others in this state where the opportunities enjoyed by my husband made its existence possible." Alice Tweed

When Alice donated her family's art collection to UMD in 1950, the campus was in transition. It was the University of Minnesota-Duluth Branch and it was branching from its Normal School roots onto its new campus, a few blocks from the Tweed's home. The first building had just appeared on the farm field in 1948, and it wasn't an arts building. Alice's decision to donate her home that encapsulated the collection meant the University didn't have to find a museum space, instead it could focus on the gift and what it meant for the institution. "The most important single benefaction in the field of art ever presented to the University of Minnesota is the collection of paintings and other arts given by Mrs. George P. Tweed of Duluth in memory of her late husband," said James L. Morrill, president of the University of Minnesota, at the museum's public opening on September 20, 1950.

The new campus continued to cultivate its fine arts curriculum and, in 1958, added a beacon. With a gift from Alice and her daughter Bernice Brickson, the Tweed Museum of Art was built. The collection moved from the Tweed home and onto campus, becoming the center of the art department and a connecting force between UMD and the Duluth community.

The Future

An artisit's rendering of the Tweed entry
The Tweed is raising money to add windows to the museum and new gallery space

Like the collection, the physical museum has evolved through the years. It expanded in 1964 and in 1977, both times through the generosity of Alice Tweed Tuohy and her foundation. (After George's death, Alice remarried Dr. Edward L. Tuohy.)

The Sax Sculpture Conservatory and Sculpture Courtyard was added in 1988 and plans for more changes are in the works, with thanks, once again, to the Alice Tweed Tuohy Foundation.

The $1-million gift announced this month will be used to improve the museum's access to the community, opening up brick walls and adding doors, and to build two new gallery spaces.

The existing Sax Gallery will be divided into two floors, with the lower floor used for storage and the upper floor appointed with a semi-permanent exhibition of American Indian art. This space will also be a venue for collaborations between the Tweed and UMD’s American Indian studies programs. “American Indian studies comprise a significant portion of the overall UMD academic experience,” says Ken Bloom, director. “The Tweed's role is to participate in helping to make UMD a destination for Native area studies and outreach experiences and to provide public exposure to the cultural developments and evolution of indigenous arts.”

The second gallery space will feature ceilings high enough to accommodate larger artwork. A projector and sound equipment will also be installed so that it can be used as a digital arts gallery. “This is a major attraction for present-day art students, as well as a venue to expose students and the community to significant achievements in the digital arts.” says Bloom.

The digital arts gallery meets the needs of today's artists who are creating new media for audiences much different than those who toured the Tweed's original home gallery in 1950, but the adaptable use of the museum with her namesake fits perfectly into Alice Tweed Tuohy's end view.

Story by Lori C. Melton, September 2014

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