Where do you think Andy Warhol got the idea?

This has nothing to do with parks.

From the Minneapolis Morning Tribune, October 30, 1915.

Artistic tomato cans and beer bottles? No, not now, but maybe in the future. Joseph Breck, director of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, intimated the possibility in an address before the art division of the Minnesota Educational Association today. “When some future historian,” he said, “comes to write the story of nineteenth century art, will he praise our tomato cans, our beer bottles, as the art historians of our day praise the vases of ancient Greece? I fear not. But our industrial arts are improving so rapidly and we have made such tremendous advances on the hideousness of the Victorian era that the time is not far off when the future historian will find much to occupy him in the decorative arts of the coming day. If my statement is borne out it will be largely because we have trained the children to know and to want what is beautiful.”

Beauty in a Can. Andy Warhol

Nothing to do with parks—except I came across the article while researching park issues, precisely the park board service of Leo Harris. Minneapolis developer Ray Harris once commented to me that there were many big battles on the park board in the days his father Leo served as a park commissioner (1915-1918). “It was not all sweetness and light,” Ray said. I was searching the Minneapolis Tribune for reference to some of those battles, when I found the tomato can quote.

One of Harris’s biggest fights was with park superintendent Theodore Wirth over what Harris considered faulty and inferior paving methods on parkways.

But there was some sweetness and light too. In 1916 Harris donated a 12-inch silver trophy that was awarded to the city’s Sunday League baseball champion each year. I don’t know what became of the trophy or how long it was awarded.

The best Leo Harris story I could find was from the Minneapolis Tribune October 27, 1914, subtitled “One Reason Why He Became a Candidate for the Park Board.” Harris said he was walking near his home in the eleventh ward the previous spring when he encountered an army of young children playing in the street. He tried to count them, but the crowd was too large and fluid, so he offered to buy them all ice cream cones. When it came time to settle, he paid for 49 cones. Harris said he became a candidate for the park board a few days later. Harris was quoted as saying, “I love the Park Lakes, the River Drive, the beautiful Minnehaha, but I also believe in giving the children in congested districts a place to play and play right. It is a shame for a city to give these kids only the streets to play in.”

Leo Harris resigned from the park board in 1918 to enlist in the U.S. Army during World War I.

I wrote in a post earlier today that the Minnesota Historical Society photo collection has a picture of almost everything. Here’s more proof: I searched for Leo Harris and while I didn’t find a portrait, I did find his business!

B.W. & Leo Harris Company, 2429 University Avenue Southeast, 1948 (Minneapolis Star Journal, Minnesota Historical Society)

Harris announced the creation of the business in an ad in the Minneapolis Tribune  April 23, 1922.

I should also add that the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, of which Mr. Breck was the director when he gave Warhol his inspiration, is located in a Minneapolis park, Dorilus Morrison Park. I knew there would be a picture of that in the MHS collection.

Dorilus Morrison’s home ca. 1900 (Minnesota Historical Society)

This was Dorilus Morrison’s home in about 1900, which his son, Clinton, donated to the park board in 1911 order to build this…

The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, photographed in about 1920, was built in Dorilus Morrison Park. (Charles J. Hibbard, Minnesota Historical Society)

The new Institute opened in January, 1915 and was the site of Breck’s speech later that year. On the day the new building opened, January 7, 1915, a Minneapolis Tribune editorial called it “A New and Powerful Force for Good.”

Dorilus Morrison was instrumental in creating the park board and was a commissioner on the first park board in 1883. Even his son Clinton has a park named for him in a way. Clinton Park was named for its location on Clinton Avenue, but Clinton Avenue was named because it was the street on which Clinton Morrison resided, a block east of his father’s house.

David C. Smith

© 2011 David C. Smith


3 comments so far

  1. […] involved a quote from the director of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts a century ago that predicted Andy Warhol. And if you were wondering what the park board was doing in 2011, read […]

  2. […] and David P. Jones. Two other park commissioners who took active roles in the war effort were Leo Harris who resigned from his seat on the park board to enlist and Phelps Wyman who took a leave of absence […]

  3. […] service during the Great War. Unlike his fellow park commissioner, Leo Harris, (whose story is told here), Wyman did not enlist in the Armed Forces. Wyman was nearly 50 at the time, so not good doughboy […]

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